Devil’s Due (Ernest Danna, 1973)
(note: review originally published 5Jul2011)
The early days of the porn film are endlessly fascinating to me, mostly because it’s hard to remember that when directors made porn films up until, oh, 1985 or thereabouts, they were actually trying to put equal emphasis on the terms “porn” and “film”, and so some of the mashups you can find in early porn are just amazing. Take Devil’s Due, an early-seventies Satanic Panic flick with a porn bent. Directed by Ernest Danna (the first of three films Danna would direct in his career, all made in 1973-4) and written by Gerry Pound (no other credits on IMDB), this had the potential to be just as incredible an experience as such “what in the name of god were they thinking?” movies as Baby Rosemary, but everyone involved is so inept that you’re left with what could have been, though the movie does contain some jaw-dropping sound bites.
Plot: Cindy (Cindy West, whose career was over by 1976) flees a life of horrific sexual abuse that has left her mute and winds up in the Big City (I don’t remember if it’s ever specifically identified as New York, but it’s obviously meant to be). She answers a roommate wanted ad and ends up meeting Dawn (Andrea True, moonlighting in hardcore while landing paid-extra roles in movies such as The Russians Are Coming and The Way We Were) and Nicky (Darby Lloyd Rains, better-remembered these days for being the longtime girlfriend of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers member Joe Negroni than for her porn career), priestesses in a local Satanic cult led by Kampala (Gus Thomas [ed: note: it has since been revealed that Gus Thomas was a screen
name for Cortland County district attorney Mark Suben] ). Cindy agrees to come check out a ritual; after all, what has traditional religion done to shield her from her upbringing? She realizes quickly that Kampala is just another guy, using the power of his position to have his way with his congregants, and quickly enlists her new best friends in a plot to take over the coven.
…and all this could have been SO good. Back in the day, hardcore actors had to at least go through tryouts, one assumes, and were not judged solely on the amount of silicone in various places on their bodies. (Rains, especially, lends credence to this hypothesis; she’s not at all attractive, but it’s obvious she’s greatly enjoying what she’s doing, and she can act, kinda.) So you’ve got at least a marginally talented cast (they could have spent more time casting Kampala) and an interesting premise, and then… there’s that one pivotal scene, where Cindy has to convince the girls that Kampala is an exploitative bastard who just needs killin’. You do that one scene right, and you’ve got a shot at making this movie into something way, way more than it is. Of course, Danna blows it. Cindy barely has to say (well, write) two sentences to get Dawn and Nicky to go from Kampala’s staunchest defenders to “yeah, this guy needs to go”. It annoyed the hell out of me for the rest of the movie. And yes, I can hear you now. “You want believability and continuity in a porn movie?” Yes, I do. And back in the early to mid-seventies, it wasn’t an unreasonable expectation, even.
But still, it’s worth a rental, assuming you can find it these days, just to hear a woman command, “Kiss the cock of Satan!”. That’s timeless filmmaking, right there. **