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  Disciple of Death Quoth Mike Raven: Nevermore
Year: 1972
Director: Tom Parkinson
Stars: Mike Raven, Ronald Lacey, Stephen Bradley, Marguerite Hardiman, Virginia Wetherell, George Belbin, Betty Alberge, Nicolas Amer, Rusty Goffe, Louise Jameson, Joe Dunlop, Daisika
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: The time is the eighteenth century and a Squire's daughter, Julia (Marguerite Hardiman), has stolen away from her home in the rural West Country to meet with her secret beau, Ralph (Stephen Bradley), in the woods. They cannot make up their mind what to do about their relationship since her parents would not approve of her mixing with a lower class boy such as him, but he strikes a note of hope when he tells the girl he will be a landowner soon - if five years from now is soon. Julia is dissatisfied with that and proposes they elope, but Ralph is not keen, so to tide her over he suggests they cut their thumbs and press them together, mingling the blood - and not noticing one drop falls on a mysterious stone...

Thanks to the critical mauling Disciple of Death received, along with a general indifference from the public, Mike Raven gave up acting for sheep farming and sculpture instead. Mike who? He was the nearly man some hoped would take over the mantle of Christopher Lee in British horror, only to find that not only was Mr Lee still wearing it, but there was not exactly a fanbase heaving at the seams to clamour for more Raven. This must have stung him particularly in the case of this, his fourth and final film, for he had produced it and contributed to the script under his real name of Churton Fairman; alas, he had more faith in his abilities than anyone who watched him in his acting roles did.

His most famous would come in Crucible of Terror, and that was thanks to it regularly showing up as late night filler material on television for a number of years rather than any huge demand for it to be broadcast. If anything, Disciple of Death was even cheaper, so cheap in fact that not even TV would touch it, shot around some English countryside and a couple of available buildings which looked suitably rustic, leaving it aspiring to the pastoral horrors which picked up a cult around this point such as Witchfinder General or Blood on Satan's Claw, but falling far short, with not even a sinister folk ballad to be heard on the soundtrack, a la The Wicker Man. In fact, aside from the regular shots of trees hoving into view, director Tom Parkinson somewhat muffled what could have been a vivid location.

Particularly when much of this was filmed at night, ostensibly for atmosphere yet also to hide the lack of any kind of budget for anything but the basics. Raven, at the time capitalising on his minor fame as a blues disc jockey on Radio 1, was certainly tall enough to look the part of the mysterious stranger who is revived by that droplet of blood, and had the widow's peak and facial furniture to suggest someone Satanic in a clich├ęd kind of way, yet oddly his voice let him down, a weak lisp instead of the more impressive deep boom of, well, of a Christopher Lee, who we were patently intended to be reminded of. Once revived, this stranger (who is never named - intentional or forgetful?), sets about gathering a bunch of virgins who he sacrifices on an altar, whereupon they become his undead brides.

Or at least they dress up on long, flowing nighties which don't look suitable for a chilly evening outside; it's up to Ralph to prevent Julia from joining their number, who included future Doctor Who star Louise Jameson. In case you were thinking, hello, dark arts horror movie from the seventies, surely there's a lot of nudity, hold your horses as it was evidently too cold for that kind of thing (it looks autumnal) therefore everyone keeps their clothes firmly on, another reason why few have been eager to revive Disciple of Death. As for the horror accoutrements, we did see Virginia Wetherell parting company from her heart in one of those sacrifices, but for most of the time there was a lot of chitchat that went nowhere in particular, most notably from a Jewish sorcerer (Nicolas Amer) who was almost enough of a novelty to sustain interest rapidly waning by that stage. Ronald Lacey appeared as a priest to accompany Ralph on the big showdown with a magic dwarf (really) which footled to an end rather than exploding in a climax thanks to a silly torture device as the centrepiece. Underwhelming and a little embarrassing.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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