27 August, 2007

EXORCISM: DVD Review

The Spanish language opening credits sequence of EXORCISMO is included as an extra on the excellent new DVD. Thanks to Eric Cotenas for the screengrab.


EXORCISM is not first, or even second tier, Paul Naschy. Written by Naschy before but made and released in the wake of William Friedkin's megahit THE EXORCIST, Juan Bosch's film tells essentially the same story: the daughter of a well to do single mother (Maria Perschy) living in England begins to exhibit violent, antisocial behavoir after attending black masses held by a local satanic cult. Then her brother, lover and several servants are found brutally murdered. The young woman (Grace Mills) begins to speak with the voice of her dead father, a corrupt man by all accounts. As she begins to develop skin lacerations and perform supernatural acts a family friend, an Anglican priest (Naschy) is called in to perform an exorcism.

Paul Naschy is, of course, a multi talented artist, and went on to direct and star in a number of self written features on the topic of demon possession: INQUISITION, EL CAMINANTE (1979), and HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1988), all of which are better films than the one at hand. The latter two are rich, multi layered works of Spanish Fantastique and need High Definition DVD releases if Naschy's career is ever to be fully appreciated in North America. EXORCISM is one of the more interesting items in the post EXORCIST boom, I also am one of the few to have seen and appreciated John Boorman's original controversial version EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC theatrically in the few days before it was pulled and recut by the studio.

The most compelling element of EXORCISM (1974) is Naschy's character, an intellectual who studies rare and forbidden historical and occult texts. It's one of his rare appearances as a completely normal individual and he pulls it off with such panache that he alone pretty much holds this entire uncertain enterprise together. The late Maria Perschy (PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN) also deserves a nod for her dignified portrayal of the increasingly anxious mother. The rest of the cast performs in a rather perfunctory fashion as does director Bosch (Juan/Joan Bosch Palau/John Wood). It opens well enough with a satanic orgy unfolding on a beach, evocatively filmed through torches. And there are a few striking compositions here and there (usually involving the rites and demonic iconography) courtesy of DP Francisco Sanchez. But this film is competent, and that's about it. Eventually it becomes a rather dull series of expository scenes where characters sit around with long faces while anticipating what may happen or discussing what has already happened. I fault the script (which was altered at the request of the producer according to Naschy) less than I do the director, who takes co-screenplay credit and had the job of turning a text into something with visual integrity. And that's just the key element this film lacks. There are the requisite special effects, which cannot compete with the US template or even its many imitators. Bosch ended up making seven Spanish westerns, including the amusing and energetic LA CAZA D'ORO (1972) and a few thrillers (THE KILLER WORE GLOVES). Horror films were not his true vocation.

One element which has always impressed me here is the depiction of how the spirit affects animals, such as the family dog whom Naschy battles in the final moments. This is an original scene, one of the few in the film which aren't predicatable or give a feeling of deja vu, one wishes there were more like it. The story should have ended right there but unfortunately the version here is botched by the final image of the victim's eyes closing (is she dead?) then opening, then closing, then suddenly popping open in the final seconds. It's so ineptly handled from a technical standpoint that it's impossible to take seriously. But unintentional humor is not what Paul Naschy intended. An effective musical score somewhat mitigates the Bad Movie atmosphere, and the entire enterprise is certainly superior to the Amando de Ossorio demonic possession picture made in the same year, LA ENDEMONIADA (DEMON WITCH CHILD), which is reviewed below. EXORCISM was very successful at the box office in Spain, perhaps the most lucrative project of Naschy's career. This film is not to be confused with another 1974 film with same title by another Spanish director, Jess Franco. His EXORCISM has the personal touch lacked by Bosch's film.

BCI ECLIPSE has delivered an excellent DVD presentation. Although the film is no great shakes it looks better than it ever has or probably ever will. A sparkling fullscreen High Definition transfer from the original Spanish vault accenuates the positives. I believe this is the first Paul Naschy film I ever saw back in the days of mid 1980s Mom and Pop video stores. Much appreciated is the inclusion of the Spanish language track with very readable and well written English subtitles. The Spanish language opening and closing credits are included as are alternate scenes, the US theatrical trailer, still, poster, and admat folders from around the world and the well researched, highly informative and authoritative liner notes by The Mark of Naschy's Mirek Lipinski.

The main extra is a wide ranging interview with Paul Naschy which is alone worth the price of admission. Naschy is a passionate, yet humble man, who can discuss classic Spanish literature, his love of Universal's classic horrors, the erotic elements in his films and his work with such directors as Leon Klimovsky (who probably would have been a better choice to helm EXORCISM).

A superlative package when all is said and done. One can only hope that BCI can keep this admirable series going as long as possible. Classic Spanish horror is finally getting its day on US DVD and there are numerous title which are in dire need of this kind of careful handling.

EXORCISM is now available on a Double Feature 2 disc set with THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS (see review below).

(C) Robert Monell, 2007

2 comments:

Nzoog Wahrlfhehen said...

I don't know if you already know this, Robert. If you don't, you may find it of interest that EXORCISMO indirectly led to the making of SECTA SINIESTRA. After the success of the Naschy film, Bosch decided to write another horror script and Ignacio F. Iquino bought it. It was originally to be made by Bosch but, after some test shooting, there were disagreemens between Bosch and Iquino, so Bosch left the film. Some times later, Iquino filmed the script, with reelaborations by himself and "Jackie Kelly". Bosch found the results awful.

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for reminding me of Bosch's involvement in that [superior] film. I thought I remembered seeing "John Wood" credited on the Spanish video I have. I'll have to check again. SECTA... is very gross and crude but has more energy and interest than EXORCISM, and more interesting characters, especially the evil midwife! And it's NOT dull, like EXORCISM.