Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Antichrist

The Antichrist
Original Title: L’antichristo
Directed by: Alberto De Martino
Italy, 1974
Horror/Satan/Occult, 112 min
Distributed by: Optimum Releasing.

As far as satanic possession movies go there’s not too many of them tach come off as anything else than cheesy Exorcist rip offs. These past weeks I’ve seen several variants on the old possessed teenage chick story, and it’s fair to say that the most of them all fall into the same pitfalls and needless to say they all have the same familiar traits that we know all to well.

Current stuff like Manuel Carballo’s La posesión de Emma Evans (Exorcismus) 2010, Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism 2010 or even Paco & Balaugeró’s [Rec]2 2009, all play by the book, and you know before the last act rolls through you will have seen bile, rolling eye whites, foul language snarled out by the possessed and in the most cases levitation. Needless to say these movies look fantastic, a lot has happened since William Friedkin unleashed his 1973 milestone movie based on Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name. But I still hold a naïve fascination for those movies released much nearer to that landmark of genre cinema, the stuff so painfully trying to cash in on the success of The Exorcist. I’m obviously talking about movies like Mario Bava’s Lisa e il diavolo (Lisa & The Devil) 1974 - also recut with alternate material to assimilate Fridekin’s movie under the name House of Exorcism, Amando De Ossorio’s La endemoniada (The Possessed) 1975 and Alberto de Martino’s L’antichristo (The Antichrist) 1974 to name a few.

Those movies, despite how they did at the box-office back then, have become somewhat cult classics by today’s standards. Back then they where painfully trying to get in on the action, and being so close to that original flick, I feel that they where lost at the time. Today it’s movies like these that I can appreciate as they tried to pull stuff off on minimal budgets and to some extent succeeded in mimicking the sensationalism of the original.

Since a terrible accident in her childhood Ippolita Oderisi [Carla Gravina] has been paralyzed from waist down. Her religious father Massimo [Mel Ferrer] is supportive and takes her on pilgrimages to various sacred places and statues of saints in hope of some miracle cure. Even Bishop Ascanio Oderisi [Arthur Kennedy] is concerned and holds masses to pray for Ippolita. Although when Ippolita’s brother Fillipo [Remo Girone] turns up at a party with his mate Marcello Sinibaldi [Umberto Orsini] desperately trying to match the two together, Ippolita pretty soon realises that Sinibaldi is a psychiatrist with a hidden agenda.

Convinced that Ippolita’s handicap is rooted in her background, perhaps in a former life way before that childhood accident, Dr. Sinibaldi persuades Ippolita to undergo some regression therapy hypnosis. That’s when the trouble starts. In her previous life Ippolita was a witch, also playing dual roles with a spiffy longhaired blonde wig, and this witch was burned at the stake for being in league with Satan. Obviously this demonic force takes a grip of Ippolita and pretty soon she can’t tell the awoken past life persona from the real Ippolita. Which is a great thing for us as this gives De Martino and his cinematographer Aristide Massaccesi – yes old loveable Joe D’Amato – an opportunity to mess around with back projection, mate screens and creating some pretty neat levitation, transformation and freaky special effect moments including a couple of really impressive imploding mirrors and television screens along the way.

Like any movie in the demonic possession realm Ippolita vomits bile, she spreads her legs and taunts everyone around her with her sexuality, makes sideboards and cupboards levitate around the room and decomposes with each day that goes until there’s only the demon present and almost no Ippolita at all. Finally the moment we have been awaiting is upon us, Massimo's brother, Bishop Oderisi, arrives to take on the age old nemesis of the church and the final battle commences… or wait it doesn’t because this movie holds yet another surprise for it’s audience.
In film theory some studies latch frantically onto what’s known as the image system, it’s at times so farfetched that it becomes almost more parody than anything else. One of my favourite passages in all the writings Russian filmmaker Andrej Tarkovsky left behind is when he discusses the reoccurrence of horses, apples and billowing fields in his work. After years of film students and academics trying to force their theories and interpretations of his “image system” Tarkovsky himself wrote that he simply liked the look of horses, apples and billowing fields. That’s fucking brilliant and such a smack in the face of over analytical bullshit. Which also is one of the reasons I write the crap I write on here, there’s no need to sneer at alternative low budget cinema, as it’s filled to the brim of the same symbolism, traits, storytelling and image systems that the acknowledged filmmakers and art house posers have been using for all time.

Getting back on track, it’s fair to say that the image system of The Antichrist has to be toads. Toads figure in several occasions throughout the movie and these toads are obviously associated with negative values, evil magical beasts and demonic creatures. The reason for this is of course the metaphoric value that they hold, the transformation from tadpole to full grown toad represents the resurrection, the rebirth. Much like the rebirth of the demon in The Antichrist. Then there’s the symbol value of strong feminine energy, clearly the energy of the female demon. It’s also a key part of the antichrist communion, where the torn off head of the toad serves as the body of Satan!

This is a great little movie. It’s entertaining as hell and takes several sudden turns. It has a lot going for it with the back-story that slowly lets out more information as it goes along. For a while I was sure that the Mel Ferrer relationship with Swedish starlet Anita Strindberg would be milked and become a sinister back-story where Ferrer had cheated on his wife with Strindberg before that terrible accident hence being projected guilt that had paralyzed Ippolita. There’s a small indication of oedipal jealousy in there, but nothing that really pays off apart from a few lines of possessed blasphemy and raunchy talk concerning her father and future wife’s sexual appetites. But it never goes for the guilt trip in that classic way. Instead the entire back-story arc is dedicated to the witch trial and execution. A parallel story that’s also reflected in the main narrative, such as the last minute redemption that turns former life witch Ippolita into the saint she visits at during the opening sequence. This opening sequence is mirrored in more than one-way during the movie’s climax, but you’ll just have to check it out to see in what way.
I find that Alberto De Martino’s script, co-written with Vincenzo Mannino and Gianfrano Clerici is satisfying as it uses what we've seen and brings something new with it - a very salty italian twist just the way we want it. This approach is nothing new for Mannino – writer of several character driven Poliziotteschi about Police Inspector Betti, commonly portrayed by Maurizio Merli and epic adventures also “in the familiar style of others” like Enzo G. Castellari’s L’ultimo squalo (Great White) 1981 or Ruggero Deodato’s I predatori di Atlantide (The Raiders of Atlantis) 1982, has been down that path on more than one occasion. But perhaps it mostly the movies he worked as co-writer on, stuff like Deodato’s La casa sperduta nel parco (House on the Edge of the Park) 1980, Lucio Fulci’s Lo squartatore di New York (The New York Ripper) 1982 and Murder-Rock: uccide a passo di danza (Murder-Rock: Dancing Death) 1984 that he’s most known for. Movies he primarily co-wrote with Gianfranco Clerici. Regular readers will know that I have something of a fetish for movies based on Clerici’s scripts, as I feel he very much indeed did write/work on some of the finest genre movies to ever come out of Italy.

Every demonic possession movie demands a grand entrance of Old Nick himself, and at least one moment that leaves it’s mark on the audience. The Black Mass where past life Ippolita engages in a satanic orgy is fantastic. I won’t spoil it for you but there’s a goat scene – which isn’t graphic at all, but fantastically suggestive and really brilliantly edited by Vincenzo Tomassi, who you recall edited all those Lucio Fulci movies. Tomassi brings a great flow to The Antichrist and it rarely feels as if it’s loosing pace, and there’s several brilliant juxtapositions you really need to see if you are into suggestive editing – and fucking amazing movies. Apart from the goat incident, there’s a hilarious moment where Ippolita flashes her lady parts to Bishop Oderisi, and his reaction is priceless, and just one of several splendid moments in The Antichrist.

I’ve hade the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai lying around for years, and it’s finally been a treat to actually put some images to the mental ones those tracks have been conjuring all these years. Needless to say the music is tremendously fitting when you have images to go with it.

Something I find intriguing about The Antichrist is the way De Martino uses, or rather not doesn't use his cast. There are some pretty damned good genre names in there, but none of them really get a moment to shine. Instead the whole movie does belong to Gravina who gives a grand performance in the lead. But it still feels kind of sore not to use the cast more than De Martino has. Mel Ferrer is about as interesting as drying paint, Strindberg more or less disappears from the flick after she once briefly get’s her kit off (next to an obviously bothered Ferrer who has to snog her next), the iconic Alida Valli is merely there for two small sequences and Kennedy, well he does his five minute bit and then fucks off. It’s odd and primarily saved by Gravinas dedicated performance.

As a little bonus for you if you want to get über-geeky, look out for bit part actor Ernesto Colli as the possessed man, he’s part of the mirror imagery I was talking about earlier, he's one of those faces you always remember and recognise in the large amount of movies he had bits in. And keep your eyes open when Filippo walks into the party after the opening segment. That blonde on his arm is another Scandinavian actress, this time none other than Ulla Johannsen! Doesn’t ring a bell? Well perhaps you remember her better as the naked chick with the machinegun in Enzo G. Castellari’s Ouei maledetto treno blindato (The Inglorious Bastards) 1978. There's iconic imagery if there every was iconic imagery!

Alberto De Martino followed The Antichrist with the Poliziotteschi Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta (Blazing Magnum) 1976, held by many as one of the finest entries into that genre. It’s comes as no surprise to see that Clerici and Mannino wrote the script. Only three years later De Martino ventured back into satanic territory with Holocaust 2000, which wasn’t only a take on Richard Donner’s 1976 hit The Omen, but also sports a great performance from Spartacus himself, Mr. Kirk Douglas.

1.85:1 Colour.

Dolby Digital Mono, 2.0 English dialogue.



Alex B. said...

Cool writeup! Saw this film two-three times. Amazing production values, the movie looks simply epic, much moreexpensive that the oriinal Exorcist film. Can't say I'm a fan of Antichrist, as it somehow doesn't hold my attention despite some truly great moments. Love the D'Amato cinematography, simply gorgeous, and that superimposed rain special effect in the opening sequence is enjoyable.
Totally agree about Ferrer : that fellow is so dull.
Would you say Holocaust 200 is worth a look?

CiNEZiLLA said...

Cheer's ALex.
Dunno 'bout Holocaust 2000, I haven't seen it for something like Eons. I had it on an old UK x-rental way way back

It's on the shelf on DVD and I'll hopefully get round to it soon. Fred sez it's good and his word is good enough for me.


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