Review Date: June 25, 2002
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: 8/6/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
William Friedkin's The Exorcist
was a landmark in the history of horror films. Instead of a low-budget small studio affair confined to the grindhouses and drive-ins, here was a large studio film that played in the finest theaters. And most importantly, audiences were lined up around the block waiting to get in. It was only natural that you'd get some copycat films, mostly cranked out from overseas. Exorcist clones were even made whether the director wanted to or not (I.E., the change of Mario Bava's Lisa and the Devil
to House of Exorcism
). One of the more blatant rehashing of Friedkin's film was The Antichrist
by Italian director Alberto DeMartino. Pour yourself a nice hot bowl of green pea soup as we explore this Catholic ritual yet again.
The central figure of The Antichrist
is Ippolita (Carla Gravina), a partially paralyzed woman with more than a few psychological problems as well. In fact, her paralysis may not even a physical problem at all, and so her father (Mel Ferrer) seeks out various treatments. Their first effort is the Catholic Church, as the opening scene involves bringing Ippolita to a religious statue, but with disastrous results. She witnesses a seemingly possessed man kill himself, and thus decides religion will not be the answer.
It looks like Dr Marcello Sinibaldi (Umberto Orsini) will have the most luck with hypnosis therapy. He uses regression techniques to bring Ippolita back in her life to a tragic car accident. Going even further back, to a past life, he discovers she was once a witch (also named Ippolita) who was tried and burned at the stake. Now influenced by this past life, Ippolita goes through various changes, including a Rosemary's Baby
-like dream in which she's impregnated by a demon.
Dr. Sinibaldi finally manages to "cure" Ippolita and get her on her feet again, but at a serious price. Almost immediately, she starts going Regan McNeil with demonic voices, levitation, and the old stand-by, puking green soup. First, a few "experts" are called in to verify that Ippolita is indeed possessed, and when finally convinced, they begin the ritual. Will Father Minter (George Couloris) be any more successful than Father Merrin?
is such a shameless copy of The Exorcist
and Rosemary's Baby
(Carla Gravina even has the Mia Farrow haircut in this one) it's amazing they weren't sued for plagiarism. But since movies like this were all the rage, I guess there weren't enough lawyers available even if Friedkin and William Peter Blatty did decide to sue. The effects of possession on Ippolita are identical to those of poor little Regan McNeil, with the devilish dubbed-in voice, the levitation, and the crude exhibition scenes. But since Ippolita is an adult, it's far less shocking. DeMartino also tries to re-create the ominous appearance of The Exorcist
, but with less satisfying results.
contains violent and disturbing scenes throughout the film. One of the strengths of The Exorcist
is in its slow buildup, as well as the discomfort the McNeils have with religious symbolism. Here it's thrown at us throughout the film, showing what we have come to expect from copycat films: the controversial scenes heavily emphasized and extended, and the background that actually made the scenes so controversial is almost ignored. I realize it may seem unfair to constantly compare The Antichrist
to The Exorcist
, but the overt similarities in subject matter and release date (the movie was made in 1974, just one year after Friedkin's film) require it. DeMartino had to know the comparisons would be made.
While it's not even remotely original, you do get the one thing Italian cinema is famous for: gorgeous visuals. This was actually quite striking, and also disappointed me, since if the story could have at least strived for some level of uniqueness, we might have a really good film here. The effects are quite strange and make for a weird look, particularly in any levitation scenes. In those, the things (or person) levitating go completely out of proportion, creating a very unsettling feel. The demon rape scene is also startling (minus the obvious Rosemary similarities), with both the Hell setting, and the equally weird scenes of Ippolita in bed with some very strange backgrounds.
Another strength of the film is the use of Italian scenery, which is steeped in Catholicism. We get to see many churches and icons (including a portrait of Jesus that's far more controversial than Kevin Smith's "Buddy Christ" from the movie Dogma
) as well as several priests and bishops in full ceremonial dress throughout the film. The finale at the Coliseum also helps give the Roman setting more life, but it's originality that comes far too late. DeMartino had some good ideas here, I just wish he could have put them into a more inventive story.
So if you can overlook the story elements that were taken directly from the two major "devil" films of the time, you might be able to enjoy The Antichrist
. In fact, if you want even more Catholicism in your devil movie from someone brought up in the faith, (William Friedkin is definitely not Catholic) you might even prefer it. Personally, I found the copied scenes too glaring to ignore. But again, the film is a stunning visual treat, and if you can look at it that way, it's well worth a viewing.
is presented in 1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9 screens. This is a really nice transfer (as usual from Anchor Bay) that plays to the film's strengths (the striking visuals). The dark scenes look great, and just check out the gorgeous red walls in the Bishop's office in Chapter 5. Actually, the blue and red color scheme is one of the major facets of The Antichrist
, and this DVD lets us see them to full effect. Another excellent looking disc.
A simple Dolby Digital 2.0 mix shows up here. I'm guessing it's mono, since I heard no real left/right panning. The music, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone, is a bizarre violin concoction that is more than a bit unsettling. Audio levels vary quite a bit, from low-level conversations to extremely loud devil voices and screaming. Thus, the dialogue can be a little hard to hear at times, unless you don't mind cranking up the volume and then getting your ears blasted when Ippolita turns on the devil voice. My guess is that this was DeMartino's intent, and while Anchor Bay could have normalized the levels a little more, they instead stayed true to the original soundtrack, always a preferable way to go.
We get a few nice little extras on this disc. Most important is Raising Hell, a 10-minute interview with director Alberto DeMartino. He at least acknowledges the obvious connections with The Exorcist
, but he also strives to point out the things that make the film unique. I'm not sure if I buy all of his arguments since so many scenes are clearly taken directly from the more famous film, but at least it gives me something to look for next time I watch it. Ennio Morricone is here too with some insight on his musical score. Great work by Anchor Bay to get the participation of these two men (especially the incomparable Morricone).
The rest of the supplements are fairly standard. A TV spot (where it was advertised as The Tempter
) is fairly interesting, as they play down The Exorcist
similarities. That's probably because Avco Embassy finally played this in US theaters in 1978, when The Exorcist
buzz had long since died down. And finally, 30 or so stills and posters are added as well.
Despite DeMartino's pleas to the contrary, The Antichrist
is a blatant rip-off of The Exorcist
. Fans who like films of demonic possession will certainly find nothing new here, and in fact be put off by such obvious scene stealing. But the film is not completely without it's charms, in particular an extremely interesting visual and musical scheme. This Anchor Bay disc shows off the visuals very well, and fans that enjoy the Italian style of filmmaking may really enjoy this. Even though The Antichrist
is not my cup of tea (or pea soup), I do appreciate Anchor Bay finding obscure 70s movies like this and giving us respectable versions for home viewing.
Movie - C
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B-
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 52 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital Mono
- Raising Hell, a 10 Minute interview with director Alberto DeMartino
- TV Spot
- Still and Poster Gallery