Exorcismo (1975)

a.k.a. - Exorcism (USA)

Paul Naschy stars as a priest called on to fight evil in this low budget Spanish Exorcist riff. BCI R0 DVD.

The Film

Reverend Adrian Dunning (Paul Naschy) pays a visit to the house of a family who are old friends, he has heard that the youngest daughter Leila has started acting a little strangely since she started dating a mysterious young man named Richard who enjoys taking part in some occult rituals. When both Richard, and Leila's step brother John turn up dead the police start to investigate and the family realise that Leila is beginning to act very strangely...

Originally written by actor Paul Naschy in 1970, the script remained on the shelf until the amazing world success of The Exorcist (1973), when it was updated to borrow some of the most popular elements of William Peter Blatty's story. Comparisons with the American film are easy to make, but more interesting are those elements that are changed - the most obvious being that the possessed Leila is a young woman not a child. This change allows the script a lot more flexibility with her actions, Leila tries at one point to seduce Dunning and is seen taking part in a Satanic ritual, something about which the censors would have probably been a lot more wary were it a young girl, particularly since the ritual involves plentiful nudity.

In more of a traditional horror movie mould, the film's heroic lead Reverend Dunning is portrayed as an expert on demonic possession and a man of strong faith (a la Van Helsing), rather than the conflicted faith of Blatty's Father Karras who is initially skeptical of the very notion of exorcism and possession. Dunning is also shown as an Anglican vicar, rather than a Catholic Priest, but this change is most likely a necessity to avoid the risk of incensing the powerful Catholic church in Spain at the time, although there is nothing in the script that could really cause offence and like Blatty's story, the Church is treated with respect. Similarly, the British setting of the film was to appease the Spanish censors who took exception to horror films being set in native Spain (rather bizarrely worried that it might create a bad image of the country) - hence why all of Naschy's horror films had to be set around Europe and his Wolfman had to be of Polish origins.

On its own, Exorcismo is a neat little horror film but just a little lacking. The long build-up offers some characterisation, but not enough and for Leila in particular it is noticably lacking - her family seem aghast at her behaviour and how she has changed, but we cannot see this and until she actually starts talking like a demon, her behaviour seems to be nothing worse than that of a stroppy teenager which makes he sister's suggestion that Leila must be possessed seem rather absurd. A sub-plot tries to add a Giallo theme with a mystery surrounding the killer of two characters - although it serves to fill some time, it is rather mundane and the police characters are uninspired. When the film eventually gives us some all-out possession it really takes off and the scenes are genuinely creepy, but the climactic exorcism is simply too short and the film ends on a rather baffling note.

Director Juan Bosch, in his only production with Paul Naschy, does a rather basic job but with a couple of highlights, notably a Satanic ritual half way through and the climactic possession itself. The possession of Leila looks very impressive and she has a genuinely unnatural appearance, particularly with her elaborately dilated eyes, while the exorcism boasts some good 'haunted house' effects as the spirit tries to stop the exorcism, although the sequence is too short to allow many effects (perhaps an intentional move considering this film's low budget). An effective soundtrack from otherwise unknown composer Alberto Argudo provides a solid backing and from the opening credits sets this film firmly in Spanish horror territory.

Paul Naschy had quickly established himself as an icon of horror with his slew of wolfman films in the early 1970s and quickly looked to expand his horizons to other horror genres as well as giallo and even adventure films. His appearance here is quite unusual because he is for once playing the hero and he gives a strong performance. Euro-cult regular Maria Perschy (Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)) gives a strong showing as Leila's mother, while Leila herself is played quite effectively by Grace Mills (who aside from second billing in Naschy's La Maldición de la bestia (1975) does not seem to have made any other films).

Exorcismo is an decent entry to Naschy's filmography with the climactic possession scenes being a worthy highlight, it is only a pity that the script takes so long to get there and that these scenes are so short. Fans of Naschy will certainly enjoy this chance to see him on the side of the angels and for fans of Euro-horror in general it is a good mid-card entry, unlikely to top any 'best of' lists but certainly not ranking among the worst genre films from the era.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Paul Naschy - Spanish horror star, best known for his Wolfman series including Werewolf Shadow (1972)
Directed by anyone interesting? Juan Bosch - an otherwise unknown Spanish director who worked on a few obscure Spaghetti Westerns, including Una Bala Marcada (1972) starring Peter Lee Lawrence.
Any gore or violence ? Some blood but no real gore.
Any sex or nudity? A few short female topless and nude scenes
Who is it for? Fans of Naschy should enjoy this, of interest to Euro-horror fans.

Visuals Open-matte - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour
The print was filmed in fullscreen for matting down to 1.66:1 in Europe and 1.78:1 in the US, so there is some extra head-room in this print but no cropping.
The print is very good quality with only a little grain and no visible damage. Colours and detail are strong.
Audio English and Castillian (Spanish) mono.
Both sound good, although the dubbing on the English track is not perfect.
Subtitles English - translate the Spanish audio
Extras The DVD includes:
  • Introduction from Paul Naschy - as recorded for the Spanish DVD - plays before the film starts. Spanish with English subs. (1m 30s)
  • Interview with Paul Naschy - as recorded for the Spanish DVD. Covers a variety of his films with some clips and it is very interesting to hear him discussing them, although he is a little too self-congratulatory at times (not many would call Night of the Werewolf the best werewolf movie ever made!). (28 minutes)
  • Original American trailer
  • Spanish credits sequence - the opening and end of the film with Spanish langauge titles - no audio. Same quality as the main print.
  • Clothed sequences - the nude scenes from the film as re-shot for Spanish audiences. Same quality as the main print. (3m 40s)
  • Still photo (15 images) and poster (19 images) galleries, manually scrolling.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Availability Available as a single disc release or in the Paul Naschy Collection boxset, along with Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, Human Beasts, Horror Rises From The Tomb and Vengeance Of The Zombies. All of these discs are now out-of-print and becoming hard to find.
Other regions? Also available on R2 DVD from Spain but only with the clothed version of the print and no English options.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The film was also available in a "clothed" varient for Spanish audiences with the nude scenes being filmed with the actresses fully dressed - the print here contains all of the nude scenes.
The print used is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - Friday the 13th of March 2009.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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