Released in 1975, EXORCISM was custom made to cash in on William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty’s mammoth 1973 success—THE EXORCIST. The story and screenplay was supplied with legendary Spanish horror star Paul Naschy. Naschy of course claimed creation of the storyline years ahead of Warner Brother’s “other” possession picture. Regardless of when Naschy seeded the idea of EXORCISM one thing remains certain, what appears on screen is, for lack of a better word, plagiaristic. The set-up might be different and the principal’s motivations somewhat more interesting, but the payoff is unabashedly the same.
Grace Mills is Lelia, an upper-class young woman who likes to spend her weekends getting high and attending satanic orgies with her fiancé. On the way home from a little ritual bloodletting, Lelia crashes her car and winds up in the hospital—seemingly little worse for wear except that she is now secretly harboring the spirit of her maniacal deceased father. When her brother John implores local priest and family friend Father Adrian Dunning (Naschy) to help in saving his sister from her no-good lover, Dunning uncovers the mysterious goings on and the bodies start to pile up.
There’s something about Eurotrash classics that generally makes for a tedious viewing experience. While pacing issues were prevalent all throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, as the era of “the auteur” reigned across Europe and the United States, many Euro-horror films from that time frame are just plain begging to be edited to within an inch of their lives—a task that many importers took to heart, sometimes (as often is the case with Fulci or Argento) these cuts hurt the film, for others they could only help. EXORCISM is just that type of product.
Don’t mistake me here. I am not endorsing the evisceration of great directorial vision. For the most part—and EXORCISM is no exception—the guy behind the camera on these movies was only put there to churn out the flick as quickly and cheaply as possible. Artistic integrity was checked at the door for no greater good than commerce.
Naschy who co-authored the screenplay with director Juan Bosch (The Killer Wore Gloves) and Georges Gigo (THE DEVIL’S KISS) takes a long time to develop the characters—only turning up sporadic corpses in an attempt to break up the monotony. In addition, all the subplots and red herrings, along with Police Inspectors, psychiatrists and Chauffeurs make for an exhausting cast of characters to keep track of, especially when an audience—well versed in possession cinema—already knows that the whole point of the plot is preamble to the exorcism sequence.
When the final showdown begins, the film becomes as by-the-book as the passages that Father Dunning invokes to expel the demon spirit of the murderous patriarch. Mills shrieks and curses, thrashes and vomits and generally owes a debt of gratitude (and perhaps a portion of her paycheck) to Linda Blair. It’s over the top but ultimately satisfying in the sense that this is what we all came to the film expecting to see.
With so much going on before the final reel, the plot probably owes as much to Italian Giallos as it does to Friedkin and Blatty’s film, but that still doesn’t excuse the blatant barrage of similarities paralleled between the two.
Overall, the film is no worse than LISA AND THE DEVIL or any number of other rip-offs—including those such as BLACKWATER VALLEY EXORCISM—that followed in the speed-boat-wake of recent success like THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE—the project is never going to be anything other than a curio for genre fans and/or required viewing for Naschy completests. It’s definitely not the ideal starting point for neophytes looking to expand their appreciation of the barrel-chested, bearded godfather of Spanish genre cinema. For that you should all be renting THE NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF and hoping great films like EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES, EL CAMINANTE and EL AULLIDO DEL DIABLO see DVD release soon.