In Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) we are shown in fictional broad strokes how the Nazis and their leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945 suicide) were interested in the supernatural as a possible source of weaponry – in this case the Ark of the Covenant.
This relic which reputedly carried the Ten Commandments was also reputed to level mountains, or was it just “magic and superstitious hocus pocus” according to Indiana Jones?
“The Fuhrer is not a patient man… he wants constant reports,” says an army official about the race to find the Ark.
Yes, the Ark of the Covenant turns out to be a Pandora’s Box of supernatural activity, in one of the great moments of 1980s cinema at the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as its “unspeakable power” destroys nearly all those who pursue it.
Where does the Ark end up? “Somewhere very safe,” Indiana is told. Is it one for the Smithsonian Institute? Perhaps not!
But from looking at history, you kind of get the idea that Hitler himself didn’t spend all of his time standing in pentagrams conjuring the devil, no matter how fancy he and his cronies dressed. It was the lesser men under his command who try to find these “magical” elements and they are shown to us in Joel Schumacher’s (1939-2020 cancer) Blood Creek (2008) and the low budget New Zealand shot The Devil’s Rock (2011).
Blood Creek was one of director Schumacher’s last films. It’s hard to believe this director started off doing costume design on Frank Perry’s Play it as it Lays (1972) and then went on to helm some impressive movies such as The Lost Boys (1987), Falling Down (1993) and the middling or classic Flatliners (1990), depending on your point of view. Let’s forget the Batman movies.
“In the early 1930s, Adolf Hitler and his inner circle became obsessed with the occult, believing the black arts were the key to their plan of world domination,” says David Kajganich’s (1969-) screenplay.
The writer previously worked on the screenplay for the flop Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman movie The Invasion (2007) in which Kidman broke a leg in a car stunt and delayed production, sending it over budget.
Kajganich also wrote the screenplay for the rather good reimagining of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (2018) which definitely has its merits. As for Blood Creek, it saw Schumacher and the writer falling out over the director’s reputed changes to the script – Schumacher is reported to have won out.
What the film does relate to us is the use of runestones in necromancy and how early Nazis apparently planted themselves around the United States in areas where these runestones were located. To be precise, runestones are raised stones with inscriptions on them which date back to the Vikings in the 4th Century. They are typically found in Norway and Sweden. I guess when it comes to Blood Creek, the Vikings really got to America first…
One famous set of runestones which are spread around parts of Scandinavia depict the Nibelungen legend of Siegfried the Dragon Slayer which shows a supernatural element – that of dragons – and links it to the myth of the Valkyries. The Valkyries in myth were the daughters of Wotan, German for the god Odin, who rode on the horses of a storm and gathered up the fallen warriors to take them on to the glories of Valhalla. The German composer Richard Wagner (1813-83 heart attack) and his Nibelungen related operas entitled The Ring Cycle – part of which was used in Apocalypse Now (1979) to frighten the enemy – were used by Hitler and the Nazis together with the ancient Nordic myths to develop anti-Semitic fervour and sentiment.
The movies of The Nibelungen Saga (Die Nibelungen), which consist of Siegfried (1924) and its second part Kriemhild’s Revenge (1924) were favourites of Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945 suicide). Siegfried was a particular favourite and the legend of the dragon slaying.
In fact, later showings of these silent films were shown with Wagner’s music as accompaniment, something which irked the director Fritz Lang (1890-1976 stroke), director of the masterpiece Metropolis (1927) who fled Germany under the Nazis for the United States where he continued to make films successfully.
Hitler and Goebbels were apparently not too crazy about the second film Kriemhild’s Revenge because it was too nihilistic – I mean they were the chosen who were about to take over the world and they obviously had no doubt they wouldn’t fail! So Kriemhild’s Revenge would have seemed a downer in retrospect as everything goes up in flames!!
There is an argument that Lang’s films helped to pave the way for the Nazi’s and Lang said in an interview: “By making Die Nibelungen I wanted to show that Germany was searching for and ideal in her past… I wanted to film the epic legend of Siegfried so that Germany could draw inspiration from her past… and not to a looking forward to the rise of a political leader like Hitler.”
But Hitler proved a master manipulator and the truth is that the Nazis only used the pieces of history which they could use to their advantage… To them it was all hail to the glory of the Aryans and Valhalla! So, you can see where mythology and the real runestones in a roundabout fashion fit into the scheme of things in terms of Blood Creek… and Hitler’s determination to find a supernatural element remains conjecture and also possible wishful thinking on his part.
The title of Blood Creek seems to be a riff on the Australian serial killer movie Wolf Creek (2008) and is really a bit of a zombie siege movie… and a very bloody one at that!
Future Superman Henry Cavill (1983-) plays one of two brothers who together invade an isolated farm which, despite going over land and a river to reach it, doesn’t seem too isolated at all. Cavill’s brother has been kept there against his will and tortured for over a year before his escape.
“Are we after somebody? To shoot?,” Cavill asks his brother, who is played by Dominic Purcell (1970-) from the tv series Prison Break (2005-9, 2017). With such a cast the film is well acted as a result.
All the shenanigans at the farm stem back to a Nazi who visited in the early 1930s to sign up the German family to join the cause. Sadly, they are exploited as the German, played by Michael Fassbender (1977-) turns into a monster who must survive on fresh blood all the while worshipping a runestone in the barn.
It’s just that the family keeps this creature trapped and at bay by using symbols of witchcraft on their windows and doors, while they allow victims such as Purcell to be tortured for their blood.
Fassbender is unrecognisable as the Nazi creature who wears a long leather overcoat as all the best dressed Nazis do.
The family has stayed youthful, especially a 17-year-old played by actress Emma Booth (1982-), because of the spell of the Nazi who can rip out the throat of horses with one swipe of his clawed hand and then bring them back to life as zombie stallions.
It’s all good horrific fun and is well produced, although it didn’t get a proper cinema release. It is Schumacher’s swansong and a masterpiece in terms of his work.
I guess it’s all about being prisoners of prisoners and how the lives of both are meshed and how they interact to boiling point as they are forever at odds. How do you hide a Nazi secret in your past and not let it prey on you in some way?
Yes, the script is silly and illogical: “When his third eye is released, he’ll cross over … nothing will be able to contain him, not even the runes.”
The blood runs freely in Blood Creek, probably the reason for the title, as Fassbender needs blood and lots of it.
But the movie which I find more impressive because of its low budget is The Devil’s Rock. It is an ingeniously made low budget film directed and produced by Paul Campion (1967-) in a matter of only a few weeks. I thought that Campion was a New Zealander due to this film being made there and his work on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. But the Englishman studied computer animation at the Bournemouth University and is a celebrated matte artist.
Campion directed a couple of short films including the amusing Night of the Hell Hamsters (2006) and while his feature The Devil’s Rock didn’t lead to stardom as a director…
Again, The Devil’s Rock has a Nazi witchcraft or demonic supernatural theme. It is set during World War Two on the eve of D-Day an event which would spell the beginning of the end for Hitler and his cronies. It is then, in the Channel Islands, that two New Zealand commandoes are sent on a diversionary mission in their canoe to possibly interfere with German artillery in a fortress and to also draw Hitler and his commanders’ attention away from Normandy, where the Allies would land on the beaches the following day.
New Zealand actors Craig Hall (1974-) and Karlos Drinkwater (1976-) are the two commandoes and when they slowly make their way through a mined beach – not without incident – they enter the fortress. It is on “Forau Island five miles north east of Guernsey”.
There is no Forau Island on the map of Guernsey as far as I can see, it’s probably too tiny if it does exist… there is the Faroe Islands off Scandinavia but that’s neither here nor there as the fortress where the film was shot was actually located in New Zealand. The outside shots of the fortress actually exists in Guernsey. The innards of the NZ fortress was also used, as far as I can gather, for the reviled Kiwi horror movie Death Warmed Up (1984).
Much suspense is drawn from entering these dimly lit tunnels with screams and gunshots and the mutilated bodies of Nazi soldiers littering the place. The soundtrack uses subtle music and sound effects which are stripped to the bare minimum for atmosphere.
Drinkwater comes across a copy of the book Les Veritables Arts Noirs, which appears to be some kind of Necronomicon, perhaps inspired by the very devil himself. But Drinkwater is then killed by a Nazi with the book still in his hands…
Enter actor Matthew Sutherland (no info), who is an award-winner for playing a murderous gun collector in the real life inspired New Zealand massacre film Out of the Blue (2006). He is excellent as Colonel Klaus Meyer, who more than dabbles in the black arts.
The Nazi colonel takes the remaining commando played by Hall prisoner and he answers screams somewhere in the fortress by taking a bucket of intestines as if it is feeding time. We get the idea that the colonel is not in complete control of what force he is feeding…
“She did this to them!,” yells the colonel about his secret and the reason for bodies that seem to be everywhere.
The colonel insults the New Zealander as one of a bunch of farmers pretending to be soldiers while he also says they are both Aryan and should be fighting on the same side.
As the colonel begins to burn the photo of the commando’s late wife… we become aware of the slow burn of the script and the tight images all filmed on few sets. Just as the finest low budget movies all are… The commando will escape and come across… What?
“We are both on the same ship!,” the colonel calls out from the darkness, for the female prisoner who feeds on intestines is something totally supernatural and devilish. In fact, it takes the form of the disbelieving commando’s wife when he finds her: “You’ve got to unlock this chain,” says this visage.
Hitler’s henchmen have found a supernatural doozy this time: a purely demonic shape shifter, the possibilities of which are “more dangerous than anything you can imagine.”
The demon is played by Gina Varela (no info) and she is striking in demon make-up.
The colonel, it turns out, is from a specialist SS unit looking into the underworld and mystical materials. Yes, it’s definitely that old black magic, or witchcraft, again.
The slow burn of the screenplay is hinted visually with dozens of candles around the “demon pitch” where Varela is kept. The colonel and the commando join together as they must contend with a demon which can raise itself from the dead and revert to its cloven hoofed form when it will then grab a severed leg and have a munch.
The Devil’s Rock’s action set pieces are small and at close quarters and it is no Blood Creek or Raiders of the Lost Ark in terms of scale… but the pain and gore seem real. Director Campion has squeezed whatever he can from the screenplay he has written with Paul Finch (no info).
Finch is apparently the son of writer Brian Finch (1936-2007) who was responsible for episodes of British tv shows All Creatures Great and Small (1978) and Heartbeat (in 1992). Paul Finch is a best-selling author of a series of police procedurals and worked as a script doctor on the British horror movie Spirit Trap (2005). Together with Campion they have come up aces with The Devil’s Rock.
I thought The Devil’s Rock was a cult film the first time I saw it and now after many viewings I still stand by its appeal as a polished cheap horror which defies its budget. Some may say the film talks itself to death but it is definitely an actor’s piece and “theatre” in that regard.
I guess Hitler’s obsession with the occult and witchcraft didn’t do him or his friends any good as they all seem to perish at the end of these movies.
There is another supernatural Nazi movie which came before Raiders of the Lost Ark and it begins like this: “Shortly before the start of World War Two, the German high command began a secret investigation into the power of the supernatural…” Familiar and yet it came before all these films.
And it goes on about an invincible race of warriors of ancient legend who fought without weapons and killed with their bare hands… the SS, of course, looked into recruiting the same for themselves, so scientists were enlisted to create these soldiers “whose superhuman power came from within the Earth itself.”
Such is the set up for the near-classic Florida-shot low budget film Shock Waves (1977). Shot in 35 days in 1975 by director Ken Wiederhorn (1945-), Shock Waves features veteran actors Peter Cushing (1913-1994 prostate cancer) and John Carradine (1906-88 organ failure). Brooke Adams (1949-) makes her film debut while a moustachioed Luke Halpin (1947-) from the Flipper tv show also appears.
Director Wiederhorn would go on to helm the slasher Eyes of a Stranger (1981) and Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988). He took his name off Dark Tower (1989) when he was replaced during production by Freddie Francis (1917-2007 effects of stroke). All three films are given the lowest rating by film critic Leonard Maltin but I think each has their own strengths. As a result of Dark Tower, Wiederhorn’s feature career never really recovered… perhaps he simply lost interest.
Yet, at least we have Shock Waves, which is set in the present day with its jackbooted Nazi soldiers walking on the seabed toward a seemingly deserted island where the passengers and crew of a broken-down cruiser are marooned. The Nazis start killing them off as you might expect.
There is a certain grimness to the proceedings of Shock Waves and also a palpable sense of claustrophobia in some scenes. There is no real gore to speak of… just the feeling that there is no way out… But the Nazis have a weakness and they can be killed silly that it is…
What probably adds to the effectiveness of the movie is that it was shot in 16mm using the Super 16 process and that gives the film a graininess and otherworldliness to it. It has long been a favourite an although I mentioned it in the earlier article on Overlord – it’s worth mentioning again!
But to finally tie Hitler further into this “magic” – he killed himself on 30 April 1945. That last day of April being Walpurgis Night, which according to my dictionary was believed in German folklore to be a night of a witches’ sabbath on The Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz mountains in Northern Germany. According to many a heavy metal recording, The Brocken is a witches’ gathering place.
For an interview with The Devil’s Rock director Paul Campion and some great behind the scenes pictures PRESS HERE.
PRESS HERE for an interview with The Devil’s Rock screenwriter Paul Finch