Film scholars of all stripes know the same heartbreak: there’s a vast amount of films out there that have become lost to the sands of time and its unlikely that most of them will ever be seen again. Exploitation film buffs feel this pain acutely because the fly-by-night nature and low budgets of exploitation filmmaking assure that many films of this kind were thrown aside shortly after their distribution. Thus, it is a cause for celebration in this scene when a vintage opus gets snatched from the jaws of historical oblivion – and the recent DVD-R release of The Devil’s Sisters offers a nice example of how it can be done on a do-it-yourself level.
The Devil’s Sisters was made in the mid-1960’s and disappeared sometime around the dawn of the 1970’s, shortly after its life on the drive-in circuit had faded out. After years of hunting, director William Grefe turned up a print in Germany and said print was the source for this disc. The anamorphic transfer does a solid rescue job on this rare material: the black-and-white cinematography looks reasonably good and the sound mix is nice and clear.
The one hitch with this print is that it is missing the last eight minutes of the film. Thankfully, Grefe teamed up with disc producer Daniel Griffith to devise a novel solution to the problem: when the film footage runs out, Grefe appears on screen to describe the ending as he directed it. His enthusiastic descriptions are fleshed out with a well-edited selection of stills and storyboards that have bits of computer animation added to give the montage an energetic, visceral touch. Though fans will lament the loss of the original footage, this creative solution is entertaining and easy to watch in its own right.
Griffith and Grefe have also assembled a variety of extras for this first-ever home video editon of The Devil’s Sisters. Grefe provides a full-length commentary track for the film: the volume level is a little low and he has a tendency to mumble so you might find yourself reaching for the rewind button in spots but the track is still worth a listen for fans of ’60s-era exploitation. Grefe discusses a lot of nuts-and-bolts info about how particular shots were pulled off, including using car headlights to light a nighttime chase scene and saving lighting time by switching around the furnishings in the same cell set to create the illusion of different cells. Elsewhere, he offers practical advice on breaking into the film business and some interesting material on how Florida’s Cuban community played a vital role in the making of this film.
There is also an interview featurette with Grefe that runs a little under ten minutes. It’s a worthwhile companion piece to the commentary, adding additional details about the complexities of undertaking the film’s $25,000/10-day shoot with vintage equipment and improvised special effects (there’s a hair-raising tale about how some of the gunshot effects were done). A smartly-written text essay by Chris Poggiali(*) adds additional material on Grefe’s career and the film’s distribution history. The package is rounded out with an amusing radio spot that pitches the film as a horror item a la Rosemary’s Baby plus a gallery of stills and promotional art.
In short, this edition of The Devil’s Sisters is an entertaining and informative bit of exploitation film archaeology. Don’t let the DVD-R status dissuade you: this special edition is as technically proficient and generously extras-enhanced as any of its pressed disc cousins. If you have a sweet tooth for ’60s-era roughies like Something Weird used to put out, this disc will scratch that itch.
(*) Note: unearthing facts on forgotten films is a specialty of Mr. Poggiali’s. At his excellent blog Temple Of Schlock, he has a regular feature on the subject called The Endangered List. Schlockmania recommends you visit his site and check it out – you can access the archive of over 120 Endangered File posts by clicking here: http://templeofschlock.blogspot.com/search/label/THE%20ENDANGERED%20LIST