Sunday, 4 September 2016

A MAGIC TO MAKE THE SANEST MAN GO MAD" THOMAS AGRAFIOTIS ON THE DEVILS MEN


The cinema organisation “Karagiannis-Karatzopoulos” and “Finos Film” are the most productive film companies of the so-called old Greek cinema. However, their film production quantity did not match a great quality, as there were some other companies, which produced films systematically, but in fewer numbers and in greater quality, such as, for example, “Anzervos”. Instead, the company “Karagiannis-Karatzopoulos” was known for its emphasis on the rapid presentation and distribution of films in cinemas, with great commercial success, but with very few truly distinguished quality productions, despite the regular partnership of the company with first class actors, screenwriters, etc. and with Kostas Karagiannis as its main director. 


Karagiannis himself was behind the rapid production of a great film volume by the company, easily earning the title of a prolific “B-movie” filmmaker. The main criterion for this view was the undoubted qualitative superiority of its competitor, Finos. This does not mean, of course, that Karagiannis’ popular films were not pleasant and loved by the audience, as they still remain even in our days; in fact, they were commercially successful, a fact also due to the popularity of their stars. Moreover, Karagiannis could easily manoeuvre between genres, directing slapstick comedies , musicals, social dramas, historical or war films and even, unbeknownst to many, horror films.



The first one was the romantic thriller “Tango 2001”, also unknown to the general Greek public, while in 1976 he directed the horror film “The Devil's Men”, distributed with several variations in its Greek name, as an international co-production of the companies: “Poseidon Films” (the director's company) and “Getty Pictures Corporation”. Most importantly, nonetheless and probably arranged by the second English company, the film's cast included two international range horror film stars: Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence. On the other hand, the cast also included Greeks in a good proportion.


A series of remarkable actors, Karagiannis’ colleagues from his Greek films, were featured in this film: Kostas Karagiorgis, appearing as Costa Skouras, who was a very beloved and popular actor of theatre and cinema, mainly thanks to his television presence in the series “The Unknown War”, which established him as a popular hero and defender of the good in the eyes of the general public. Anna Matzourani, who was known from supporting and always likeable roles in Karagiannis´ films. Dimitris Bislanis, actor in supporting roles in Karagiannis´ films, was usually cast in roles of brutes or criminals. Anestis Vlahos, one of the most famous actors for “tough man roles” of Greek cinema. Finally, Nikos Verlekis, then a rising star, cast as a charming and modern young man.



The film plot also featured a strong Greek theme. It took place in an undefined part of the Balkan Peninsula, although all the elements of the myth refer to Crete and the Minotaur monster, to which the village community sacrificed unsuspecting young couples. The disappearance of another couple forces the local priest (Donald Pleasence) to seek the help of a friend who is a detective, because the defiantly indifferent commander of the local police (Dimitris Bislanis) refuses to deal with the issue. Although the detective (Kostas Karagiorgis) remains initially unconvinced, he arrives from America to help his friend, the (Roman Catholic and not Orthodox) priest.


The attitude of the local community proves problematic, for example in the cases of the widow (Anna Matzourani) and of the hotelier-shopkeeper (Anestis Vlahos), while the local lord (Peter Cushing) appears to be the most defiant. Cushing is revealed to be acting as the leader of the local villagers, who worship the Minotaur, with elements from ancient pagan rites, which culminate in human sacrifice. In the end, thanks to the heroic detective and priest duo, a couple survives in the nick of time, with Nikos Verlekis playing the role of the prospective victim. This low budget film seems somewhat naive today, but despite its imperfections, it is a rare case of coexistence of Greek cinema actors with international masters of the thriller genre.


Naturally, the directing lacks experience and maybe shows some signs of perplexity in handling a very difficult and totally unknown theme for the director. Nevertheless, Karagiannis’ position and his success in directing at the same time two international film stars like Cushing and Pleasence, plays in favour of both the director and the film. It would be important to detect the way in which this very important collaboration and coexistence was built in the Greek context, not only regarding themes, with the ancient cult of the Minotaur (something common in foreign cinema, which often uses themes from ancient Greece), but also for the opportunity and the honour given to Greek actors to work with the likes of Pleasence and Cushing, under the guidance of Karagiannis.



Thus, Karagiannis, a reveller and rather reckless person, paved the way that no other known Greek director had walked before. He is, perhaps, the author of the most significant achievement in the very poor Greek production in the thriller genre. The truth is that the Greek cinema focused mainly on comedy and drama, as did Karagiannis himself, showcasing a meagre horror film production, which is something that also deserves some research and may be explained by the fact that witch hunting in the East was far less intensive than in the Western world.


The West introduced horror as a content, as something foreign to the East. On the contrary, in the Greek territory, horror elements were present in everyday life and never really clashed with science, to the extent they did in the West. In the Western society, imported horror constituted a whole, special and distinct category, which came into conflict with the rationalisation of the Western life. On the other hand, the East still remains attached to legends and traditions, without fighting them like the Western world does. In other words, Western science collided with legends or superstitions, industrialised commercially this conflict (through cinema) and thus accepted it as poetic licence and not as an integral part of life. By contrast, in Greece, on the crossroads between East and West, phenomena like “xematiasma” (chasing the evil eye), are considered an integral part of everyday life and are accepted, implicitly, even by medical doctors...


Left to right : Kostas Karagiannis, Kostas Karagorgis, Anestis Vlahos, Anna Mantzourni, Nikos Verlekis, Dimitris Bislanis


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