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The Devonsville Terror (Ulli Lommel, 1983)


    The opening moments of Ulli Lommelís The Devonsville Terror are refreshingly gruesome. In the phantasmagoric first few scenes, set in 1683, we see a trio of scantily clad witches sentenced to death by the angry townsfolk of the town. As each woman is sentenced to death (by being burned at stake, tied to a wheel and rolled down a hill, and eaten by pigs!), the film only hints at any sort of narrative coherence, briefly giving the movie the Grand Guignol feel of Benjamin Christensenís Haxan. Colored only by the the orange and black of fire and darkness, these opening scenes are unnerving and effective. One canít help but hope the whole film would continue in this mode, with this look, but of course it doesnít. After 11 all-too-brief minutes it hopes forward 300 years to modern times, settling into a more typical revenge tale.


    From this point, The Devonsville Terror is hardly innovative, but it manages a plot that is somewhat more complicated and adult than in the average horror film. Chronicling how the residents of the Massachusetts town of Devonsville react when three single women coincidentally arrive at the anniversary of the townís witch burnings, the movie engages in at least a half-dozen subplots, introducing us to the three women (a schoolteacher, a marine biologist, and a radio personality), and a group of cursed descendants of the people present at the deaths of the witches. While some of these plot strands are stressed more than others, the film is curious because if fails to ever settle on a satisfactory audience identification figure. At first, the new schoolteacher is the natural candidate, but when itís revealed that she is, in fact, being controlled by the ghost of one of the dead witches, the film essentially reveals that the townsfolk, who seemed so reactionary and cruel, were in fact right. It continues to vilify them, however, delighting in revenge taken against them. A doctor, played by Donald Pleasance, also happens to have been a relative of the prosecutors, but remains too passive throughout to be seen as any sort of hero. Despite this, the filmís horrors play out, resulting in a movie that seems to serve no particular moral purpose, except to entertain the audience. Although that might sound reprehensible and exploitative in theory, in practice it is a welcome change of pace from the obligatory significance that bogs down so many horror films.



Jeremy Heilman