This was one of two gothics directed by the veteran Camillo Mastrocinque, following on from the Carmilla styled Terror in the Crypt. Adapted from a novella by Luigi Emmanuelle, whose other writing credits include the story for the spaghetti western This Man Can't Die, it's an atmospheric and effective piece with some exceptional images and strong performances that's well worth a look for any enthusiast of the form who values subtlety over shock.
Set in the late 19th century in a remote Italian community, the the story begins with the arrival of young artist Roberto Merigi (Anthony Steffen) by boat. He's been commissioned by Count Montebruno (Claudio Gora) to restore a statue that's recently been recovered from the lake.
Legend has it that the statue bears a curse and, indeed, no sooner has Roberto arrived than the boat that brought him in sinks on the lake with the loss of all aboard.
An almost neo-realist image
As a modern man, however, Roberto puts this down to coincidence. His attitude contrasts sharply with that of the superstitious villagers working the Montebruno estates. The most notable of these is the fearsome Carlo Lionesi (Mario Brega) who does not take kindly to Roberto's sketching and accuses him of having the evil eye, leading to a brawl that comes uncomfortably close to western territory – especially when we consider the two combatants' associations with the spaghetti genre.
An almost spaghetti western image – Brega confronts Steffen
Fortunately things are soon back on the Gothic track as, with the arrival of the Count's adoptive ward, Harriet (Barbara Steele), from her school in England the story really kicks into gear.
The resemblance is striking
For Harriet is not only the spitting image of the statue but may be its reincarnation or possessed by its spirit, as she starts to manifest a split personality, alternating between her own demure and frightened self and the cruel, sadistic Belinda to unpredictably turn to and on Roberto, the Count, Carlo and the other men around her...
Another beautiful transition, from an eerie painting to the statue
It's impossible to imagine An Angel for Satan working quite so well with any other actress in the Harriet / Belinda roles. Steele was quite simply born to play these dualistic parts that made the most of her unique features, that strikingly expressive mask which provided her with an unsurpassed capacity for switching from victim to monster, masochist to sadist, object of the gaze to its bearer, with a little curl of the lips or movement of the eyes.
The many faces of Steele - vamp, sadist and innocent victim
The real surprise among the performers is thus Steffen who, clean cut and frock coated rather than unshaven and scruffy, presents an almost entirely different persona to his other period appearances, more talkative than taciturn, yet still full of the same self-assuredness – that spaghetti brawl, though it at least resolves differently and slightly more realistically than in one of his Django type roles – at least to begin with.
Indeed, the film as a whole is marked by this distinctive combination of the gothic and the realist, where a storm at an (in)opportune moment may be natural or supernatural, a chess game knight move followed by a checkmate potentially symbolic, all the way through to an ambiguous ending that is the very definition of the fantastique.
Making connections, and another Steele double image
Mastrocinque plays up these coincidences or connections in his compositions and editing, frequently cutting or dissolving between matched images – the statue and Harriet / Belinda, Harriet / Belinda and the Count both looking at themselves in the mirror, a painting and the statue etc.
The icing on the cake is provided by Francesco De Masi's lush romantic score, full of drama and emotion and providing yet another illustration – if any were needed – of just how versatile Italian film composers of the period were in adapting their idiom to suit the film at hand.