In Defense of LAND OF THE MINOTAUR

ON

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SHOCK sticks up for the unloved British/Greek horror film LAND OF THE MINOTAUR.

Sometimes I feel that there are certain pictures out there that I and I alone am in love with, that are speaking exclusively to me. I say this because it seems like everyone else with a pulse is either oblivious to the following flick or has callously deemed it to be dung. The strange sliver of celluloid of which I so highly speak – and again, so effectively speaks to me – is Kostas Karagiannis’s earthy 1976 shocker THE DEVIL’S MEN, known to us schmucks on North American shores as LAND OF THE MINOTAUR.

Released in 1977 in the U.S. by exploitation house Crown International to a moderately successful box office take, LAND OF THE MINOTAUR has been pretty easy to find on home viewing formats, popping up in rough looking pan and scan VHS versions and dodgy DVD releases here and in equally ugly (but thankfully uncut) videos in the UK. Scorpion Releasing even let it loose a few years back as a split disc with Norman J. Warren’s TERROR, uncut and in widescreen under it’s the DEVIL’S MEN title with little to no fanfare. Sadly, I’ve still yet to hear anyone else champion its virtues.

So, with that, I do believe it’s time to do so.

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On the outskirts of a remote, inland village in beautiful, picturesque Greece (Aris Stavrou’s photography is stark and eye-filling), something secret, insidious and palpably evil lurks, sucking every too-curious young tourist into its maw and swallowing them whole. As the ever-expanding list of the curious missing travelers increases, an eccentric local Priest (the great Donald Pleasence, a year before he ran raving ‘round Haddonfield) begins to suspect that a cult of mountain dwelling, black hooded, Minotaur worshiping Satanists have gained a stronghold, sacrificing every pretty young thing in their path to their titular stone hoof and horned, steam belching deity.

A battle of theological wits ensues between the fraught Father and the ultra-wicked village Magistrate/covert cult leader Baron Corofax (the perhaps even greater Peter Cushing in rare, full-on chin-stroking villain mode) and by the time the smoke clears and the last drop of crudely spilled virgin blood dries, only one of these admirably dedicated and faithful men will be left standing.

A British/Greek co-production, LAND OF THE MINOTAUR was indeed initially released in the UK under its original title as the sexier and bloodier THE DEVIL’S MEN and, after getting a few bits of PG-rating-ensuring blood and boob action removed, spat out stateside under its more lurid moniker. Slapped with one of the more outrageous, colorful and almost entirely misleading exploitation movie posters of the 1970’s (Half Man! Half Beast! Trapped in a Land Forgotten by Time!), the picture was wedged onto the bottom half of a Crown double bill, pulling in the pundits who were expecting an action packed genre picture, before fading into B-movie oblivion, relegated to after-hours TV showings and budget video waste bins everywhere.

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I first saw LAND OF THE MINOTAUR during one of my indiscriminate Friday night teenage video rental binges in the mid 80’s, duped, just like that legion of kids in 77, by that beautiful, busy cover graphic. And though I did not get the promised epic I had hoped for, what I did get was something far darker, stranger, solemn, moody and bizarre; a picture that had a suffocating ambiance and dream-like atmosphere.

LAND OF THE MINOTAUR is a picture that demands an open mind and perhaps more importantly, an open ear. See part of the shuddery secret of the film, outside of the engaging lead turns from veteran British horror pros Cushing and Pleasence (working together here for the first time since 1960’s masterful ‘Burke and Hare’ drama THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, another of my personal favorites), is an absolutely first rate experimental low frequency electronic score by the iconic composer/pop guru Brian Eno. The former Roxy Music mastermind coats this slowly-paced film with speaker throbbing drones, eerie synthesizer washes and pulses that render it almost meditative. It’s a case study for any serious horror movie minded music maker on how to milk unease out of imagery and the fact that this score isn’t available in any isolated form on CD or vinyl or anything is a very serious cinematic crime that will hopefully one day be rectified.

I really like LAND OF THE MINOTAUR. Make no mistake, it’s a lowbrow exploitation film but it’s one that’s filtered through a very stylized, art house sensibility. Don’t be swayed by the negative mainstream reviews and general fanboy silence. There’s something special in this one…

Here’ s a German clip from the explosive climax. So if you don’t want it spoiled…don’t watch.

And here’s the groovy, non-Eno theme song, cut from the US print (and no, it’s not the same Paul Williams you’re probably thinking of…)

 

Note: portions if this essay appeared in my Blood Spattered Book, from Midnight Marquee Press.

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