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Bruce Markusen Looks Back at Actor L.Q. Jones’ Career in Horror Movies – ‘The Brotherhood of Satan’



L.Q. Jones in The Mask of Zorro

Earlier this month, longtime character actor L.Q. Jones passed away from natural causes at the age of 94. A rugged, mustachioed actor with a distinctive look, Jones began his career in 1955 and became best known for his work in western films and TV shows. But he also had a significant career in horror and sci-fi, thanks to his appearances in such movies as 1982’s The Beast Within and the 2001 release, Route 666. He also directed and wrote the post-apocalyptic 1975 film, A Boy and His Dog, which starred a very young Don Johnson in his pre-Miami Vice and Nash Bridges days.

But it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that L.Q. Jones truly made his mark in horror. In 1969, he served as executive producer of The Witchmaker, a movie about a psychic researcher investigating a series of murders of beautiful women. Then in 1971, he played two key roles in the production of the underrated movie, The Brotherhood of Satan, a film that combined Jones’ love of Southwestern settings with a story about devil worship and witchcraft. Not only did Jones play the role of the sheriff in the movie, but he also wrote the screenplay. And almost concurrently with that, his full-length book, also called The Brotherhood of Satan, made its way into American bookstores.

The film version of The Brotherhood of Satan opens with a widowed father (Ben), his daughter (K.T.), and his girlfriend (Nicky) traveling to a family birthday party somewhere in a remote desert area of the American southwest. Before they arrive at their destination, they stumble upon an automobile accident. When they try to report the accident to local authorities, they soon become trapped in a small California town known as Hillsboro, where a string of murders has taken place and where children have been disappearing. With the aid of a local priest, Ben and Nicky soon discover a most unusual cult – one consisting solely of senior citizens – who are trying to lure younger people into the town. To complicate matters, Ben’s daughter goes missing just as the family tries to leave town.

Brotherhood of Satan Movie Image

One of the people whom Ben and Nicky encounter is Doc Duncan, the town doctor, a seemingly friendly and charming man who is more than happy to put out the welcome mat for the couple. At first, Ben and Nicky have no idea as to Doc’s true identity, but they will soon discover that he is actually the leader of the strange Satanic movement.

Doc is played by the later Strother Martin, a supremely talented character actor of the era and the man who lifts The Brotherhood of Satan to a higher level. Martin was a close friend of L.Q Jones, with whom he often worked in films. Jones would have wanted no one else to play the role of Doc Duncan. Giving the character the proper blend of nuance and passion, Martin plays his character beautifully. Perhaps his most notable line from the film is his raging declaration, “Not your baby, our baby, Satan’s baby!” It’s a line that is classic Strother Martin.

A familiar face to fans of 1970s cinema, Martin had worked with Jones on westerns in the 1960s. With his unusual vocal delivery and remarkable physical presence, Martin often dominated scenes during films, as he did playing the warden in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. Sadly, Martin would die only nine years after The Brotherhood of Satan debuted. He passed away from a heart attack in 1980 at the age of 60. His early death explains why he has become somewhat forgotten as an actor. Though he is rarely talked about these days, his impact is still felt through his many film and TV portrayals. The Brotherhood of Satan was one of his few starring roles, but his performance offers evidence that he could have handled top billing far more often.

Martin is outstanding in The Brotherhood of Satan, the unquestioned glue to the film, but he is also given plenty of assistance from his castmates. Jones, his longtime friend, is very good as the local sheriff. Another effective performance is turned in by Charles Bateman, a handsome and charismatic actor who plays Ben, the father of the missing child. (As of this writing, Bateman is still with us, at the age of 91.)

Little-known director Bernard McEveety deserves credit, too. He specialized in directing television episodes for much of his career, but this venture into feature films makes us wonder why he didn’t work on the big screen more often. In The Brotherhood of Satan, he creates an appropriately creepy atmosphere, with well-done sets and disturbing music. McEveety is particularly skilled in the ways that he arranges the lighting of the house where much of the terror takes place.

McEveety also delivers a fitting climax to the film. So often the endings of horror movies leave us wanting something different and more substantial, but McEveety gives us a conclusion that is bizarre, surprising, and chilling. Thanks to that ending, we’re left with the feeling that we’ve watched a quietly effective horror film.

The Brotherhood of Satan also features a bit of quirkiness that makes it reminiscent of the films of William Castle. If you’re old enough to have seen this film in theaters when it was released, you might remember receiving a packet of “Satan’s Seeds.” Upon purchase of theater tickets, all theatergoers were given these seed packets, emblazoned with the movie’s logo. According to the instructions on the package, Satan’s Seeds were meant to provide protection from “the Black Magic of the Brotherhood of Satan.” It was a wild gimmick for a wild film from the early 1970s.

Strangely, The Brotherhood of Satan has never received great critical praise—perhaps because of the film’s opening sequence, which can be rather confusing—but it’s a movie that nonetheless entertains with its strange twist on a Satanic cult, its inherent creepiness, and its rather shocking ending. While it has never garnered the attention of classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, it’s not far from the level of those two gems, and it was all accomplished on a much lower budget.

Despite those budget limitations and the absence of brand-name actors, The Brotherhood of Satan is one of the more entertaining films of the era to deal with the topics of witchcraft and devil worship. It’s clearly better than The Devil’s Rain and perhaps equal to Race With The Devil (another personal favorite). With its gritty and offbeat treatment of the subject matter, The Brotherhood of Satan packs a good share of scares into a taut one hour and 32 minutes. It all makes for entertaining late-night theater.

The film is a fitting tribute to the creativity and spirit of L.Q. Jones, who retired in 2006 after 51 years in the industry. Like most character actors, Jones has never received his full due. But his writing skills and imaginative flair made him something more. And The Brotherhood of Satan serves as a testament to his talent.

Bruce has a new book out titled Hosted Horror on Television, which you can order right now through the McfarlandBooks website.

I am a devoted fan of horror and baseball, two subjects that occasionally cross paths.