The Devil’s Assistant (1917)

Article 4561 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-13-2014
Directed by Harry A. Pollard
Featuring Margarita Fischer, Monroe Salisbury, Kathleen Kirkham
Country: USA
What it is: Melodrama with horror overtones

A doctor loses the woman he loves to another man, and becomes bitter and heartless. When he is called in to treat that same woman later in life, he administers a drug to her designed to bend her to his will so he can seduce her.

This silent film originally was originally five reels long, but all that appears to be left of it is a cut-down two reel version, but the story does seem to be intact, though it definitely feels like a rushed version of a longer story. It’s primarily a melodrama, though it could be argued that the drug in question may push it into the realm of science fiction. Still, the primary fantastic content is that the movie contains visions of hell in it. There’s a couple of early ones involving the doctor, but the main sequence happens near the end when one of the characters is on the verge of death, and she dreams that she is being dragged into the underworld; there are visions of devils, Cerberus, and Charon ferrying the woman across the Styx. These scenes look pretty striking; I wish the print I saw was in better condition, but I’m really grateful it exists at all in any condition. In terms of its story, it’s really hard to get a feel for how it works overall when you’re watching a rushed version of it, but it’s the hellish visions that are definitely the highlight.

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