Mar 11, 2009

DVD Review: Satanik (1968)

Okay, I need to be up front about this: despite that appealing (but very misleading) cover and despite the resonant, misspelled with a "k" title... Satanik is not a Costumed Adventurer movie. (Although it is based on a Costumed Adventurer comic book by the creator of the Kriminal comic.) But I allowed myself to be misled by those factors without doing proper research, and it is often lumped in with all the Diabolik imitators, and it is a fumetti movie, so I’ll still go ahead and include it in Costumed Adventurer Week. But only as a cautionary example. I did not like this movie.

Now, I am a fan of all of the various Euro-cult genres that Satanik flirts with: spy (obviously), horror, crime, sex, fumetti... but Piero Vivarelli’s 1968 film never commits to any one of those possibilities long enough to own it. Sure, there’s an inciting incident (the usual one, involving a murdered and/or kidnapped scientist) that could lead in any of those directions, but it doesn’t. In fact, it doesn’t lead anywhere at all.

In Madrid, and ugly, scarred old woman–who is made up like the Wicked Witch of the West in a grade school production of "The Wizard of Oz" but is, in fact, supposed to be a doctor–enters the lab late at night. (Of course.) She talks to the scientist she’s been assisting, and he reveals that he has perfected his formula to regenerate tissue–a veritable "fountain of youth." He’s made crystals that have been successful when ingested by dogs, but with the unfortunate side effect of making them more feral as well as younger. Because the woman, Dr. Marnie Bannister, is so horribly old, she naturally decides to kill the scientist and use the formula herself. Apparently the crystals are really nothing more than some fast-acting form of makeup remover, which probably would have made the scientist a mint anyway. Because Marnie disappears beneath a table, lightning strikes outside, and when she pops up again all the awful old age makeup has been washed off her face and she’s even had regular, prettifying makeup professionally applied. Nifty crystals! Yes, yes, I’m being glib, of course, but not without cause. I have a very high tolerance for bad special effects, but Magda Konopka’s old age makeup is just so horrible that I cannot be forgiving. And it’s inexcusable, too; I’ve seen even cheaper Euro-horrors that at least managed decent makeup effects.

Anyway, she uses her newfound youth and beauty to go out to clubs and seduce local Lotharios who seem to be the actual age that she was made up to look. Has she become Satanik now? I don’t know, because nobody in the film ever uses that name, but let’s say she has, because at least it will spice up this review a bit. So one of the guys Satanik seduces (See? Doesn’t it sound cooler?) turns out to be a big-time jewel thief, giving her the idea of... No. She doesn’t become one. That would have been neat, but no. Instead she just goes home with him, starts to get old again, kills him in a fit of rage and then goes fleeing back to the lab for more crystals. She also manages to get herself in the midst of a big shootout between the cops and the thief’s gang, but takes no active role in it.

The two (or maybe three; I wasn’t counting) tame murders draw the attention of the police, including both a Spanish Inspector named Gonzalez and a Scotland Yard Inspector named Trent, called in because the first victim (the scientist) and the most likely suspect (Satanik) are both English. The inspectors briefly hypothesize that a foreign espionage agency is behind the crime and contemplate turning the whole affair over to "Espionage," but ultimately decide against it. Satanik leads them on a low budget car chase, but manages to lose them when the gates come down at a railroad crossing. That’s right, they’re thwarted by gates, not even a train. Just the wooden gates that police cars smash through all the time in bigger movies that have the budgets necessary to destroy planks of wood.

While waiting for the eventual train to pass (again, nowhere near close enough to be exciting; I mean "eventual" as in it just happened to be passing by as the camera was rolling), the detectives try to reconcile the two different women described at the crime scenes: "One suspect has a monstrous face... this one is a very beautiful girl! I’m beginning to lose my mind," remarks Inspector Gonzalez."

Fortunately, his British counterpart catches on quicker: "The faces! I’m beginning to understand something... Something so horrible... it’s inconceivable!" He may be on the right track, but he’s still stuck waiting at the wrong one in Madrid while the inconceivable horror that is Satanik has made her way to the Spanish Riviera, where she hooks up with the brother of the deceased jewel thief, posing as his moll. The brother looks a bit like Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, and I never caught his real name, so I’ll call him Zohan.

Zohan likes Satanik’s legs a lot ("You’ve got a nice pair of legs," he announces out of the blue, "and a nice hat to go with them."), and apparently her hat, so he decides to cut her in on his big scam: a fixed roulette wheel at the local casino. Yep, that’s the big scheme. She’s happy about that, and she tells him she’s "prepared a number" for that night. Remember now, this is someone who only a few days ago had a successful career as a doctor. What’s she doing suddenly preparing numbers? Well, the big night rolls around, and with only sixteen minutes left to go in the movie we Costumed Adventurer fans finally get what we’ve been waiting for: she slips into that red Diabolik suit pictured on the poster! (Only it's black.) Alright! Now we’re going to get some... something. If you put on a suit like that, you’re definitely up to something, right? Is she going to sneak into Zohan’s back room and steal the roulette proceeds? Is she going to flounce around on top of a train somewhere? Is she going to do something with counterfeit money, or invisibility, or pull off some sort of ingenious plan that somehow takes advantage of having an old woman’s mind and a youthful body? (Yeah, remember that plot thread?)

No. None of the above. She is going to strip. And she’s not even a stripper.

As an old hag, she was a doctor. Remember? But as a young hottie, all she can do is strip. Why? Has this always been her ambition?

I know, I know. I shouldn’t be disappointed by a striptease in any sort of quasi-Eurospy movie, especially with a hot babe like Magda Konopka. But... really? I wanted some costumed adventuring!

That the striptease is probably the best scene in the movie says nothing at all. It is still fairly lame as chaste Sixties stripteases go, and she takes off that sexy black costume all too quickly. Frankly, I’d prefer one of Jess Franco’s interminable nightclub acts at this point. Luckily, another character has turned up at the casino who points out to Zohan that she isn’t really his brother’s girlfriend, and they chase her onto a boat just as the two bumbling police inspectors show up. There’s a shootout just as Satanik’s starting to show her age again, and she loses her crystals.
She skulks off, the police in pursuit. A local policeman (who doesn’t know her secret) catches up to her, and she turns around... and she’s turned old! He thinks she’s not who he was looking for and lets her go. Then Satanik, now old and ugly again (i.e. again sporting the terrible makeup that makes her look like she’s just been sweeping Dick Van Dyke’s chiminy), steals a car and accidentally drives it over a cliff. Oh, whoops: that was a spoiler. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because there was no point to the whole movie. Don’t watch it, even if you like this stuff–as I do. It’s bad. (And if you're a real masochist, dead-set on seeing everything tangentially in the Eurospy genre, don't worry. It's not really possible to spoil a movie with no plot.) The Retromedia DVD transfer–pan and scan and barely in focus–doesn’t do it any favors, either.

So, are there any redeeming qualities? Um... I guess. Magda Konopka herself isn't bad, but the role gives her nothing to do. I'd like to see some of her other Eurospy roles, particularly Segretissimo, which has long been one of my most elusive Holy Grails. (If you've got a copy, please email me!) She also appeared in some ITC shows, like Department S and Danger Man. Also on the positive side, the music is good. It’s exactly the score you’d expect, and that’s cool. The soundtrack is surprisingly readily available, so if you’re craving something Satanik, just pick that up and give it a jazzy listen–and forget about the film itself.


David said...

Your review is spot on, and yes, I was suckered in by the cover artwork too.

Tanner said...

Thanks, David. Glad to know I wasn't the only one to be fooled!