Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme

As we can surmise from its title, EXORCISMO is an EXORCIST rip-off made in Spain. Sitting through an EXORCIST rehash is a bit of a non-starter; not only will it inevitably fail to live up to the standards expected by fans of the original film, but this multi Oscar nominated template suffers a very low tolerance rate among subcultural horror circles. Kim Newman - a major name in horror film criticism - recently derided Friedkin’s plodding supernatural thriller as suspenseless, and the brilliant critic Stephen Thrower has pointed out that the film is highly conservative in its pro-Christian ideology, restrictive attitude to the supernatural (the demon Pazuzu is stuck in the body of a young girl who is stuck in her bed, stuck in her bedroom...) and its use of mostly mundane cinematic realism.

The plot is utter bunk: supernatural forces possess a young woman when she and her archaeologist boyfriend dabble in African voodoo. The remainder of the film concerns various incidents from THE EXORCIST that have, quite frankly, been stripped and plastered from one film to the other, albeit descending from early ‘70s Hollywood realism to a flat, dull soapy TV style aesthetic, utterly devoid of cinematic expression. It has to be stated that part of THE EXORCIST’s attempts at creating an apparently realistic experience lies in its characters’ constant efforts to deny the fact of supernatural agency. For example, Father Karras ludicrously decides that Regan’s repugnant behavioural and gruesome physical changes are due to the absence of the father in her family, thus causing instability in the young girl. Likewise, the protracted depiction of medical testing is an attempt to convince us that we are privy to a view into the real world, as opposed to a fantasy world in which incredible things can happen.

In EXORCISMO, however, sequences of extensive medical testing, extended discussions, and attempts to deny the supernatural, and cod-psychoanalytic attempts at a solution to the ‘mystery’, all come across as highly arbitrary. Formally, the film doesn’t exactly rub our faces in the ‘illusion of reality’ - in contrast to its source of inspiration - and consequently it becomes clear that EXORCISMO is little more than a wretched copy. In fact, the whole film is littered with banal, blank borrowings from Friedkin’s film: in keeping with its predecessor’s depiction of the death of alcoholic film director Burke Dennings, we see not just one but two characters die from fatal wounds in which their necks are broken and their heads turned back to front. (This is admittedly hinted at in THE EXORCIST; in EXORCISMO, however, we actually see this in a couple of badly staged, ludicrously presented scenes in which the actors wear their suits back to front.)

One of the key departures from its precedent is the decision to represent the possessed individual as a young woman rather than a girl. It has often been said that the supernatural has been used as an excuse to depict - or refer to - sex in art, literature, film, religion, etc. Sequences of Leila (Grace Mills) writhing naked on her bed and on a slab at an orgy confirm this. Around the time that this film came out, Spanish cinema suffered from heavy censorship; as such, it was necessary for exploitation filmmakers to pursue allegory rather than a literal immersion in the desired subject matter. Consequently the film comes across as hypocritical: mild sex is depicted to satisfy the viewer’s desire for cheap thrills, only for the various authority figures in the film - including the ‘great’ (I’m joking) Paul Naschy as a priest - to didactically denounce provocative, sexual behaviour.

It’s a great shame that various DVD companies are currently marketing the actor Paul Naschy as one of the major names in international horror. To mention this man alongside Jose Mojica Marins, Gerard Kargl, Jorg Buttgereit, Shinya Tsukamoto, and numerous others is sheer lunacy. The acceptance of minority horror figures is not only commendable but rather vital; however, it is unfortunate that a great deal of garbage slips through the cracks, too. Naschy - according to Nacho Cerda, director of the provocative shorts AFTERMATH and GENESIS - is considered a joke in his native Spain. When you consider these aforementioned figures - all greats of low-budget, provocative auteur cinema - watching a Naschy film is like taking a cold bath! Perhaps the film has been made - and is being marketed for - misguided individuals whose interpretation of an ‘open-minded horror fan’ is restricted to an acceptance of anything, regardless of its merits. To end on a more positive note, at least nobody’s tried any wretched copies of Friedkin’s true masterpieces: SORCERER (1977) and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985), although the idea of Naschy driving a truckload of nitroglycerine through a jungle, or acting as a Fed in pursuit of a ruthless counterfeiter would surely have audiences in stitches.

Mathew Sanderson

Directed by Juan Bosch

English language dubbed, Spain, 1975, 90 mins, colour

An Eclectic DVD release

Region 1 / NTSC / Mono / 1.33:1



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