THE DEVIL (aka DIABEL) (1972)

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THE DEVIL (1972)
Written and Directed by Andrzej Zulawski
Polish Language with English Subtitles
Available in the Andrzej Zulawski: Three Films Blu-Ray from Eureka Entertainment

A nobleman named Jakub, locked away for attempted regicide, is freed by a black cloaked stranger. After the stranger sends him packing with a horse and a nun for company, Jakub heads home, hoping to be reunited with his family and fiancee. Tormented by what he finds upon his return, Jakub deals with the turmoil that has overthrown his life in the only way he knows how, encouraged by the stranger who always appears when Jakub needs him the most.

Set during the Prussian invasion of Poland in 1793, THE DEVIL is a political period drama from director Andrzej Zulawski. Dealing with good and evil symbolism in a time where the Government approved partition, the film explores the landscape through the eyes of lead character Jakub, having failed at trying to assassinate the king. Utilising elements of folk horror, Jakub goes on a journey where he is met with constant disappoint and treachery. For starters, his best friend has run off with his fiancee, and, upon visiting his family home, he discovers his own father is dead. As Jakub tries to figure things out, he runs into an array of colourful characters, including a circus troupe who have instant infatuation with him. As he navigates through this new world, everyone he relied upon seems to have turned their back on him. As you can imagine, Jakub’s not too impressed, especially after having put his own life at risk to make a difference.

Jakub’s not in a good headspace and this is effectively shown in the crazed and surreal actions of himself and those around him. Matters are made worse by the stranger who freed him. Like a little devil sat on his shoulder, the stranger always seems to find Jakub at his most vulnerable, and urges him to commit murders using a straight razor he always has on hand. Jakub’s yo-yoing emotions often get the better of him, but in a world that seems to be going to hell in a handcart, it’s not hard to see why everything around him, including his own mental state, slides downhill.

There’s never a dull moment in THE DEVIL. There’s always something going on. Even in its surreal moments, you can get the gist of what the movie is trying to say. With the dramatic and theatrical performances from the characters, this is very much an interpretive piece, but with undertones of something you’d expect from a Shakespeare play. A 60’s style, psychedelic score only adds to the madness on-screen as Jakub’s world falls around him. Having put his life on the line for the country, he feels he’s been stabbed in the back by those he trusted the most and now he seeks revenge.

As with THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT, the visuals which Zulawski has employed pull the viewer deeper into its nightmare to give a deeper feeling of hopelessness. Right from the insane massacre at the beginning of the movie to its bloody and strange end, there’s such horrors and depravity to show, caused by humans and the suffering they exact.

Actor Leszek Teleszynski, who also starred in Zulawski’s debut feature, is given much more to do in THE DEVIL as he once again takes the lead. As Jakub, he wonderfully portrays the struggle he’s going through and the acceptance he must face of the new life before him. Torn between good and evil, Jakub must decide how to react to events surrounding him, but his naivety leaves him open to manipulation.

An emotive, eccentric experience, THE DEVIL is a whirlwind of desire and revenge.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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About Bat 4442 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Yakuza Zero and Mafia III.

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