Saturday, December 29, 2012

L'ossessa (1974)

L'ossessa (1974), or its bizarre English-language title, The Eerie Midnight Horror Show, is part of a genre of Italian cult cinema of which I am very fond:  post-Exorcist possession flicks.  Some of these films are reverent towards the source material, like L'anticristo (1974), while some are more sensational and sleazy, like Malabimba (1979).  L'ossessa definitely falls in the middle of this spectrum.  It’s totally uneven in entertainment value, suffering from primarily poor characterization despite its casting of actors of note, but it does have some marvelous set pieces and sequences.
Stella Carnacina plays Dani, a talented art student with an eye for uncovering forgotten works of art.  At an old church, she convinces her professor to purchase a life-size crucifix as a restoration project.  The crucifix is notable, for the body appears to be carved out of a single piece of wood; and the artist was successfully able to render the agony and emotion of its model.  Once the restoration project is begun, Dani returns home to attend a party hosted by her parents, portrayed by Chris Avram and Lucretia Love.  Avram’s character is staid and conservative, but Ms. Love is quite the swinging chick:  she takes to handsome paramour, played by Gabriele Tinti.  The two skip out of the party to fuck in the back bedroom where Ms. Love reveals that her kink is to be whipped with a handful of thorny roses.  Dani witnesses her mother and lover through a window and either despondent, disappointed, or shocked, she returns to the school to work on her painting.  While sitting at her easel, the crucifix resting behind Dani begins to animate.  The model comes to life revealing himself as Ivan Rassimov who, without hesitation, rips off Dani’s clothes and takes her upon the floor of the studio.  Enter the Devil.
Following Dani’s connubial scene with the Devil, and seemingly against the wishes of the director, Mario Gariazzo, L'ossessa quickly moves into the “possessed girl” sequence: Avram and Love witness spastic behavior from their daughter; Dani makes an inappropriate sexual gesture towards Avram; Love and Avram call the family doctor; Dani’s condition worsens to prompt the family doctor to consult specialists; and the specialists, in their infinite wisdom and knowledge, suggest an exorcism.  Gariazzo delivers this sequence almost as mechanically as my prose.  Gariazzo doesn’t want to keep his Dani character boringly bound to a bed (a la Linda Blair) to await the arrival of the exorcist in the final act.  In a ridiculous, yet almost sublime, dream sequence, Dani sees herself in a underground cavern (a fine cinematic substitute for Hell) where Rassimov’s Devil is accompanied by three witches.  The plan, here, is for Dani to be the puppet of the Devil to commit blasphemous and nefarious acts in his name.  Rock on, then.
Dani commits some minor Satanic acts before the local priest arrives to examine her.  (Indeed, as I write this review, pop-up advertisements play in the background of my PC that are far more Satanic than Dani’s acts.)  It is not long, then, in L'ossessa that Dani is whirled away by her parents to a mountain-top convent where in a remote section lives a reclusive yet famous exorcist, played by genre stalwart Luigi Pistilli.  The exorcist knows why he has been summoned and is sort-of ready to do battle with evil.
L'ossessa cannot be taken seriously as a drama, as the little details reveal.  For example, when the family doctor comes to examine Dani, he never once questions or speaks to her.  I cannot fathom why an experienced doctor would not talk to his adult patient about her symptoms.  In fact, when the specialists convene at Dani’s bedside to finally to decide upon her exorcism, none of the four specialists even notice that Dani is completely at rest behind them.  To top it off, Pistilli’s exorcist is quite capable of waving a cross in front of Dani when she is writhing in the violent throes of the Devil, but when Dani switches to a seductive pose to entice the priest, Pistilli’s character runs from her bedside, like a frightened adolescent.  Why does a cinematic exorcist have to be trained for solely overt, theatrical spiritual matters and not spiritual matters common to all?  The answer, perhaps, is that Gariazzo didn’t want to make a straight, Exorcist rip-off, but his hand was forced into completing one.  The best sequences are when Gariazzo and company completely divert from the source material.  For example, in one of L'ossessa’s best scenes, possessed Dani lays in a convent bed and the church bells begin to ring in a deafening manner.  The sounds are too much for her, and Dani bolts from her bed while her agonizing screams emit, competing with the sounds of the bells.  She runs through the convent and through the mountain-side village, whereupon Avram and some kind souls give chase to her.  Carnacina gives an emotional performance during this sequence, conveying true agony through her flight.  This one sequence is more frightening than any of the previous ones combined.

Despite its adept casting, L'ossessa fails to draw memorable performances from its actors.  For example, the extremely-talented and handsome Tinti is sorely underused as Love’s lover.  He performs the one fuck scene with her and appears later in one scene where Love rebuffs him (as she apparently feels guilty for her behavior after Dani becomes ill).   Rassimov is quite good and he has the fun role as the Devil:  he’s given the opportunity to let go and be indulgent and grasps the opportunity mightily.  Carnacina and Love appear to be cast for their seductive charm (and it works, as both are incredibly sexy).  However, Carnacina really transcends her cosmetic casting and devotes real emotion to her character, despite the weak screenplay.  Pistilli would have been a perfect cinematic exorcist in another movie.  He’s a wonderful actor with an emotive face, like Tinti, and with richer characterization, his performance would have been better.

L'ossessa is truly an average movie in the sub-genre of post-Exorcist films which places it fairly high on the obscurity scale.  However, I know that there are fans like me who will be attracted to it.  If one can appreciate its imaginative and sensational moments, then it’s worth seeing.  Otherwise, give this one a miss.


Alex B. said...

Love Chris Avram

Anonymous said...

I just came across this blog, it's great !
As I was going through and seeing what you posted I saw this one and the last image of the girl on the bed rang familiar. Only after reading the post I believe it's a film i've been trying to find from some sketchy memories of a man whipping a woman on a bed with roses from over 30yrs ago.

I believe this is it and now I must see this film.