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Though it’s not high art, “The Devonsville Terror” is a surprisingly smart B-movie boasting strong themes and strong entertainment value.

Devonsville Terror

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Watching a movie on a whim can be a gamble, but sometimes, you’re rewarded with a hidden gem.

Browsing Shudder, I encountered a promising poster (a goofy devil face) with a title I had never heard before, so I pressed play. The film in question, Ulli Lommel’s The Devonsville Terror, proved to be a modestly budgeted but politically invested little folk-horror offering.

Although it was made in the 1980s, the movie feels like something out of the 1970s, as it encapsulates the fraught gender relations that were more commonly explored in that decade’s cinema (for example, The Stepford Wives or George Romero’s Season of the Witch).

In The Devonsville Terror, a conservative Massachusetts town (transparently inspired by Salem) is haunted by a history of witch trials.

When three moderately progressive women arrive in the town, the male leadership becomes convinced that these women are witches who have come to corrupt their way of life.

The film manages to have its cake and eat it, playing out a standard witches’ curse plot while simultaneously providing a feminist critique of a masculine moral panic.

It begins in 1683 when three witches are tortured and murdered by the local Puritan townsfolk. In her dying breath, one of the witches curses the town. Fast-forwarding to 1983, Devonsville has not changed much culturally, still being a relatively closed-minded and patriarchal society.

The three women who move to Devonsville are Jenny Scanlon, a school teacher (played with reserve by Suzanna Love, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay); Chris, an environmental scientist (played by Mary Walden); and Monica, a radio deejay (played by Deanna Haas).

All three occupy positions that the men of the town find threatening, with Jenny especially drawing their attention. Although she is simply doing her job, she is accused of injecting sacrilegious ideas into the minds of the town’s children. When she refuses the sexual advances of the loathsome store owner, Walter Gibbs (played by Paul Willson), he starts to accuse her of witchcraft.

The only character who seems to know what’s going on is Dr. Warley (played by horror regular Donald Pleasence in a rather bland, thankless role). He knows that Devonsville’s curse is finally coming to fruition.

The Devonsville Terror might have sub-par acting and somewhat flabby pacing, but its themes redeem it.

The film shows how a phobia of difference can lead to bigotry and violence.

The seventeenth-century witches at the movie’s beginning – like the three women in the 1980s – simply choose to live their lives differently from the status quo. But the status quo in both time periods interprets this as an attack, as something that must be stamped out.

Like much socially conscious horror, The Devonsville Terror puts the audience in a position to question why we consider certain things frightening and horrific. In this case, angry townsfolk turn out to be significantly more terrifying than the supposedly monstrous witches.

Of course, because this is a witch movie, it isn’t too surprising that Jenny turns out to actually be the reincarnation of the original witch who uttered the curse. But by the film’s conclusion, as the townsfolk are about to burn her at the stake, Jenny is an entirely sympathetic character. Just because she’s a witch doesn’t mean that she’s evil.

However, the curse must come to its conclusion; the witches must have their revenge. And here is where The Devonsville Terror goes all out with unexpectedly grotesque special effects.

Eyes shoot lasers, and heads melt and explode in a hilariously protracted conflagration of goop. This climactic scene is so much gorier than the rest of the movie that it feels almost misplaced, or that the filmmakers had leftover money and spent it all on latex and fake blood. But it makes for a very memorable moment.

The Devonsville Terror, for all its flaws and budgetary constraints, is thoughtful and decently entertaining.

For those who already have a taste for horror B-movies, this is a worthy watch, a film that ought to be resurrected out of its current obscurity.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3
The Devonsville Terror (1983), directed by Ulli Lommel and written by Lommel, George T. Lindsey, and Suzanna Love, is streaming on Shudder.

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