There’s an entire sub-genre of b-movies with titles that make them sound like good trashy fun – i.e., Nude for Satan, Satan’s Cheerleaders, Strip Nude for Your Killer, The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine – but are in reality a painful slog to sit through (kudos, though, to Samurai Cop for being as fantastic as the title implies!). As you could tell from my sample, more than a few involve Satan in the title, and sadly this time’s feature, Satan’s Princess, only further serves to give Satan a bad name. That’s your challenge, future makers of schlock; create good bad movies that have “Satan” in the title!
The only reason I knew about this movie (which, by the way, is in the public domain) is that it was the last movie directed by the prolific Bert I. Gordon. His career, which began in 1955, did span genres, but he probably is still best remembered as the director who seemingly had a knack for movies about big things going on a rampage, from 1956’s The Amazing Colossal Man to The Food of the Gods and Empire of the Ants in the ’70s. At least according to the IMDB, he is working as writer and director on a new film, after over twenty years of obscurity, Secrets of a Psychopath. If it’s true, that would make him a still active writer-director at over 90 years old. Whatever you make of his films, that’s impressive.
Anyway, Satan’s Princess belongs not to the era of ’70s environmental disaster horror like Bert I. Gordon’s most well-known works, but to the dawning decade of Skinemax, the Reign of the Tawdry Erotic Thriller. Besides the involvement of Bert I. Gordon, that’s really the only thing that makes this flick noticeable. It’s like a made-for-cable erotic thriller boiled down to its most basic ingredients even before the genre really conquered cable television like the Roman Empire conquered Gaul (although The Hitchhiker, affectionately known in my own circle as Alfred Hitchcock Presents With Boobs, was at the time on its sixth season). Of course, beyond making that perhaps a tiny bit interesting to fellow scholars of trash culture, this does mean we’re stuck with the bones of a movie, rather than an actual movie, honestly.
Our protagonist is, sadly, not a daughter of Satan, but a standard-issue hard-boiled, embittered ex-cop with the name – I swear – Lou. His backstory is as stock as his name: while chasing some gang members (at what looks like an Interstate rest stop) he gets shot, for which his cop partner blames himself for…well, I don’t really care, and neither does the movie. In fact, the script as presented is so lazy it doesn’t even establish Lou as working as a detective or a police information. It just so happens that during one of his last cases he made an impression on a Mr. Rhodes, whose daughter Karen went missing but other cops dismissed her as another teen runaway. We do quickly learn through an at first seemingly unrelated scene what did happen to Karen…
It turns out she’s involved with the head of a modeling agency, Nicole St. James, a name worthy of a soap opera villainess if there ever was one. You’re probably already thinking, “This movie doesn’t sound like it’s very LGBT affirming!” and you’d be right. Still, as an expert on these kinds of affairs, it’s pretty clear that the lesbian sex scenes are just meant to draw in viewers, and not a statement against homosexuality or…anything, really. Of course, for a while it’s hard not to wonder if the movie is meant to represent Mr. Rhodes’ fever dream after he learns his daughter Karen ran off with a woman, but then the whole unfortunate subtext about the evils of lady love is dropped immediately once the filmmakers realized they filled the necessary T&A quota (which included a “stripping a woman before she’s brutally murdered off-screen” sequence that made even a hardened connoisseur of movies like this uncomfortable) . This is especially important since it’s intercut with cheesy scenes of Lou arguing with his girlfriend, Body Count Filler #3, and his son Joey, who is supposed to have Hollywood Autism but it’s something that’s showed not told, except that apparently autism makes one vulnerable to supernatural mind control, but we’ll get to that.
The villain Nicole St. James seems to have been exiled from another movie. That’s what makes me wonder – and I have to wonder, because even with the miraculous power of Google background information about this movie is virtually non-existent – if the movie is just a script originally meant for more of a traditional police procedural thriller, but with the villainous pimp or white slaver etched out and replaced with some sexy but super-generic supernatural threat. You just keep expecting to see the movie steer in a still generic but more horror-like direction – like Lou turns out to be a monk who was lovers with Nicole St. James but handed her over to the Inquisition and she’s back for revenge (there’s even an elaborate set-up with a painting made in Renaissance Spain!) – it never happens! It just so happens that Nicole St. James is 500 years old and has vaguely defined magical powers and seduces and kills people for no reason, and some random monk (who the characters keep calling a priest) happened to predict through a painting that Lou will destroy her, even though the painting itself doesn’t really seem to depict that at all, or anything other than the cover of a really cheap romance novel.
The actor playing Lou is easily the best actor in the film, but it’s unfortunate he just comes across as the corrupt cop from some TV police drama. He even flat-out tortures a guy just for a scrap of information, and it’s supposed to be okay simply because the tortured is a former sex offender. Nor is he that bright. When it’s obvious that Nicole St. James is killing any friends of Lou’s researching her via her possession of Joey, he keeps bringing Joey with him everywhere. Is he that hard-up for the money to pay a babysitter?
The movie’s flawed in just about every possible way, but if I had to name the real problem it’s with our titular “Satan’s Princess.” The script does the character no favors by giving her no backstory (despite all the hints that she does have some kind of connection to Lou beyond his predestined role in ending her reign of vaguely defined terror) and pretty much no motives (she literally doesn’t do anything – anything – except inexplicably sleep with Lou and then suddenly set out to kill him and everyone around him). Nonetheless, it’s a role ripe for camp, but Lydie Dernier, whatever her talents as an actor, just alternates between lazily dogpaddling through her part and taking it completely seriously. But even this cloud has a silver lining. There’s a scene where she inexplicably kills this attractive young guy, imagining that he’s Lou, by slashing him with six-inch fingernails (that of course she has in no other scene) and unconvincing gore sounds and one of the most glorious expressions ever committed to film.
Well, okay, there’s also how Lou dispatches our…vampire/witch/whatever. When she taunts him, he whips out a flame thrower. Then when she tries to flee in a car, it turns out he boobytrapped it to explode!
That’s really what makes this movie something of a waste. If from the start it had been some bizarre mash-up between an ’80s style action movie and an early ’90s erotic thriller with supernatural elements…well, it probably would have still been pretty bad, but it would have been a lot more fun. Otherwise it just sometimes seems like someone took two or three made-for-cable flicks from the era and randomly spliced them together, which makes it sound more fun than it actually is – like the title does.