Another key Jess Franco release from Redemption and Kino Lorber on Blu-Ray

Director : Jess Franco
Starring: Jess Franco, Lina Romay, Lynn Monteil
Type: Color
Year: 1975
Language: English
Length: 97 min
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Disks: 1
Region: A, B

Whether or not you’re a fan of Jesus Franco’s films, you’re probably not going to watch them for their riveting dialogue or thought-provoking storylines. Franco has admitted his own amoral filmmaking predilections on a number of occasions, and his fans are truly appreciative of this. So, when I go into a Franco picture, I’m rarely “let down,” as all I really expect is a collection of poorly written scenes strung together with clumsily photographed soft core sex sequences. All I ask is that it entertains me, as I know I’m not going to be challenged, here. But Exorcism, for all its lurid sadism and sleaze, came across as if Franco actually had something to say. Of course the message is well-hidden under Satanic-style orgies and gory, medieval S&M, but there is something in Exorcism that I don’t recall seeing in his other films: satire.

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The Film

Franco stars as Mathis Vogel, a writer for a magazine that specializes in lurid subject matter—particularly the deviant antics of the Paris nightclub scene and some of its more historical debauchery. Anne (played by Franco-fave Lina Romay), an assistant to the magazine’s editor, does some part-time work engaging in kinky S&M role-play in an underground nightclub (to the satisfaction of its perverted clientele). Unfortunately, she’s overheard joking with the editor about staging a “real” Black Mass ceremony—if only they could find a willing “victim” for the show. To anyone eavesdropping, this outlandish banter would be understood as the dark-humored ribbing that it is. But Vogel is no ordinary columnist; he’s a former priest who was excommunicated from the church for his rather “extreme” practices. Just how extreme, you might ask? Extreme enough to have done a stint in a Paris asylum—from which he’s recently escaped!

Now, this apparent “black mass,” he’s become privy to, flips his switch back to “crazy,” and he sets forth doing “the Lord’s work” by systematically stalking and brutally murdering members of this erotic role-play troupe—to purge them of their demons using inquisition-style methods. Heavens, indeed! Controversy involving sexual debauchery is nothing new, and there have always been many extremist groups who insist on letting sexually adventurous people know how sinful their practices are—and will go to shocking lengths to get their voices heard. It’s this fanaticism that I’m convinced Franco and Romay are lampooning in Exorcism. Franco has always been a staunch supporter of free speech in filmmaking, and Romay (as is also discussed in the supplements for Female Vampire) was very anti-religious. When watching Exorcism, and witnessing Franco’s demented character “exorcising” the demons from these people, one gets the impression he’s targeting religious extremists.

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The Video

Kino Lorber and Redemption Films present Exorcism in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Like their Female Vampire release, Exorcism has been given its due with a 1080p/AVC encoding for high definition without any digital tinkering. As with all Kino titles, there are no edge enhancements, grain reduction, or any other digital “improvements.” There is an abundance of hairs, scratches, specs, and other age-related artifacts on the 35mm print of Exorcism, and the color looks a bit faded, but, overall, it’s in pretty decent shape. It’s also pretty grainy, but, as I mentioned in my review of Female Vampire, sometimes the rougher the look, the higher the grindhouse charm. In truth, this film has never looked better.

The Audio

The sole audio track is an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 English track that sounds about as good as the film looks. There’s some hissing and popping to indicate the film’s age, and, unfortunately, it’s the dubbed track. (The Kino website states that the audio is “French with English subtitles,” but there is no such option on the disc). Like the audio track on Female Vampire, Exorcism’s dubbed track sounds a little high and obtrusive in some areas, but overall it’s clear and doesn’t distract.

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Extras

We are also given the far less explicit cut of Exorcism, retitled Demoniac (69), that removes most, if not all, of the graphic sexuality. A few of the film’s horror elements are trimmed too. While most viewers will likely be uninterested in decaffeinated versions of Franco’s films, I really do appreciate that Kino/Redemption provide these alternate cuts on their releases. There are also trailers for Exorcism and Female Vampire, as well as Jean Rollin’s The Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire and Requiem For a Vampire. Missing, though, are Franco’s Audio Commentary (his first ever), film historian and Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas’s liner notes, and a still gallery—all of which were available on the Synapse Films release from 2001, so if you still have that copy handy, I wouldn’t trade it in just yet. As was the case with Kino/Redemption’s release of Female Vampire, it would have been nice to include some of the extras from the older release.

Bottom Line

Am I giving Franco more credit than he deserves with Exorcism? Am I reading too deeply into a message he may not have intended about religious fanaticism? Probably. Nevertheless, viewing Exorcism as a dark satire on religious extremism is likely the best way to derive something of value from the film—beyond just the gory thrills, the beautiful women, and the fun soundtrack (many Franco films are famous for their soundtracks). With the exception of lacking any real supplements, Kino and Redemption have put together another fine release of one of Franco’s more notorious efforts, and the director’s many fans don’t need me to tell them to add this to their shelves.

– by Jason Marsiglia