Sunday, October 18, 2009

L'anticristo (1974)

... aka: Antichrist, The
... aka: Blasphemy
... aka: Tempter, The

Directed by:
Alberto De Martino

One of at least a dozen devil / demon / evil spirit possession films to emerge immediately after The Exorcist, this one has better production values than most, but that doesn't mean it's actually any better. In fact, it's ineffectual and often being just plain boring. At the tender age of 12, Ippolita was involved in a car crash that killed her mother and left her crippled. Now as an adult, Ippolita (short-haired Carla Gravina) is lonely, bitter and resentful. After all, she's spent a good deal of her life trying and failing to find a cure for whatever psychosomatic maladies are keeping her from walking. She also feels that God has failed to help her and has turned her back on her beliefs. Any ill feelings she felt for her wealthy father Massimo (Mel Ferrer), whose negligence led to the car crash years earlier, have manifested themselves as incestuous desires toward him that grow more intense once daddy's love will have to be split between her and his new girlfriend Gretel (Anita Strindberg). So it's safe to assume that Ippolita's one fucked-up chick. And things are about to get even worse!

A possessed man (Ernesto Colli) kills himself at a sacred site Ippolita and her father visit, resulting in the evil spirit hand picking our heroine as the perfect vessel to inhabit. After all, 400 years earlier she was a witch who was captured and burned at the stake. Symptoms manifest themselves slowly. Actually, too damn slowly. But then, Ippolita finds herself having a bizarre nightmare where her former witchy self had gone through a Satanic initiation involving getting laid out on a table nude and having a guy in a horned mask make her slurp some blood, eat a frog's head and lick a goat's... Well, no need for gory details.

Afterward, Ippolita regains her ability to walk. She uses her newfound freedom to seduce a teenage boy and twist his head around backwards then returns home to act out in all the usual possessed ways. She says lots of vulgar, degrading things, levitates, drools, pukes, makes furniture and paintings move and lights flicker and tries to seduce her own brother, Filippo (Remo Girone). During one scene, she detaches her own hand and uses it to strangle a faith healer (Mario Scaccia) her God-fearin' maid Irene (Alida Valli) brings over. Eventually, and with some help from Ippolita's bishop uncle (Arthur Kennedy), a more qualified fellow (George Coulouris) is dragged in the predictable exorcism climax where Ippy pukes, is doused with holy water and finally gets outside the home and tries to kill herself.

There's an effective score by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, nice exterior location work in Rome, very good interior art direction (including a hallway full of stone busts sticking out of the walls) and sharp and sometimes striking cinematography courtesy of Aristede Massaccesi (better known to us yanks as Joe D'Amato). What really sinks the whole thing is that there's not a single likable character to be found in the entire film. Irregardless of her situation, Ippolita is so miserable, bitchy, spoiled and self-absorbed it's impossible to warm to her. Other characters tend to be uninteresting, generic and/or underwritten. The special effects are a mixed bag too, leaning toward unimpressive, with disappointingly minor possession makeups.

Scenes were trimmed for the original U.S. theatrical release (under the title Blasphemy) as well as the VHS release (as The Tempter). The uncut DVD version was released by Anchor Bay.


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