Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lorna the Exorcist (1974)

If you had no prior knowledge of this film, going by it’s title alone and the year of release you’d probably think it was another Exorcist rip off/cash in. Hell, who could blame you with the numerous clones that came out of the woodwork after the success and notoriety of William Friedkin’s 1973 shocker. The same thing happened after Night of the Living Dead when the European market became flooded with zombie films. It’s kind of funny when you think about how the roles have been reversed in recent years when it comes to so called “cash in‘s“. Now if a film finds success and a following in Europe or Asia, instead of cranking out films with similar storylines like back in the day, all the Hollywood studios are quick to remake (read that as “bastardize”) and Americanize it. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, Lorna the Exorcist. Although Jess Franco did make his own exorcism themed film (he even stared in it), appropriately titled Exorcism, the title of 1974’s Lorna the Exorcist (original French title Les possédées du diable)  is a classic example of a marketing scheme, as the titular Lorna is not an exorcist, nor are there any exorcisms present in the film, as the film has nothing to do with any such things. This Faustian sleaze epic is in a league entirely it’s own.

In celebration of his daughter Linda’s (the late, very great Lina Romay) 18th birthday, successful businessman Patrick takes his family to a seaside casino resort on the coast of France. 19 years prior, Patrick was a desperate man. On the verge of bankruptcy and suicide, a chance meeting at the same resort with the mysterious Lorna (Pamela Stanford), a powerful witch of sorts all that. Lorna promised him money, success, and a child, a daughter for him and his infertile wife Marianne, under the condition that when his daughter turns 18, he must hand her over to Lorna. Blinded by lust and desperation, Patrick agrees. Fast forward to the present, upon arriving to the resort with his family, Patrick encounters Lorna in the exact same spot where the two first met 19 years ago. She has come to collect what was promised to her, only Patrick is defiant to never give Linda up, forcing and enraged Lorna to take matters into her own hands.

Lorna the Exorcist is a film that is held in high regard by myself and other Francophiles and for good reason, as it’s one of the man’s very best. It’s defiantly my favorite on all his films. Unnerving in it’s oddness, unrelenting in it’s sleaziness, yet undeniably attractive because of it, Lorna is a very hypnotizing film, right from the first frame you’re sucked right in, and as the film goes on and gets progressively weirder, the more intriguing it becomes. And weird does it get. This is undoubtedly one of the most fucked up things Franco has unleashed upon audiences in his long and prolific career, but that’s a big part of the films appeal. You won’t see another film like this one anytime soon that’s for sure. Right from the first frame a vibe is felt, and that same strange aura is constantly present throughout the entire film, getting under your skin and in your head. It’s incredibly erotic and alluring, putting the viewer in a trance of sorts, making it impossible to look away, yet it’s also downright creepy in an eccentric way in parts, oftentimes both, for instance the shots of a institutionalized women under the influence of Lorna calling out her name writhing provocatively on her bed (keep an eye out for Franco himself making an appearance as her doctor), the undertones when it comes to Lorna’s motives in gaining control of Linda and of course the final moments with Linda. Again, it gets in your head and stays there, you’ll be replaying scenes in your head long after the film’s been over, it has that effect. You really can‘t discuss the film without at least mentioning one of THE scenes for which it‘s most notorious, although I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say it involves crabs. It does give you a nice, unexpected jolt as it comes out of fucking nowhere and it’s a shining example of Franco’s twisted imagination.

Pamela Stanford couldn’t have been more perfect for the role of the seductive Lorna. “Seductive” is the key word when it comes to her performance, as she radiates sexuality with ease. You’d follow her anywhere too, just like Patrick. She has that effect.  She has on this eye make up that goes literally halfway up her forehead and yes, it doesn’t look normal but this is far from a normal film. If this were any other character in any other film it would be completely distracting, but here it makes perfect sense, only adding to her character’s mystique, and the spacey nature of the film as a whole. Along with being one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever laid my eyes on in this lifetime, I’ve always thought of Lina Romay as an underrated actress. Even in some of Franco’s more “rushed” productions, if Lina was in it, chances are she was the best thing about it. With or without clothes. Her performance in Lorna is one her best, as she is totally believable in the role of the happy go lucky, innocent Linda. She’s also incredibly likable in the role, making the scenes with her father towards the end of the film, and the films final moments where she’s thrashing manically on a bed more effective. Chilling in fact. All this in spite of the sometimes shoddy dubbing. Both women are completely uninhibited and more than once the two get up close and personal with each other. Their final “encounter” lets call it, is another one of the films more infamous moments. What stars off as an odd lesbian scene takes a radical left turn, and it’s one of those cinematic moments where you’ll just be staring at the screen totally dumbfounded at what you’re seeing asking yourself “What the fuck”.

Franco’s trademark zoom is fully on display here, and there are instances where the camera will zoom in extremely close on something making the image go out of focus, creating a very drugged out, hallucinogenic effect. This effect works wonders when Lorna is making herself known to Linda. Franco zooms in on the wall and the next image you see when the screen becomes clear is a close up of Stanford‘s eyes. The lesbian scenes, while explicit and gratuitous, are staged in such a manner that make them so much more. The one that opens the film is particularly dreamy, an aura aided immensely by the music (the main theme that plays throughout the film is heavenly) and Franco’s camera movements. It’s Franco’s technique, the way he maneuvers the camera, his choice of angles and things of the like that add atmosphere, even in a scene where nothing is really going on, Franco makes it interesting just by shooting it in a particular manner keeping your eyes glued to the screen. So contrary to popular belief, it’s not all lingering close up’s of female genitalia (although lets be honest here, there is an abundance of it in this film, pretty much the only thing you don‘t see on the females in this film are their internal organs. I‘m not complaining though, in no way am I complaining about this). Franco knows how to get the most out of the shooting locations. Take for instance a scene featuring Patrick running all around the streets desperately trying to find Lorna’s apartment. Even a scene like that has sort of a surreal quality to it due to the unique architecture of all the surrounding buildings. Despite the small budgets he often works with he has a mint eye for scenery and Lorna is no exception.

Years after Lorna was first released it was re-cut into a hardcore porn movie removing scenes from the original print, which had been badly damaged and or lost to time, and for many years different, incomplete copies of Lorna with extremely shitty prints had been circulating as bootlegs. Thankfully, the great folks over at Mondo Macabro DVD have given Lorna the royal treatment it deserves. Their restoration of the film was made up of three different 35mm prints and is the most complete version of the film to ever be released. Naturally there is obvious signs of wear and tear during parts but the job they did is astounding and for all intensive purposes the presentation is top shelf. To go along with all that the DVD includes two interview segments with Franco expert Stephen Thrower, author of the AMAZING book Nightmare USA, one discussing Franco and his work, the other discussing this film. Also included is an interview with Gerard Kikoine who edited Franco’s films during the period when he was working for French producer Robert de Nesle. It’s an interesting and very informative piece as he does into detail about how certain films were edited for censorship back in those days, and what versions of films went to certain theatres and when they could be shown in said theatres. It’s an absolute must have DVD, although I’m sure by now Franco fanatics have been all over it. Lorna is probably only going to appeal to a limited amount of film watchers and that’s understandable, but if you’re part of that demographic that enjoys this type of cinema, or a Franco fan who’s yet to see it (what the hell are you waiting for?!) Lorna is prime viewing. The back of the DVD summed it up perfectly by describing it as a “masterpiece of transgressive horror”. Essential Franco. R.I.P. Lina. Fuck cancer.

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