The Antichrist (1974)
By: Mr Intolerance on December 25, 2009  | 
Anchor Bay (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 1.0. 112 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Alberto de Martino
Starring: Carla Gravina, Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Alida Valli, Umberto Orsini, George Colouris
Screenplay: Gianfranco Clerici
Country: Italy
External Links
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Once William Friedkin's bumptious exercise in right wing Catholicism and violent misogyny The Exorcist made it big, everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of the pie. Rip-offs were coming out of the woodwork from every direction: Abby, Demon Witch Child, Exorcismo, The Sexorcist, Magdalena – Possessed By The Devil, Beyond The Door, even hardcore porn had a go with Angel Above, Devil Below. It got to the point where even poor old Mario Bava had his Lisa and the Devil hacked up and re-edited with a pointless exorcism scene to be released as House of Exorcism, and Brazil's favourite nutter Coffin Joe released a completely unrelated film, Exorcismo Negro, just so he could cash in on a bankable name. It may come as some surprise to you out of this rubbishy glut of young women with potty-mouths and windy, specious religious moralising that a decent film emerged, and that film is The Antichrist. Now, don't get me wrong, it's just as exploitative as any of the films mentioned above (and much more at home with that exploitative vibe), and equally as much a rip-off of an inferior film, but it's a superior entry in what is admittedly a pretty retarded canon.

Beginning with some hilarious scenes of Catholic zealotry The Antichrist immediately addresses its two main themes – religion and family. More to the point, a young paralysed woman's relationships with her father Massimo (Mel Ferrer) and her God (represented through her uncle, the always grumpy Arthur Kennedy). Both, it would seem, are examined and found wanting, and the realisation is too much for Hippolita to bear. Strange things are happening around her causing her to question her faith, and she begins to lose her sense of security, and eventually her sense of self, while at the same time beginning to develop psychic powers. A young psychiatrist, Dr Sinibaldi, is called in to investigate.

Under regressive hypnosis, Hippolita travels back mentally to the time of an ancestor, a heretic burnt at the stake by the Inquisition, who it would appear that Hippolita is the reincarnation of. Her psychic powers on the increase, Hippolita becomes aware of her father's growing attraction to his secretary, and boy does she get jealous. Hippolita's very much her Daddy's little girl, and she doesn't want to share him with anyone, despite the fact that the poor fella's been alone ever since the accident many years previously which robbed him of his wife, and Hippolita of the use of her legs.

Now it's around this time that Hippolita discovers that she doesn't need the psychiatrist to regress back to being her devil-worshipping ancestor – she can do it herself, and indeed she does so with some alacrity, taking herself back to the night when, at a Black Mass, the ancestor became a Satanist, and writhing about on her bed in modern day Rome, Hippolita undergoes the ritual again. This is a scene that was often cut back in the day – the implied analingus being performed on a goat was a little bit too robust for the average viewer. However, the scene as a whole is certainly atmospheric enough in a dream-like kind of way – and Hippolita has become, shall we say, a changed woman.

Now equipped with two working legs (that's right folks, you heard it first here – Satan worship cures paralysis!), Hippolita decides it's time to par-tay, and she sure is gagging for a shag, seducing some young German tourist in a museum simply because she can. But it would appear that this new-found mobility (and libido) are only present when Hippolita's ancestor takes over her body.

Foolishly, Sinibaldi decides that more regressive hypnosis would be a good idea, and Hippolita is taken back to the day of her ancestor's execution, an experience that proves traumatic, and yet gives her more conscious control of her legs. It's also given Hippolita's ancestor access to her consciousness, and if you've been waiting patiently for the more overt references to The Exorcist to kick in, then this is where you're about to be rewarded. Up until this point, the film has pretty successfully avoided being a complete rip-off (unlike, say, William Girdler's blaxploitation entry into the genre, Abby, which The Exorcist's distributors Warner Brothers tried reasonably successfully to bury, their legal people claiming AIP had infringed on their copyright, the similarities between the two were so strong), but people want a possessed girl (woman in this instance) using sailor-talk in a growly voice, wearing evil contact lenses, exercising spooky powers and being generally by turns scatological, prurient and blasphemous, so let 'er rip!

Of course, the last thing anybody wants to admit in this day and age is that Hippolita is demonically possessed, and even despite the fact that when she goes haywire the furniture and the fixtures fly around the room and she burns her palm-print into Sinibaldi's arm, everyone seems convinced she's just sexually frustrated. If that were the case, any house where a teenage boy lived would be a permanent maelstrom of chairs and cutlery. Some idiots can't see the woods for the trees.

While the Catholics hang fire on treating their wayward daughter, the family servant finds a voodoo priest, who's not a whole load of use but certainly provides some entertainment value. It's about this point that the ambition of the film is let down by its budget. The special effects are not really up to the task set by the screenwriter. They're not truly awful, but they are certainly a weak link in the chain of good performances, interesting plot, fine camerawork and sheer fun.

This kinda brings us to the exorcism, which is why we're here in the first place, and well, I don't want to spoil anything for you further. You know the template – the spiritual showdown, the multi-coloured vomit, the profanity, etcetera, etcetera. However, this is Euro-horror from the 1970s, so some surprises do await you – you get more bang for your exploitation buck right here.

If horror films reflect what society's afraid of, or tap into some kind of super-ego, then the 1970s seem like a bit of a an atavistic throwback to an anachronistic medievalism – fear of the Devil seems a bit redundant considering the world was teetering on the brink of nuclear Armageddon at the time films like The Antichrist were being made. Mere escapism? I don't know, it seems like such films reflect a kind of global crisis of faith; we make films like this or The Exorcist to somehow comfort ourselves, to reassure ourselves that even if all else fails, god will somehow still bail us out when everything goes to pot. Family fails, science fails, we still have religion to see us through. As an atheist myself, I don't really find the thought all that comforting – I have to rely on the invisible man? Super.
Presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced, The Antichrist is looking pretty good, and presents a striking sense of the visual. Occasionally that actually does work against it, highlighting the flaws in the special effects (a suicide at the very beginning of the film is a case in point), but otherwise it's a pretty lush image we're given. Remember that we're ripping off a big budget film here, we need to try to compete. And your cameraman? Joe D'Amato. So anyone that says that he was a hack can fuck off right now, and the proof is right here on this film.
The audio is adequate for the task at hand but never really standing out, although Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai's score is an impressive exercise in understated discordant creepiness – a definite highlight of the film.
Extra Features
Very light on in this regard, there's a ten minute featurette, Raising Hell, featuring interviews with director Alberto de Martino and very briefly with composer Ennio Morricone, and practically nothing else. A TV trailer (under its cut US release title as The Tempter) and a poster and still gallery aren't really cutting it for me as Special Features. I'm generally used to a little better from Anchor Bay.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Cheesy entertaining fun that's probably twenty minutes too long, The Antichrist has aged remarkably well. Nowhere near as creaking, pretentious and ponderous as the film it eventually apes, this movie has a charm and character that generally speaking makes it stand apart from all of the other rip-offs of The Exorcist. Sure, the last twenty minutes or so are almost totally bereft of originality, but it's a hell of a roller-coaster ride nonetheless. If you like 70s Euro-horror, I'd recommend your having a look.

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