Exorcismo directed by Juan BoschExorcismo directed by Juan Bosch

Exorcismo directed by Juan BoschThe notion has often struck me that one of the hallmarks of truly great screen stars is their ability to render even the most egregiously shlocky films highly watchable and interesting by dint of their very presence. This idea occurred to me again several months back, as I caught the 1957 film Voodoo Island for the first time; a picture that might be close to unwatchable, had it not starred the always fascinating Boris Karloff. And this thought struck me again the other night as I sat before the 1975 Spanish horror outing Exorcismo, which stars and was co-written by the so-called “Boris Karloff of Spain,” Jacinto Molina, who is more popularly known as Paul Naschy. A slow-moving, talky affair, the film is most assuredly rescued by Naschy’s always interesting presence.

Here, for a change, Naschy plays the part of the “good guy,” a bearded priest named Father Adrian Dunning (seeing Naschy essay the role of the altruistic hero is almost akin to watching Christopher Lee portray the Satanist fighter Duc de Richleau in the 1968 Hammer classic The Devil Rides Out!), who comes to the assistance of a family in dire need. The youngest daughter, Leila (Mercedes Molina; a relation of Jacinto’s, perhaps?), has fallen in with a bunch of devil-worshipping drug users, her older brother has just been killed by an unknown neck twister, and before long, Leila’s recent boyfriend suffers the same hideous fate. Leila’s older sister, Deborah (Maria Kosty), believes Leila should be institutionalized, but their mother, Patricia (the beautiful Maria Perschy), is unwilling. Soon, however, when Leila’s violent mood swings, screaming writhings on the floor, and speaking in tongues progress to horrible physical changes, even Patricia must admit that her daughter is neither merely troubled nor psychotic, and that it is time to call in Father Adrian, bring in the holy water, and expunge the evil, possessing spirits…

Unlike a certain classic exorcism film that had been released just two years earlier, Exorcismo does not really get into its scary possession and exorcism aspects until its final 20 minutes. Its first 75 minutes are more concerned with those two murders, and of Adrian’s and the police’s investigation. As I mentioned, it is a very talky stretch, largely devoid of incident and certainly not in the least scary. It is in this section that Naschy’s solid, charismatic, and reassuring presence really does save the day. Quite surprisingly, the film is quite replete with nudity, even of the full-frontal variety. Somehow, I had thought the rigid censorship laws in Spain — which were only loosened in 1977 — would have prohibited such a fleshy exhibition. Or perhaps a cut version was shown in Spain at the time? I would be interested to know.

Exorcismo has been directed in a fairly unimaginative manner by Juan Bosch, who only evinces flashes of style here and there, such as when he zooms in on the grotesque African masks in Leila’s boyfriend’s apartment. The background music by Alberto Argudo is arrhythmic and completely unmemorable, consisting largely of throbbing bongos and celestial female chanting, but does a fair job of ratcheting up the freakiness quotient. And as for the film’s special FX and makeup job, they are certainly better than one might expect, especially in the scene in which Father Adrian suffers hallucinations in the family kitchen. A company called General Optica is listed in the end credits for providing Leila’s contact lenses, and these are perhaps the single most effective prop in the entire film. A mottled black and white, they make Leila’s scabbed, pallid features, near the film’s end, even more hideous to behold. I might add that Exorcismo ends way too abruptly for this viewer’s taste, and just as things were starting to get exciting, too. In all, certainly not one of the better Naschy films that I’ve seen, such as Horror Rises From the Tomb and its remarkable sequel, Panic Beats, but still, an interesting enough diversion.

Exorcismo seems to be exclusively available today from the outfit known as Sinema Diable … certainly a proper company name, in this case! The DVD features a nice-looking print but horrendous dubbing (subtitles for the original Spanish would have been SO much more preferable), and absolutely no extras to speak of. The film is most assuredly for Paul Naschy completists only, but quite fittingly, the Naschy fan base seems to be expanding, thanks largely to the DVD revolution and, as mentioned up top, Naschy’s own undeniable star quality … even in minor fare such as this…


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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