Kino Lorber // 1975 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // November 7th, 2012
The practitioner of gruesome satanic rites.
Jesus "Jess" Franco (Female Vampire) may be the most confusing cult director that I know. He doesn't confuse me because his films are any kind of mind bending art; quite the contrary. He confuses me because I don't understand how I am consistently tricked into watching his movies. It happens every time I see a disc of one of his films I haven't seen. The salacious cover poster, the wild plot descriptions, the gorgeous actresses and promise of violence; all of it draws me in like a dog hearing a bell. And, great, here's another one: 1975's Exorcism, now on Redemption Blu-ray.
A defrocked priest who now writes violent pornography for a magazine discovers that his editor and his rich friends take part in black mass reenactments that typically result in orgies. The priest's violent response to Satanism was how he lost his place in the church, but he can't let it go. He goes on a mission to cleanse the souls of these blasphemers with rope, chains, and a long, thin knife.
For all the sex and violence that Jess Franco puts into his movies, it's a wonder how boring they often are. Aside from a few notable exceptions, like Vampyros Lesbos and Female Vampire, his work is all promise and no delivery. That isn't quite true; he often comes through with sex, violence, and torture, but for all of that, it is amazing how bored I tend to find myself as I watch his work.
This is as true as ever in Exorcism. Not to be confused with another movie called Exorcism that he made the previous year (which I know as Lorna...the Exorcist), 1975's Exorcism follows the same path that he forged many times with de Sade-inspired torture and murder stories. Here, though, the problem is a little more pronounced because of the sheer number of scenes featuring content that fans of Eurocult cinema crave. There are approximately six murders, torture scenes to match (not to mention the extended Grand Guignol style theatrical performances), and plenty of sex that includes the Sapphic, the sado-masochistic, and the outright gross. Over its hundred minute running time, this basically guarantees that viewers will see something to titillate in some way every few minutes. Yet, it's in the intervening scenes that the movie feels like an all-out war to finish.
The plot makes no sense. Were there really '70s-era priests being defrocked for their harsh stance on black magic? Here, the black mass is a diversion strictly for the rich, who are not Satanists, just bored aristocrats with a taste for orgiastic sex. Our friendly priest doesn't seem to understand this and appears to have been transported from the 16th Century, when this movie should have actually taken place if the story was to make any sense. It's not like Franco wasn't familiar with how to make period sex films; he just decided to set it in the present day for some reason. Of course, this makes no logical sense, but that was never a big concern for Franco.
Senseless and poorly done as it might be, there is a reason to watch Exorcism: Lina Romay (Tender Flesh), Franco's wife, longtime muse, and one of few actresses who would do just about anything on camera, no matter how disgusting. She is the star here, and though her role isn't nearly as interesting as in other films, she spends enough time nude, bound, and whipped that it basically makes up for her lack of character. Objectively, nothing about Exorcism is very good, including her performance, but you have to take what you can get from a Jess Franco film, and she is what we have.
Also included on the disc is the truncated American release, called Demoniac, not to be confused with the pluralized title of the Jean Rollin cult classic, Demoniacs. Shortened by a full 30 minutes, this version is a case where a viewer would miss nothing, and yet miss everything. As far as the shaky plot, it's there in all its cruddy glory. The sex, though, the only actual reason to watch this movie, has been pulled near entirely, making this version a fundamentally worthless viewing experience. It's only there for history's sake and there's no reason to watch it on any level besides that.
The Blu-ray release of Exorcism arrives from Kino International on their Redemption label and is decent, but nothing too great. The 1.66:1/1080p transfer looks solid, with good colors and deep black levels. It's sharp, with no digital errors or artifacts, but the print itself is littered with scratches and specks, which keeps it from being great. The Linear PCM 2.0 mono mix is clean, as well, with no background noise to speak of, and the dialog and music both sound good in the channel. Aside from the previously discussed alternate cut, the only extra on the disc is a trailer, which is a disappointment.
As much as I complain about Franco, I still watch his stupid movies, so there's clearly something in them that appeals to me; I own ten or twelve of his films, after all. Compared to many of his trash cinema contemporaries, he's a pretty competent director, even if his stories rarely make a lick of sense. Exorcism fits right in with all of this for, ultimately, a charming but almost completely forgettable experience. Plus, there's Lina Romay to enjoy; her lovely presence always adds a few points to the final score. If you've never seen a Franco movie before, this is hardly the place to start, but aficionados of the director will get what they deserve from this release.
Guilty, or not guilty; you know what you're getting. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alternate Cut