Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (1974)

aka Enter the Devil

aka The Devil Obsession

aka The Sexorcist

aka The Tormented

Original title: L'ossessa

When art student and ingénue Danila (Stella Carnacina, who will turn out to by a very enthusiastic actress when her time to writhe, shout, moan and puke green stuff comes) takes on the job of helping restore a wooden religious statue whose mere sight seems to arouse her, she probably doesn't expect what follows. After watching her mother (Lucretia Love) take a friendly rose whipping by her lover, Danila has a vision of the statue coming to life as Ivan Rassimov and having sex with her (most reviews actually speak of rape, but the act is clearly consensual in the print I saw). Suddenly, Danila's mild-mannered character begins to change.

A new-found interest in very rough masturbation and spending her nights screaming soon turns into an attempt to seduce her father (Chris Avram), who declines, leading to more noisome behaviour. Why, you could think Danila is possessed!

A bit of rest seems to help the young woman just fine, though, until she visits a former heathen temple. At this point, it's vision time again. Now, Danila sees herself at a Witches' Sabbath, where she pledges herself to Satan (who likes to spend time hanging on a cross, laughing, it seems) and gets crucified for her trouble. Danila's following hysterics are enough for the group of doctors her parents called in to diagnose her as Possessed by the Devil (it's SCIENCE!, I tell you) and give her into the loving (perhaps too loving) hands of exorcist Father Xeno (Luigi Pistilli), a man who, frankly, sucks at his job so much I was rooting for Satan.

Yes, Enter the Devil (or whichever title you prefer) was another of many attempts of the Italian cheap-shot film industry to beat The Exorcist (winner of the title "classic horror movie I personally care least about") at its own game by sexing it up a little (or a lot) and going into directions US movies even in the 70s seldom dared to walk.

For the first thirty or forty minutes, director Mario Gariazzo (last seen here making the noirish and very interesting Passport for a Corpse) delivers a film with a fine eye for taboo-skirting sleaze, put side by side with imagery that would probably look pretty blasphemous to me if I were Catholic; you just gotta love the willingness of Italian filmmakers to go to places like this.

Unfortunately, the conceptually wonderful and creative scene of the wooden statue coming to life and then having a bit of fun isn't really a sign pointing in the direction the film will be moving in during its second half. It doesn't take too long until The Sexorcist mostly gives up on the sexually loaded imagery (except for a slight return with a lame but nearly effective attempt by possessed Danila to seduce the hapless Father Xeno), wags its finger at Danila's mum's sex practices (really), and goes for the most basic exorcism movie stuff, with a lot of unexciting writhing and praying. In a film that starts out as sleazily strong as this one did, that really is a bit of a shame.

The Devil Obsession isn't improved by Gariazzo's rather variable direction style. Here, too, the film starts out strong with scenes filmed with a certain panache, a clear eye for the strange, and a complete absence of subtlety, but soon enough gets dragged down to a level where nothing that's happening on screen is staged in an interesting manner. I wouldn't be at all surprised if somebody told me there were two directors at work here, one responsible for the three vision sequences and the early scenes in the church, and somebody much less talented for the rest of the film. This is, of course, mere speculation.

Be that as it may, I can't say I found The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (a most puzzling title for the film at hand) to be all that bad as possession movies go. While its second half is pretty boring, it does at least have three (perhaps even four) good scenes, which is more than I'd be willing to say about a lot of movies.


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