[BD Review] Jess Franco’s ‘Exorcism’ Brings the Black Mass to Blu-ray

Review by Patrick Cooper

Jess Franco is an iconoclast of European trash who has made about a zillion films so far in his lifetime. Nearly all of them have heavy doses of eroticism and light-horror thrown in, with mixed results. He’s garnered a cult following over the years and while he may not be the most capable director in the world, there’s no denying his enthusiasm for filmmaking and naked women.

Made during Franco’s creative eruption of the 1970s (he made over 50 films in that decade alone), Exorcism is a tale of pseudo-Satanism filled with loads of sex, sleaze, and stabbings. Set in the underground world of Parisian sadomasochist performance art, the film stars Franco’s exhibitionist muse and late wife, Lina Romay. The very first shot of the film is Romay tied to a cross, being whipped and having blood smeared on her by a blonde. It’s pretty much the antithesis of an opening establishment shot from a helicopter. A crowd of elderly creeps watches this whole bloody spectacle, apparently getting their rocks off.

Turns out it’s just some S&M performance art and Anne (Romay) does this all the time. She’s an assistant or an intern or something at “Garter and Dagger” magazine and her and the editor Raymond (Pierre Taylou) stage these phony torture sex shows for material. Sometimes the audience participates and that’s when things get real gross.

Franco plays Mathis, a former priest who now writes short stories for “Garter and Dagger.” He was kicked out of the church for being too extreme in his devotion to the nastier parts of the Old Testament. One day at the office he covertly overhears Raymond and Anne talking about a black mass they’re going to be having. It’s just one of their slimy humpfests where people pretend to be sacrificed, but in Mathis’ twisted mind he believes they’re planning a legit occult ceremony for the dark lord himself. Mathis dons his priest’s robes again and starts stalking and killing everyone involved in the black mass. Every swinger, slut, and mustached Satanist falls under Mathis’ holy blade.

Franco plays a great creep. He spends most of the film peeping out his window into Anne’s loveden across the street, but when he gets down to abducting and “exorcising” people (stabbing them) he’s a menacing little sicko. There’s only one scene of impressively realistic looking gore. The rest of the killings are more about naked women screaming than any kind of real horror. None of the nudity is erotic and I found myself fast-forwarding some of the time devoted to writhing naked bodies. These scenes are more boring than anything else.

If you want to skip the sleaze and get down to the film’s more horror-influenced elements, Kino Lorber’s Redemption Films has included the alternate cut of the film, called Demoniac. This cut is nearly 30 minutes shorter than Exorcism and features none of the lengthy sex scenes. Franco also reshot some of the expository scenes for this cut, this time with everyone wearing clothes. Both cuts of the film sadly contain Franco’s novice camerawork and total lack of depth in both character and story.

The final minute of the film is completely baffling and hilarious. The tone (whatever minute trace of tone there was) completely changes to a buddy-cop film. The two detectives working the Mathis murders have a laugh and one of them delivers a line of dialogue resembling “You’re alright with me, rookie.” It’s amazing and so out of place and it might be the only entertaining moment of the film.

If you’re a fan of ‘70s sleaze for the helluva it then you’re going to love Exorcism. If you savor character, story, and skilled camerawork, stay far, far, away from this one.

A/V
Exorcism probably looked grungy from the start and on Redemption Film’s Blu-ray release there are loads of scratches, specks, and frequent fluctuations in brightness. The 1080p transfer doesn’t clear up any of these hiccups. Franco didn’t concern himself with petty annoyances like focusing the camera, so nothing looks sharp. Nothing seems to have been digitally corrected, which some people might dig. The only audio track is a 2.0 mix with English dubbing. The volume fluctuates throughout the film but at least the eerie soundtrack sounds nice.

Special Features
Trailers for Franco’s Exorcism, The Nude Vampire, The Rape of the Vampire, Female Vampire, and Requiem for a Vampire.

Demoniac – a 69 minute, less explicit cut of the film.

 

Official Score