Synopsis: Young sculptor Roberto Merighi (Anthony Steffen) is hired to restore a statue in a small Italian village. The statue had been lost in the town’s lake for over 200 years, and was only rediscovered when a recent drought lowered the level of the water.
Count Montebruno, who has commissioned the restoration, tells him that the statue had been created to honor a family ancestor, Madelina Montebruno, a woman renowned for her beauty. But the statue was long rumored to carry a curse, and Montebruno warns him that many villagers are angry that the statue is being restored. Soon word comes that the men who rowed Merighi across the lake to the village are dead after their boat overturned — fueling more rumors that the statue will bring bad fortune to the town.
It isn’t long before Merighi learns the Montebruno wasn’t kidding about the villagers being angry. At the local pub Carlo (Mario Brega), purportedly the strongest man in the village, picks a fight with him over the statue, and Merighi bests him — just barely — and exits the bar. He meets the local teacher, another recent arrival named Dario (Vassali Karis), who is dating the Montebruno mansion’s pretty maid Rita (Ursula Davis).
Before long there is a new arrival at the Montebruno household – the beautiful young Harriet (Barbara Steele) who is the exact image of the statue of her ancestor Madelina. Harriet had been studying abroad and will soon come into her inheritance. Merighi asks her to model for him, as her resemblance to Madelina will make the restoration project easier. She agrees and the two begin spending many hours together, and soon fall in love.
One night Merighi awakens, hearing a woman’s ghostly voice calling to him. He follows the voice to his studio, where the voice tells him she is the ghost of Bellinda, cousin to Madelina Montebruno. It was she who placed a curse on the statue, she says. Bellinda had been just as ugly as Madelina was beautiful, and was insanely jealous at the attention that Madelina’s beauty commanded. Bellinda was in love with the sculptor commissioned to create the statue to Madelina, but when she went to his studio at night to visit him, she found Madelina in his arms. Enraged, she went out to the parapet upon which the statue had been mounted and tried to pull it off its pedestal and send it into the lake. She succeeded, but lost her own life when she went into the water too.
Now, she says, the recovery of the statue and Harriet’s arrival have both fueled her hatred, and she is just as determined as ever to have her revenge for the slights and misfortunes she suffered two centuries earlier.
The next evening, Harriet begins to act strangely. She becomes haughty and vicious, and claims to be Bellinda, the ugly cousin of Madelina Montebruno. She goes to the town and begins sowing chaos, by seducing and corrupting the men in town one by one….
Comments: To date this remains our only Horror Incorporated title starring the almost supernaturally beautiful Barbara Steele. An Angel For Satan is a good example of the Italian gothic subgenre of horror, with a stylish look, crisp black-and-white photography and, despite a slightly daffy ending, a satisfying mystery.
Good horror movies play on particular nagging fears of the audience, and this one is deeply rooted in the fear of women’s sexuality. When the ghost of ugly (and corrupt) Bellinda takes possession of the beautiful (and pure) Harriet’s body, it’s like a gin-soaked rummy climbing behind the wheel of a Maserati. You know it’s all going to end in a spectacular wreck, but Bellinda is going to have fun while it lasts.
That’s telegraphed when Bellinda first takes control of Harriet’s body. She stands in front of the mirror, running her hands up and down her amazing new figure — an act of vanity in which Harriet, of course, would never have indulged.
It’s implied that Harriet is a good and pure person because she is physically attractive (or perhaps physically attractive because she is a good and pure person). Conversely, Bellinda’s ugliness goes all the way down to the core of her being, and her physical and spiritual ugliness are intertwined. When an ugly soul gets in possession of a beautiful body, it’s suggested, the result is chaos.
The mayhem Bellinda-as-Harriet inflicts on the town is entirely a product of her sexual power. She undresses in front of gardener / village idiot Vittorio, driving him wild with desire, then whips him across the face when he dares look at her (so unhinged is Vittorio by the sight of her naked body he begins raping and murdering women in the town). She seduces Dario, and very nearly succeeds in seducing Dario’s girlfriend Rita, torpedoing their relationship. She convinces Carlo that she would be willing to have an affair with him — if his wife and children were out of the way. Carlo ends up burning down his house in order to kill his family. Again and again, men are depicted as the helpless pawns of women, completely losing their minds when female beauty is weaponized against them.
It’s been well-documented, of course, that men behave badly and do stupid things where a beautiful woman is involved. But laying waste to an entire village with your looks alone is still a pretty heavy lift, and the producers were wise to cast Barbara Steele as Harriet. Steele had gotten quickly typecast in horror films after a defining turn in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday and while she always regretted being stuck in horror movies again and again, she is simply superb in this film. Much like the men in the village, you can’t take your eyes off her, and she is convincing both as the innocent Harriet and the sinister Bellinda.
The other cast members are pretty strong too. Anthony Steffen was a durable leading man who’d appeared in a number of spaghetti westerns. Mario Brega, who plays Carlo, is probably best known for them too, having appeared in both The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and For a Few Dollars More. Ursula Davis appeared in numerous horror films over the years, including Kong Island (1968) and Crypt of the Vampire (1964).