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Disciple Of Death (1972)

There’s a shared joke in my household that my wife will walk into the room at the end of one of “my films” (she steadfastly refuses to watch any of them, she’s a wise and beautiful woman), only to be told by me: “That is the worst film I have ever seen.”

She reckons she has been told this many, many times – and I would be the first to admit that on several occasions I have sat through the most unwatchable drivel in my bid to wade through the obscure excesses of British cinema. Sometimes I don’t really mean it, sometimes my opinion can be clouded by my mood, or some deep-seated and unreasonable prejudice (Patrick Mower, Shane Bryant, unfunny “comic” interludes, unscary gangs of middle-aged men pretending to be teenagers… the list is long and unfathomable).

However, it’s time to lay the cards on the table – Disciple Of Death is the worst film I have ever seen. It is quite simply a stinker of remarkable ineptitude - featuring the worst performance by a leading man in the history of celluloid, some truly pitiful special effects, a story which beggars belief and camerawork and direction which… well, I despair.

Now, before you all rush out to grab a copy of this thinking that it must be “so bad it’s good”, it really isn’t. This reviewer is a big fan of such films – from Horror Hospital to Killer’s Moon, I’ve watched, loved and recommended ‘em all. But Disciple Of Death’s complete amateurishness, its unwatchability, its crapulous, nonsensical, piles-inducing rubbishness, knows no bounds. It seems to last a week, and half the time you can’t even see what’s going on. If I never see it again, it will be too soon.

Most of this tirade, it has to be said, is levelled firmly at Mike Raven – the pointy-bearded, pointy-faced, sometime Radio One DJ from the 60s who launched himself onto an unsuspecting horror fraternity in the early 70s by conning his way onto a handful of films, including a Hammer (Lust For A Vampire) and an Amicus (I, Monster). How he managed this is anyone’s guess, because the man just couldn’t act. But he was a trier, and eventually managed to get star billing – in this farrago, and an equally inept mess called Crucible Of Terror.

In this one, Raven is the titular disciple (the film begins: “Once upon a time, there was a… Disciple Of Death!”), a white-faced zombie who skulks around a bit and pulls people’s hearts out of their chests for some reason. The story (such as it is) features Julia (Marguerite Hardiman, better known as Ronnie Corbett’s feisty sister in the sitcom Sorry), a busty maiden who has fallen for the Ralph the farmer (Stephen Bradley), against her father’s wishes. They pledge their love to each other by mixing their blood (“like the gypsies do”), but a drop falls onto the ground, which just happens to be the unconsecrated grave of… you guessed it.

“Now I’m yours forever,” breathes Julia to her love. “No, mine!” comes a spooky voice from the ground.

That night, a chalk-faced Raven appears in her bedroom and sort of stares at her for a bit, and next morning, as she is out for a walk, she bumps into him (looking slightly more sprightly) in the grounds of the Old Hall. He’s the Lord Of The Manor, cursed 50 years ago by the same gypsy woman who recently refused to tell Julia’s fortune.

The gypsy woman gets garrotted, and shortly afterwards Julia’s maid Becky (Louise Doctor Who Jameson) is deluged in blood when her amorous boyfriend Matthew is murdered in front of her.

At Matthew’s funeral, the local Parson (Ronald “please refer to me by a different role than the Nazi in Raiders Of The… oh, you’ve done it again. Look, I’ve done lots of other stuff. There’s this film, for a start. And Porridge. And, erm…” Lacey) launches into a hysterical, halting tirade: “Evil is abroad. The gypsy is dead. Our poor friend Matthew, who we come to mourn… is dead. His fiancée… mark my words… will never be sane again! Who… has unleashed this evil on us? Think, my children… think…”

He’s choked into silence, and looks up to see Raven gurning at him from the church door.

I know what you’re thinking. So far, so Blood On Satan’s Claw. And to give it its due, there are moments when Disciple Of Death does resemble the Tigon classic. But these moments are few and far between, and you haven’t seen anything yet…

The Parson is busy telling everyone not to go to the Old Hall, but this information doesn’t do Ralph’s twin sister Ruth much good – a white-faced Raven just goes and gets her, dragging her back to his ceremonial hall, where there are loads of white-faced, black-haired zombie Goth girls waiting. In an hilarious ceremony he burbles on about how he has to find a girl who is willing to live with him in his dark palace in hell, and until this happens he has to supply his lord Satan with virgins. She refuses his offer of marriage, so he rips her heart out (in a pathetically poor effect) and drinks her blood (which, fair dues, seems to cheer him up a lot).

A zombie Ruth now appears at Ralph’s window, and entices him back to the Hall, where Julia is waiting under Raven’s power. “Trust me…” she tells him. “When the clock strikes eight, come to me again!”

Ralph is finally a bit concerned by all these goings-on, so he goes to the Parson, the pair deciding to consult an old wizard and his magic mirror. The wizard, a comedy Jew (“This is your Kosher Yiddisher magic!”), shows them that Raven is being caused problems, as Ruth’s love for her brother has survived beyond her death (for some reason, Raven is shown in the mirror performing crappy conjuring tricks, a-la Paul Daniels). They then see that Raven has conjured up a spirit which has the same powers as him – but during the day (eek!). For “evil spirit”, read “vertically challenged individual”, as Ralph and the Parson are menaced on their way home by an extremely angry dwarf (you can tell he’s angry because he keeps shaking his fists and stamping his foot). He creates mountains, fires and raging torrents to stop them, but they thwart him at every turn (ooh, he’s furious now) – until finally the Parson lays down his life to allow Ralph to escape.

As you can probably tell, at some point in the last few minutes, the film has turned from bad horror film into utter farce. Back at the village, Ralph finds a mini-bloodbath, and rushes to save Julia from the clutches of Raven, who has now decided that anything his dwarf can do, he can do worse, and is busy pointing at doors and furrowing his brow like his career depends upon it. Raven captures the pair of them and starts torturing them (ooh, he’s fiendish), until the tables are turned and Raven is banished back to whence he came (“No doubt we all shall meet again… in hell!”).

Quite what anyone involved in this utter mess was thinking as they made it is beyond me. There are points when it appears that Disciple Of Death might have been intended as a comedy (the Parson returns to the wizard for a final word, and finds a skeleton, murmuring apologetically: “I’m sorry to disturb you… I didn’t realise… it can wait…”), but if that was the case, then the joke got lost along the way.

Raven died young, which was a shame, as he seemed to be a lovely bloke. Terrible actor, though.

Director: Tom Parkinson; Writers: Tom Parkinson; Mike Raven (as Churton Fairman, which explains a lot)

Cast: Mike Raven - Stranger; Ronald Lacey - Parson; Stephen Bradley - Ralph; Marguerite Hardiman - Julia; Virginia Wetherell - Ruth; George Belbin - Squire; Betty Alberge - Dorothy; Nicolas Amer - Melchisidech, the Cabalist (as Nick Amer); Rusty Goffe - Dwarf; Louise Jameson - Betty; Joe Dunlop - Mathew; Daisika - Gypsy

Last updated: February 22, 2010

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Disciple Of Death

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