Philippe de Montfaucon (Niven), a French nobleman, receives an ominous message from a creepy bearded messenger, and tells his wife Catherine (Kerr) that he must leave for the family estate of Bellenac, a vineyard out in the country. Catherine at first lets him go, but changes her mind and goes after him later, toting along their children Jacques and Antoinette. She finds a thoroughly creepy town with thoroughly creepy people who all look at her oddly. The Montfaucon mansion is a creepy old castle. Odile and Christian de Caray, two super-creepy siblings (Tate and David Hemmings) roam the grounds of the mansion, shooting doves out of the sky. A creepy Obviously Evil priest (Pleasence) knows a lot more than he is telling. And on her first night in the mansion, Catherine stumbles on a creepy ceremony in which the de Carays present one of their dead doves to a mysterious group of people in black cloaks.
Basically, it's creepy.
Film debut of Tate, released three years before she was murdered by the Manson Family.
- And Starring: Tate gets an "And Introducing" credit after all the other actors are credited.
- Bald of Evil: As so often in his career, Pleasence plays a weird evil bald guy.
- Black Cloak: How the cultists dress for their ceremonies, like whatever was going on with the dead dove, or the ritual sacrifice of Phillipe at the end.
- The Cavalry Arrives Late: Not that it's clear what she would have done anyway, but Catherine arrives just in time to see Phillipe take an arrow from Christian.
- The Chains of Commanding: It's nice to be a count with a large estate and a whole town to work it for you, but it's less nice when you are obligated to come back home to be ritually murdered.
- Chiaroscuro: It's a black and white film, and the vast empty spaces of Castle Bellenac are artfully lit, filling the place with spooky shadows.
- Cult: The entire town is a pagan cult masquerading as a normal French Catholic village.
- Disturbed Doves: A flock of doves flies away when Catherine drives into the courtyard of the castle. The doves get more disturbed when Christian shoots one out of the air.
- Downer Ending: Phillipe dies in a pagan human sacrifice ritual. And little Jacques has bought into the religion and will continue the tradition.
- Dream Sequence: Catherine has a nightmare of all the scary things she's seen in and around the castle.
- Fake Shemp: Inverted. Some long shots of Kim Novak were still used after she was replaced.
- A Fête Worse Than Death: "Le treize jour,", in English "the thirteen days", supposedly the town fair but actually the rite for the human sacrifice.
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: The chiming bells of the "le treize jour" parade come off as scary in context.
- Foreshadowing: Catherine mentions that on her one previous visit to Bellenac, it struck her as "someplace out of the middle ages." She's quite right.
- Gray Rain of Depression: It's pouring rain as Catherine takes her children away after failing to save Phillipe.
- Hot Witch: Besides being a pagan, Odile can do some magic, like when she causes a toad to appear and then changes the toad into a dove. She is also played by Sharon Tate, crammed into some tight black dresses.
- Human Sacrifice: The men of the de Montfaucon family, going back for centuries, are occasionally sacrificed in a fertility rite, when the crops are failing. Phillipe is called back home to be sacrificed because the vineyard is failing after three years of drought.
- Hypnotic Eyes: Odile has these, as seen when she hypnotizes Catherine with her stare and nearly gets Catherine to kill herself.
- Impairment Shot: Catherine's vision goes blurry when Odile is hypnotizing her, with a view to make her take a fatal step off a high wall. They're interrupted just in time.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: The very very ominous mass conducted by Pere Dominic. Turns out it's a pagan ritual.
- Religion of Evil: A cult of pagans who conduct ritual human sacrifice surely qualifies.
- Religious Horror: A local pagan cult, which has taken on much of the iconography and symbolism of the Catholic Church, including black masses that look a lot like the regular Mass, and the use of crosses and Christian symbolism for their human sacrifice.
- Sinister Minister: The unblinking, ominous Pere Dominic, who speaks in a spooky monotone and is bald Donald Pleasance, so therefore Obviously Evil. Turns out he's not a Catholic priest, he's a pagan priest.
- Secret Circle of Secrets: The coven of pagans, which dons the standard black robes when conducting occult rites.
- Sleepwalking: Jacques is apparently prone to this, as seen when he wanders out of his bedroom and starts talking about how he wants to take a motorcar to see his dad, while still asleep.
- A Taste of the Lash: In a fairly obvious appeal to Fetish, Phillipe whips Odile after Odile tries to kill Catherine.
- Town with a Dark Secret: The village is full of pagans who occasionally conduct human sacrifices.
- Translation Convention: A film set in France with a cast speaking English. Makes for a couple of odd moments, like when Catherine finds a carved inscription written in French and reads it in English.