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Exorcism

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Actors: Lina Romay, Catherine Lafferière, Jesus Franco, Nadine Pascal, Pierre Taylou / Director: Jesus Franco / Writers: Jesus Franco, Marius Lesoeur, Henri Bral de Boitselier, James C. Garner / Producers: Daniel Lesoeur, Marius Lesoeur / Studio: Synapse Films / Released: 26 Mar 2002 / Run Time: 95 minutes

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      24.01.2013 12:08
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      Fun and sleaze with Jess Franco

      (This is a review of a mucky film. If you do not like reading about such things, get out while you still can. Don't come crying to me if, as a result of reading this review, you start attending erotic black masses or making cheap porn in hotel rooms.)

      This is a film-only review. A region free Blu-ray is available to import from amazon for less than £10.

      Anyway. Jesus Franco. If you've more than a casual interest in European horror you're going to run up against Franco eventually. He's just too prolific to ignore. The man has made well over 150 films, although a lot of his 1980s output is more pornography than horror. He always combined the two, having a perverse streak a mile wide, and caring at least as much about titillation as horror.

      Franco is, however, notoriously not very good. His films are slow-moving, baffling and badly made. The eager young euro-horror fan, looking to get to grips with Franco, will probably be drawn to exciting-sounding films like Vampyros Lesbos or Female Vampire, as they promise at least as much boobage as blood. And if the notional fan manages to get all the way through either, I'd be very impressed, because I never did. For a long, long time I hated Franco, and whenever I was reluctantly persuaded to watch one, I generally found it every bit as wearisome as the others I'd seen.

      But after a while, when one has seen almost everything else that's available, one finds more and more Franco films lining up. And eventually, perhaps just through sheer persistence, Franco wins you over. The more of his films you see, the more it makes sense. He's like a dog with a bone - a badly focused bone full of gratuitous crotch-shots. He keeps worrying at the same themes and images, and after a while you begin to appreciate his films. Comparing them to one another is really the only way to approach them, and a definite hierarchy emerges; a whole alternative, self-enclosed film history.

      The point of this rather dull preamble is to say that it's now very difficult for me to review Franco's films for a general audience. While most people will see his fondness for beginning a scene with a close-up of a lady's mimsy as distasteful and borderline pornographic, I see it as a motif recurring throughout his work. A distasteful, borderline pornographic one, yes, but if you're not looking for that then go watch something else.

      The one thing Franco's films aren't, usually, is so-bad-they're-funny. They're usually so bad they're unwatchable. Exorcism is a glorious exception to that rule. Although to be fair, there are still interminable scenes where naked women whip one another and such. That's the crux of the problem with Our Jess. He makes pornography very, very badly too. He does most things badly. There's a point in this film where he even seems to have trouble opening a wardrobe door properly.

      Exorcism was made in 1974.

      Anna and Rose are lovers who put on Satanic-themed floorshows in nightclubs for the amusement of people who are clearly intended to seem rich and decadent but just look bored. (Lesbian performances in nightclubs are a Franco motif.) They and Raymond, the editor of a lurid porno/true crime magazine, also participate in black masses, but only for fun. Vogel, a defrocked priest, decides that they need to be punished for their transgressions, and starts killing women he deems sinful. He develops a particular obsession with Anna. And the police are baffled, as they so often are.

      Franco fans will recognise plenty of familiar faces (and, er, other body parts). Franco himself plays Vogel - this is a mistake, as one of the things Franco does badly is act. He usually turns up in his films, generally in a small role, presumably to save hiring another actor. Here, though, he's playing one of the lead characters, which was never going to work. His muse (and later his wife) Lina Romay is playing Anna. She got naked in most of Franco's films from the early 70s onwards. She died last year, much too young. Not a great actor, she has a kind of perma-pout which is quite appealing, and a very casual attitude to nudity, which also has a certain appeal. One of the policemen is Olivier Mathot, who is in quite a few of Franco's movies. He is dreadful.

      Franco is the kind of director who lends himself to drinking games. There are a number of things you can expect in a Franco movie. Probably his most famous idiosyncracy is his over-use of moving cameras, and especially the zoom lens. This film is slightly better made than most in some respects. The camera only goes out of focus a couple of times, and it looks like it was meant to on at least one occasion.

      But there's a general ineptitude about the way the film is made. Shots are framed appallingly badly in some instances - when one of the cops comes into the killer's apartment, his head is cut off by the top of the frame for pretty much the whole scene. The final shot is an irrelevant shot of the front of a house. After a few seconds, for no reason at all, the camera moves up to show maybe another inch of sky at the top of the picture. It all suggests a man behind the camera who didn't really know what he was doing, but who felt that he had to do *something*, if only to show who was in charge.

      Other classic Franco motifs are people wobbling into shot who shouldn't be there - we see someone's head skulking around the bottom corner of the screen during one of the sex scenes, presumably it was the sound guy or something. And he loves to use tapes of exotic bird noises. This time we get some very exaggerated owl hooting, which is just as well, as you wouldn't be able to tell the scene was set at night otherwise. It also features what is beyond a doubt the worst car chase I've ever seen.

      All of these elements feature in lots of unwatchable Franco films, so it's hard to say why this one ends up being so entertaining. The plot is ludicrous, of course, but probably no more so than any other horror plot. It's presumably called Exorcism to try to exploit the success of The Exorcist, but it has no actual exorcism in it at all. It was also released as The Sadist of Notre Dame (Notre Dame doesn't appear in the film); and as Demoniacs (a cut US version).

      It's the kind of film where the main detective will refuse to believe his assistant's theory, even though it's correct, just to try to add a bit of completely pointless suspense. In fact, Franco tries for quite a bit of suspense here, but just isn't up to it. The final chase could be a taut masterpiece in the hands of a decent director with a grasp of basic editing techniques. Instead we just get a few wobbly shots of the insides of cars and a few more chances to ogle Lina Romay's pubic hair. The police, rather wonderfully, just drive off at the end without bothering to find out the fate of the characters they're meant to be rescuing, and in one of my favourite bad film moments ever, the main cop's gun is very obviously a starter pistol.

      But somehow, instead of being vexatious like most Franco films, it becomes highly entertaining. One wonderful feature is the way it was obviously all filmed in different bedrooms in the same hotel. Vogel's sinister mansion is very, very obviously a hotel, and his bedroom is probably the bridal suite (there's a big heart embroidered in the bedhead). All the other bedrooms we see in the film are clearly also hotel bedrooms (it's the telephones without dials right next to the beds that give them away). It looks to have been quite a nice hotel; I wonder if it's still there. Although set in Paris, it probably wasn't filmed there; we don't even get a stock footage shot of the Eiffel Tower.

      There is, of course, an awful lot of nudity in this film. There are a few sex scenes, which are as slow and laboured as in every other Franco film (one can't help but wonder what kind of a sex life the director had). There's also a lot of naked bondage, and although the gore effects are lame, there is a lot of torture of naked ladies. If the ladies could act at all, this might be offensive. As it is, it just feels like someone trying and failing to shock us. Some of the murder scenes include close-ups of a pig carcase being stabbed, a trick Franco also used in one of his cannibal films. That's as gory as it gets.

      But the nudity is fairly explicit. It doesn't hit the gynaecological heights of some of the director's films, but it's still a lot more vagina-y than most softcore films you'll see from its era. There are also a number of male members visible, although none are standing to attention. A one point there's an orgy at one of the fake black masses. It is hideous - lots of fat middle-aged men rolling around on the floor with well-endowed girls. It looks horribly like something that might happen in certain corners of the Tory Party Conference. One of the humpers looks like an overweight George Osborne (the size of his 'deficit' is unimpressive); another looks a lot like Andrew Lansley (if one were making a porn film about the current Government - and one might as well - you could call this character Andrew Glansley.)

      Franco plays Vogel, the homicidal pervert priest. Unusually, he gets a love scene with Lina, his own real-life girlfriend. Their scene together involves him chaining her naked to a wardrobe and scratching her with a knife. They stayed together for something like 40 years, so she can't have minded. Franco is short and pudgy and has a terrible mullet. Scenes where he has to drag the more-or-less naked Lina around are hilarious, because he's visibly struggling after only a few steps (it's also implied that he drags her from her apartment to his, which is on the other side of the river. She is totally nude from the waist down. Surely this would draw comment even in France).

      The notional hero is Pierre, the pornographer. I like Pierre. His acting is abominable, but he really gives it his all. In a film marked by a great deal of very self-conscious acting, Pierre really stands out. His defining moment comes when he has to rush to catch the killer, who may be holding his girlfriend hostage. He stops to pick up his coat before he goes after him. Perhaps it belonged to the actor and he was worried one of the extras would steal it or something. But I'd like to think if I had to choose between saving the woman I love and saving my coat, I'd choose the woman. That said, it is a nice coat, and the woman is Lina Romay.

      The dialogue is all dubbed into English (multiple versions of this were probably released). It's incredibly bad, clumsy exposition that sounds like nothing that a real person would ever actually say: "The motive behind these murders has got something to do with our quest for excitement in the domain of black magic." It's kind of amusing that the guy voicing Vogel seems to be doing an Oliver Reed impression. The voice over artists have a lot of fun during one horribly unappealing sex scene, going really overboard on the grunts and moans and yelps.

      Franco was fond of jazzy lounge music, and this film has plenty. One bit sounded a lot like a smoke alarm, and I briefly wondered if the hotel had chosen that moment to have a fire drill. Then it changed key, so I knew it was incidental music after all.

      I am aware that recommending a Franco film might not be a particularly wise move. Most people are going to have no interest in his films whatsoever. But if you're a neophyte Euro-horror fan looking for a way into Franco's porn labyrinth, this might not be a bad place to start. Just bear in mind almost everything else he made is worse.

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