This early entry in the “Satanic Panic” films of the seventies, inspired (like most of the others) by ROSEMARY’S BABY (THE EXORCIST, the other seminal film in the cycle, had yet to be released), is an extremely stylish low budget chiller. The narrative could have used some work, however!
THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1970) was a product of LQ/Jaf, a two man operation consisting of L.Q. Jones and Alvy Moore, veteran actors both (Jones has appeared in more than fifty movies, including many by Sam Peckinpah, while Moore is best known for a recurring role on GREEN ACRES). The two produced and co-starred in the present film, LQ/Jaf’s third and most polished production. The first was something called THE DEVIL’S BEDROOM, which Jones wrote, directed and acted in, and admits, was “probably the worst picture ever”. The bayou-set shocker THE WITCHMAKER followed in 1969, and was a minor hit, paving the way for COME IN, CHILDREN, which eventually became THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, directed by Bernard McEveety and featuring Jones’ frequent acting partner Strother Martin in the lead. It met with considerable critical and financial success, and impressed author Harlan Ellison enough that he allowed Jones and Moore to adapt his sci fi novella A BOY AND HIS DOG to the screen in 1974, with Jones writing and directing.
The middle-aged Ben is driving through the desert with his girlfriend Nicky and KT, his daughter. Ben stops his station wagon by a car at the side of the road…and immediately regrets his actions, as the car is filled with massacred corpses! He races to the nearest town, but is nearly killed by an inexplicably hostile mob of people, and so drives off into the desert with his daughter and girlfriend in tow—they doesn’t get very far, however, before a little girl standing in the middle of the road forces their car onto the shoulder, where it stalls. Thus Ben, Nicky and KT find themselves with no choice but to walk back to the town they just vacated.
In that town weird things are afoot. The community’s elders spend the night attending a weird satanic gathering presided over by Duncan, the town doctor. Many of the town’s children, meanwhile, have gotten together to torment and/or kill their parents in freaky ways involving creepy dolls. It seems that for the past day or so the area has been plagued with suspicious murders and nobody has been able to leave.
Ben and his family, re-entering the town, find themselves caught up in the madness when Ben’s daughter KT disappears. He and Nicky join forces with the town sheriff and priest to take on the Satanic forces besieging the area. Said forces have been bequeathed by Dr. Duncan, who it seems wants to transport the spirits of himself and his fellow Satanists into the bodies of the town’s children. Will our heroes be able to intervene in time?
If style were enough to guarantee a successful product then THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN would be a prime example of such—and for its first half it is, so much so that I was willing to overlook the half-baked screenplay, with its severely underdeveloped storyline, chaotic viewpoint shifts and countless loose ends. Bernard McEveety displays an extremely sure hand directorially, helming with confidence and real style. So assured are McEveety’s visuals that much of the narrative is related without dialogue (which is not always a good thing, as the loopy storyline would have benefited from a bit more explanation).
The film owes something stylistically to ROSEMARY’S BABY, with its measured pacing and jittery, voyeuristic camerawork, as well as the neat (though hardly unprecedented) way McEveety combines innocence with pure evil—an early Satanic mass accomplishes this particularly well, with a bunch of smiling old coots cavorting amidst black robed figures. It’s no accident, after all, that the primary villains are either children or old people! The opening shot admirably lays out the film’s underlying themes by showing a toy tank moving over toy cars and then cutting to a real tank mowing down real cars…too bad the scene has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie!
THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (a.k.a. COME IN, CHILDREN)
Director: Bernard McEveety
Producers: L.Q. Jones, Alvy Moore
Screenplay: William Welch
Cinematography: John Arthur Morrill
Editing: Marvin Walowitz
Cast: Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Ahna Capri, Alvy Moore, Charles Robinson, Charles Bateman, Geri Reischl, Scott Agular, John Barclay, Joyce Easton, Judith McConnell, Charles Robinson Knox, Helene Winston