Sunday 26 February 2023

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

A Boy and His Dog is a 1975 science fiction film which bombed at the box office although it has since gained a cult following. It is based on Harlan Ellison’s much-praised novella of the same name.

This was by no means the first post-apocalyptic science fiction movie but it is arguably the one that defined that genre for decades to come, both stylistically and thematically.

It is set in the year 2024, some years after a nuclear war has devastated the planet.

Vic (Don Johnson) is a teenaged boy who wanders the post-nuclear wasteland with his dog Blood with whom he has a telepathic bond. Blood not only communicates in human speech, he has a human level of intelligence. In fact in this particular partnership he is definitely the brains of the outfit.

Vic and Blood need each other. Blood, as a result of the same mutation that gave him telepathic abilities, can no longer hunt for food. He relies on Vic to provide him with food. In return Blood supplies Vic with what he needs - women. Blood’s sense of smell is unusually acute even for a dog. He can smell a human female a long ways off. Vic needs sex the way Blood needs food.

All Vic wants from women is sex. The closest thing he’s ever had to an emotional relationship is with Blood. When Blood scents a woman Vic chases her down and rapes her. As Blood says to him early on, Vic is not a very nice person. He’s as dumb as a rock, he’s violent and he’s obsessed with sex.

To be honest Blood isn’t a very nice dog either. They suit each other. One might say they deserve each other.

They are however both survivors and they are loyal to each other. Crucially, they need each other and they both know it.

There are plenty of other survivors of the nuclear war wandering about the wasteland. They’re mostly male. Women are in very short supply.

Most of the other survivors are even more unpleasant than Vic. It’s a world of casual violence, brutality and ignorance.

Vic is getting desperate for a woman when Blood announces that he has scented one. Vic follows her back to her hideout and is about to rape her when he’s rudely interrupted. A group of twenty-three Rovers arrives on the doorstep so to speak. Rover is the name given to wanderers like Vic. Most travel in packs but Vic is a loner.

He does eventually get to rape the girl, only he doesn’t have to. She is more than willing. Her name is Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton). She tells him that she lives Downunder. Downunder is as its name suggests an underground community, heavily fortified, which keeps civilisation alive. This particular Downunder colony is named Topeka. Once Vic gets a look at Topeka he decides he prefers barbarism and the post-nuclear wasteland to civilisation. One can’t blame him.

Topeka is like 1950s small town America on steroids, with a touch of 17th century Puritanism. Minor offences (such as disrespect towards the governing Committee) are punished by death.

Vic is even more unhappy when he figures out how he got to be there, and why he’s there.

The whole telepathic dog thing, which worked on the printed page in the original story, doesn’t quite work on the screen. It seems too silly and it undermines the necessary suspension of disbelief. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Surprisingly it works much of the time but occasionally when it don’t work it can seem silly. There’s also the problem that while the dog is obviously incredibly well-trained he looks like a dog out of a family sitcom. He’s too cute. They needed a dog that looked just a bit leaner and meaner.

The post-apocalyptic world on the surface (which obviously very heavily influenced Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior) works well in the film. Topeka on the other hand is too much of a heavy-handed caricature and the attempt to make it look slightly surreal ends up making it look silly and unbelievable. Director L.Q. Jones admitted that he wasn’t entirely happy with the Topeka sequences.

Don Johnson is extremely good, as is Susanne Benton as Quilla June. The other cast members have a more difficult time since they’re playing characters who are mere caricatures.

I can understand why Jones went for the weird makeup effects for the citizens of Topeka. It gets the message across that despite the small town Americana feel this is an alien sort of society. Unfortunately the folk of Topeka end up looking like zombie clowns which again adds an unwanted touch of silliness. It’s also rather surreal, which contrasts uncomfortably with the gritty approach of the scenes on the surface.

The Shout! Factory Blu-Ray looks good and includes an audio commentary. More interesting is the lengthy conversation between L.Q. Jones and Harlan Ellison in which they discuss several vexed questions including their legendary disagreement over the last line in the movie. Ellison was supposed to write the screenplay but fund that he couldn’t do it. Jones then took over the writing. I can understand up to a point why Jones thought it would be tricky to stick to Ellison’s famous final sentence but overall I think Ellison is right - the closing sentence that Jones provides is too jokey.

A Boy and His Dog is visually impressive. It very nearly works. It’s a good movie but it misses out on greatness. Perhaps the story really was unfilmable. A flawed but interesting movie. Recommended as one of the crucial post-apocalyptic movies.

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Paganini Horror (1988)

Luigi Cozzi’s classical music/punk rock horror film Paganini Horror was released in 1988.

There was a minor outbreak of Paganini Fever in European cinema in the 1980s. Klaus Kinski had been obsessed by the idea of a Paganini movie for years and had found the money to direct it himself. Kinski in the early 80s was a major international star and his film was eagerly awaited. It was expected to be huge. Ever eager for a bandwagon to jump on an Italian producer decided that what the world needed was an immediate Paganini rip-off. Luigi Cozzi was commissioned to write a script for Paganini Horror which was intended to be a fairly lavish production.

It didn’t pan out that way. Kinski’s film flopped, Paganini Fever dissipated and Paganini Horror ended up being a very low budget production.

Making a Paganini movie was in fact a great idea. Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) may have been the greatest violinist of all time. He wrote pieces for the violin which nobody else could play - they just could not match his technical virtuosity. A rumour spread that his talent was a result of a pact he made with the Devil, selling his soul in return for undying fame.

Paganini Horror itself is a sound enough idea. An all-girl punk band fronted by Kate (Jasmine Maimone) is all washed up. They need a hit and Kate’s songwriting skills have dried up. Then her friend Daniel comes up with a brilliant idea. He buys a manuscript of a hitherto unknown Paganini composition from the mysterious Mr Pickett (Donald Pleasence). This will be the basis for the band’s next single, Paganini Horror.

They’ll need a video to go with it and they will need a spooky setting. A decrepit old mansion owned by Sylvia (Daria Nicolodi) will be perfect. Famous horror movie director Mark Singer is hired to direct the blood-soaked horror-themed video. The song is sure to be a hit.

The band, along with Mark, take up temporary residence in Sylvia’s house to shoot the video.

But has Kate, like Paganini, unwittingly sold her soul to the Devil in return for fame and success?

People start disappearing, or dying messily.

The plot is a bit incoherent but since when has plot mattered in a European horror movie? The ideas are there. Ideas on which to hang some reasonably effective visual set-pieces, And, considering the very low budget, the visuals are mostly extremely effective and atmospheric. The makeup effects are good.

The special however effects are a definite problem. They’re just a bit too cheesy.

There’s some gore but apparently the producers would have gone for a lot more gore had the budget stretched far enough. The gore is done well, if you like that sort of thing.

Daria Nicolodi stars and co-wrote the screenplay but she was very unhappy with the movie. If she’d hoped this film would get her career back on track she was destined to be disappointed which may be why her feelings about it are so negative.

The acting in general is quite passable.

Luigi Cozzi had worked quite a bit with Dario Argento but his own career as a director never really took off. He did make a couple of interesting movies including the completely insane (but in a good way) Hercules in 1983.

The biggest problem with Paganini Horror was the timing. By the late 80s Italian popular cinema was well and truly on the ropes. The audience had collapsed and financing was very very difficult to come by. Budgets were very tight, at a time when audiences were expecting spectacular special effects. Genre film-making and the audiences for such films was pretty much ceasing to exist in other European markets as well. Ten years earlier Paganini Horror might have done reasonably well. Fifteen years earlier it might have been a hit. But in 1988 it more or less vanished without trace.

It’s actually by no means a bad movie. As mentioned earlier the visuals are good, the ideas are cool (although there are perhaps too many ideas for one movie), the pacing is excellent, there are fine horror moments and it’s consistently entertaining once you stop worrying about whether it makes sense or not.

The British Blu-Ray from 88 Films offers a good transfer given that the movie probably never looked fantastic in the first place. There are various extras including an audio commentary by Troy Howarth. The commentary is worthwhile although he spends an inordinate amount of time talking about Dario Argento.

Paganini Horror really is worth a look. It has major flaws but it’s always enjoyable. Recommended.

Sunday 19 February 2023

Killing Car (1993)

Killing Car (La femme dangereuse) is a late Jean Rollin film and it’s quite different in many respects from his earlier vampire and zombie movies.

In 1993 Jean Rollin had some money in his pocket. He had about enough to buy himself a cup of coffee and a couple of croissants but he decided to do without the coffee and croissants and use the money to make a movie instead. This is what being a film-maker is all about. If you have no money but you have talent and determination you just go ahead and make the movie. Jean-Luc Godard once said that to make a movie all you need is a girl and a gun. In this case Rollin had a girl, a gun and a car.

The girl is known only as the Car Woman. She’s played by Australian-born Tiki Tsang. Sadly it’s her only film credit.

The movie opens in a junk yard where a sleazy scrap dealer is trying to sell an American car. He thinks that an Asian woman (Tiki Tsang) might be interested in the car but she has other ideas. She strips off her top, he embraces her, she shoots him.

The scrap dealer’s girlfriend isn’t happy about this and she has a gun as well. A gun battle ensues. The girlfriend enlists the help of a group of whores. Thus being a Jean Rollin film the junk yard just happens to be next door to a fun fair so there’s a running gun battle in the fun fair. I love this movie already.

The crazy beginning is vaguely reminiscent of the surreal opening sequence of Rollin’s Requiem for a Vampire (and I’m pretty certain that it was intended to remind us of his earlier movie). Logically it doesn’t make sense but we’re dealing with the logic of surrealism. And all of Rollin’s movies, even in the case of Killing Car where there’s a superficial feel of grittiness, are exercises in cinematic surrealism. In Killing Car the surrealism is subtle but it’s there.

The Car Woman kills some more people. At each murder scene she leaves behind a toy car. That’s the only clue the cops have. It’s a vital clue, it’s the key to the whole mystery, but the police are baffled as to what it means. Eventually its significance will be revealed but the Car Woman’s motivations remain slightly mysterious.

She kills remorselessly. She’s like a machine.

What’s even more baffling is that there is no obvious connection between any of the victims. Perhaps she’s a serial killer, driven by some weird kink. But she isn’t. There’s a reason for her killing. It’s obviously revenge, but this is not a straightforward revenge killing movie.

Tiki Tsang’s performance works for me. She doesn’t do a great deal and she has very little dialogue but she has screen presence and she has the look - the look of a crazy chick who kills without mercy or emotion. The fact that she displays no emotion makes her effectively chilling. Rollin knew what he was doing when he cast her.

Rollin pulls off some very fine murder set-pieces in this movie.

This is Rollin moving slightly outside of his comfort zone. There are no mysterious ruined castles. It’s all stark urban landscapes. This is something Rollin did occasionally, The Night of the Hunted being an example. But in The Night of the Hunted he made the industrial landscape seem otherworldly. Here he makes it seem gritty and realistic. The movie is a real rarity in Rollin’s filmography in that it appears to take place in everyday reality. It’s the events that occur, and the performance of Tiki Tsang, that give us the uneasy feeling that maybe these characters are not quite inhabiting our world. Or at least not psychologically inhabiting our world.

Killing Car also has, in a subtle way, the feel of a classic revenge western. Tiki Tsang could be the mysterious stranger who rides into town, except that she arrives in a 1950s American car rather than on horseback. If Clint Eastwood played the Man With No Name then Tiki Tsang plays the Woman With No Name, and her performance is a bit Clint Eastwood-like.

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the scythe used to such good effect by Brigitte Lahaie in Fascination then Killing Car will answer your question in a scene clearly intended to evoke his 1979 masterpiece.

The old Redemption DVD offers an OK transfer. It’s full-frame which is probably correct - the original negatives are lost but the framing in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio looks right. There are no extras to speak of. The movie was shot in 16mm (actually on Super 16 film) and it looks grimy and grainy and scuzzy but again this feels right and was probably how Rollin wanted the move to look.

Killing Car is an oddity but it’s a surprisingly effective change of pace for the director. It still has the characteristic Rollin moodiness. Killing Car is highly recommended.

Thursday 16 February 2023

Hundra (1983)

Hundra isn’t quite a sword-and-sorcery movie. There’s no sorcery, but lots of swordplay. It is however an amazon warrior woman movie and the setting is what you’d expect in a sword-and-sorcery movie so it’s at least a first cousin to the sword-and-sorcery genre. It’s a 1983 Italian-Spanish-US co-production.

It’s very much a feminist movie and it certainly bludgeons the viewer with its message.

Hundra belongs to a tribe of amazons. The only contact they ever have with men is for the purpose of mating and they only keep the girl babies.

One day they get raided and wiped out by a tribe of bad men. Actually all the men in this movie are evil, except for one, and he’s totally ineffectual.

There is one survivor among the amazons. Hundra, the tribe’s greatest warrior, was out on a hunting expedition. Now she sets off for a cave in the hillside to ask the old wise woman for advice. The old woman informs Hundra that it’s her duty now to bear children. Hundra is horrified. That would mean, you know, doing it with a man. Hundra has always said that she’d rather have a horse between her legs than a man.

But Hundra cannot escape her duty and her destiny. She sets off to find a man with whom to mate.

She takes her dog with her. He’s a nice dog but he’s a male dog so he’s cowardly (all males being cowardly).

She doesn’t have much luck, owing to the fact that all men are rotten and evil. She journeys to the city of the bull-worshippers. In this city girl children are kidnapped by the high priest and sold into slavery for the pleasure of men. Hundra decides to start a feminist rebellion.

She also meets a nice guy. He’s entirely lacking in masculinity which makes him, as far as Hundra is concerned, the perfect man. He’s a healer (he’s a nurturing male). He’s also incredibly boring.

Along the way Hundra has lots of battles with bad men. Fortunately, being a woman, she can easily defeat a dozen or even two dozen strong armed men.

She makes a friend, one of the high priest’s slaves. Hundra instructs her in unarmed combat and sword-fighting.

Hundra succeeds in getting herself pregnant to the healer. I have no idea how, since there’s so little chemistry between them.

Eventually she’s going to have to do something about the wicked high priest.

Laurene Landon plays Hundra. For a movie such as this you need someone who looks like she might be an amazon warrior woman, with some screen presence and the ability to give a good war-cry. Acting ability is not crucial. Which is just as well, since Laurene Landon has no discernible acting ability whatsoever. She does kinda look like maybe she could be an amazon warrior woman and she gives a terrific battle-cry. Screen presence is however something else that she lacks.

Nobody else in the movie can act either but since the characters are cardboard cutouts (the women are all noble and virtuous and the men are all evil) it doesn’t matter. The best actor in the movie is Hundra’s faithful dog.

The movie suffers from having the most boring villain in screen history. Nepakin (John Ghaffari) is evil but we have no idea why he’s such a nasty fellow and he’s so terribly dull about his villainy that he simply makes no impact.

You also don’t get any real feeling that this world is a real place. There’s no texture to this imaginary world. It’s totally generic.

Visually this movie is not too bad at all. The opening extended battle scene is very effective. It makes use of some obvious clichés (such as slow-motion) but it’s exciting and atmospheric. Director Matt Cimber handles the action scenes extremely well. He was obviously going for goofy comic-book style violence and mostly it works.

suffers from the problem that afflicts all message movies. The message is delivered in such a clumsy heavy-handed way that it has no impact. Had Hundra been a slightly likeable character or slightly believable the movie might have been a bit more enjoyable. The spectacularly awful manner in which Laurene Landon delivers her lines doesn’t help. She doesn’t just sound like she’s delivering speeches, she sounds like she’s reading speeches from a cue card.

The action scenes however are genuinely excellent and clever. Hundra is not a complete washout but it is a disappointment.

My copy of this movie is a Spanish DVD which offers a lovely 16:9 enhanced transfer and both English and Spanish language options.

Monday 13 February 2023

Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)

Cat O' Nine Tails was Dario Argento’s second feature film, and his second giallo. It was released in 1971.

I first saw this movie many years ago, in the early days of DVD. The DVD copy I saw was truly atrocious. Image quality was mediocre VHS quality and it was pan-and-scanned. I liked the movie but it’s perhaps not surprising that I wasn’t totally blown away by it.

In fact most of the Argento movies I’ve seen I have only seen in poor quality early DVD versions which may be why I’m not as enthusiastic about as his work as some people are. One of my current move-watching projects is to rewatch Argento’s early films on Blu-Ray. I suspect that when this project is completed I may well rate Argento much more highly.

In any case I’m now the proud owner of the Arrow Blu-Ray release of Cat O' Nine Tails.

Blind former journalist Franco Arnò (Karl Malden) is walking down the street when he overhears an odd conversation taking place in a car. He obviously can’t see the man who is speaking but his ten-year-old niece Lori gets a good look at him.

That same night there’s a break-in at Professor Terzi’s genetics research laboratory. Nothing is stolen. That puzzles reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus).

And one of the scientists at the institute is killed in a freak railway accident.

When Carlo and Franco get together and realise that the accident was no accident and that the scientist was murdered they decide they may have stumbled on to something big.

Carlo thinks that Professor Terzi’s wild free-spirited daughter Anna (Catherine Spaak) knows more than she’s prepared to admit. It’s a lead worth following up, and in the course of following it up he ends up in bed with her.

Carlo and Franco know they’re on to something when somebody tries to kill both of them. Presumably the same person who killed Carlo’s photographer friend who had uncovered a vital clue.

The murderer is clearly determined to cover his (or her) tracks by killing everyone who could possibly provide incriminating evidence and the corpses quickly start to accumulate.

There’s plenty of suspense. For Carlo and Franco it’s not just a matter of uncovering the truth, it’s a matter of doing so before the killer gets around to killing them as well. And before the killer gets around to killing too many more people. So there’s a race against time element, always a good way to ramp up the suspense.

There are a couple of very Hitchcockian moments. The very fine murder in the railway station set-piece struck me as having a very Hitchcock flavour.

Very few people could pull off spectacular visual set-pieces as well as Argento could and this movie contains some prime examples. The art design isn’t as lush as you’ll find in some of his other movies. Visually it’s rather restrained.

This is early Argento. In early Argento you get the spectacular visual set-pieces you expect but you don’t get all that much in the way of gore. It wasn’t until Deep Red in 1975 that Argento came to embrace the concept of artistic gore. There are only two very brief slightly gruesome moments but because Argento is so sparing in his use of shock effects in this film those moments actually have more impact than the more operatic gore effects of his later movies.

James Franciscus seemed headed for major stardom but it didn’t quite happen. He delivers a solid performance here. Karl Malden is of course excellent. Catherine Spaak is adorable, charming and slightly odd and mysterious. She was a superb actress who gave a magnificent performance in the wonderful sexy comedy The Libertine (1968).

Argento’s debut feature The Bird with the Crystal Plumage had been a huge hit not just in Europe but in the U.S. so the producers had high hopes for Cat O' Nine Tails which was rushed into production to capitalise on the success of his first movie. Cat O' Nine Tails flopped in the U.S. but did well in Europe.

The Arrow Blu-Ray looks terrific. The extras include an interview with Argento. This is apparently his least favourite of all his movies. He felt it was too Hollywood. He does however have very fond memories of working with Karl Malden and he has reasonably positive things to say about James Franciscus and Catherine Spaak. There’s an audio commentary with Alan Jones and Kim Newman. It’s a good commentary but they do reveal spoilers for a lot of Argento’s other movies!

I don’t think Cat O' Nine Tails is as good as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage but it’s still a fine thriller. The plot doesn’t make much sense (in fact it makes no sense at all) but plot coherence is not a necessary ingredient of a top-class giallo. Cat O' Nine Tails is enjoyable and it’s recommended.

Thursday 9 February 2023

Cinderella 2000 (1977)

Cinderella 2000 is a science fiction sex comedy directed by Al Adamson. So you know it’s going to be crazy and it’s going to be made on a budget of next to nothing.

The movie is set in the year 2047. It’s a future that seemed wildly improbable in 1977 but seems highly likely today. Everything that is fun has been outlawed.

Sex is strictly regulated. Sex is not permitted without a permit from the government. Anyone caught having unauthorised sex is arrested by an annoying robot named Roscoe. They are then wrapped in bubble-wrap (I have no idea why) and reduced to the size of a Barbie doll. Yes, this is a strange movie.

The city is ruled by the Controller. He thinks sex is dirty but like most self-appointed moral watchdogs he’s secretly obsessed with the subject. The Controller’s problem is that he’s never been able to get his rocks off, no matter how hard he tries. Since he can’t enjoy sex he’s determined that no-one else will either.

The only man allowed to have sex is Tom Prince. There’s a lengthy waiting list of ladies hoping to have authorised sex with him.

So where does Cinderella come into this? The fairy tale story is there. Cinderella (Catharine Erhardt) has a cruel stepmother and two nasty stepsisters. They’re all sexually frustrated. Everybody in this society is sexually frustrated. The stepsisters are determined that if the chance of sex ever comes along Cinderella isn’t going to get any.

The Controller is persuaded that his anti-sex policies are becoming unpopular. Tom Prince suggests to him that the Controller’s annual ball would be a good opportunity to increase his popularity and so the idea of the Controller’s Uncontrolled Ball is born. For at least one night sex will be legal.

Poor Cinderella is convinced she won’t get to go to the ball until her Fairy Godfather arrives in his spaceship(!) and manages to magic up an invitation, a beautiful ballgown and a futuristic car to take her there (it looks like a dune buggy that has done way too many steroids).

Cinderella goes to the ball and has wild sex with Tom Prince.

Tom is now obsessed. He want to find this girl again. The Controller takes pity on him. But how will Tom find the girl again? How will he recognise her? There is a way he will be able to recognise her for sure - if he sees her naked and has sex with her again. So Tom Prince has to have sex with every woman in the kingdom until he finds his dream girl.

Cinderella, her Fairy Godfather and Tom decide that something needs to be done to introduce the idea of free love and legal fornication to the city. There’s only one way to do this. Cinderella has to get the Controller’s rocks off for him. If she can do this she will blow his mind (and that isn’t all she’ll blow) and he’ll become a convert to free love.

At some stage, for no reason whatsoever, Snow White puts in an appearance, even though it’s explained to her that this isn’t her movie. Poor Snow White is so horny. She just can’t stand it. If only there was something the seven dwarfs could do to help the poor girl out. Eventually the dwarfs figure out that they can help her, which they proceed to do with enthusiasm. Snow White is now a very happy girl. This segment has nothing to do with the rest of the movie but in a movie as crazy as this it doesn’t matter. It is an amusing sequence.

It might sound like this movie makes a vague kind of crazy sense but this is an Al Adamson movie. The craziness level is off the charts. I haven’t mentioned the singing robots yet. This movie is deranged. But it’s deranged in an oddly appealing way. It doesn’t even try to be a sensible coherent movie. To enjoy it you just have to go with the craziness.

The budget was minuscule. The special effects are terrible. The sets and costumes are bizarre exercises in bad taste. The acting is awful. In any other movie these would be serious flaws but in an Al Adamson movie they just add to the fun.

There’s plenty of nudity and moderately graphic simulated sex.

This movie has had several DVD releases, of varying quality. The version I have is a German DVD which includes both German and English language options. There were apparently several different cuts of the movie. I assume the version on this DVD is the European cut. I have no idea if other cuts of the film are raunchier. The DVD version is definitely softcore.

You have to be in the mood for this one and you need to be the sort of person who enjoys movies that are insanely bad but in a good way. You also have to enjoy sex comedies. I liked it and I’m going to highly recommend it.

I’ve reviewed a couple of Al Adamson’s other movies - Nurse Sherri (1978) and Five Bloody Graves (1970). Nurse Sherri is a must-see.

Saturday 4 February 2023

The Antichrist (1974)

Alberto De Martino’s The Antichrist ( AKA The Tempter, original title L’anticristo) is an Italian rip-off of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Let’s be honest. In the 60s and 70s if there was a bandwagon that could be jumped on then Italian film-makers would jump on it. Of course bandwagon-jumping is something that all film industries do. Including Hollywood. The difference is that the Italians could usually be relied on to do it with style.

I’m personally not the biggest fan of The Exorcist although I do have to admit that it’s a movie I haven’t seen for a very long time. If I ever getting around to rewatching it I might enjoy it more than I did years ago. I do however have a soft spot for outrageous Exorcist rip-offs.

Right from the start this movie establishes a mood of religious fanaticism and hysteria. A crowd of desperate people have gathered at a Catholic shrine, all hoping to be cured of various crippling ailments. The crowd grows more and more frenzied until one worshipper goes totally crazy and throws himself to his death from a high wall.

Among this crowd is Ippolita Oderisi (Carla Gravina). She is there with her father, Massimo Oderisi (Mel Ferrer). Ippolita is a cripple as a result of a car accident. Her father was driving so he blames himself. Maybe Ippolita blames him too. It may have been the start of her daddy issues. She has quite a few of those. Ippolita is well into her thirties and she’s unmarried and she knows that realistically she will almost certainly remain unmarried. There aren’t too many men who would want to marry a woman who is paralysed. Ippolita is of course a virgin. She’s been a good Catholic girl. But she is still a woman. She has normal womanly needs, for both sex and love. And no acceptable way of satisfying those needs.

She has grown very close to her father. That’s not necessarily unhealthy or weird. Given her situation she is naturally emotionally dependent on him. But in Ippolita’s case the attachment does seem a bit too intense. When she discovers that dear old dad has a mistress she becomes very jealous indeed.

Her uncle Bishop Ascanio Oderisi (Arthur Kennedy) is worried that Ippolita will fall into the clutches of devil-worshippers. He’s convinced that there are demonic cults everywhere. He thinks that a psychiatrist might be able to help her and he has one in mind, Dr Marcello Sinibaldi (Umberto Orsini). It turns out that there is nothing physically wrong with Ippolita. Her paralysis is psychosomatic. We can of course speculate (and I think it’s fair to say that we’re intended to speculate) that her paralysis may be connected with a fear of sex or perhaps her fear that she has an incestuous attraction to her father.

Dr Sinibaldi is perhaps just a little flakey but this was the 70s and in the 70s it would have been plausible for a psychiatrist to believe in reincarnation. He believes the answers to her problems may lie in a past life. He intends to unlock the secrets of that past life.

You won’t be surprised to learn that in a past life Ippolita was burned as a witch. She was to enter a nunnery but instead joined a sect of devil-worshippers.

Dr Sinibaldi thought that uncovering some trauma in a past life would allow Ippolita to walk again. He was right about that but he unlocked all sorts of obsessions and now Ippolita seems to be possessed by the Devil. And the Devil has plans for her.

Carla Gravina is very effectively cast. It’s not that she’s an unattractive woman but she’s been given a very unflattering hairstyle and very unflattering makeup, her dress sense early on is a bit dowdy. The intention was obviously to make her appear plain and unsexy, which is necessary for the purposes of the film since it makes her fears that she will remain forever unmarried and a virgin more convincing. She is playing a woman who feels herself to be unlovely and unsexy. She gives a totally unhinged performance which is exactly what was called for.

It’s clear that sexual frustration is a major factor in Ippolita’s problems. Whether you want to see her sexual issues as the key the Devil uses to gain possession of her or whether you see them as causing her insanity it’s clear either way that Ippolita has some serious sexual issues. There’s not just the hint of father-daughter incest but brother-sister incest as well.

Alberto De Martino isn’t one of the more highly regarded Italian genre movie directors but he did direct one of my all-time favourite eurospy thrillers, Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966). And in 1977 he revisited the satansploitation genre with the outrageous and thoroughly enjoyable Holocaust 2000 (AKA Rain of Fire, 1977). He was a guy who could certainly make entertaining movies.

The special effects are at times decidedly dodgy. I don’t mind that. It’s a 70s movie. And De Martino certainly didn’t have the budget that William Friedkin had. Maybe De Martino gets too ambitious at times, trying for effects which really would have required a very much larger budget. Modern viewers who cannot imagine a movie without CGI will react very badly to this movie but those viewers are not going to watch a 1974 movie anyway.

This is very much one of those movies in which the awakening of female sexuality is seen as terrifying and demonic, linked to demonic possession or witchcraft or vampirism. It’s a major theme in vampire movies. Curiously enough one of the first movies to make this link explicit was a Hammer movie, the very disturbing Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966). The idea goes back a very long way in gothic fiction, at least as far as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Christabel and it’s pretty explicit in Sheridan le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla on which The Vampire Lovers (1970) was based. Whether The Antichrist actually wants us to equate female sexuality with the demonic or whether it’s attacking the Church for promoting such a view is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. What matters is that the characters in the movie are very uncomfortable with Ippolita’s sexuality.

This movie throws just about every satansploitation cliché you can think of at the viewer but this is what audiences would have wanted and it’s fun.

In the case of The Exorcist it’s worth remembering that it was based on a novel by William Peter Blatty, a devout Catholic. It’s clearly a very very pro-Catholic novel and this is to a large extent true of Friedkin’s film. We’re meant to believe that Regan is literally possessed by a demon and we’re meant to believe in the literal existence of the Devil. In the case of a movie such as The Antichrist made by a European film-maker in the 70s you can’t be so sure that it isn’t to some extent sceptical of the literal truth of demonic possession. Personally I suspect that we’re meant to see demonic possession as the result of a combination of sexual frustration and religious hysteria.

It’s interesting that Ippolita’s demonic possession seems to begin during a dream sequence, and that dream begins with a sexual fantasy. It’s not entirely clear if the woman in the dream sequence is Ippolita herself or the long-dead witch from her past life. When he can also never be quite sure that that long-dead witch ever existed. She may simply be a product of Ippolita’s fevered imagination and her fevered sexual longings.

It’s worth pointing out that the idea that Ippolita had past lives is an idea that the psychiatrist (a somewhat ambiguous character) put into her head. His suggestion may have triggered an elaborate fantasy on her part. It’s also possible that the whole demonic possession thing has been suggested to her by her uncle the bishop who seems to be obsessed with such ideas.

While the movie seems to be treating the demonic possession as real there is still a slight doubt. This was the 70s when the idea that mental disturbance could cause paranormal phenomena was quite widely held.

There’s also a murder committed by Ippolita which is very ambiguous indeed. It could have been just another of her sexual fantasies.

The dream sequence is superbly shot and is the highlight of the movie. I should mention that Joe D’Amato did the cinematography on this film.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray release offers a very good transfer plus an audio commentary and a featurette.

The Antichrist is an Exorcist rip-off but it’s a very good and very interesting Exorcist rip-off, with a very strong focus on the sexual nature of demonic possession. Highly recommended.