Exorcismo (1975)


Now comes Paul Naschy’s take on The Exorcist. He claimed the screenplay for Exorcismo (1975) was written before The Exorcist was released in 1973; however, some similarities between the two are so strong that it’s hard to deny the influence. If we don’t hold Naschy responsible, then it must be Profilmes, the production company desperately needing a hit.

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What I’ve just written suggests there’s something wrong with The Exorcist influencing Naschy or Profilmes. There’s not. They wouldn’t be the only ones and Exorcismo has enough unique elements that it succeeds better than other more blatant rip-offs. Besides, when I like something as much as I do The Exorcist, I view most imitations as tributes, not rip-offs.

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Exorcismo isn’t your typical Eurohorror film. In fact, any sex or violence in it seems mild when compared to most others, certainly those from Naschy. In and of itself, that’s kind of odd because such graphics usually belong in a movie about demonic possession. If you want it, or an elaborate budget like The Exorcist, you’re not going to get it.

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I’m not the only one who has argued that The Exorcist is more a drama than a horror film. In some ways, the same can be said of Exorcismo, maybe even more so. Leila Gibson (Mercedes Molina) is older than Regan MacNeil and has two siblings: Deborah (Maria Kosty) and John (Joan Llaneras), each with problems of their own.

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Their mother, Patricia (Maria Perschy) is struggling the most, though. She’s been lonely and depressed since her husband Lawrence’s “illness.” We neither see nor hear from the man, but we assume he died, leaving the family with debt and no means to sustain their lavish lifestyle. The family drama is there but leaves its details to the imagination.

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The point is there’s enough evidence of emotional issues in Leila’s past that could contribute to a psychological state resembling demonic possession. That is, if not for the way she actually becomes possessed: participating in Satanism, which the investigating detective (Juan Velilla) calls “a racket covering for drugs and ritualistic crimes.”

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After the ceremony that opens the film, Leila is thrown from a car during an accident, and it’s insinuated that’s the moment she's possessed. However, any of the characters that know her say she hasn’t been the same since she returned from a trip to Africa with Richard Harrington (Roger Leveder.)

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There’s a lot of talk about how Leila has changed, but since we never knew her, we don’t really notice other than she has big mood swings and is occasionally rude. If that’s evidence of possession, someone better call Father Adrian Dunning (Naschy) to pay my family a visit! Exorcismo saves its special effects and demonic demonstrations for the finale.

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Not only is a small budget evident here, but also throughout the film. For example, exterior shots of the Gibson’s home are a mansion in the country, yet the rooms are tiny, obviously shot on a set. Back to special effects, though, some work surprisingly well for the budget… maybe not stop-motion sores appearing on Leila’s legs, but eyes that have turned white and marbled.

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I liked Exorcismo as much as I did primarily for Naschy. He’s a solid force for good, not wracked with guilt or doubt like his counterpart(s) in The Exorcist. We don’t know much about him, but can again imagine his backstory, especially when he’s asked why he hasn’t been calling on the Gibsons. He replies that he stopped coming when he stopped feeling welcome.

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The very end threatens to squander any good will built during the rest of the movie, but somehow, I accept it without question. If I were to write it here, you and I would both laugh. It’s a wacky plot point that reminds us we are indeed watching a Eurohorror movie. All I can say is that it works. So does Exorcismo, as unlikely as that may be.

 

Written by Juan Bosch, Paul Naschy

Directed by Juan Bosch

Starring Paul Naschy, Maria Perschy, Maria Kosty, Mercedes Molina, Jordi Torras, Luis Induni

RT 90 min.

Released March 10, 1975 (Spain)

Home Video Blu-ray (Shout!)

Rating 6 Waldemar Daninskys (out of 10)


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