Thursday, September 3, 2020

L'ossessa (1974)

... aka: Devil Obsession, The
... aka: Eerie Midnight Horror Show, The
... aka: Enter the Devil
... aka: Exorcisation
... aka: La poseida (The Possessed)
... aka: L'ossessa - Das Omen des Bösen (The Obsessed - The Omen of Evil)
... aka: Obsessed, The
... aka: Sexorcist, The
... aka: Tormented, The
... aka: Verteufelt (Demonized)

Directed by:
Mario Gariazzo

College student / art restorer Danila (Stella Carnacina) visits a de-consecrated old church and helps orchestrate the removal of one of the statues: a creepy, dirty crucified man (not Jesus!) carved out of an olive tree. The statue, which is bizarrely detailed and almost lifelike, is then taken to her university where colleagues plan to study it and clean it up. Outside of her art obsession, Danila may come from money but her home life still isn't the greatest. Her architect father Mario (Chris Avram) is an oblivious pushover too busy with work to pay anything much mind while her philandering mother Luisa (Lucretia Love) is carrying on a BDSM relationship with her sleazy sadistic lover (Gabriele Tinti). While her family is throwing a party, Danila catches mum in one such tryst, writhing on bed in ecstasy as he whips her bloody with thorny rose stems ("Harder darling, please!"). Disturbed by the sight, she runs off to the art department to work on a painting. While her back is turned, the statue starts bleeding and comes to life in the form of Ivan Rassimov's Satan, who promptly rips her dress off, throws her on the floor and then has sex with her while a cross burns behind them. Next thing Danila knows, she's clothed and sitting back at her painting.

Though she can't figure out whether or not she was actually ravaged by the wood (carving), one thing's for sure: Something evil is after her. An unseen force pursues her up the stairs, possesses her and starts making her do a frenzied masturbation routine in front of a door. It gets her so hot and bothered, she even makes a pass at her own father ("There's no such thing as incest! It's only the invention of priests!") and has to be slapped out of it. She's given a mild sedative by a doctor, who recommends the family take a vacation in the country... but even that backfires. After they get a flat tire, Danila wanders off to an old church where she has visions of a white-painted priestess, who gives her some potion made from crushed black communion wafers, and Satan, who pulls himself back off the cross long enough to gorily crucify her. She wakes back up in bed shrieking. Another nightmare? Sort of.

The doctor is called back in and examines Danila. She now has the signs of stigmata on her wrists and feet. Even with all of this freakishness going on, the parents continue to argue about other things like their shitty marriage. Dad calls mom a slut, says she's failed as a mother and chastises her for indulging in "masochistic tomfoolery." She, on the other hand, tries to make amends by dumping her lover, but he's not going to go away quietly. Once the stigmata mysteriously heals in a day, a team of doctors are called in to reexamine the girl. They can find nothing, which prompts a psychiatrist (Umberto Raho) to diagnose her with a bad case of "diabolical possession." Seems about right, especially seeing how Danila loses her shit any time there's a cross or holy person in her vicinity. Just wait until they drag her off to a nunnery!

After a consultation with Reverend Antonio (Piero Gerlini), Danila is dragged off to "The Convent of Our Lady of Sorrow" to be with the nuns, while specially-trained exorcist Father Xeno (Luigi Pistilli), who's been living a quiet, hermetic life up in the mountains for years, is hunted down to perform the exorcism. By the time the priest arrives, Danila has black under eye circles, pale skin, scabby lips and a foamy mouth. She screams constantly, has seizures, beats her head against a headboard and is able to communicate directly to Satan, who coaches her on what to do. Their first tactic is to seduce Xeno, so he turns her back to looking normal and she pleads with him to "Penetrate me!" while licking his hand. Xeno returns to his room and flagellates himself with a cat o' nine tails to prepare for round two, which includes lots of prayer, lots of screaming and lots of puking up something green.

The opening credits claim this is "based on a true story" but the only true story going on here is that The Exorcist became a worldwide phenomenon the previous year and this film wanted to capitalize on it. Even as far as these subpar wannabes go, this one's strictly average. It starts out well enough with the creepy statue idea and features a few good scenes here and there, but it's also oddly restrained in other ways. Sure there's nudity and violence, just not as much as in some of the sleazier films in this category. The biggest disappointment is that Danila never gets to spout ridiculous vulgarities in a deep male voice, which are usually comic highlights of these rip-offs. Rassimov, with a little help from some red contacts and caterpillar eyebrows, makes for an excellent Devil, though.

Though most of the supporting cast is fairly well-known, at least to Euro-trash fans, I was completely unfamiliar with the lead actress. Looking into her career a bit further, I see she was in about a dozen other movies (usually comedies), featured in a nude pictorial in the May 1975 issue of Italian Playboy (she's also on the cover) and then did layouts in other men's magazines like Gente and Skorpio. She was also a singer and released a number of 45s. The modeling, the acting and the music all seemed to abruptly end around 1985.

Someone must have made a fortune off of this because it seems to have been distributed everywhere. I found tons of posters for this one under a multitude of different titles from all over the world...

Here in the U.S. it was released to theaters several times under the titles The Tormented and The Eerie Horror Picture Show (with misleading advertising materials utilizing Rocky Horror-style lips!). VHS releases soon followed from Planet Video in 1982 and Continental Video in 1985, again using the Eerie title, which was also used for most of the later DVD and Blu-ray releases from companies like Code Red. It's also been issued on DVD under the title Enter the Devil, not to be confused with the *other* Enter the Devil released in 1972. UK release titles were The Devil Obsession and The Sexorcist.

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