Devonsville Terror, The (1983)
Cast: Suzanna Love, Donald Pleasence, and Robert Walker
Director: Ulli Lommel
Nutshell: A town has a dark history and a resulting curse that the people fear is finally beginning to come to pass and they are prepared to kill to stop it from becoming a reality.
“Never comes to life” – Creature Features
“Best effects are worms coming out of the face of Donald Pleasence” – Psychotronic Video
“weakened by cloned climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark” – Blockbuster Video
“Copycat Horror” – Maltin’s
“scary script” – Video Movies Guide
The Devonsville Terror is of particular interest to Pakistani audiences today because of the controversial “Blasphemy Law”. Any film set 300 years ago in Europe during the reign of religious lynch mobs and women being decried by the hundreds and murdered as witches shares a similar moral compass as the one which exists in our parts today. Other than that aspect, it is a film directed by Ulli Lommel, a man who garnered some fame for his rather awful The Boogey Man, a film that managed a solid run at the box office in 1980 in the wake of the slasher film glory day era. Boogey Man also ended up on the infamous Video Nasties list and any film that landed on that list instantly became a “must see” title for a legion of horror movie buffs out there, especially in the UK.
Devonsville Terror stars Donald Pleasence which has to be a positive to any film and is as good a reason as any to take another ride with Ulli Lommel and his wife and frequent star of his features, the lovely Susanna Love.
In a skewed sort of way and totally by accident, the film is a premonition of an age of Taliban mentalities, The Age of Trump, the refugee crisis, a clash of the established order by new people and new ideas.
The film starts 300 years ago in the small town of Devonsville, Massachusetts dominated by a particular family who hunt down three women accusing them of witchcraft and condemn them each to horrific deaths. The last of the three women proclaims her innocence like the others to no avail but when she perishes there is an ominous thunder and lightning and her image lights up the night sky; she damns and curses Devonsville as she burns in hell.
300 years later in Devonsville life has moved on but mindsets remain the same as they used to be with women being subjugated and not allowed to even have an opinion. It is in this environment that three liberated ladies of the 70s move into town taking up different occupations and causes and ruffling the feathers of the local establishment and male dominated order. One of the women hosts a radio show encouraging abused and downtrodden housewives to empowerment while another champions the causes of a cleaner, nature friendly environment and the third, the leading character of the movie, teaches English and other subjects to the young middle school kids of this ultra conservative community representing “good old fashioned” make-America-great again style values. She shocks them one day by mentioning that before religions established the male as “God” there were faiths before that used to consider a female as “God” as well. When news of this outrage reaches the parents, they are immeasurably disturbed and soon clans are huddling together to try and figure out a way by which they can purge themselves of the contamination spreading outsiders.
Meanwhile there is the town doctor and therapist Dr. Worley played by Donald Pleasence, whose family was part of the lynch mob that burned those women 300 years ago and now he is paying for their sings by developing a supernatural sort of ailment by which worms are burrowing inside his body and he spends a good part of his day with tongs, tugging at ghastly, wriggling worms that he extracts from little holes in his body. It’s a disgusting, stomach churning sight but scores the movie some major brownie points for genre fans for containing a scene that is truly and deliciously awful. You get your money’s worth on the disgusting scale.
As the community become more and more incensed and perturbed at the behavior of the three “liberal” outsiders who they feel are threatening to undermine their very way of life as well as their good Christian morals, it is decided once again to take matters into their own hands just as they had done 300 years ago. They are convinced the three witches that burned have cursed them and these are the three witches reincarnated and arrived in their midst with a deadly agenda. The town elders decide to eradicate the menace. Pleasence meanwhile, consumed by guilt and desperate for the redemption he seeks that may result in a reversal of his horrible condition is supportive of the “witches. Their torture and lynching by his ancestors sits heavily on his soul, gnawing away at him and spawning those appalling worms.
Soon, each of the girls are hunted down by the murderous mob with the intention of lynching them exactly the way the townsfolk had done all those years ago. The methods had included being gored to death by hogs and being set on fire wheel and rolled down a hill with no chance of survival. This time though, they are in for a bit of a surprise as one of the women proves that all the fears they had were well founded. In a fairly spectacular climactic meltdown, the horrors of Devonsville come full circle with deadly consequences.
The Devonsville Terror manages to pull together without being either particularly fascinating or creative or indeed scary yet it is fairly entertaining and the backdrop provided by the Wisconsin setting is arresting and effective. The acting is reasonable and every once in a while, Lommel attempts some interesting cuts and edits but it doesn’t really add up to a style of film making, more like a halfhearted attempt at doing something a little differently that he chickened out of rightly or wrongly. Lommel was from the school of cinema that was considered the New German Cinema Movement and had links to Andy Warhol’s but he lets his experimental side remain resting in this particular film unfortunately. It would have been interesting to see what he would have produced had he allowed himself to let go a little and allow himself some artistic license. In this feature, for the most part Lommel plays it safe.
In an era dominated by cheap conveyor-belt slasher films as fodder it is somewhat refreshing that this films follows a quite different path and though it’s ridiculous to claim in any sense that the film foresaw the world we inhabit today or even reflected a mindset that would be surprisingly relevant in 2016 as it was in 1984 or three hundred years before that. For Horror film fans with little better to do on a weekday night, The Devonsville Terror will fill that void quite well and it absolutely won’t give you sleepless nights unless you delude yourself to believing it has dark powers of political prophecy.