The Sect (1991)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #516

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Also known as The Devil’s Daughter
Number of Views: One
Release Date: $2,000,000
Sub-Genre: Supernatural/Occult
Country of Origin: Italy
Budget: $2,000,000
Running Time: 116 minutes
Director: Michele Soavi
Producer: Dario Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Michele Soavi, Gianni Romoli
Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti, Massimo Cristofanelli, Rosario Prestopino
Cinematography: Raffaele Mertes
Score: Pino Donaggio
Editing: Franco Fraticelli
Studios: ADC Films, Penta Film
Distributors: Republic Pictures Home Video
Stars: Kelly Curtis, Herbert Lom, Tomas Arana, Dario Casalini, Mariangela Giordano, Michel Adatte, Carla Cassola, Angelika Maria Boeck, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Niels Gullov, Donald O’Brien, Yasmine Ussani, Paolo Pranzo

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Pino Donaggio Ansimando

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When speaking of the masters of Italian horror cinema, it is all too easy to reel off the usual suspects. Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci are traditionally the first three names out of the hat but there are numerous others whose input should not be discarded. One such overlooked quantity is Michele Soavi and I blame his late emergence as a filmmaker on the fact that he doesn’t receive further accolades. By the time he cut his teeth with his first full-length feature in 1987, the glorious theatrical slasher Stagefright, the scene was all but dead and Italian cinema was no longer considered the force it once was.

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In 1994, he went one better with Dellamorte Dellamore quite rightly earning unanimous praise for its unique tale of love and loss. However, despite boasting the endorsement of none other than Martin Scorsese, who named it his favorite film of the year, there was no longer a captive audience and its arrival was depressingly low-key. Sandwiched in-between were a pair of above-par features which once again fell largely on deaf ears. The first was The Church from 1989 and the second, The Sect, landed two years later to a similarly muted response. Even the involvement of Argento himself, who had mentored Soavi since his early days as an actor and cast him on numerous occasions, did little to raise their profile outside of his native country. Talk about right place, wrong time.

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Also known as The Devil’s Daughter, the latter offers further proof that Soavi had a bright future in the industry before settling for directing TV movies to earn his keep. Whilst not in the same league as his more celebrated works, it remains a rather splendid little movie that makes up for any shortcomings through sheer enthusiasm and a willingness to opt for enjoyment as opposed to logic. Argento was very much in the thick of it, balancing production and co-writing duties, while Pino Donaggio and Sergio Stivaletti were also on-hand, supplying the score and creature effects respectively. If that’s not a recipe for success, then I’ll eat my Fedora and the hat stand it came on.

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Sadly it looks like I’ll be shitting headgear for the foreseeable as The Sect swiftly vanished without a trace before spending the next two decades in cinematic limbo. Even now, precious few are aware of this movie and that saddens my soul as it is something of a designer original. There have been many attempts over the years to tackle the occult and, admittedly, a number of them have done so more diligently. However, few have embraced bat-shit crazy quite as affectionately and none have been so bold as to introduce a channel hopping bunny. You heard me correctly, the white rabbit in question here is far more than simply a casserole on parole. If you still require further proof then allow me to elaborate through the wonders of freeze frame technology.

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See I told you. Seldom has a wabbit been quite as wascally as this one. Moreover, I’m fairly assured that The Sect features the most conniving handkerchief in existence. Don’t ask. Should you be looking for a film that makes a blind bit of sense then best just walk on by as you’ll find precious little here to rationalize. Personally I think that logic is overrated and love nothing more than a little out-of-the-box thinking so this deranged little number was custom-made for my personal sensibilities. However, for the purpose of those less adroit at accepting the fantastical, I shall provide a dash of synopsis to shed further light.

The Rolling Stones Sympathy For The Devil

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After primary school teacher Miriam (Jamie Lee’s older sister Kelly Curtis) narrowly misses running down an old man on her drive home from work, she feels obliged to take the rattled stranger in while he regains his composure. Little does she know that her new house guest is a man of secrets, worryingly of the dark variety. Moebius (Herbert Lom) wastes no time in making her feel uneasy and, while she sleeps upstairs in blissful ignorance, sneaks into her boudoir and plants a long extinct insect up her nostril. This, in turn, incites a lucid dream whereby she is set upon by an embittered stork which proceeds to peck away her neck fat. I swear I’m not even making this shit up. And I haven’t even got to the subterranean well in her basement yet.

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Actually, I think I shall quit while I’m ahead as perhaps the greatest strength with The Sect is the fact that we have absolutely no inkling as to where the rabbit hole will lead us next. However, I will say that satan worshippers do play a part and this is made abundantly clear from the offset. Things grow increasingly bizarre as the severity of her plight becomes more apparent and it is left to wise cracking doctor Frank (Michel Adatte) to help fight her corner as her situation continues to worsen. All the while, our beleaguered belle is ever closer to finding out what part she plays in this rapidly escalating madness.

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If this all sounds beyond remedy then let me assure you that it is every bit as bonkers as it sounds. There are enough nightmarish dream sequences, twists, turns, surrealism, symbolism and intrigue to have your head spinning feverishly and Soavi’s direction is generally more than sound. Sadly, his film isn’t without its faults and, at just shy of two hours long, could do with being a little lighter on its feet. Moreover, the conclusion is likely to provide a bone of contention with many and doesn’t even attempt to add up. However, there’s no shortage of suspense and the underwater labyrinth beneath the house provides a wonderfully creepy and claustrophobic inner sanctum that echoes Inferno in the atmosphere stakes.

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Trying to pigeon-hole The Sect is like trying to catch O.J. Simpson in the act as there really isn’t another film quite like it, to its infinite credit. What impresses me most about Soavi’s works is that they are totally different from anything his countrymen were churning out at the time and, while not up to the impossibly lofty standard of Dellamorte Dellamore or quite as splatter happy as Stagefright, it could never be accused of being dull or contrived. Besides, no other movie can boast of proving without reasonable doubt that fluffy white bunnies are actually inherently evil and not, by any means, to be trusted with your Netflix password.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Rather surprisingly, grue is pretty thin on the ground here and Soavi refrains from supplying us with the money shot more often than not. There are still some vicious stabbings, pilfered hearts, pecked throats complete with larvae and one particularly excruciating ritualistic face removal courtesy of numerous embedded metal hooks but it’s hardly a free-for-all. As for bare flesh, there’s a little on exhibit but regretfully it doesn’t come with a pulse. Meanwhile, we will be left cursing Curtis’s overly murky bath water.

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Read Stagefright (1987) Appraisal

Read Dellamorte Dellamore Appraisal

Read Inferno Appraisal

Read A Blade in The Dark Appraisal

 

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