Kostas Karagiannis, 1976
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Peter Cushing, Luan Perwea
“I suspect the Devil has taken over this village.”
Father Roche, a priest located in an isolated area of Greece, requests help from his friend, detective Milo Kaye, who is living in New York. Milo arrives to learn that visitors, particularly archaeologists, are going missing and Roche is desperate to find what’s become of them. Milo and a stranded tourist, Laurie, are discouraged to learn that Roche thinks the disappearances are the work of a Satan worshipping cult that believes in human sacrifice, though Milo can come up with no better explanation. Soon they come across the path of the strange Baron Corofax, originally from the Carpathian Mountains and undoubtedly up to no good.
This should be great. It’s one of few Greek horror films from the period (other than Island of Death), it stars Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing, has an impressive score from Brian Eno (how did this even happen?), and a song from the great Paul Williams, plus decent production values, and a quality set. Sadly, Eno’s score is probably the best thing about The Land of the Minotaur. The cult scenes are straight out of Manos: The Hands of Fate and include the most bargain basement cloaks I’ve ever seen, as well as some lighting effects that rival Manhattan Baby.
Nothing really makes any sense in this U.K.-Greek-U.S. coproduction. Father Roche begs help from a detective who doesn’t believe in the supernatural at all (or religion, presumably). We also eventually learn that the only person who can defeat the evil is Father Roche himself, which he does with crosses and Christian mumbo jumbo. There’s also a hilarious scene where Roche spies a baby playing with a toy with an odd symbol on it, and he somehow recognizes that it’s an ancient Pagan symbol for human sacrifice. The ending is absolutely dizzying. The heroes chase the cultists, run from the cultists, and are chased by the cultists. It’s a never-ending chase where characters make incredibly stupid mistakes, bad decisions, and really never resolve anything.
Weirdly repeating a campier version of his role in Prince of Darkness, Donald Pleasence gives a solid performance, as always, and chews scenery with gusto, but Peter Cushing is clearly just phoning this one in and doesn’t give a damn about the proceedings. Not that I can blame him. Hammer bit-actress Luan Peters (Lust for a Vampire) does a lot of screaming, makes some stupendously dumb decisions that lead to her swift capture, and has numerous baths interrupted by cult members.
Pleasence and Cushing worked together on a TV version of Nineteen Eighty Four and The Flesh and the Fiends; this is undoubtedly a low point for both of them, which is really saying something when you consider some of the depths Pleasence’s career reached (here’s looking at you, Halloween 5 and Night Creatures). Director Kostas Karagiorgis plays Milo and you really have to wonder why he cast himself in such a major role.
One of the film’s biggest issues is that it seems confused about whether it wants to be pagan horror or satanic horror. This duality is even reflected in the two titles: The Devil's Men and Land of the Minotaur. While Cushing is apparently in a pagan horror film, Pleasence seems to be in a Christian/satanic horror story. The central figure could easily be the Minotaur of Greek mythology and follow that loose plotline (child sacrifice – everyone’s favorite), but the script makes an abrupt switch around to Satan, somehow.
I can’t actually recommend Land of the Minotaur. It should have been a much better film than it is (it’s total garbage), but however much I want to dislike it, I just can’t. If you like the most bottom of the barrel Z-grade movies, check it out, otherwise keep clear. The level of badness reached by this film is almost impressive. I’m still waiting for someone to make a quality, compelling horror film about the original legend of the Minotaur, which is thoroughly creepy. I guess if you’re going to watch this, look for the uncut version under the U.K. title The Devil’s Men. It’s available as a double feature DVD with Terror, another of Karagiorgis’s films. Good luck.