Land Of The Minotaur (1976)

Land Of The Minotaur (1976)

Director: Kostas Karagiannis

Also known as: The Devil’s Men

Tagline: “Half man… half beast… trapped in a world forgotten by time!”

Plot: Peter Cushing leads a clan of colorfully robed, brainwashed Greeks, who lure tourists into their underground lair to be tormented by… the Minotaur! (Fine print: Actually, the Minotaur is just a fire-breathing statue. The real tormenting is done by knife-wielding cult members.)

Given the ineffectiveness of the local constabulary, this human-sacrifice operation could’ve gone on for years, but the cult makes the mistake of kidnapping some groovy kids who’ve told their hip priest, Donald Pleasence, about their vacation plans. Father Pleasence warned them not to go, showing them some photos of other parishioners who’ve visited this same small Greek villageand never returned. But this particular Scooby Gang (who drive around in a beat-up van, Mystery Machine-style) can’t help but poke their noses in where they don’t belong.

When Pleasence doesn’t hear from the hippies, he recruits frequently shirtless, perpetually clueless white-haired detective Costas Skouras to join him on a trip to Greece. After finding the cult’s forbidden chamber, Pleasence sighs, “I suspect the devil has taken over this village.” But Skouras suspects a more mundane, human evil. And neither seems to notice that when Cushing chants, “The old customs remain, and the ancient gods live on!” he’s advocating paganism, not Satanism. 

Anyway, no matter what the supernatural source of the villainy may be, Pleasence and Skouras are eventually able to defeat it by pulling out some Christian mojo that makes Cushing and his followers explode. And thus monotheism prevails.

Key scenes: The most indelible moments in Land Of The Minotaur involve Pleasence and Skouras arriving too late to help, as in this scene of them responding to a scream in the bathroom:

Or them showing up at a lovely estate, not quite in time to prevent a strangling and an abduction attempt:

By the end of the film, Pleasence’s priestly kindness begins to break down under Skouras’ ineptitude, such as when Skouras is unable to get a van started:

Skouras does finally get the vehicle in gear, then proceeds to knock over what appears to be a statue of one of the cult members on his way to a now-completed human sacrifice:

The exasperation finally bubbles over when Pleasence tries to explain his subtle plan of attack on the Minotaur’s chamber. Skouras listens quietly, then pulls out a gun, prompting Pleasence to yell, “You act as if you haven’t understood a word I’ve said!”

Can easily be distinguished by: The throbbing electronic score by Brian Eno, who either lost a bet or had a stack of bills to pay.

Sign that it was made in 1976: All the women wear short-shorts. The Nair budget on this film must’ve been higher than the costume budget.

Timeless message: “Those who enter the forbidden chamber of the Minotaur must die!”

Memorable quotes: After arriving too late to save anyone yet again, Pleasence barks, “What happened?”, and Skouras responds with a line that should be tattooed on his chest: “Even I can’t tell you that.” —Noel Murray

Available on DVD from BCI.

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