De Martino - "Naturally, if The Exorcist hadn't been so
successful, no one would have thought to do The Antichrist."
This Italian horror is undeniably an Exorcist clone. As well as containing original ideas of it's own it also copies many elements of the Friedkin/Blatty classic but in a more exaggerated manner. This possessed woman spits and heaves far more green vomit, moves more furniture, speaks more obscenities and levitates more than lil' Linda ever did. And someone even falls down some stairs at the end!
Those original ideas include a recalling of a past life where Gravini was a member of a devil worshipping cult, and "the Devil being born from a sexual frustration" (De Martino's words). It's set in Rome and it features some fabulous architecture, together with the interesting use of blue-screen effects and some impressive flashback (previous life) sequences. The cinematographer was Aristide Massaccesi, better known as the cult film-maker Joe D'Amato who is interestingly (well, I thought so) described in the accompanying featurette by De Martino as being "very intelligent." He does an impressive job here.
Carlo Gravina plays a difficult role very well. She has to portray a witch convicted to be burned at thestake (previous life), a crippled and emotionally scarred woman and then the possessed version later on. The Antichrist features a great score from the equal collaberation of Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, and performances from Alida Valli (Suspiria and Inferno), Mel Ferrer (Nightmare City!) and Arthur Kennedy (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie).
Gravina has been crippled or partially paralized since a childhood car accident caused by her father. She's almost lost her faith in God and with growing frustration turns to a psychiatrist called Dr. Sinibaldi (great name). Gravina supposedly already has a small degree of psychic powers demonstrated with some tricks at one of her brother's "parties."
Dr Sinibaldi (the more I type it, the funnier it seems) wants to put the woman under regressive hypnosis ("A delving into your earliest memories. Perhaps something from a previous life?"). There's some nice forboding camerawork here as Dr Sinibaldi tells of his amazing idea and I have to say that this character is nearly as funny as his name! He's got this "cool" man type voice and he brandishes some crazy 1970'sglasses in one scene. You see, he's a hip shrink!
Gravina remembers a past life experience as a witch and then after this couch session recalls another one. That later recollection is a contraversial sequence where she takes part in a satanic ritual having oral sex with a goat (!) and then sex with a personification of the Devil himself. Don't panic, the goat oral sex scene isn't actually shown but it's heavily implied. It's pretty obvious what's going on. As she recalls this disturbing turn of events, Gravina then finds herself having sex with an invisible Satan in the present time.
What's particularly cool about that part of the film is the way that her bedroom's sky painted walls turn into a real sky and the look of the colours of that flashback sequence. The orgy/ritual sequence has a pleasing blue look with even all of the actors' skin tones in the same colour scheme. It also features a groovy effect with an unlucky (but fake, phew!) toad having his head ripped off.
Now the shit's hit the fan 'cause Gravina is possessed. At firt the family and Sinibaldi think she's cured (she can now walk) and it confirms the shrink's suspicions that the problem was psychological and not physiological.
It gets a bit silly now. Mainly because of the doctor's reactions to her new behaviour! Gravina shouts obscentities about fucking, the lights flicker and a wind appears causing the candles to blow out and the curtains inside the sealed room to blow around. Her voice becomes a demonic roar, furniture moves around the room, plates and cutlery go flying onto the floor and the the paintings unhook themselves and hover around in a menacing manner. She grabs the doctor's arm and his jacket sleeve melts away and burns as if touched by acid.
We cut to the next scene. Dr Sinibaldi - "Any parapsychologist student could give this a precise name (pointing at sleeve) and one for all we've seen." Could they? He then says "It was to be expected. It's just a transative state." Lol.
Other than that silliness, the rest is pretty good as we then spend the next 40 minutes watching Gravina become even more evil and menacing, until yes, you've guessed it, the exorcist arrives. The levitation parts look a bit ropey but not too bad for '74. The best scene in the picture (for me) was watching the film intercut between Gravina with her father and the exorcist at different locations, whilst the music played towards the end of the film. Although I thought the ritual sequence was a close second.
The film is nowhere near as good as The Exorcist butI wouldn't expect it to be. It's about 6 zillion times better than Exorcist II though! It features original ideas of it's own and a pleasing suspense or creepiness in many scenes. The score is excellent and the photography often impresses.
AB's disc picture quality is pretty darn good but the dvd only contains a mono soundtrack. And the extras are good but not great. We're given a poster and stills gallery (around 30 pictures), a tv trailer anda 10 minute featurette which interviews De Martino and Ennio Morricone.
De Martino comes across very well and explains to us the origins of the term 'exorcism' and what it actually means. He also remarks upon how difficult it was to create the special effects seen in the picture, and how much easier it would be today. Although I think that he might be simplifying the cgi process when he states that "Today, if you want to make Carla Gravina fly, you can push a button and Carla Gravina flies!"
The interview with Morricone is short but very enjoyable and I can't help but wonder how if Anchor Bay can obtain an interview for a genre film such as this, then why don't I see him being interviewed on other dvd releases?
So it's worth picking up The Antichrist but don't expect it to match the power of Friedkin's classic horror. This is my top-four of these type of films thatI've seen to date:
1 - The Exorcist
2 - Exorcist III
3 - The Antichrist
4 - Exorcist II (always gonna be last!)