FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*
Some bad movies wear their influences on their sleeves. As the badness unfolds, one can imagine how the writer or director thought he was emulating something good, but that he just couldn't see how to make the parts connect.
DEATH's scripter Richard Mahoney has but one writing credit, as his career revolved more around costuming. One imdb reviewer read the novel on which DEATH was based, and pronounced it much better than the movie-- which wouldn't be too hard. But I can't help wondering if Mahoney thought he was doing something along the lines of 1957's CURSE OF THE DEMON, where a skeptic gets converted to the reality of modern witchcraft the hard way.
Influence aside, CURSE provides a textbook example as to how to pursue the modern-witchcraft theme so that it has human appeal for the audience. In contrast, even though Mahoney's dialogue is competent enough-- at least, no worse than many forties B-films-- nothing his characters say seems to hook up with any emotion. Of course, maybe the film's three directors were responsible for the incoherence.
The hard-to-follow plot concerns the Desard family, located in the town of Widderburn, somewhere in rural England. The oldest Desards are ailing Andre (John Carradine), who has some unspecified occult history, and Belial (Lon Chaney Jr), who have been feuding for years over the family fortune. There are two other Desards living on the estate, the much younger Paul and Valerie, who I assume to be cousins, though I don't think it was specified. Belial has taken a devilish name because he's a Satan-worshipper (this several years before cinema went whole-hog with "Satanic panic"). He even has real horns, about the size of a baby goat's, sprouting from his head, presumably a gift from his evil master, and he's more or less seduced all the villagers to do his will, even those not formally inducted into his coven. In order to break Andre's control of the family, Belial curses Andre's son Paul to become a werewolf-- whose lupine activities are almost entirely off-camera, (Given how bad the wolf-makeup is, this is a meager blessing.)
Into this familial quarrel come supernatural skeptic Eric Campion (Jerome Thor) and his acquaintance Katherine Malloy (Andrea King). Their professions are vague at best, but Eric lived in the village three years previous to the film's time, though it's not clear whether or not we was a native. Eric may or may not have some romantic relationship with Katherine, or he may have some past connection with Valerie, but the script is so filled with tedious exposition that any such affiliations get lost in the shuffle. To the extent Katherine fulfills any purpose, she's there to be a sounding board as Eric begins to believe in the occult powers of Belial.
Very little happens beyond actors standing around pontificating or watching sexy women perform ritual dances in the forest. (Sabrina, a celebrity model of the period, has a non-speaking role as one of the dancers.) Andre and Belial share no scenes together, though of the two actors, Carradine succeeds in making his rambling speeches more appealing to listen to than Chaney does.
Toward the climax Andre tells Eric that his cross-- which is just an ordinary looking icon-- has the power to defeat Belial, though there's no real evidence of this. Then, while Belial is performing some ritual, Andre suddenly decides to settle their feud with a conjuration that kills Belial. End film.
Since DEATH was filmed in black and white, it didn't get a release until 1971. It functions as nothing more than a footnote in the respective careers of Chaney and Carradine.