Let me be up front: the whole reason I wanted to watch this film in the first place was because the poster art featured a torch-wielding naked woman riding atop a tormented centaur. I knew it was probable nothing like that would ever occur in the actual movie (and I wasn’t disappointed in my pre-disappointment), but I felt like I owed it to the movie never the less to give it a look see. And while it doesn’t feature a naked woman galloping about on a centaur, it still turned out to be, to my old eyes, a surprisingly effective and creepy, if somewhat modest, tale of Satanism and revenge from beyond the grave.
Seasoned TV actor Ed Nelson plays two roles: that of a crazy bearded old coot named Pete Jensen who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for revenge, and young Nick Richards, the nephew of the old man who arrives to collect his relative’s belongings. It doesn’t take long for audience to get clued in on the fact that Nick is actually Pete, given a new body and identity so that he might use an array of Satanic black magic to extract his promised revenge on the residents of a sweltering southwestern town. His primary mode of attack is to transform himself into an animal, attack and murder a victim, then show up in human form along with everyone else to look concerned about this strange rash of animal attacks.
Nick’s outwardly genial demeanor gets him on the good side of most the townsfolk, especially local beauty Nell Lucas (Jean Allison), even though old Pete Jenkins was considered by most to be a hateful crackpot. Still, as nice a guy as Nick seems to be, the odd coincidence of these murders occurring right after his arrival in town, coupled with the fact that he seems to buy a lot of goats, draws the suspicion of a few people in town. Nick also, perhaps unwisely, enlists the assistance of the local drunk, whose occasional fantastical ramblings become easier for the sheriff to believe the weirder things get. Before too long, it’s a race against the Devil to stop Nick before he can complete his bloody trail of vengeance.
The Devil’s Partner is a fairly routine recitation of low-budget horrors from the early 1960s, but with a few elements thrown in to spice it up and elevate it above many of its peers. On hand, we have the competent and believable if unspectacular cast, limited but effective sets, and the general feel of a television show more than a movie. What The Devil’s Partner also has going for it, however, is a fairly effective sense of atmosphere. The isolated town of Furnace Flats lives up to its name. Characters are sweaty and uncomfortable, and even the clean parts of town seem to be struggling in a losing battle with desert heat and dust. The sole exception to the condition is the impeccable Nick, who doesn’t even sweat in the mid-day heat. When this is commented on, he dismisses it with a charming laugh and comment about how he doesn’t sweat because he’s the Devil. Furthermore, scenes of Nick/Pete in Pete’s old shack, kneeling on the floor in front of his crudely drawn pentagram are, for me, much more effectively chilling than a similar scene might be in a more polished film. There’s an air of the real about it, making the horror a bit easier to relate to, a bit more palpable.
Also adding to the list of things that make this film a bit different from its peers is the seriously handled concept of devil worship and black magic. Although it was released in 1962, the film was actually completed several years before, in 1958, an era when straight horror had all but vanished and been replaced by science fiction monster movies. Devil worship, especially handled with such a straight face, was still something of a taboo. Night of the Demon (1957) was one of the first films to turn its back on sci-fi monsters and explore the world of demonology, cults, and Satanism. It’s likely that The Devil’s Partner went into production partly because of Night of the Demon, though there is so little information about The Devil’s Partner that making any proclamations regarding its making is conjecture, at best. It’s certainly not up to the exceptionally high standard set by its bigger budget, more ambitious predecessor, but that doesn’t stop TThe Devil’s Partner from being a worthwhile endeavor on its own merits. It may not have a naked woman on a centaur, but what it does offer was well worth watching.
Release Date: 1961 | Country: United States | Starring: Edgar Buchanan, Jean Allison, Richard Crane, Spencer Carlisle, Byron Foulger, Claire Carleton, Brian O’Hara, Harry Fleer, Joe Hooker, Ed Nelson | Screenplay: Stanley Clements, Laura Jean Mathews | Director: Charles R. Rondeau | Cinematography: Edward Cronjager | Music: Ronald Stein | Producer: Hugh M. Hooker | Availability: DVD (Amazon)