Sunday, 19 August 2007

Jess Franco's Demoniac

Demoniac is one of those 1970s Jess Franco movies that exists in many different versions under many different names, including L’Éventreur de Notre-Dame and Exorcisme. In some ways it’s his reply to The Exorcist, but with the exorcist as the bad guy. It’s actually a more interesting movie than The Exorcist. Franco appears in most of his movies, but generally in supporting roles or cameos. This time he’s the star, and the entire success of the movie hinges on his performance. And it works – he delivers a performance that is really exceptionally chilling. He plays Vogel, a defrocked priest, whose defrocking was apparently the result of his over-zealousness in pursuing those he suspected of being in league with the Devil. To say he’s obsessed would be an understatement of colossal proportions – he sees himself as, in his own words, the sword of the Lord, and he sees evidence of Satan’s handiwork just about everywhere. Especially in women. Especially in sexually active women. He earn his living writing lurid tales of demonic possession and devil-worship for and S&M magazine, and when he stumbles across a group of enthusiasts whose main pastime is staging mock black masses, you just know there’s going to be trouble. Vogel’s grip on reality is fairly tenuous at the best of times, and he is entirely unable to understand that these people are simply playing harmless games. He is determined to save them from the clutches of Lucifer, and if saving their souls happen to involve killing them then that’s a price Vogel is willing to pay. Franco plays the role absolutely straight, and in an extremely restrained manner, which makes him genuinely scary. Franco’s wife, muse and regular collaborator Lina Romay is one of the women who perform the fake black masses, and her performance is reasonably effective (and while she’s not Soledad Miranda I think she’s underrated as an actress). The rest of the actors are at best adequate, but no worse than the actors in the average exploitation movie. This is a Jess Franco movie, so you expect plenty of nudity, sex and (given the subject matter) plenty of S&M as well, and that’s definitely what you get. But given that the movie is about a religious fanatic obsessed with satanism, S&M and sex it’s possible to argue that in this case it isn’t really especially gratuitous. It’s certainly no more gratuitous than most of the more sensation content in The Exorcist. This is an exploitation movie, but it has a serious purpose as well and I think it gets its message across rather well. It’s also rather more tightly plotted than most of Franco’s films. In fact it may well be one of his best films. An absolute must for fans of eurotrash/eurohorror.

No comments: