The level of success of SATANIK as a film is entirely dependant upon the audience viewing it. An audience expecting something along the lines of OPERAZIONE PAURA or CASTLE OF BLOOD will be disappointed. This isn’t a horror film. Even an audience expecting a giallo in the Argento / Fulci tradition is bound to be dissatisfied by the lack of creative violence and relatively mild gore. In 1968 the target audience for this film were the readers of the hugely successful fumetti neri that had already led to popular cinematic spin-offs of DIABOLIK and KRIMINAL. When viewed in this light, SATANIK becomes a much more successful, though no better, film.
In most respects the film is fairly faithful to its literary origins. Marny Bannister, a brilliant but horribly disfigured scientist, ingests a chemical formula that transforms her into a beautiful, but soulless, homicidal femme fatal. Though the base premise relies upon science fiction rudiments, the stories in the original comics tended more towards the Rialto Edgar Wallace krimis than any genre effort by Antonio Margheriti. Horror elements did crop up in the comic, notably the Dorian Gray like character Alex Bey and Satanik’s long running battle with the vampire, Count Wurdalak, but such fantastical story lines were interspaced with more conventional crime thrillers. It is from the latter that SATANIK the film takes its inspiration.
It is easy to dismiss the movie as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde done up as a travelogue, but it is unlikely that film audiences familiar with the comic original would have been disappointed. In terms of plot all the fundamentals have been transferred from the comic into the screenplay, with some scenes lifted almost verbatim. The casting of the central role is excellent. The beautiful Magda Konopka displays both the proper malicious delight in her newfound beauty and callous disregard for her pawns and victims and even very much resembles her comic book counterpart. Where the film falls short is in structure, directorial ambition, and resolution.
Other than the avaricious desires of our central character, there really is no central narrative to the film. To its detriment, it is more a series of episodes, strung loosely together. While the same criticism could be easily leveled against the film version of DIABOLIK, that film enjoyed superior pacing and visual interest thanks to the brilliance of director Mario Bava. Indeed Bava could have done much for SATANIK as the direction of Piero Vivarelli is only workmanlike throughout, lacking in ambition and dynamism. The most blatant weakness of the film is its final few minutes. The ending of the film seems hurried, hackneyed and uninspired, owing more to a bland requirement to see justice done at the end then to provide a satisfying conclusion. Something akin to the last moments of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or the original HALLOWEEN would have been far more effective.
This film is available on DVD in North America in an unspectacular, cropped 4:3 English dubbed release. A superior widescreen DVD release is currently available in Europe, with the original Italian audio track. The Italian DVD has no English audio or subtitles.
Historical Note: SATANIK is closely adapted from the Italian comic series created in 1964 by writer Max Bunker and artist Magnus (pseudonym of Roberto Raviola). In the same year the pair also created the character “Kriminal” whose modus operandi and skull and bones costume were usurped by the character “Killing” two years later. When the fumetti Killing stories were reprinted in France the character was renamed “Satanik” and eventually “Sadistik” in America. This character was brought to film as “Kilink” in a series of productions from Turkey. The original Satanik series was renamed “Demoniak” when reprinted in France, so as not to be confused with the already existing “Satanik” title. And of course an entirely different character called “Demoniak” already exited in Italy.