aka THE TEMPTER
(Italy - 1974; US release 1978)
Directed by Alberto De Martino. Written by Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino, and Alberto De Martino. Cast: Carla Gravina, Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, George Coulouris, Alida Valli, Umberto Orsini, Mario Scaccia, Anita Strindberg, Remo Girone, Ernesto Colli, Lea Lander. (Unrated, 112 mins; R-rated US theatrical cut, 96 mins)
When THE EXORCIST opened in December 1973 and became a worldwide phenomenon well into the next year, it gave birth to a seemingly endless parade of imitations and blatant ripoffs, some from the US, but mostly from Europe, and Italy in particular. As they would later demonstrate with zombies, CONAN, and RAMBO ripoffs, the Italians latched on to the EXORCIST formula and beat it to death with films like 1974's BEYOND THE DOOR, 1974's THE TORMENTED (also released as THE SEXORCIST but best known under its 1978 ROCKY HORROR-inspired US release title THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW), and the subgenre's absolute nadir, 1975's pathetic NAKED EXORCISM, aka THE RETURN OF THE EXORCIST (it was later shamelessly retitled THE EXORCIST III: CRIES AND SHADOWS for its UK video release), which showcased a possessed teenage boy howling "I've had it up to here with your mumbo-jumbo!" to an exorcist played by visibly embarrassed GODFATHER co-star Richard Conte, looking very frail in his final screen appearance (he was dead for two years when the film was released in the US in 1977 as THE POSSESSOR). Even the legendary Mario Bava's then-shelved 1973 pet project LISA AND THE DEVIL was infamously retooled with new footage featuring Robert Alda as an exorcist for its 1976 release as THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. BEYOND THE DOOR was a surprise box office hit when it was released in the US in 1975, and even prompted an unsuccessful lawsuit from Warner Bros., though they did manage to get AIP's 1974 blaxorcist take ABBY (with BLACULA's great William Marshall as the exorcist) yanked from screens. The ripoffs weren't limited to Italy: Spain got into the game with the Paul Naschy-starring EXORCISM (1975) and BLIND DEAD mastermind Amando de Ossorio's DEMON WITCH CHILD (1975), released in the US in 1976 as THE POSSESSED. And Walter Boos took a break from SCHOOLGIRL REPORT installments to direct the West German MAGDALENA: POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL (1974), released in the US in 1976 as BEYOND THE DARKNESS and featuring THE EXORCIST's Rudolf Schundler (who played the servant Karl) as--go figure--the exorcist.
Stacie Ponder). Not everything in THE ANTICHRIST works, but time and again in its bold and often obscene depiction of demonic possession, De Martino is willing to take it places that even something as groundbreaking as THE EXORCIST didn't dare tread. The film is loaded with many "Did that shit just happen?!" moments and, in its uncensored European form, goes about as far as a demonic possession film can go.
HOLOCAUST 2000, THE PUMAMAN) and the screenwriters bring things more in line with the usual EXORCIST shenanigans: there's the requisite projectile green vomit, both in the face of family caregiver Irene (Alida Valli) and a handful that she force-feeds a bogus faith healer (Mario Scaccia). Ippolita goes an astonishingly profane tirade at dinner, seduces her playboy brother Filippo (Remo Girone), and tries to strangle her father. She taunts Ascanio, croaking "She's a big whore, your Ippolita...she'd lay you as well! She'd pluck gladly from under your tunic that innocent little nestling that never has flown," before exposing herself and bellowing "Dip your limp bird in holy water and bless me!" After all that, authorization is finally given for a formal exorcism, and, arriving out of the shadows Father Merrin-style is Austrian monk Father Mittner (George Coulouris), who has popped up on the fringes throughout, usually shaking a can for change, and is also seen in the Inquisition flashbacks and may be the reincarnation of the priest who saved the older Ippolita's soul.
intensity comes through even though she's dubbed even prior to the possession scenes (SPEED RACER completists will be interested to know that the English dub was supervised by Peter Fernandez, who also voiced the possessed Ippolita; Ferrer, Kennedy, and Coulouris dub themselves) and would likely be taken a lot more seriously if the special effects weren't so terrible. The levitation scenes and the visual effects involving the moving furniture and Ippolita's disembodied hand strangling the faith healer are some of the most bush-league traveling mattes ever committed to celluloid. As an aside, I wonder if some of the more tawdry elements of THE ANTICHRIST were kept from the old pros in the cast (it's doubtful Ferrer and Kennedy ever envisioned reuniting on this after Fritz Lang's 1952 classic RANCHO NOTORIOUS). I can't imagine George Coulouris--the same year he co-starred in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS--getting the script for this and thinking "OK, possession, levitation, green vomit, and uh, what? Rimjob on a goat? Well, I was in CITIZEN KANE...why not?"
THE NIGHT CHILD
(Italy - 1975; US release 1976)
Directed by Max Dallamano (Massimo Dallamano). Written by Max Dallamano (Massimo Dallamano) and Jan Hartman. Cast: Richard Johnson, Joanna Cassidy, Lila Kedrova, Evelyn Stuart (Ida Galli), Edmund Purdom, Nicole Elmi (Nicoletta Elmi), Richard Garrone, Dana Ghia, Tom Felleghy. (R, 89 mins)
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? director Massimo Dallamano's THE NIGHT CHILD is often lumped in with the string of Italian EXORCIST knockoffs, but it's more like a DON'T LOOK NOW ripoff with subtle EXORCIST elements. That didn't stop Edward L. Montoro and Film Ventures International from selling it as such for its 1976 US release, where they really played up the success of BEYOND THE DOOR ("Beyond the door of madness..."), emphasizing the presence of that film's star Richard Johnson and even using very similar font in the one-sheet design. In fact, THE NIGHT CHILD is rather low-key and surprisingly restrained as far as these things go--it's almost more of an art film than an outright horror film--and with no child turning monstrous and no levitation or any of the standard possession histrionics on display, it had to thoroughly bore grindhouse audiences expecting another barf-happy, "Let Jesus fuck you!" EXORCIST clone. Widower BBC documentary filmmaker Michael Williams (Richard Johnson) gets into all sorts of devilish trouble when he decides to take his daughter Emily (FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and DEEP RED's Nicoletta Elmi, the marvelously expressive, red-haired child actress who had the Creepy Kid market cornered in '70s Italian horror) and her nanny Jill (Ida Galli) to Italy with him for his latest project, a documentary entitled "Diabolical Art." His focus is a mysterious painting depicting a young girl who died 200 years earlier, and it has a profound effect on Emily, who also wears an allegedly cursed medallion that once belonged to her late mother. A local psychic (ZORBA THE GREEK Oscar-winner Lila Kedrova), senses that Emily is the reincarnation of Emilia, the girl's whose death is depicted in the painting, and that Michael's wife was killed by a hateful supernatural force with a connection to the medallion.