Review Date: January 30, 2002
Released by: Synapse
Release date: 10/30/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
Videoflage. That's the technical term for all the normal videos you rent to hide the porn tape (or disc) that you REALLY want. For horror fans, director Jess Franco was able to conceal our sordid video choices even easier. Films like Exorcism (1974) are basically soft-core porn movies (depending on which edit you see), with horror elements thrown in. Hey, who put porn in my horror? Or did someone put horror in my porn? Let's see if these two tastes really do go great together.
Vogel (Director Franco) is a former Catholic priest who was defrocked for being TOO pious, if that's even possible. His goal in life is to exorcise those who he feels are possessed by the devil. But in his mind, any kind of slightly deviant sex is equated with demonic possession. I'm sure you can already see where this is going.
Vogel writes for a French erotic magazine, detailing Spanish Inquisition rites and Black Masses. The editors of the magazine (Pierre Taylou, Lina Romay) find the stories fascinating enough to stage their own reenactments of the bizarre rituals. This of course inspires Vogel to exorcise (read: kill) the deviant participants and spectators.
It's up to the incredibly inept police force to find out who's leaving bodies of swingers and prostitutes throughout France. And Vogel has an eye on our lovely lead actress, so someone better put a stop to him soon.
This was my first foray into the world of Jess Franco, and I'm really not sure how I feel. Either the man is completely incompetent, or he's a total genius. I haven't decided yet. If you're looking for interesting camera movement (or ANY camera movement), you certainly won't find it here. The static camera is a low-budget staple, used to excess here. I don't know if it was a cost-effective move, or if Franco was trying to give the film a distinct "fly-on-the-wall" feel. The fish-eyed lens on a stationary camera creates an extremely unsettling effect quite often (the opening shot of the movie is a perfect example). Yet it can also be dull and impersonal and reeking of amateur filmmaking at it's lowest. I'm not quite sure of what Franco was going for in his visual style, and he doesn't really go too much in depth about it in the commentary (more on that later).
Now, it's fairly obvious that sex is a major part of Franco's films. In fact, Exorcism was even released in a more hardcore version as Sexorcisms. Even this cut of the movie is closer to a soft-core porn film than a horror film. I'm certainly no prude, and some of the women who disrobe (particularly Lina Romay) are quite attractive. It's just that even the sex scenes aren't that sexy. They're not even simulating sex, they're usually just gyrating around. You'll get more "action" from the late night films on Cinemax.
The combination of limited action, bad acting, and boring sex scenes makes for one dull movie. Franco does have his supporters, and I really am interested in what it is about his films that they enjoy so much. I've certainly seen better sex action, even in non-pornographic films. Combining sex and horror is still controversial (I.E., the cuts Alan Parker was forced to make in Angel Heart), but neither aspect is particularly outrageous in this movie, even considering the time it was made. Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula (made around the same time) is far more groundbreaking in its mix of sex and blood.
One facet of Exorcism that I did find quite interesting is the fact that so many different versions of this film exist. And it's not a simple case of re-editing. Completely different scenes were shot for various releases (There's more about this in the supplemental section). I'd actually like to see how the film changes in its different incarnations. But also, the fact that the insertion or deletion of scenes can create completely different films shows just how generic Exorcism really is. Personally, I prefer a director who treats every single scene as an integral part of his final creation, not as separate pieces that can be assembled into various ensembles. Maybe it's that prejudice that keeps me from being a Jess Franco fan.
This is a pretty poor-looking DVD, but that's not a knock on Synapse films, in fact it's actually a compliment. Synapse did what they could to get as complete a version of Exorcism as possible. To do this, they had to combine several different film elements, and as a result there is constant color shifting and sudden cuts. Thus, the image quality fluctuates quite a bit, but it's also quite obvious that the problems lie with the film itself, and not the transfer.
This is a 1.66:1 transfer (though it actually looks closer to 1.78:1), enhanced for widescreen televisions. Again, it's hard to judge the quality of the sharpness and the color, since it fades in and out so often. Most of the time, it's actually a fairly good-looking disc, with decent colors and minimal grain. It's the scratches and blemishes that are the biggest drawback, but Synapse can hardly be faulted for poor film elements. In fact, Synapse deserves credit for creating a whole transfer of the film, rather than shortening or eliminating scenes due to quality limitations of the existing celluloid.
Exorcism is presented in Dolby Digital Mono 2.0. This is an English dubbed version; I'm really not sure what the original spoken language (if there even was a synch-sound recording) is. It's not the best dub job, that's for sure. There's not a lot of direction and dynamics in the sound mix (like the video quality, it's most likely due to the original elements), and the dialogue definitely doesn't have a realistic sound to it. Fortunately, most of the dialogue is women screaming in the simulated murder scenes or as they're being "exorcised", so it's not like you'll be at a loss for any witty repartee among the characters. The off-kilter organ music is relegated to the background as well.
According to Synapse, this is the first ever audio commentary done by Jess Franco. I know he does have his legion of fans (even if I'm not among them), and I'm sure they're ecstatic about hearing the man discuss any one of his films. Kevin Collins, a Jess Franco producer, leads the commentary track, prompting Franco for details on the film. Franco's accent is pretty thick, and you do have to listen pretty closely. We hear about his upbringing and how it influenced the film, as well as his relationships with the actors involved. But what I found most interesting is that Jess Franco doesn't even consider this to be the definitive cut of the film. He reserves that distinction for the cut that went by the name The Ripper of Notre Dame. Since there were at least four unique cuts of the film (Exorcism, Sexorcisms, The Ripper of Notre Dame, and Demoniac), it's interesting to hear Franco's perspectives on the evolution of the film.
While I didn't enjoy the film, I'd still like to see some of the different edits. Synapse provided one alternate scene, a "clothed" version of the opening sequence. They don't say which release of the film this is from, but I'm guessing it's the American cut known as Demoniac. The theatrical trailer on the disc is likely from Demoniac, as that's the title given in the trailer. There's also a short photo gallery, with stills and lobby cards. Finally, in a really unique touch, the front cover is reversible! Choose the cover art you prefer. Cool.
Jess Franco's films (well, at least this one) don't seem to be my cup of tea. Despite the gorgeous Lina Romay, if I want a porn movie, I'll rent a porn movie. And if I'm in the mood for deviant sex in my horror films, I'll watch one of Paul Morrissey's Frankenstein or Dracula movies, or maybe something by David Cronenberg. Still, even with my feelings about this film, I have to applaud Synapse Films for releasing this, and with as much care as they put into it. These are the films that fans usually have to order from overseas dealers, in horrible quality tapes. Synapse has made Exorcism easily accessible to anyone, and in a rather high quality transfer. Yes, the picture does fade in and out, but that's a result of compiling the most complete version of the film, and I can't deride Synapse for that.
Movie - D+
Image Quality - B-
Sound - C-
Supplements - B+
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
- Commentary by director Jess Franco
- Alternate clothed opening sequence
- Still Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer