The Touch of Satan
A story of exorcism!
Year of Release: 1971
Also Known As: Night of the Demon, Curse of Melissa, The Touch of Melissa
Running Time: 86 minutes (1:26)
Director: Don Henderson
Michael Berry ... Jodie Lee Thompson
Emby Mellay ... Melissa Strickland
Lee Amber ... Luther Strickland
Yvonne Winslow ... Molly Strickland
Jeanne Gerson ... Lucinda Strickland
Strange things happen in a farmer's family in California. A young man, Jody, meets the family and their daughter Melissa. Melissa and Jody fall in love with each other. The village people say Melissa is a witch. Lusida, an other daughter of the family, commits several murders. Jody doesn't believe the gossips about Melissa but finally he also is touched by the devil.
The Touch of Satan, remindin' us that we've still got a lot to learn about religious tolerance considerin' it played about five minutes at the drive-in in 1971, yet Touched By an Angel ran unchecked for nine goddamned years on CBS. Why the heck'd we even leave England if we're just gonna turn around an act exactly like King what's-his-crown with the spiritual persecution? I'm startin' to wonder if the real reason wasn't just to get away from the food an that they only claimed oppression so nobody'd think they were bein' petty.
An speakin' of things you wouldn't wanna find in your dinner, I been meanin' to go by Furry Mountain Stuffing to see how Cleave Furguson's gettin' along with the puppy he adopted after Apollo humped up a whole mess of ugly little yap factories with that prissy bitch of Saul Schwartzberg's. There's been a little *tension* ever since I chucked his camcorder at that mutant bear that tried eatin' us out on Sumac Ridge a few weeks back, an I could tell Cleave was still kinda hacked off about it when I saw 'im at Mack's Stacks of Manly Snacks last Friday an he threw a fork at me from across the room an purt'near caused Peggy Pogue to dump a pot of hot coffee in Clovis Skidman's lap. Anyway, I spotted Bondo's wrecker towin' Cleave's Bronco into town a couple days later an figured he'd prolly cooled down enough to go visit with, an when I got over there he was in the middle of stuffin' a hamster for Roxanne Bigelow's daughter after it'd chomped on a TV cable an went to rodent heaven. I think Cleave's just tryin' to get into Roxanne's pants, but he spent the first few minutes bitchin' about how he'd been all over town tryin' to find marbles small enough to make eyeballs out of an lamentin' the hair loss that occurred when its tiny hide caught fire until he got so worked up that he hadda stop an take a break. Then he started tellin' me about how the sea lions at Bonneville Dam're eatin' up all the salmon an what that's gonna do to his Chinook stuffin' business, but unfortunately neither of us was keepin' an eye on Mindy (Cleave's had a thing for Pam Dawber since we were in 1st Grade), an while he was railin' against the ODF&W the little booger climbed up on his workbench an pretty much guaranteed the hamster's funeral was gonna hafta be closed casket. Poor thing got torn up like a feather boa at a NASCAR track, it was not a pretty sight. Cleave handled the situation with his usual poise an basically proceeded to crap his pants like Ted Nugent during the draft lottery while I tried to find a solution. Took a little while, but eventually I managed to come up with a sure-fire plan to put Hampty Dumpty together again, an so I told Cleave to salvage what he could while I drove over to Lunk's Trunks of Fantastic Junk an dug around in a toy chest where I fished out an old Gizmo suction cup doll an secured its purchase for $0.50 (Lunk wanted $0.75, so I hadda spend 10 minutes arguin' with 'im about how his "vintage" merchandise also had a "vintage" 30-year-old syrup stain before he'd be reasonable). A few stitches here, a little glue there, an presto - Frankenhamster. Cleave was even able to rebuild the missin' head from the plastic ears an cover it with doll hair for an uncanny resemblance. I'm tellin' ya, if Cleave'd focus on taxidermy instead of Roxanne's fanny, he could prolly afford to retire in 30 - 40 years - he's *that* good.
After reviewin' Werewolf last week an reflectin' upon the ramifications of havin' a title like that in my list of the 10 greatest Mystery Science Theater 3000 flicks, I've decided to strike it from the record an replace it with somethin' a little less cringe-inducing, so I went with the movie where a buncha rubes burn a teenager at the stake while singin' Amazing Grace instead. Sometimes you hafta take a long look in the mirror before you realize how sick you are, but I'm feelin' a lot better about this tribute thing now. I just want everybody know that this isn't a job I take lightly, an I think I'm ready to take another stab at illustratin' what makes these flicks so much fun, but just to make sure, take a quick look at this here suppository of knowledge an make sure I'm not slippin'. First, you may be taking your anti-snitch code a little too seriously if the cops're the only people in town who don't know somebody's a witch. Second, you know a man's serious about layin' off the booze when he walks around with a match in his mouth. An third, not all deviled ham comes from the canned food section.
These movies set in little out-of-the-way communities're pretty good at depictin' simple folks an their straight-forward way of lookin' at things, an in the spirit of this slow-movin' rural world of ours, I'd like to take a minute to talk about one of our favorite expressions - "common sense." The way this generally works is as follows - country folks accuse city people of havin' no common sense, urbanites then respond by claiming ruralites're insecure and simply looking to tout our experience-based knowledge due to a lack of formal education. Well funny enough, both groups're pretty much spot on, an neither seems to care because each one considers *their* brand of expertise to be the more valuable of the two. Now, I imagine mosta you readin' this're city dwellers, an so I don't really need to impress upon you the value of book learnin', so let me show ya what I mean about common sense. In this flick we've got a city kid who pulls off the highway on a whim an decides to park his car next to some farmer's pond for lunch - this's an excellent way to end up with a hinder fulla buckshot, only the city boy don't know any better. That ain't even the worst of it though - the real facepalmer comes when the farmer's daughter shows up, exhibits no signs of hostility (she don't even try sacrificin' 'im to the Corn Gods or anything), brings 'im home to meet 'er folks, an the girl's Pop fails to take an immediate dislike to 'im. For anyone livin' more'n 50 miles from a commercial airport, any *one* of these things sends up enough red flags to supply a confederate monument demolition protest. Anybody who's ever had a wheat stalk in their mouth'd be boltin' from that house in terror the instant Dad happily shook their hand, cause in this situation bein' shotgun wedded to a succubus is probably your *best* case scenario (worst case - you end up tomorrow's lunch special at the local diner). So yeah, common sense is pretty important, an we got a lot of it around here. Now if we just had employment, health care, opportunity, social equality, education funding, cell phone reception an a mall to go with it, we'd really be a force to be reckoned with.
The movie begins with this old timer draggin' a truant cow back to his barn around dusk, only to be pitchforked to death by some old hag carryin' a Betsy Wetsy who looks like she's been playin' hide 'n seek inside a Little Chief Smoker for two weeks (Lucinda). Then Granny Cryptkeeper goes spillin' in the back door of 'er farmhouse at supper time an tries explainin' to 'er family (Luther, Molly, an Melissa) that there's been a little accident out to the neighbor's haystack an that she may need to have 'er spectacle prescription checked. The next day, some guy who looks like the unholy offspring of Steve Irwin an Rand Paul (Jodie) is cruisin' the highway in his brand new Maverick an decides to take the road less paved an park next to Lake Inferior for lunch, cept while he's goin' at his sandwich Melissa comes outta the unprocessed woodwork an tells 'im he's got more teeth than anybody she's ever met an that they could really use a set of chompers like that to help with the annual sheep castratin' season. Luther's a little P.O.'d when he finds out she's plannin' to invite 'im to supper on account of his already havin' two ungrateful smart-mouths to feed, but what he really wants to know is whether she "called" 'im an she tells 'im that it's been impossible to call anyone since the town power line blew down. Then everybody flops down for dinner an Melissa asks if it'd be alright if Jodie stayed the night an the parents start sweatin' like they're afraid God has the house bugged, but eventually agree so Melissa won't wish 'em into the Cornfield. Then Melissa an Jodie go for a walk down by the pond an she tells 'im that it's where the fish lives but that he's been savin' his money so that one day he'll be able to afford to move to the Gatlinburg Aquarium, an suggests that if Jodie'll stick around for a few days she might let 'im shuck 'er deviled clam. Jodie can't resist 'er devil's food muffins so he agrees an she shows 'im to his room, only while he's gettin' ready for bed Lucinda walks in an tries to scare 'im away by tellin' 'im she an Melissa are identical twins an that this's how she looks without makeup.
Needless to say, Jodie's dropped a load of corned beef hash in his drawers by this point, so he goes across the hall to ask Melissa what in the amber waves of grain's goin' on an she tells 'im not to listen to Lucinda's Tales from the Crypt an that she only looks like a Cigar Store Indian cause when she was little 'er face caught fire an the flames hadda be stamped out by the family goat. Then Melissa has a heart-to-heart with Lucinda an tells 'er that if she runs this guy off before she gets to play Touchie/Feelie of Satan with 'im that she's gonna sell 'er to P.T. Barnum. The next mornin', Melissa an Jodie head into town to pick 'er up a new broom an some wart concealer an Jodie can't help but notice the way everyone treats Melissa like a skank in a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel an he ends up gettin' annoyed an makin' abrupt scary animal noises at 'em to teach 'em a little respect. Good plan, that won't reinforce the idea that he's possessed or anything. Now Melissa's P.O.'d cause she hasta work with these people, so she decides to tell Jodie she's a witch an that the townspeople're very superstitious cause the devil's on his way. Unfortunately Jodie's blinder'n Stevie Wonder so she decides to take 'im out to 'er witchin' shack an tell 'im about that old black magic that she weaves so well, cept in the meantime the sheriff's dropped by Melissa's place to see if they're secretly harboring any Children of the Corn an 'er witch's intuition tells 'er they'd better get their butts back to the house before blue lives splatter. Too late though, cause by the time they pull in Lucinda's put 'er own personal touch on Cosmo's "fastest way to hook a man" advice column an gone with the kinda hook generally reserved for halibut fishin' an Melissa hasta pull 'er off while Jodie returns his meatloaf an string beans back to the land. Then Luther locks Jodie up in the tool shed an when he begins to question the legitimacy of country hospitality Melissa comes in an explains that normally they'd never do this, cept city people always ask SO many questions when your deranged, Alzheimer's ridden kinfolk start takin' lawn an garden equipment to the local authority figures.
Jodie swears he won't say a word even if Robert Stack tracks 'im down an tortures 'im with a brandin' iron so Luther decides to trust 'im an let 'im bunk with 'em one more night, only when he hits the sack Melissa goes out to 'er Lucifort an starts astral projectin' memories into his dreams about when she an Lucinda where kids sittin' in their parents' livin' room receivin' last rites from their Dad while the God Squad marched on their homestead with rusty farm implements an torches to massacre the "witch" in the name of their kind an benevolent Christian God. It seems folks were gettin' just a teensy bit P.O.'d about the plague of herpes infested vermin an cranky Indians turnin' people's skulls into soup bowls, so needless to say, the unmistakable lack of pox upon Lucinda an Melissa's house was just a tad suspicious. So they did what any God-fearin' stewards of the land would do in their situation - beat the holy hell outta Dad, staked Lucinda to the ground, an Kentucky fried 'er to within an inch of 'er life while singin' Amazing Grace. Bad news for the Messianic Militia though, cause all the sudden time freezes like a cow trough in January an ole Brimstone Britches offers to give Melissa the power to save Lucinda if she'll agree to serve his cause an to tell Richard Nixon he's not available anytime he calls askin' for a favor. Melissa agrees, smothers the fire, an hexes the Holy Prolers back to the stone age as they flee for the safety of their colonial trailer park, only now neither Mom nor Dad want anything to do with 'em after the supernatural stunt Melissa just pulled an they end up gettin' exiled from God's Country. Jodie finally understands an rushes out to Melissa's Beelzebungalow demandin' to know exactly where that dirty ole Satan touched her, but Melissa tells 'im there's no need to go defendin' 'er honor since it happened over 100 years ago an that if he'll just accept 'er for what she is she's sure they can be every bit as happy as Darrin an Samantha on Bewitched. Unbeknownst to them, however, Lucinda's been listenin' to their conversation over the Psychic Network Party Line, an busted out of 'er room to break up their little love fest. Got a little action left, includin' a mild twist ending, so I'd better can the chatter to avoid spoilin' it for anyone that ain't seen it before.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 strikes again, sending an otherwise slightly below average movie plunging all the way down to #70 on the IMDB's list of the 100 worst movies of all time. I guess it's not really MST3K's fault since that's got more to do with the relative "bad movie" inexperience of the people watching the show. On the other hand, I suppose the MST3K crew should be forgiven, considering that without their ringing endorsement the movie would likely have been forgotten forever. It really was an excellent choice for the show though, as it's mediocre enough to warrant ridicule, but interesting enough to keep the audience engaged. Movie's just flat out strange is what it is - from the sometimes bizarre dialog ("this is where the fish lives"), to Satan's Metron-esque voiceovers recorded inside a grain silo, the flick's got a unique atmosphere that makes it memorable. I think the scene that really exemplifies its weirdness is one that you don't get in the MST3K version, which depicts Melissa dropping to her knees in the yard while the camera slowly pans around her for about two minutes like she's in The Matrix, while Luther and Molly frantically devise a plan to get rid of the sheriff's corpse and car. The scene doesn't really even drag due to the exchange in the background and the occasional glimpses of Luther and Molly dealing with the body holding your attention and, in fact, it's actually kinda artistic for a movie of this caliber. The point is, whether you like the movie or not you almost certainly remember it, and that in itself proves that there's at least some value in it. I really couldn't tell you exactly where the tipping point is, but there comes a point in certain movies where the stars just seem to align, and at that moment the film's deficiencies begin to coalesce and change your entire perception of it. The movie goes from being bad to odd, and once that happens it sticks in your mind and you begin to develop an affinity for it. This phenomenon is highly subjective, but there are even a few popular movies that earned their acclaim in this manner - take Carnival of Souls for instance, which has become a minor cult classic in recent years. Honestly, Carnival's just not that great a movie on a technical level, but as it goes on all its little problems seem to snowball into an aesthetic that comes across as having been perfectly orchestrated all along, despite conventional wisdom screaming otherwise. Carnival of Souls is much weirder than The Touch of Satan, and who knows, maybe that's why Carnival of Souls was released by Criterion, while The Touch of Satan's only stand-alone release was issued by Code Red, but I find the two similarly strange, with each earning a total score greater than the sum of its parts. Incidentally, Rifftrax put the screws to Carnival of Souls a couple years back, so I must not be the only one who sees the connection... even if we have different interpretations about what that link means.
Anyhow, all this intellectual talk's startin' to make my head hurt, so how's about we take a big pull offa this witch's brew and find out if it's got the 60 proof necessary to become the first Mystery Science Theater title to score a passing grade. The plot, while straightforward and generally coherent, has an unending need to clarify itself immediately after dropping a new development. The writers either had very little confidence in their target audience, or had some kinda grudge against plot twists, because the moment a new piece of information is revealed there's always a brief exposition scene that builds on it. They simply could not stand the idea of letting the viewer temporarily wonder why Melissa just happens to be standing by the pond when Jodie shows up. They deem it absolutely critical to explain two minutes later by having Luther ask Melissa if she "called" him, and the entire movie plays out this way. So it's a bit condescending, and because of this approach there's never any kind of build up to some big finale, but at the same time, it's perfectly linear and easy to follow. The cast is amateurish and really could have benefited greatly from a Buck Flower or a Barry Corbin type character actor, but on a small budget these sorts of deficiencies often can't be helped. Honestly, despite the overwhelming number of cast members who chose not to pursue acting as a career, there are no completely atrocious performances. Nobody's great, or even good mind you, but they're all *okay*, particularly with such gems as: "I love you Melissa, and it doesn't matter that the devil's in your soul," making their way into the script.
Here's who matters and why: Jeanne Gerson (The Bride and the Beast), Robert Easton (Needful Things, Pet Sematary II, Star Trek VI, The Giant Spider Invasion, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1961, The Neanderthal Man, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), John J. Fox (Assault on Precinct 13, Something Evil), Hal K. Dawson (The Alligator People, Superman and the Mole-Men).
Not surprisingly, the special effects are pretty tame given that the movie was originally released with a PG rating. There's a little blood for the scene where Lucinda kills the sheriff, and a bit on her clothes after she kills the neighbor in the opening sequence (all of it's bright and noticeably thick), but the main attraction is Lucinda's old age makeup, which is actually not too bad given the budget. They wisely selected a woman in her late 60s to play Lucinda, which meant not needing to throw together a disheveled wig or having to artificially age her hands, so that helped as well. There's also one "stunt" involving the sheriff's car being rolled down an embankment where it crashes and explodes, which is okay, but nothing spectacular. The shooting locations are the film's greatest asset, and feature an excellent old farmhouse, grassy meadows with a seldom-used two-track dirt road, a surprisingly clean and attractive pond, and two separate views of the village's "downtown" district. Principle photography took place in Santa Ynez, California, population roughly 4400, though The Touch of Satan isn't nearly the scariest thing to take root in those parts, as the town would subsequently become the home of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Nice, quiet little burg though, with well scouted locations and idyllic rural photography. The soundtrack also punches above its weight, leading with a spiffy '70s rock tune that plays over the opening credits. It's a bit cheerful at times, but for a movie with a PG rating, it's not damaging to the flick's atmosphere. The rest of the score has a dark fairy tale quality to it, which strikes the proper tone for the level of "terror" the film brings to bear, with the majority of the tracks combining synth (least I think it was, the audio's not great in this print), woodwinds, and strings. There's another track that features the piano prominently, but mostly it's the aforementioned synth/classical instruments. It's actually not a bad soundtrack at all, having been composed by Robert Ragland who did scores for a lot of classic B-movies, including: The Thing With Two Heads, Abby, Grizzly, Mansion of the Doomed, Evils of the Night, The Supernaturals, Deep Space, Alien From the Deep, and Q: The Winged Serpent. Overall, as far as the production values go, I'm inclined to pass it, as I feel only the acting and plot portions come up short of a minimum 6/10 score (the difference being compensated for by the excellent shooting locations). That said, it's not the most exciting flick you'll ever see, and it does bog down fairly regularly, so its enjoyment factor doesn't hold up its end sufficiently to earn a passing grade. Still, it's far better than the IMDB would have you think, so if you run low on options and get a hankerin' to check it out sans MST3K commentary, by all means, give it a spin.