(Editor’s Note: For this weeks A LOOK BACK AT, Josh Soriano tackles 1974’s supremely wild EXORCIST ripoff, THE ANTICHRIST! Check out his review below, which is guaranteed to be one of the most in-depth on the net!)
THE EXORCIST is considered one of the most frightening films of all time for several reasons. Once of those reasons is because it’s a near-perfect film in every way, so attempting to mimic it seems like a losing battle. Most often movies made to cash in on another wildly popular film tend to be inferior to the template but I have to say, as far as imitations of the Freidkin’s classic go, THE ANTICHRIST is on the better end of the spectrum. There’s no denying that it’s peppered with elements of eurotrash but if you’re a sucker for satanic horror films, then you’ll find an abundance of sacrilegious fun in this 1974 Italian shocker. If you’re thinking, “How have I never heard about this film?”, that’s because in America it was known as THE TEMPTER on video. Sometime last year I finally got around to watching THE ANTICHRIST and enjoyed it quite a bit. So this week, I decided to pack up the holy water and turn all my crucifixes upside down and revisit it. (Hey, anyone have a black hooded robe I can borrow?) In the last 15 years or so Italian cinema, especially giallo, has been experiencing a new generation of appreciation ; films directed with the fantastical horror of Dario Argento, the gory hyper-shock of Lucio Fulci, the gothic sentiments of Mario Bava and countless more continue to inspire directors. Many horror buffs will likely tell you that Italian horror films often employ equal parts of spilling gallons of blood while also creating fascinating visuals. With that being said, THE ANTICHRIST fits right in amongst them nicely. It’s unfortunate that Alberto De Martino’s film is often overlooked amongst the endless slew of possession films that followed in the wake of THE EXORCIST because it’s actually quite good and is primarily a more original idea then you’d expect, its exorcism element is actually the weakest bit. The opening of a film is crucial,especially where horror films are concerned. Think about your favorites over time and look at their prologues. You’ll notice that the films that have stood the test of time like HALLOWEEN, SUSPIRIA, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, and SCREAM all have superb openings. While THE ANTICHRIST may not be as strong a force as those, its opening is still brilliantly affective. There’s a minimal credits sequence accompanied with the sound of ghostly labored breathing. Similar to that of Mater Suspiriorum from SUSPIRIA, the inhales are dry and wheezing, uncomfortable to listen to. There’s a brief silence and when the title finally appears, an unearthly gasp cries out that startles and creeps you to your bones– even after multiple viewings. This eeriness is the kick star to how ANTICHRIST makes you feel and the sequence is just as effective as THE EXORCIST‘s minimal one. After the title, the film opens on what looks like documentary footage of various religious sites packed with followers. Some writhe around on the floor, as though they are possessed, in convulsive states while others are hysterical or sickly, in hopes of being cured. The focus shifts to a particular statue of the Virgin Mary on a site in Italy. We see Ipollita, a young crippled woman who is taking in the reactions of the others. A deeply disturbed woman forcefully tries to avoid touching the statue but once she does, she appears cleansed of all evils. Ipollita takes this as a cue and she slowly makes her way towards Mary. Once she reaches her, instead of being “touched by the spirit” and cured, Ipollita falls to the floor. She’s embarrassed and gives the statue a look of contempt. Faith and hope have just died before our eyes and this is when the audience realizes that terrible things are in store for Ipollita. I find difficulty describing the menacing face that this statue of Mary has but her insane stare, accompanied with the heavily atmospheric strangling violins of Ennio Morricone’s score, effectively set the bar high fairly quickly. By the end of THE EXORCIST, good ultimately wins but here, this divine symbol of purity has already turned it’s back on our protagonist. I want to take a moment to just praise how clever THE ANTICHRIST is with establishing such a sardonic and sad mood so early on. Personally, I am not a religious person but, those that are, would be aghast at the nihilistic cruelty director Alberto De Martino depicts in Mary. Perhaps it isn’t intentional and could just be my interpretation so I’ll leave it to the viewers to decide but regardless, there’s an oppressive nature immediately established and things only get worse for Ipollita. One of the elements that makes THE ANTICHRIST effective on a fright level is this overpowering mood. You can understand how Ipollita becomes easy prey to a downward spiral of madness and murder. She learns during a hypnotism that an ancestor, accused as a witch, had committed unspeakable acts for Satan and she has fever dreams of performing said unspeakable acts (the most memorable one, involving the butt of a goat, has to be seen to be believed). The visions awaken something inside her, causing her soul to become vulnerable to the devil. The possession element of the film seems more allegorical for the sexual awakening of Ipollita. In fact, many films about demonic possession tend to turn the victim, who is usually female, into a sexual object that is lived through vicariously. With THE EXORCIST, this element was obviously not brought into play. For Ipollita, the demon from her past takes her over and besides awakening her sexually, also gives her the ability to walk again. In one possessed trance she has, Ipollita seduces a young man and murders him only to return to her car and awake without being able to walk again. It feels similar to LORDS OF SALEM, where the protagonist is slowly entranced evening after evening by the power of three witches, experiencing hallucinatory fever dreams until she ultimately taken over. Even though THE ANTICHRIST was no doubt created to cash in on THE EXORCIST craze, its Italo cinema elements and tripnotic story set it apart from the others. All films about exorcism inevitably have an “exorcism scene”. I personally have grown tired of these types of scenes, especially in modern cinema i.e. THE CONJURING or THE LAST EXORCISM 2 (anyone else find that title to be a humorous oxymoron?). So it’s no surprise to see one near the ending of this film. Without a doubt, it’s not nearly as effective as the one in William Freidkin’s classic. No worries though, THE ANTICHRIST spins enough of a web of insanity and depravity to please fans of satanic horror,exploitation horror and Italian horror cinema. I still think it could use a shaving of ten minutes or so in length but is nonetheless an enjoyable picture. I wasn’t familiar with Carla Gravina very much before this film. After seeing her dedication and energy with playing Ipollita, I’ve since become a fan. You can find THE ANTICHRIST at an affordable price in many used DVD stores so if you come across it, it’s worth the purchase. Just make sure to buy a nice hooded black robe as well.