L'Anticristo (1974)

a.k.a. - The Antichrist (USA)

Alberto De Martino directs an Italian Exorcist knock-off with some unique set-pieces and an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Optimum UK R2 DVD.

The Film

As a child, Ippolita Oderisi saw her mother killed in a violent car crash and has been paralysed since. Doctors suspect that her paralysis is the result of a mental block rather than any physical injuries and her father (Mel Ferrer) calls in a psychciatrist. He encourages Ippolita to relive the events of the crash but she goes further back and seems to be reliving the life of a distant ancestor who was burnt for witchcraft. With every option having failed her, Ippolita calls on the devil to help her walk again and finds herself possessed by an evil demon...

Co-written by director Alberto De Martino, L'Anticristo is one of a swathe of demonic possession films that emerged after the global success of The Exorcist (1973) but although this story also focuses around a possessed girl and the suffering of her family, with a number of themes and ideas that are directly lifed from the American film, L'Anticristo takes a very different path to get there and boasts some unique set-pieces. The opening provides the background to Ippolita very well, the fact that she has come down to the slums and the frentic atmosphere of a semi-religious ceremony shows the desperation she must have to be cured and her disappointment as she is wheeled back to the house seems to be remniscent of many times before. Like Blatty's script for The Exorcist, the horror scenes are introduced subtly at first, but in a massive deviation from that production we then get a flashback of centuries and a tie-in to witchcraft stories (similarly a popular film theme at the time after the success of Witchfinder General (1968) and Mark of the Devil (1970)). The possession itself is a wonderfully surrealist scene set in a Boschian vision of hell and Ippolita's display of powers in front of her family is a very effective and quite creepy sequence - although the demon does seem to have a passion for petty vandalism. Between these scenes is a seduction and murder sequence that is rather uninspired but at least it is the only one of its kind and so the film does not become stale here.

The last third of the film is a rather mixed bag - the Church's exorcism attempts are well written but could have been much more interesting had more character been made from Bishop Oderisi, it is clear that he is a man of little faith but we never find out why (there are hints that he only achieved his status because of his wealth and standing in society but these are not developed, perhaps to avoid making the film into a critique of the Catholic Church). A scene where a faith-healer is brought in by the house maid to carry out a blessing is rather unnecessary to the story and actually damages the flow of the storyline, giving some powers to Ippolita that make you wonder why she doesn't just escape the bindings she is in before the exorcism - the film would play much better without this scene. There are only a couple of references to the titular Antichrist and these do not seem to particularly fit in with the storyline - while they could be explained away as the rantings of the demon, they just seem unnecessary. The climactic exorcism is effective but the film ends rather confusingly and again the extended sequence just seems to go on too long for no real purpose.

Exploitation regular Alberto De Martino handles the directoral chores and does a generally solid job, the opening at the shrine is a particular highlight with Mondo Cane (1962) style scenes of religious fervour and some intentionally disorientating camerawork which also appears to good effect later on. Unfortunately this scene also introduces the very low budget and distracting optical effects that crop up several times during the film, the scene with the faith healer boasting some of the worst and most unnecessary examples. The sets for the Oderisi house are very impressive and really convey the family's wealth and standing, while the flashback scenes and the hellish dream sequence show some wonderfully surrealist set design, the arrival of the Exorcist provides a neat nod to the Friedkin film. The saving grace of so many Italian cult films, the soundtrack is provided courtesy of Ennio Morricone and it fits the tone very nicely.

The leading role is taken by the lesser known Italian actress Carla Gravina. She seems like an odd choice for the role, not the conventional beauty that you might expect to find in a Euro-horror film, she does perform very well particularly in the possession scenes although rather unusally for Italian cinema she seems to be using a body-double in the nude scenes. American actor Mel Ferrer (War and Peace (1956)) appeared in a number of European films during the 1970s and gives a solid performance alongside fellow countryman Authur Kennedy (Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)) who gives a strong but sadly underwritten performance as the faith-lacking Bishop. Another imported actor is British born George Coulouris (most recognisable to horror fans for his appearance in Hammer's Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)) who gives an eerie performance as a priest. A few other familiar faces appear, including Alida Valli (Mrs Tanner in Suspiria (1977)) as the housemaid (although in the English audio, she has a surprisingly soft and friendly tone dubbed on).

Some very original ideas mean that L'Anticristo avoids becoming a mere Exorcist clone, but it seems as though a little more detail on some of the characters, Bishop Oderisi in particular, would have made it much more effective. These could have been added at the cost of the faith healer sequence which seems to exist only as padding and as an excuse to show off some of the very poorly made optical effects. The title itself is rather misleading and anyone expecting an Omen (1976) style story will be disappointed. Fortunately some good acting, impressive sets and a neat Ennio Morricone soundtrack keep the film moving. Partly recommended to Euro-horror fans, it is not among the genre's best works by far, but is generally enjoyable.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Mel Ferrer - had a co-leading role in War and Peace (1956) before making a number of Italian films.
Authur Kennedy - American actor, best known to horror fans for Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)
Directed by anyone interesting? Alberto de Martino - Italian director who later helmed the proper Antichrist movie Holocaust 2000 (1977) and worked in all the exploitation genres, including the Spaghetti Western with Django spara per primo (1966)
Any gore or violence ? Several bloody scenes, including some rather graphic shots of a (very real looking) decapitated toad.
Any sex or nudity? A couple of female nude shots.
Who is it for? For fans of Euro-horror

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is impressive with good colours and detail, no visible damage.
Audio English mono, sounds fine.
Subtitles None
Extras None
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Previously available in the US from Anchor Bay with a similarly strong print, as well as an 11 minute interview with the director and brief comment from Ennio Morricone regarding this film, plus a television spot of the US release. Now out-of-print.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is English language.
The film was released in the US as 'The Tempter' with ten minutes of cuts, these are all restored here.
Previously cut in the UK of the frog dissection scene - now restored.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 15 March 2009.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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