Pros: Lina Romay naked--what more can you ask for?
Cons: The ending is absurd.
Few cult directors inspire more heated debates amongst film fans than Jess Franco. Revered as a legend of Spanish sex and horror cinema and conversely viewed as one of the biggest hacks to ever sit behind a camera, there's simply no middle ground when it comes to the man's films. I've regularly joined up with the "hack" side of the argument when it comes to Franco's cinematic creations (which I've always wanted to loveif for no other reason than because they sound so much more interesting than the finished product ultimately is) but that doesn't mean I've despised everything the man has made over his long and prodigious career. Case in point: Exorcism.
Made primarily to cash in on the demonic possession craze inspired by William Friedkin's The Exorcist, Exorcism is easily one of Franco's better films. It also provides an interesting amount of insight into Franco as a man, a filmmaker, and an actorwhich is perhaps why it seems so much better than most of his work. It's unrepentantly Franco in its execution despite being an attempt to rip off a more recognized workrather than rehash the demonic possession angle of Friedkin's masterpiece, Franco sets out to show that man, not the demons of Hell, are the things we should really be afraid of. Throw in lots of sex, nudity, and S&M and you wind up with a feature that only Franco could have made
Franco plays Paul Vogel, a defrocked priest who now writes S&M stories for a Paris magazine called "The Garter and Dagger". Vogel insists that his tales of torture are "based on firsthand experience" and that he was kicked from the priesthood for the extremity of his beliefs.
When not putting out the magazine, publisher Franval (Pierre Taylou), his secretary Anna (the always lovely Lina RomayFranco's muse and wife), and her lesbian lover Rose (Lynn Monteil) stage fake black masses for bored Parisians. The black masses aren't really black masses at all, but instead extended lesbian bondage sessions that often lead to full-fledged orgies amongst the audience members. Vogel witnesses one of these (but doesn't realize it's fake) and sets out as a modern day Torquemada determined to exorcise the evil from every participant. Unfortunately, the exorcism ritual as Vogel performs it invariably winds up leaving the potentially possessed person dead
Add in some inept cops on Vogel's trail, lots and lots of sex scenes, and the fact that Vogel is secretly in love with Anna and you've got a Jess Franco filmand one that's generally a lot better than most of the movies he's made over the years.
The film's strongest point (other than Lina Romay being completely nude for most of the running time) is also the one that seems most likely to hold it backFranco taking the lead role. Franco is not a great actor, but he manages to portray Vogel with a frightening mixture of intensity, longing, and quiet paranoia. Franco steals almost every scene he's inwhether he's raving about the wages of sin or quietly peeping into Anna's apartment from his window across the street. Vogel's character seems almost pathetic, and Franco certainly brings that element of the role to life.
The rest of the performances aren't nearly as goodthe two chowder-headed cops are ridiculous (particularly at the climax), Lina Romay and Lynn Monteil are just around to be naked, and Pierre Taylou doesn't get much screen time. It doesn't matter thoughFranco carries the film.
Exorcism may be one of Franco's better offerings, but it still has its fair share of problems. There's an abundance of really awful dialogue (which isn't helped by the fact that they apparently got anyone who walked by the studio to dub it into English), a lot of coincidences and contrived moments in the script, and a pace that's slower than a geriatric footrace. Whenever something seems likely to happen, Franco stops the film dead by throwing in an extended sex scene. I'm all for T&A, but these scenes go on forever and most of them aren't all that erotic to begin with. In the film's defense, the score is really goodor at least the one piece of music that plays over and over throughout 95% of the movie.
Like most Franco productions, Exorcism has appeared under what seems like 50 different titles and been cut, and recut, until even Franco himself probably wouldn't recognize it. The film was released domestically in a brutally butchered version entitled Demoniacs. Some European versions featured full frontal nudity while others had optional sequences that were just topless. Other prints featured the actors almost fully clothed. There was even a "hardcore" print with the title Sexorcismes floating around at various points.
Synapse has created what is arguably the definitive print of the film for the DVD release of Exorcism. They've taken the Eurocine original, culled footage from numerous other versions that have appeared over the years, and put it all together into one brand new print that should please most of Franco's fans. The Synapse release doesnt have the hardcore sex of Sexorcismes, but does feature an abundance of full frontal nudity, lots of simulated sex scenes, and a little bit of gore as well. Since the film has been built from a number of different prints, the picture quality can be best described as "variable"images will jump from time to time and there are noticeable color shifts throughout. None of this matters thoughit's the definitive version of the film and it was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved. Plus the extras feature the first ever full-length commentary track from Francowhich, in my book, makes up for almost any of the visual shortcomings.
While I certainly liked Exorcism, I doubt it'll change anyone's opinion of Franco's overall body of work. Those who love him will still love him and the naysayers will still scream that he's a hack. That being said, it's nice to see that even a filmmaker who inspires such violently negative reactions in some audiences can still make a good film from time to time. Exorcism is the embodiment of Franco's career in a lot of wayscrass, occasionally vulgar, silly, nonsensical, but also totally Franco. Love him or hate him, you almost have to admire him for making the films he wants to make regardless of what people think of them.