Director: Jess Franco
Kino Lorber/Redemption Films

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The screen grabs featured in this review are from the old Synapse Films DVD release of EXORCISM and here for illustration purposes. We do not have the equipment to do screen grabs from Blu-ray discs) Don't expect Holy Water, projectile pea soup vomiting, and spinning heads when Jess Franco’s gets medieval on black mass poseurs and aristocratic perverts in EXORCISM, getting a resurrection in HD courtesy of Kino Lorber and Redemption Films.

Defrocked priest Mathis Vogel (writer/director/cinematographer/editor Jess Franco) arrives in Paris and sets about making a living selling salacious yet factually-correct tales of torture by the inquisition to Venus Editions magazine publisher Franval (Pierre Taylou, BRUTAL NIGHTS OF LINDA). When he overhears Franval’s secretary/girlfriend Anna (Lina Romay, CELESTINE) telling him about plans to hold a black mass for a rich client, Vogel – not having witnessed Anna’s bondage performance piece with roommate Rose (Nadine Pascal, HELLHOLE WOMEN) under the opening credits – mistakes the ensuing sacrifice (held at a countryside chateau of a masochistic count [Claude Sendron, ZOMBIE LAKE]) as the real thing and begins to stalk the participants including barmaid Martine (Catherine Lafferiere), go-go dancer Gina (Franco’s stepdaughter Caroline Riviere, COUNTESS PERVERSE), the count’s unfaithful wife (France Nicholas) and dominatrix Maria (Monica Swinn, MIDNIGHT PARTY) for deadly exorcism rituals. Hardboiled inspector Tanner (Oliver Mathot, REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER) and college-educated cop Malou (Roger Germanes, FEMALE VAMPIRE) investigate, but Franval doesn’t even begin to suspect Vogel – despite how closely his stories resemble the murders – until Vogel targets Anna, hoping to save her because… well, she’s Lina Romay.

Shot in France and Belgium as EXORCISME ET MESSES NOIRES, EXORCISM is not France’s THE EXORCIST cash-in, but it may be Franco’s anticlerical response to the Friedkin film. The notion that Franco’s defrocked priest would go on an exorcism rampage after witnessing a black mass performance – recalling the performance acts of SUCCUBUS and VAMPYRES LESBOS but longer (much longer) and more explicit – concocted to entertain horny socialites would be comical if not for the emphasis on prolonged beatings, rape and stabbings. In front of and behind the camera, Franco is voyeur and chronicler but never the focus of audience empathy or point-of-view. The socialites are portrayed as the usual blasé cheaters and perverts, but Franval, Anna, Rose, and the others are a little jaded, but not particularly repellent for pandering to their interests (nor are they exploited by the wealthy clients). Despite Franco’s eye for interesting locations and lots of naked flesh, there are the usual complaints (even coming from a Franco fan): listless editing, photography that is more exploratory than choreographed and – like FEMALE VAMPIRE – an investigation subplot that disrupts the film’s obsessive atmosphere. Franco composer Daniel White (FEMALE VAMPIRE) appears as a coroner, but the film’s organ-dominated score was composed by Andre Benichou (who provided a similarly distinctive score for LORNA THE EXORCIST), and Franco regular Biggotini appears in front of the camera as the Count’s butler (and likely worked behind the scenes as well). The English credits cite Etienne Rosenfeld as cinematographer while other references cite Raymond Heil (DR. ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN), but it is likely they were cited for quota purposes (the same goes for editor Pierre Querut, who is also credited on FEMALE VAMPIRE and A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD); the cinematography is Franco all the way.

Like FEMALE VAMPIRE, EXORCISM was produced in softcore, hardcore (titled SEXORCISMES and including participation by Franco himself) and horror (titled DEMONIAC) versions. None of these versions were distributed in the US, but Franco and Eurocine retooled EXORCISM in 1979 as THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME, shooting new footage portraying Vogel not as an ex-priest but as an escaped mental patient (the new pre-credits sequence featured his not-so-difficult escape). Shuffled in between original 1974 footage of the criminal investigation and the magazine office scenes were some new sequences – shot in the more expressionistic style Franco adapted in the late 1970s for films like REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER – of Franco’s character stalking and killing loose women in a non-graphic fashion (along with a couple kills retained from the original film). Also new to this version was a subplot featuring the character’s visits to Notre Dame to visit a priest (Franco actor/art director Antonio de Cabo, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD’s peeping tom lawyer). The opening stage performance is entirely deleted from the film (the credits now take place over shots of Notre Dame) so Romay and Taylou do not appear onscreen until roughly 20 minutes in, and the reshot finale is also more somber. It was this version that Charles Band’s Wizard Video picked up for big box VHS release (albeit in a 79-minute censored edition of the ninety-eight minute original) under the video-generated title DEMONIAC.

Image Entertainment passed on the title when they were releasing other Eurocine titles, and it was grabbed by Synapse Films who were initially provided with a new anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) PAL digital transfer of the 92-minute version previously released by on English language tape by Redemption in 1994 (only in the Netherlands as part of the Benelux line as it was rejected by the BBFC [Arrow Films’ 2003 DVD edition had to be cut by two minutes]) and on DVD in France. Consultant Scooter McCrae identified some footage missing from that version and Eurocine furnished Synapse with a revised master that ran nearly ninety-four minutes (at 25 fps). It is this version that appears on Kino Lorber/Redemption’s new AVC-encoded Blu-Ray and DVD release (running at the 24 fps timing of 98:08 including a Redemption logo at the top). As with FEMALE VAMPIRE, the HD version appears to utilize the same print materials, sometimes scratchy and of variable quality (although not quite as patchwork as Redemption’s Benelux tape). The Redemption Blu-Ray includes the English dub (in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono). Also not carried over from the Synapse edition is an English-language audio commentary by Franco and Romay moderated by Kevin Collins (whose company One Shot Productions was behind a couple of Franco’s DTV entries around that time including TENDER FLESH).

As mentioned above, the DEMONIAC title didn’t actually originate with Charles Band and his Wizard Video label; it was also the title of the alternate horror version (1:09:41) of EXORCISM (which explains why the DEMONIAC title appears on the English language trailer of EXORCISM featured on Synapse’ DVD). The horror version not only trimmed nudity, it also featured a number of clothed takes, including the aforementioned covered alternate opening in the Synapse DVD extras (sans credits). As with FEMALE VAMPIRE’s horror cut, the near thirty minute difference in running times seems drastic until you take into account that the sex and torture scenes run five to ten minutes each on average. The clothed version of the opening sequence, for instance, is half as long as the eight minute uncovered version. When Vogel books a room across from Anna and Rose’s apartment, he spies them returning home but their lesbian interlude is entirely eliminated. The victim of the black mass is clothed, and the orgy scene is entirely eliminated (the two scenes and a bridging scene roughly nine-and-a-half minutes in the softcore version and a little over three minutes in the horror version). When Vogel murders the countess, she is in a nightgown rather than sleeping nude. The exorcism scenes are full of jump cuts seemingly to avoid shots of frontal nudity where possible (Franco’s roughing up of stepdaughter Riviere cuts abruptly from her on the bed clothed to her nude and bound against the wardrobe mirror). Also as with horror cut on the FEMALE VAMPIRE disc, DEMONIAC is generally a better looking transfer than the erotic version, but it will obviously never look as gorgeous as Franco’s Harry Alan Towers productions (it’s high time to see VENUS IN FURS and EUGENIE,THESTORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION on Blu-Ray) or even his later Golden Films productions. Other than the film’s trailer (3:22) – the same English-language DEMONIAC trailer seen on the Synapse release – and trailers for Franco’s FEMALE VAMPIRE, and Jean Rollin’s RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE, THE NUDE VAMPIRE and REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, there are no other extras. (Eric Cotenas)