In the world of horror movies, witches and the devil seem to go hand in hand; it’s always the Dark Lord himself that is behind the witchery. When children get dragged into the fold, things start getting really scary. A film made in 1971, right between Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, called The Brotherhood of Satan effectively pulls off the horror trifecta of creepy kids, a witch’s coven, and Satan himself.
The Brotherhood of Satan features soap opera star Charles Bateman (from “Santa Barbara” and “Days of our Lives”) as Ben, a man who is driving through the country with his girlfriend, Nicky (Enter the Dragon’s Ahna Capri), and his daughter, K.T. (Geri Reischl, who was not only in I Dismember Mama, but also took over the part of Jan Brady in “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour”), when they come across a horrible car accident. They drive into the town of Hillsboro to report it, and find themselves in the middle of a riot. They are able to escape, but have an accident of their own on the way out and are forced to return back to town. They sneak to the town police station where the Sheriff (The Mask of Zorro’s L.Q. Jones) is holed up with his deputy, Tobey (Alvy Moore from “Green Acres”), the local Priest (The Cable Guy’s Charles Robinson) and the town’s patriarch, Doc Duncan (western star Strother Martin from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch, True Grit and many more). The sheriff and the others explain to Ben why the town is in such a state of upheaval; there have been 26 deaths and 11 missing children over the last three days. On top of that, anyone who tries to leave town is stopped by a horrible accident, a fact to which Ben and his family can attest first-hand. The Priest figures out that a coven of elderly witches is behind the disappearances, gathering children to use in a ritual to steal their youth and, because she is now in the town, K.T. is on their list. Unable to go anywhere, Ben agrees to help the townsfolk figure out what’s going on and find the missing children, all the while protecting his own daughter from harm.
Written by L.Q. Jones (the actor who plays the Sheriff), The Brotherhood of Satan is a film that walks the line between corny and terrifying. Prolific television director Bernard McEveety (best known for “Gunsmoke” and “Combat!”) crafts a fantastically surreal film that still manages to keep one foot in the realm of believability. The film is a clever mix of Hardy’s The Wicker Man, Frankel’s The Witches and Cronenberg’s The Brood with just a splash of Argento for good measure.
The opening scene in The Brotherhood of Satan features a giant toy army tank flattening a full sized sedan. In another scene, Nicky has a vividly colorful dream that effectively blurs the line between her memories and the experiences of the coven. The climactic satanic ritual borders on the absurd as well, including blank-faced children being fawned over by pleading witches and warlocks. The bizarre visuals are not presented with tongue-in-cheek; the film is treated seriously. McEveety takes situations that would otherwise be comical and successfully makes them horrifying.
The children in The Brotherhood of Satan are not just kidnapped; they are completely under the mind control of the coven. Not only are the children seemingly possessed, but their toys are as well. In addition to the toy tank from the opening scene, an action figure of a knight slays one boy’s father. In another memorable sequence, a girl’s rubber doll sheds a single tear after murdering her parents. Every aspect of the children, including their possessions, is under the influence of witchcraft.
The performances of the cast in The Brotherhood of Satan go a long way in keeping up the suspension of disbelief. The characters are played fairly straight with just a touch of overacting to remind the viewer that they are, in fact, watching a horror film. The one exception is Ahna Capri; she is in full scream queen mode as the panicked girlfriend. While the film as a whole is well acted, Stroher Martin is the real standout, playing double duty as the trusted Doctor and the leader of the coven (that’s not a spoiler). Add in some darkly colorful cinematography by the experienced John Arthur Morrill (Kingdom of the Spiders, The Dark), a haunting score by the prolific Jaime Mendoza-Nava (Mausoleum, The Town that Dreaded Sundown), and a shocking ending that is one of the greatest ever filmed, and The Brotherhood of Satan becomes a fantastically memorable film.
The subjects of witches and the devil are inseparable in the horror movie world, but The Brotherhood of Satan takes it up a notch. By combining the believable with the unbelievable, the movie stands apart amidst the wash of occult-heavy films from the seventies.