Sunday, January 4, 2015

El juego del diablo (1975)

... aka: Alucinaciones
... aka: Devil's Exorcist, The
... aka: Game of the Devil, The

Directed by:
Jorge Darnell

El juego del diablo ("The Game of the Devil") is one of at least a dozen Exorcist-inspired films made within the first two years of Friedkin's landmark film. Nearly all of these immediate clones were European in origin. THE ANTICHRIST (1974), Beyond the Door (1974), The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (1974 aka Enter the Devil) and The Possessor (1975 aka Return of the Exorcist) were all Italian productions and there was also Devil's Female (1974) from Germany, Seytan (1974) from Turkey, the American blaxploitation effort ABBY (1974) and others. Another handful of these; Demon Witch Child (1975), the dreadful Paul Naschy vehicle EXORCISMO (1975) and this one were from Spain. To confuse matters even further, shameless international distributors also added even more 'rip-offs' to the cycle by re-titling films that were made prior to The Exorcist - often films that didn't even contain an exorcist or any exorcism - to try to cash in. A good example of this is Las Melancolicas ("The Melancholy"), yet another Spanish production, this time set in a 19th Century mental asylum. That film was released in its country of origin in 1971 but made it stateside in 1974 in a horribly-dubbed version under the misleading title of Exorcism's Daughter. Juego is a strange case in that it has also been dubbed into English and given the new title The Devil's Exorcist somewhere along the line, yet doesn't appear to have ever been released in the U.S. theatrically or in any other form.

Because of this film's rarity, there's lots of misinformation about it online. As of this writing, IMDb currently has 12 actors listed as appearing in the film. Of these 12, four aren't even in the movie and only one character name matches up to the right person. Other roles, like two male teachers, "bandit," "town mayor" and "priest in cell," are nowhere to be seen. The star is 15-year-old Inma de Santis (billed as "Inma de Santy"). De Santis was a pretty young actress who began her film career at age 5, transitioned into a frequently sexualized teen actress and continued on into adulthood in similar roles until her tragic death at age 30 in a car accident. She'd already appeared in the previously mentioned Exorcism's Daughter prior to this one and also made appearances in the genre films The Ancines Woods (1970), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), Killing of the Dolls (1975) and LEONOR (1975); almost always in small parts. Devil's Exorcist marks a very rare top-billed lead role for the actress. She's essentially asked to play the Linda Blair role here and actually does a fine job of it.

Things kick off with a religious quote ("Tentado por el diablo, dijole entonces Jesus: 'Al Senor tu dios adoraras y a el solo daras culto" = Tempted by the Devil, Jesus therefore said: 'Worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall worship') and follows with some red-tinted, swirling POV camerawork hovering over the bed of young Sheila Roberts, a Catholic schoolgirl who's not been acting like herself lately. Sheila lives at home with wealthy parents (Luis Prendes and Alicia Altabella) who are both too preoccupied with their own lives to pay her much mind, and an elderly gardener named Benjamin (José Orjas), who has a pet Dalmatian. With his daughter suddenly behaving disobediently and showing signs of a sociopathic personality disorder, dad decides to push her off on Dr. Liza Greene (María del Puy). I was never quite sure what kind of doctor Ms. Greene was but before Sheila enters her life she's shown experimenting on electric eels with flashing lights and chimpanzees using colored backgrounds and elephant noises (?!) Either way, the childless Liza decides to take on Sheila's case and forms a maternal bond with her in the process.

The filmmakers appear to be trying to give us two possible explanations behind Sheila's behavior: 1. She's possessed by a malicious spirit, or 2. She's gone crazy. However, by the time they begin trying to play that angle, we've already seen too much to ever believe the latter is a possibility. At a hospital, Sheila sneaks into a room and kills a small boy by turning off the air in his oxygen tent. She later throws mom off the balcony (in a scene that predates a similar scene in THE OMEN) and hangs the groundskeeper's dog; causing him to have a fatal heart attack. She also becomes nasty and violent toward Dr. Greene; constantly commenting on how old she is while noting that she, by contrast, still has "plenty of life between her legs," and then  smacks, kicks and claws at her before collapsing and spitting up white foam. The patient doctor eventually takes her to a small village near the ocean for some quiet time, where Sheila attempts to push her over a cliff and has visions of a Jesus statue crying blood and a monk statue spitting up more white foam. It takes awhile, but Dr. Greene finally decides she has no other choice but to commit the dangerous young girl to the nuthouse, which leads to a grim finale for all concerned.

The best aspects of this film by far are Sheila's frequent visions. Some are genuinely creepy, especially hazy shots of a mysterious, well-dressed man who's missing part of one hand walking through the fog toward her. Sheila sees this same man - who's played by the creepy-looking, though often underutilized (as is the case here), José Lifante - as a wax museum figure and, later, in a church dressed as a monk. He may be Satan. He may be an evil priest. He may be the former occupant of the home. He may be a cashier at McDonald's. We are never told. While this certainly works on an eerie ambiguous level, a part of me would have liked to have known something about this guy. Sheila also envisions mannequin hands rising from a pool and (in a REPULSION nod) hands emerging from the walls grabbing at her. The film really could have done with more of these haunting scenes and less of the psycho-babble in the generic main plot line. Despite the English title, there's no exorcist, no exorcism and not even much of a religious component to this one.

Euro exploitation regular Jack Taylor is on hand to play Dr. Jack Morris, Liza's moody / possessive lover. Unfortunately, he is given nothing of interest to do and his character borders on being utterly pointless. The only other credited cast member is Alberto Fernández as Dr. Kline. The director also made the vampire comedy Tiempos duros para Dracula ("Hard Times for Dracula"), which featured Lifante as the titular count.

The English-language version I viewed ran 80 minutes and was from a Greek VHS tape. The only other country with an official video release to my knowledge is Spain, with the company Kalendar Video stealing their cover art from the poster for the American slasher flick THE INITIATION (1984). On the original Spanish poster, de Santis is seen topless but never in the actual film (which is quite possibly a cut version). There are currently only 25 votes on IMDb, which means this is one of the least-seen of these types of films, though it's actually somewhat better than most of the more-famous ones.

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