The Mark of Satan
Ann Loring | Award Books | 1968 | 155 pages
Unable to escape the considerable shadow cast by Rosemary’s Baby, The Mark of Satan casts a web of diabolical intrigue around its innocent young heroine, but fails to provide the least bit of surprise in delivering its occult chills.
After a bitter divorce, Julie Wallace returns to New York with her young son in an attempt to restart her acting career. While examining the job board at the local actor’s union, a stranger approaches with apparent solutions to her two most pressing problems. Lou Davilla, a man of magnetic, but also disquieting, charm, identifies himself as a stage producer, and offers Julie the lead role in a new play he is developing for his recently renovated theatre. He also offers Julie the rental of his small cottage—just perfect for a single mother and her son–located directly behind the theatre, isolated from the busy streets of Greenwich Village in its own private garden.
While moving in to her new cottage, Julie makes a strange discovery. Hidden in a pillowcase, she finds what appears to be a wedding dress—with a blood-red stain over a slash in the material. Tucked inside the dress is a hurriedly scribbled note for help. Initially dismissing it as a practical joke or a prop from a previous production at the theatre, Julie is nonetheless troubled by her find. She begins to suffer nightmares in which she is the sacrificial victim in some kind of unholy ritual, bound and carried along by a line of black-cowled figures.
Coincidentally, Julie’s new role in Davilla’s play, The Thirteen, is that of a naïve young woman who is sacrificed by a witches’ coven during a Black Mass. Mike Abel, Julie’s old friend and former suitor, grows suspicious at the complete lack of publicity surrounding the play as the opening night draws near. In fact, he is unable to find any mention of the play at all. Julie is further rattled when she learns that the previous occupant of her cottage was a former actress in one of Davilla’s plays—before accidentally falling down the cottage stairs to her death.
The Mark of Satan does manage to wring some paranoid atmosphere from its post-Rosemary’s Baby tale of a medieval coven in the heart of a modern metropolis (including a served food item with a suspicious “under taste”), but unfolds in such a predictable, by-the-numbers way that most of the suspense is leeched away. Inevitably, the story leads to its prescribed finish, with all the characters revealed precisely as expected:
***(Not much of a) SPOILER ALERT*** Neighborhood grocer? Satanist. School Principal? Satanist. Costume Designer? Satanist. Lou Davilla? El Diablo. ***END SPOILER***
But the nadir of conformity to hoary genre tropes arrives during one of Julie’s nightmares, when a cowled member of the assembled coven literally chants, “One of us! ONE OF US!”