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Vineyard owner marquis Philippe de Montfaucon is called back to his castle Bellenac because of another dry season. He asks his wife and children to remain in Paris, but they still come after him. His wife Catherine de Montfaucon soon discovers that her husband is acting mysteriously and that his employees are following old pagan rituals that call for the life of the marquis himself to save the crops. Written by
Historically speaking this film serves as an invaluable precursor to Anthony Shaffer's ingenious THE WICKER MAN, starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. Taken on its own, however, EYE OF THE DEVIL is an effective but wildly uneven film.
The story deals with a wealthy French nobleman (David Niven) who is called back to his ancestral castle when the crops fail. Due to his erratic behavior regarding this summons, wife Deborah Kerr becomes increasingly worried about Niven's safety. Against his orders, Kerr takes her children to his ancestral castle, where she witnesses many strange and eerie religious rites. The question then becomes, will Kerr be able to rescue Niven from a ritual sacrifice, and -- indeed -- does he wish to be saved?
Owing to its erratic production history, it's not surprising that EYE OF THE DEVIL is a bit rough around the edges. The story is obtuse, and the characters under-developed, but director J. Lee Thompson employs an intriguingly arty approach that keeps one alert throughout. Thompson makes excellent use of Ernest Haller's mobil camerawork, most notably in a memorable race-against-the-clock climax. Additionally, the score is excellent, and the cast is well above average for this sort of thing. In the lead roles, Kerr and Niven are effective and restrained, but it is the supporting cast that really impresses: Donald Pleasence, his head shave completely bald, as a sinsiter cleric; David Hemmings as a seemingly evil youth; and especially Sharon Tate as Hemmings' enchantingly sensual/wicked sister.
In the end, EYE OF THE DEVIL cannot be considered a great film. It is, however, an above average diabolical thriller, and as such can be recommended to horror fans. My rating: *** out of ****
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