Exorcism (1974)
By: CJ on May 3, 2003  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Synapse (USA).Region 1, NTSC. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 94 minutes
The Movie
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Lina Romay, Catherine Lafferiere, Lynn Monteil and Jesus Franco
Screenplay: Jesus Franco
Country: France/Spain/ Belgium
AKA: El Sádico de Notre-Dame; L'Éventreur de Notre-Dame; Demoniac Exorcism and Black Masses; Exorcisme et messes noires; Exorcisms; Ripper of Notre Dame; Sexorcismes
Jess Franco offers up another slice of Euro-lunacy in the form of Exorcism, which comes to us on DVD courtesy of the ever-reliable Synapse Films.

Exorcism is a strange little film and one that is hard to categorise. It has lashings of full-frontal female nudity, some bloodshed and violence, and a plot that is rather incomprehensible. Nothing new for Franco, you might think, and yet the film has a strange allure, which draws you into its surreal world.

Mathis Vogel (Jess Franco), a sexually obsessed and religiously twisted soul writes short stories of sado-masochism for a sleazy Parisian magazine. One evening, he chances upon a staged black mass and believes it to be real. Seeing this staged event seemingly tips him over the edge and he begins to enforce his own sense of twisted morality upon the female protagonists of these 'plays'. He captures them and, dressed as a Catholic priest, tortures and kills them, whilst reciting passages of the Catholic Mass in Latin. He begins chronicling his activities within the stories he writes for the aforementioned magazine and, as is usually the case, he is eventually caught and brought down.

The story, however, seems secondary to the mood, atmosphere and visuals of the piece. The film is full of striking imagery and even displays the occasional flash of brilliance. It's not exactly technically competent, which is pretty much par for the course regarding Franco, and yet Franco somehow, maybe even unintentionally, manages to imbue the film with a mood and tone all of its own that is strangely hypnotic.

Although the film boasts more than its fair share of nudity, it is never erotic. The sexual activities are always presented as something sinister and twisted, corresponding perfectly with Vogel's world-view. Vogel is a madman trying to make sense of a mad world; he is seen to be trying to purge the world of its evil, and yet becomes a 'sinner' himself in the process. Franco is very ambiguous about the Vogel character and his background and motives are never 100% clear, but this simply adds to the nihilism of the piece.

You'd think that this being a Franco film, that there would be plenty to poke fun at – but the film is actually quite moody and downbeat, with little room for laughs. This definitely stands apart from the usual Franco fare we are used to. The acting and general technical competence isn't really up to much – though Franco's performance isn't actually too bad – but this is a film about mood and visuals, and on that level it succeeds surprisingly well.

The film exists in various versions and footage was also re-used for Franco's later Sadist of Notre Dame (1979), but what Synapse have opted for here is the uncensored 1974 release as Exorcism. Obviously, Franco completists will want to seek out all the variants, but this stands as a complete work in its own right and is an interesting addition to any Euro-fan's collection.

As has already been said, this is not a good film by any means, and won't be to everyone's tastes, but it's an intriguing work nonetheless.
Synapse have done a pretty good restoration job, but there are still the occasional glitches and moments where the colours don't look quite right – however, these are few and far between and generally it's clean and sharp. Overall, it's a fairly respectable transfer, especially considering what an obscurity this is. This is probably as good as this film is going to look.
A very acceptable mono track is provided that is clear and reproduced rather well. The sombre music soundtrack comes across well and the dialogue is crisp and clear, with only the occasional dips in sound. Perfectly workable, but nothing spectacular. Then again, a film of this type needs no more than what is provided.
Extra Features
First up is an alternate clothed opening sequence which lacks the impact of the opening scene used in the main feature, but it's a curious addition to the disc nonetheless. Then there is a short stills gallery and also a theatrical trailer. The main selling point with the extras though is the inclusion of Franco's first ever audio commentary. Although speaking in stilted English, with a bit of effort it's perfectly understandable and Franco gives an insightful and informative commentary, his recollection of the film is remarkable considering how old the feature is now. Most definitely worth a listen, if only to gain some insight into the process employed by Franco when making a film. Aside from that, it's nice to see that Synapse have gone to the trouble of acquiring this commentary for the disc – it shows a degree of commitment to their product that other companies could learn a lesson or two from.
The Verdict
There is no doubt that Exorcism is not a good film in terms of most filmgoers' idea of what constitutes 'good'. However, Franco has his devotees and that is perfectly understandable. Franco's world is delirious, incoherent and lurid – but it is populated by fascinating characters, full of salacious imagery and accompanied with toe tapping soundtrack scores. They have a sense of the insane that is rarely captured elsewhere – which some might say is a good thing – but Franco has almost created a genre all of his own. Many of his films simply defy description and categorisation that to those that are 'in-the-know', it is simply enough to call it a 'Franco film'. Now how many other directors can claim that dubious distinction?

Exorcism is a delirious experience, and it's definitely not for everyone. Neither is it a particularly well-made film – but it has a certain 'vibe' to it that is hard to dislike. If Euro-horror is your thing, then you'll definitely want to add this to your collection. To everyone else - consider carefully whether you really want this or if your money could be spent elsewhere.
Movie Score
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