Sunday, February 23, 2014

Les possédées du diable (1974)

... aka: Exorcism
... aka: Exorcisme
... aka: Linda
... aka: Lorna the Exorcist
... aka: Lorna... the Exorcist
... aka: Possédées du démon, Les
... aka: Possessed by the Devil
... aka: Sexy Diabolic Story

Directed by:
"Clifford Brown" (Jesus Franco)

Either under its original title (which roughly translates to "Possessed by the Devil"), its American release title ("Lorna... the Exorcist") or one of its other common aliases ("Exorcism"), one may assume this is just another of those European Exorcist clones. The fact it was released the year after Friedkin's landmark film along with a spate of wannabes like Beyond the Door and The Antichrist may further that suspicion. However, despite technically having a possession (though no exorcism), this is absolutely nothing like any of those other films and the misleading titles are most likely just an attempt to cash-in on the craze. So now that that's out of the way, on to the film... 

Successful, wealthy, happily married businessman Patrick Mariel's (Guy Delorme) privileged life is about to be threatened when his past literally comes back to haunt him. A strange woman Patrick met nearly two decades earlier has recently resurfaced and has been calling his home, prompting suspicion from his wife Marianne (Jacqueline Laurent), who begins to suspect he's having an affair. Strangely, Patrick seems to be at the mercy of the caller and even agrees to switch his family's vacation plans from St. Tropez to Camargue at the last minute specifically to meet up with her. This doesn't sit too well with Patrick's teenage daughter Linda (Lina Romay), who's recently been having weird sex dreams about a strange woman with outrageous eye makeup she's never met before.

Upon arriving in Camargue, the family check into their hotel and go to a dance club, where dad's former fling Lorna Green (Pamela Stanford), the same woman who's been calling his home and the same woman who's been haunting Linda's dreams, shows up and makes her objective known: "I want your daughter." And she wants his daughter because she was promised to her 19 years earlier by a then-struggling Patrick when the two struck up an unholy bargain: success and wealth for the girl on her 18th birthday. Now he doesn't want to pay up, but he soon realizes he may not have a choice in the matter. Lorna has a nasty way of making her presence known. She has her henchman Maurizio (Howard Vernon) beat Patrick up with a seashell, keeps turning up in Linda's dreams and terrorizes mum with a severe case of pubic crabs. And no, not the itchy little buggers, but the kind you crack open and dip in butter at Red Lobster. Meanwhile, at a mental hospital in scenes that for all intents and purposes really could have been scrapped, a doctor (Franco in a cameo) is seeing to a disturbed patient (Catherine Lafferière) who's just came out of a coma and also is haunted by the memory of Lorna; a former lover of hers. These scenes very well could have been filmed for another project all together and have little to no bearing on the primary story.

As with nearly everything else Franco made in the 70s until his death last year, much of the running time is eaten up by extensive sex and nude scenes. The film opens with a slow-mo lesbian scene between Stanford and Romay that runs nearly ten minutes in length. The sex and nudity sometimes even briefly cross over into the pornographic and, without getting too raunchy here, I'll just say that no female orifice is denied camera coverage and the film certainly earns its X certificate, albeit on the softer end of that spectrum

There's a genuine absurdity to the scenarios Franco devises to showcase the erotica that are not unlike most straight hardcore films. Both the mother and the daughter sleep in the nude and have no issue parading around naked in front of each other or the dad / husband. At the "nuthouse," which appears to have been shot in just a regular house with floral print wallpaper, the female patient is hilariously clad in just thigh-high stockings and a flimsy shirt so that her ass and vagina are almost always exposed. The zoom work is also so insanely sleazy and inappropriate at times it's downright hilarious. After the mother character is killed during a second vag-crab attack she's spread out on the hotel bed nude and the camera quickly zooms directly onto her pussy before the scene suddenly cuts away. During other scenes featuring close-ups of female genitalia, the camera wildly jerks around and goes in and out of focus so much that it's almost like the director is so excited about what he's filming he can't even keep still.

Lorna is light on plot, technically uneven (sometimes downright inept) and burdened by too much extraneous material and numerous scenes that unnecessarily go on for far longer than they need to... but it still manages to capture that uniquely hypnotic quality prevalent in most of the director's finest work, which is all further enhanced by André Bénichou's interesting experimental score. Yes folks, this is a strange one. Sometimes I was laughing, sometimes I was cringing, sometimes I was bored and sometimes I was quite drawn in by the film. The actors are all game for whatever Franco throws their way, with particular positive nods going out to the complete uninhibited Romay (in one of the best performances I've seen from her) and especially Stanford (who is equal parts creepy, mysterious and seductive in her ambiguous role). There's no comic relief and some sequences, like when Lorna "initiates" (possesses) the virginal Linda by breast feeding her and then raping her with a big wooden dildo (which she then licks the blood off of) are among the nastiest things I've seen from this director.

Franco made this one for French producer Robert de Nesle (who also contributed to the score). The two men also collaborated on numerous other films including The Perverse Countess (1973) and A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1973). It was remade (by Franco) in 2002 as Incubus. The editor was Gérard Kikoïne, who went on to make many porn films, the weird Jekyll & Hyde / Jack the Ripper mash-up Edge of Sanity (1989) starring Anthony Perkins and the weak Poe-influenced Buried Alive (1990) starring Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence and John Carradine. The version I watched ran just short of 100 minutes, but other versions omitting the more explicit nudity have been released, some shorn of as much as 20 minutes total. In 2010, Mondo Macabro released a DVD.

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