Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Necromancy (1972)

... aka: El hechicero (The Wizard)
... aka: Horror Attack
... aka: Il potere di Satana (The Power of Satan)
... aka: L'uomo che fa rivivere i morti (The Man Who Revives the Dead)
... aka: Nec'ro·man'cy
... aka: Necromancy - A Life for a Life
... aka: Rosemary's Disciples (new footage added)
... aka: Toy Factory, The
... aka: Vida por vida (A Life for a Life)
... aka: Witching, The (new footage added)

Directed by:
Bert I. Gordon

"Witchcraft is the only honest religion that makes things happen now; in this life."

Lori Brandon (Pamela Franklin) wakes up in the hospital in hysterics and discovers she's just lost her baby. Her doctor recommends she leave hectic Los Angeles and go somewhere a little more laid back and quiet so she can get over her trauma. Coincidentally (well, maybe) her husband Frank (Michael Ontkean) has just accepted a new advertising executive job that will relocate them to Lilith; a small community located four hours away. Though Lori doesn't really want to go, and is perplexed about some of the job interview questions her husband had to answer to even get the position (like whether or not they were atheists), Frank promises that once they get settled they can try to have another baby. On the drive there, the two are nearly run off the road by a speeding car that ends up going over a guardrail, explodes and kills the driver. Lori finds a doll at the scene of the crash and decides to take it along with them; later discovering it has fingernail clippings tucked away in one of its pockets. After their car mysteriously runs out of gas on a desolate road and Frank has to walk to town, Lori hears voices, follows them up a hill and then has a vision of a funeral taking place up there and of her inside the coffin.

Upon arriving in Lilith, Frank meets his new boss Mr. Cato (Orson Welles), who owns the local toy factory, seems to have great power and influence over the entire town and has an unusual interest in black magic and the occult. He gives disbeliever Lori a book called The Grand Guimoire, a text of invocations, and asks her to read through it. She is immediately wary of him, especially since he keep eyeing her up. The more Lori learns about Lilith and all of its strange rules, the less she wants to be there. For starters, outsiders must pass a checkpoint with an armed guard to even enter the town. Second, no new construction is allowed there and all of the homes are old. And then there is a local law that forbids women from becoming pregnant and giving birth there that Lori learns about after running into another young woman named Georgette (Lisa James) who's just learned she's expecting. Lori also discovers that the car crash victim they encountered on their way over used to live in the same house she and her husband have been put up in.

Cato's personal assistant Priscilla (Lee Purcell), who runs a local toy shop (which is bizarre in itself since there are no children there) informs Lori that her boss not only owns the factory and all of the real estate in town, but also all of the people. Cato is also the only person there over age 30 as he wants nothing to "belong to the past." Priscilla believes it has something to do with Cato having lost his beloved young son Timothy (Teddy Quinn), whom Lori keeps having visions of, years earlier. Lori talks Frank into leaving the town but he keeps putting her off. In the meantime, they attend a party at Mr. Cato's full of astrology charts, tarot cards and far out young folk, where she has visions of blood drinking, her husband taking up a lover, a Satanist wearing a goat headdress and Mr. Cato as the devil himself (seen as a vision superimposed over a tarot card). Later, local doctor Jay (Harvey Jason) and his wife Nancy (Sue Bernard) try to get the new couple to join their religious group, which they dub "the true religion" and "the mother of all beliefs." Fancy talk for a Satanic cult.

As we soon discover, Lori's been lured there for a specific purpose. She was born with a veil, which means en caul, which means born still completely encased in the amniotic sac. Though, physiologically speaking, this is perfectly fine (though rare), old legend has it that a baby born this way will be blessed with psychic abilities and other supernatural gifts. During a flashback to her youth, we see that Lori has already revived a dead girl who's drowned simply by power of mind. Cato knows all of this and is hoping to blend her natural-born gifts with necromancy, "a ceremony dating back to the pre-Christian era that is the art of reviving the dead." The catch to the ceremony is that the one who successfully performs it must die so that the other may live. Or as the ancient rule states, a life for a life.

This is one of a number of occult / Satanic chillers made in between the two touchstones of this genre: ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) and The Exorcist (1973). Unfortunately, it doesn't stack up to many of the other, more interesting films from this same time like THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971), THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971) or George Romero's Season of the Witch (1972). Though blandly competent, the biggest issue here is the general lack of creativity coupled with direction that does little visually to perk things up. There are next to no surprises plot-wise, suspense and shocks are virtually nonexistent, the editing is awful and Lori's endless "visions" become tiresome. Incorporating voodoo dolls (to cause a car accident and make a woman have a miscarriage) into the plot and including a weird magic mushroom trip sequence don't even help matters and the "here we go again" ending is terrible.

The wide-eyed Franklin is perfectly cast in the central role though and does her best to keep things chugging along; even appearing topless a number of times. She and future husband Jason (who are still married to this day) met on the set and I did get some amusement out of seeing her attacked by rats in the cellar, seeing how a few years after this she'd face off giant rats in Gordon's FOOD OF THE GODS (1976). Bernard, a 1966 Playboy Playmate, also provides some nudity here and, fittingly enough, went on to marry Exorcist star Jason Miller a few years later. This isn't a very good showcase for two of its other appealing stars: the beautiful Purcell, who got to play another witchcraft-practicing teen in the TV movie SUMMER OF FEAR (1978), and the handsome Ontkean, as the characters they're stuck playing lack dynamics. As for Welles, he's, uh, big, but not on screen enough to make an impression one way or another. We also never even get to see his damn toy factory!

There are a number of alternate cuts for this title. It was initially rated R but the nudity was removed so it could be released theatrically with a PG rating instead. There was a third alternate cut of this prepped specifically for the home video market as well. Gordon himself re-cut the original film, reinserted previously cut bits and shot brand new scenes, including a lot more nudity, and then wedged those in. This "new" version, which runs eight minutes shorter despite the newly added stuff, was first issued on home video by Paragon in 1983 reusing the theatrical re-release title THE WITCHING. This same cut was later re-released on VHS under yet another new title (Rosemary's Disciples) by Magnum.

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