Eye of the Devil (1966)

Belgian poster for

Belgian poster for “Eye of the Devil” featuring the flagellation scene and the dove offering.

Filmed in black & white, “Eye of the Devil” is a moody 1966 British occult thriller which, makes decent use of atmosphere and features an all-star cast, although it’s mostly notable for being one of the few films to feature actress Sharon Tate before her untimely death a few years later.

The novel

The novel “Day of the Arrow” by Philip Loraine.

Based on the book “Day of the Arrow” (1964) by Philip Loraine, the film tells the story of the Marquis Philippe de Montfaucon, played by David Niven, a vineyard owner who receives a visit during a soiree at his Parisian estate from a bearded gentleman whom we only see tell him “I am sorry, monsieur le marquis”. We later find out that he has been informed that the family vineyards are repeatedly failing and he has been asked to return to the family estate in Bellenac ( an apparently fictitious French village) to set things right.

Philippe tells Catherine he must return to his hometown of Bellenac.

Philippe tells Catherine he must return to his hometown of Bellenac.

His wife Catherine, played by the lovely and talented Deborah Kerr, is troubled by the change in his usually happy demeanor and, despite his explicit wishes for her to stay home with their two children, she decides to follow him a few days later.
Immediately upon arrival she is startled by a dove which is stricken out of the sky above her head by an arrow shot by Christian de Caray, played by a very blond David Hemmings. Christian and his sister Odile, played by the gorgeous Sharon Tate who may have hypnotic powers and also shares his platinum blonde locks, are from a neighboring family who have had hunting rights on the Montfaucon land for centuries so they come and go freely about the estate and stare icily at everyone and declaim, rather than speak, passive-aggressively in monotones. The both of them seem to take pleasure in tormenting Catherine throughout the film: Christian by constantly threatening her with his arrows (phallic symbolism?) and Odile by quietly insinuating herself into the children’s lives and slowly turning them against their mother.

Colorized American lobbycard showing Odile charming little Jacques and Antoinette.

Colorized American lobbycard showing Odile charming little Jacques and Antoinette.

As if that weren’t enough, Philippe seems to be losing his grip slowly as he gets lost in reveries and in one instance absentmindedly crushes a glass in his fist whilst talking to his wife. In his few lucid moments he tells Catherine to take the children and go back to Paris as soon as she can, but she wants to stay and find out what is going on in this madhouse estate.

American colorized lobbycard featuring Odile (Sharon Tate) offering the dove Christian killed at the ritual.

American colorized lobbycard featuring Odile (Sharon Tate) offering the dove Christian killed at the ritual.

Once she starts snooping around, she stumbles upon what appears to be a dark ritual of some kind taking place in one of the rooms of the mansion which involves several robed figures and the de Caray siblings who offer up the dove Christian had recently killed. As she starts asking questions around the household she is shunned by the family and the de Caray siblings step up the harassment. In one hair-raising scene Odile almost talks Catherine into walking off of a parapet with a sheer drop to the ground below. In another scene she is overwhelmed in the woods by the robed figures from the earlier ritual scene and passes out.

German lobbycard showing Catherine and an encroaching dark figure.

German lobbycard showing Catherine and an encroaching dark figure.

Upon waking, she finds herself in her bed back at the mansion where she drifts in and out of consciousness having panic attacks and nightmares. When she feels a bit more herself, she tries to break out of her room but the family ignores her attempts to get their attention and keep her locked up and away from her children. During a visit with the local physician, she finds out that they have been giving her belladonna to keep her in a torpid state.

German lobbycard showing Catherine awaking to find herself a prisoner in her room.

German lobbycard showing Catherine awaking to find herself a prisoner in her room.

Although Catherine eventually figures out what is going on, she is ultimately helpless to change the impending outcome. What’s worse, the finale leaves a hint that her little boy Jacques may already have been indoctrinated in the family rites.
Although there is not much action in the film, it does build up a nice tension with atmospherics and implied terrors. One can almost feel Catherine’s nerves fraying as she the time runs out for her to save her husband from the horrible fate he seems resigned to accept.
Donald Pleasance adds to the spook factor with his portrayal of the creepy “Pere” (French for “Father”) Dominic who seems not so holy as he presides over Philippe’s ceremonial blessing at the local church repeatedly intoning “procedamus in pace” Latin for “go in peace” as he sends Philippe to his fate.

German lobbycard featuring Pere Dominic and Catherine.

German lobbycard featuring Pere Dominic and Catherine.

Sharon Tate stands out as an icy beauty that smolders in her quietude but shows some fire when flagellated by Philippe for almost killing Catherine on the parapet.

German lobbycard featuring the late great Sharon Tate as Odile de Caray. Notice her amulet, which she later uses to hypnotize Catherine.

German lobbycard featuring the late great Sharon Tate as Odile de Caray. Notice her amulet, which she later uses to hypnotize Catherine.

All said and done, the movie comes off as a sort of genteel version of “The Wicker Man” (1973), and oddly enough, despite the robed figures and vaguely paganistic rituals the film has no devil to speak of, although there are a couple of amulets which feature prominently that could be construed as “eyes” and there is a painted “eye” on the ceiling of the room in which another ritual takes place involving Philippe paying obeisance by kissing one of said amulets; Odile uses hers to hypnotize Catherine. The film does however contain the usual Gothic trappings; an ancient estate, a dysfunctional family, even a hidden relative in the attic, so if you like your thrills to be more subtle and less visceral, then it is definitely worth your time to check out “Eye of the Devil”.

Warner Archives DVD of

Warner Archives DVD of “Eye of the Devil”.

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