On the eve of her twentieth birthday Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning) is drawn by the sinister machinations of a satanic cult to her uncle Alexander’s (Michael Gough) estate in a rural corner of the English countryside. The longer that Catherine remains in that macabre setting the more she suspects that her uncle and her cousin Stephen (Martin Potter) are more than they seem. Will Catherine be able to escape the black magic of a satanic coven before she becomes the unholy vessel for the spirit of the witch Camilla?
Satan’s Slave (1976) is as sleazy and provocative as its title suggests. Helmed by exploitation master Norman J. Warren, Satan’s Slave very much follows in the Gothic tradition of Hammer Films but with the prerequisite sensationalism turned up to the max. Female nudity rather than gore is the order of the day as women are attacked in proto-slasher fashion or simply offered up as sacrifices on the altar or satan.
It’s this combination of the psycho killer subplot concerning the deranged Stephen with the satan cult main plot that is the most interesting feature of Satan’s Slave. Although Warren’s direction never successfully pinpoints the intersection of these two sub-genres of horror in the strictly cinematographic sense, he does suggest some distinct parallels. Obviously the juxtaposing spectacles of sexualized, passionate murder with the more ritualistic and choreographed slaughter of women reveals a mutually misogynistic motivation for sexual gratification. The intriguing aspect of this is not so much about the female victims as it is about male performance in these genre specific situations.
Gough’s magus represents the classic in horror. Gough was a regular in Hammer Horror pictures and brings that plastic camp quality to the kinky satanic ritual. While topless girls squirm on the slab of the altar, Gough remains precise in his movements. Potter, on the other hand, acts alone as a psycho killer. His misogyny is not manifest within a communal religious right but rather in the throws of intimate passion. Unlike Gough, Potter’s performance is unhinged and kinetic.
It is curious to read the satanic cult in Satan’s Slave as an allegory for western society in microcosm. In this context the depiction of the female victims as interchangeable avatars for male gratification becomes doubly terrifying. Even a reading of Satan’s Slave that is intentionally apolitical hinges on this premise as subtext. The terror in Satan’s Slave derives from the manipulations of Catherine by the cult rather than from those brief scenes of gore.
By no means is Satan’s Slave a great exemplar of British horror even if it has some elements of interest. For the most part Satan’s Slave sustains itself on its palpably eerie atmosphere as well as the beauty and charisma of Candace Glendenning. Satan’s Slave is a film best suited for the Hammer Horror fan who has exhausted that studio’s catalogue and craves something new but familiar.