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Lorna the Exorcist (1974) (DVD)

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Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Theatrical Release: 1974 / DVD released 2011-02-01 at Mondo Macabre / Features of the DVD: Colour, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC

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      05.09.2011 08:39
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      A better than usual film from a weak director

      ***Although notionally a horror film, this movie places heavy emphasis on explicit nudity. Reading about such things might upset or offend you. If this is the case, read no further. If it helps, I can assure you that I remained fully clothed while writing this.***

      A film-only review. A region free DVD from Mondo Macabro is about £12 on amazon.

      I've been reluctantly growing more and more accustomed to and tolerant of Jesus Franco over the last few years. He's an incredibly prolific director of smutty horror who was most active in the 60s and 70s, working all over Europe. For years, I hated his films with a passion. They are slow to the point of inducing catatonia, but his movies usually have a couple of undeniably effective moments in them. Whether one or two moments is worth the hour and a half of one's life watching a Franco film represents is a calculation each man must make for himself (I say 'man' because the likelihood of women wanting to watch his films is minimal). I went into this film with the usual low expectations, but found myself surprisingly engrossed. Although still very much a Franco film, with all the technical problems one expects from his work, this one does have a bit of a kick to it.

      Patrick is a wealthy businessman. Nineteen years previously, he was granted good luck by a wandering succubus named Lorna on condition that he hand over his daughter when she was eighteen. Now the daughter, Linda, is of age, but Patrick refuses to complete his half of the bargain. Lorna threatens dreadful revenge. It's a fairly standard Faust-style plot with a kinky twist.

      There is a *lot* of nudity in this film. This isn't too unusual for Franco, but this is very explicit (it won't surprise you to learn that the nudity is all female). There are some lengthy lesbian scenes - Franco's speciality was making lesbian sex seem unbelievably boring. The scenes in this film are almost hardcore, but somehow they're a bit more interesting than usual. There's a dreamlike quality to them, which is what Franco normally seems to aim for but usually misses by a mile. It would be overstating things to say they're actually erotic, but they're at least not dull.

      Franco's style generally involves the camera wobbling and lots of slow, tortuous zooming in on things that are completely irrelevant, often trees or other shrubbery. While you won't mistake a Franco film for the work of anyone else, it's this haphazard approach to the basics of filmmaking that usually makes his films such an ordeal. Well, that and the dull plots and poor acting. The film suffers from the bad stuff as much as the rest, but I'd say the good parts just about tip the balance in its favour.

      He's chosen a very striking location. The Camargue, a French gambling resort, is full of bizarre Modernist apartment blocks, and has a curiously alienating effect on the audience as much as it does on the characters. It also gives Franco ample opportunity to film the bay full of yachts. For reasons known only to himself, Franco loves filming bays filled with yachts. But the only casino we see is small and shabby, and the hotel Patrick and his family check into is distinctly low rent considering they're supposed to be wealthy jet setters.

      The cast is unusually good for a Franco film (although the dubbing on the copy I've seen is absolutely dreadful). Guy Delorme is pretty good as Patrick, and Pamela Stanford is sexy as Lorna (at least, she is when she loses the bubble perm she has during the film's first half). Lina Romay, Franco's long-term partner (they're still together today) is brilliant as Linda. She's in a lot of his films, reliably shedding her clothes at every opportunity, but normally she doesn't show much affinity for acting. Here she's perfectly decent as the carefree young girl troubled by odd sexual fantasies, but towards the end, when things get more intense, she is, for a few minutes at least, absolutely brilliant. The film's final shot is both sexy and genuinely rather unsettling, which is all Romay's doing.

      A Franco film wouldn't be a Franco film without a cameo by the director, and he dutifully turns up as a doctor. His favourite actor, Howard Vernon, has a brief role as a slightly uncomfortable looking bodyguard - whatever his strengths as an actor were, playing a heavy certainly wasn't one of them.

      There is, of course, a lot wrong with the film. There's a pointless subplot about a sexy amnesiac, put in purely to let us see another naked girl. And the lengthy flashback sequence is dull - there's a casino scene so ineptly shot and edited that it's literally impossible to tell who's meant to be winning. I found the music unusually drab - Franco can usually be relied on to at least give us a lively score. There are also the odd goofs, as when Howard Vernon has trouble opening a sliding door. Presumably the budget wasn't there for more than one take of anything.

      Weirdly, for what is essentially a porn film, this shows a pretty ambivalent attitude towards sex. Plenty of horror films have characters punished for sexual activity, but this has a distinctly queasy attitude towards the female body. We see a lot of ladies with wide-open mouths (emphasising their teeth) and, well, wide open other things too, and they're unfailingly presented as pretty scary. Linda's mother starts to give birth to live crabs on at least two occasions. I wonder if Franco was trying to tell us something? There's a sex scene between Patrick and his wife in which the usual grunting and moaning noises are really heavily exaggerated on the soundtrack, making them sounbd grotesque and ridiculous. Franco's camera moves away from the humping couple as if embarrassed, and after panning out of the window, it tries to zoom in on a nearby tree. Such reticence is not the usual Franco style.

      In spite of the title, there are no exorcists in this film. Exorcism isn't even mentioned. Lorna's surname is 'Green'; I wonder if she's some kind of weird homage to Lorne Green from Bonanza.

      This isn't a great film - it's probably not even a good one - but somehow it works a damn side better than most cheap European sex-and-horror movies. Worth checking out if you've adventurous tastes.

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