A handful of Hollywood producers and other high-echelon types are watching a film of a Black Mass that was conducted in Europe somewhere. Lee is the Bishop, or the anti-Bishop or whatever, and the moguls are enthralled by his performance. He's great. They decide to make a movie about the cult and import Lee to star in it.
Lee shows up when summoned but he's a little nervous. You don't defect from the First Amalgamated Zionist Church of Beelzebub and get away with it. They pursue you, subject you to a painful and lingering death, and then mutilate your body.
The studio pooh poohs this as superstition but they assign a studio cop to be constantly at his side. Then there is a genuine attempt on somebody's part to murder Lee. He barely escapes but insists that from now on, he himself will decide where to live. It will be a different location every night, unknown to anyone else. It worries the moguls, of course, because what happens to the movie if Lee disappears for some reason when it's only half complete.
The first morning of this new arrangement, Lee doesn't show up on time. They plan to shoot around him, meaning they'll shoot scenes in which he's not required to appear. So the leading lady, Gia Scala, goes through her motions and turns to the door through which Lee is supposed to come. The door actually opens slowly and there is Lee, emerging from a cloud of smoke. He utters some incantation and disappears -- for good. That same day, his body is found in an apartment. He's been dead for three days.
It would have made a nice "Twilight Zone" episode, probably, but it's not as gripping as it might have been. The reasons, I think, illustrate the limitations of an hour-long, inexpensive television format.
Lee isn't very spooky here and his performance seems hasty. He's tall, but he's a light weight. The initial viewing of the filmed Black Mass seems to go on too long, as if more footage were needed to pad out the allotted hour. The sets, both indoor and outdoor, look made of cardboard. Gia Scala was a beautiful woman with startling green eyes but her part is unnecessary. She's in no way linked to Lee. In a feature film there would have been time to fill in a relationship that might have made the story more engaging. (Too bad about Scala's problematic psyche.)
Film freaks like me always enjoy behind-the-scenes studio plots, and we get lots of that here, where real life evil is blended with Hollywood's make-believe kind. Sounds promising but results don't really come off, despite Christopher Lee in a bushy hairpiece and raccoon eyebrows. As others point out, it's interesting seeing him as the frightened one instead of an imposing figure scaring the devil out of the rest of us. Trouble is the suspense and fright never gels, maybe because scenes too often switch to the mundane studio head and his staff. Menace is not played up beyond Jorla's words, while that overextended opening sequence smacks of padding. Then too, the one attack scene is filmed like a cowboy barroom brawl with no spooky atmosphere at all. The end result is more like an eerie idea filmed too much like an ordinary narrative.
On the plus side, is Myron Healy showing he can play a high-powered exec instead of his usual baddie. Also are the interior and exterior glimpses of the Universal lot where these Hitch's were filmed. At the same time, it's a Lee showcase at a time when his Hammer Films career was flourishing, which may be why he gets so much screen time here. But pity poor ravishing Gia Scala who doesn't get to do much except tag after the boys in ravishing fashion—not that I'm complaining.
All in all, the hour's a promising idea that unfortunately gets treated in rather pedestrian fashion.
Based on a short story written by Robert Bloch – best-known for having penned the original source novel for Hitchcock's own biggest box-office success, PSYCHO (1960) – it tells of a Hollywood troupe (including Gia Scala and Adam Roarke) who come across some snuff-like footage of a black mass and decide to make a film on the subject and hire the High Priest therein himself – French actor Karl Jorla (played by Lee, of course) – for the lead. What they did not know at the time, however, is that Jorla has since severed his ties with the Satanic cult and is now in fear of his life from their proverbial retribution...
Although the narrative regrettably tends to concentrate far more on the bland Hollywood people, this makes for an interesting look at the workings of a TV-film set – not to mention act as a precursor of sorts to Roman Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968); best of all, however, is that it provides a (by this time) rare opportunity to watch the usually villainous Lee portraying the victim for once. Still, apart from his involvement in the initial would-be documentary footage of the aforementioned diabolical ceremony, the rather absurdly-coiffeured Lee does get to elicit a frisson from the audience when "he" (ostensibly A.W.O.L. at the time) makes an unheralded eerie appearance on the set following Scala's silly bidding and mumbles his true fateful location in the process!
Interestingly, when Lee accepted the role of Jorla, he did so under the incorrect assumption that Hitchcock himself would be directing the episode; however, although it was British actor Robert Douglas – best-known for his villainous turn in Errol Flynn's last great starring vehicle, ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (1948) – who handled the task, Lee seems to have enjoyed the experience overall. It would not be the last time that the British horror icon would play a Satanist, most notably in Hammer Films' last genre effort, TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER (1976). Needless to say, the genial rotund host appears in the opening and closing framework bits while presumably stranded on the planet Mars!
"The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" is a major step down. It's difficult to maintain tension over an hour, and few of these episodes are memorable (or merely good). Even one of the best, "An Open Window", is ten minutes too long.
"The Sign of Satan" holds great promise. With a script by Lyndon Barré from a story by Robert Bloch, and starring a young Christopher Lee, you expect something at least a little unnerving.
Unfortunately, 90% of the proceedings are Lee repeatedly telling the producer that he's quite capable of taking care of himself, thank you. The ambiguity of his eventual death comes out of nowhere, and is annoying rather than satisfying.
The only good thing is Lee's performance. He's made up to look Eastern-European threatening, and the character is thoroughly convincing.
Not really recommended, unless you have a hour to kill.
By the film of him involved in the Satanic rites, as Satan's sacrificial lamb or goat, becoming public Jorla has been marked for death by the Satanists that the film exposed to the unsuspecting,in not knowing about these kind of things, public!Even though Jorla tried to prevent the inevitable from happening he knows it's only a matter of time before the Sanatic hit men finally get to him!
**SPOILERS*** With the movie just about over or in the can Jorla disappears into thin air with the big final scenes, where he ends up getting it, unfinished! With Rubini filming around Jorla he unexpectedly shows up, like a ghost in the night, as the scene was being filmed! That to the complete shock of all those present at the set! It seems that Joral was indeed involved with a Satanic cult that he was a member of back in French. And now also used the powers that Satan gave him to literally rise from the grave and finish the movie that he promised both Connors & Max Rubibi to do! In his last words on earth to his shocked co-star Kitty Fraizer, Gia Scala, Jorla said a number of unintelligible words that no one at first could figure out. Those words turned out to be the address when his body could be found! That three days after members of the Sanatic cult that were out to get Joral had already murdered him!