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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (1974) review



Stella Carnacina (Danila), Chris Avram (Mario), Lucretia Love (Luisa), Ivan Rassimov (The Devil), Gabriele Tinti (Luisa's lover), Luigi Pistilli (Father Zeno)

Directed by Mario Gariazzo

The Short Version: Satan is a horny little devil in this epically trashy, psycho-sexual, satanic mess from Italy. Gariazzo wants to take his poke-n-puke fest seriously, but the power of perversion compels him to sell his cinematic soul to the devil for divine repugnance every few minutes. Even so, it's occasionally sprinkled with artistic flourishes, and a few surprisingly well-crafted scenes of tension. As far as EXORCIST clones go, this EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW regurgitates all of Friedkin's highlights in a greatest hits package like only the Italians could do back in the 1970s.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

Danila, a highly regarded, if very young art student becomes entranced with a mysterious, intricately detailed statue of a crucified criminal in a deconsecrated church awaiting demolition. Displayed opposite another crucified, if more Christ-like figure, Danila brings the ancient carving back to her studio. One night while working on a painting, Danila is violated by a malevolent presence that has laid dormant within the Olive Tree carved effigy for hundreds of years. Now possessed by the Devil himself, Danila becomes progressively worse. After science fails to cure the girl, her parents take her to a monastery out in the country in the hopes a well known exorcist can release their daughter from Satan's grasp.

Director Gariazzo's cheap, if wildly entertaining Devil movie crams a handful of famous genre faces in a chain-link of unsavory scenes with thought-provoking themes dangling from it. Gariazzo reportedly claimed he wrote his story some time before Friedkin made THE EXORCIST (1973), but the vast similarities (a title card even states 'This film is based on a true story'!), and heavy amount of cloned imagery is inescapable. Moreover, a scourge of Euro-copies xeroxed from one Italian production facility to another popped up throughout the decade like the recurring stigmata on Danila's (Carnacina) hands and feet. During this gloriously unrestrained time period, any film of US parentage with box office viability was open season to foreign filmmakers wishing to hitch a ride aboard that particular bandwagon. 

As far as THE EXORCIST al dente, the Devil made them do it with the likes of THE ANTICHRIST (1974), BEYOND THE DOOR (1974), and THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM (1975) -- films that tempted many a filmgoer during the 1970s when Italians couldn't compete with slick Hollywood product, so the next best thing was to rip them off, and do so in the most spectacularly offensive ways imaginable. Gariazzo tries to be serious at times, but succumbs to his fascination for feculence before thrusting a bit of expressive visuals in our faces; and then proceeding to lose control of himself all over again.

As this Eerie Midnight Horror Show proves, irony dwells within the framework of Italian exploitation cinema. There's occasionally the best of intentions (so the directors will tell us), but often said good intentions become mired in the violent miasma they portend to decry. L'OSSESSA is another such occasion; only Gariazzo isn't Deodato, and this isn't CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980). For every instance of naked flesh, blasphemy, and burning crosses, there's an insightful sequence about science vs. religion, the nature of man, good vs. evil, and the depiction of sex as a drug that leads to further corruption of the body. Gariazzo's little movie makes some provocative points, but then casts them aside for shock and prurience. Fans of this sort of thing don't come for the subtext, or underlying themes, they come for the lack of decency and expedience of deviancy; and Gariazzo delivers as much as his no doubt meager budget will allow.

"I need something that goes beyond the foolish bounds that you've set out."

The classic dichotomy and the related factors of good and evil, and pain and pleasure is a common thread in between sex and sleaze sessions. When it's not ripping off Friedkin's devil movie classic, the script attempts to exorcise its subtext in correlations of sexual and religious disciplines by way of flagellation. Flagellation is shown as a means to satisfy ones sexual proclivities; while at the same time, its purpose is used to wipe ones sins away. Luisa loves having rose petals gently caressing her body just prior to being savagely beaten with the thorns by her sex-hungry man-slave (played by prolific actor Gabriele Tinti). Meanwhile, Father Zeno nearly succumbs to the succulence of Danila's Satan-possessed flesh, later thrashing himself mightily with his own cleansing accessory.

"I think it's wise to have doubts when a scientist trespasses into the priesthood. I wouldn't dream of telling a physicist how to split an atom. Unfortunately, people doubt everything to do with religion today; laugh at it, even."

The pleasures of the flesh and its apparent ruination of society is probably the major selling point behind this movie -- on both an exploitation and a subtextual level. The script from Gariazzo and Ambrogio Molteni depicts religion in a balanced fashion, detailing its fallacies while using it as the tool to ones redemption. We hear about alleged orgies carried out in secret within sacred walls, and transformation from pagan to Christian iconography, and the redemption of some of the characters in the movie. The treatment of religion and its relationship with man and his inner demons is represented with the two statues seen at the beginning. One might surmise that -- once the evil effigy is removed from the company of the righteous sculpture (which Danila specifies its creator seemed less interested in its detail), only then is the evil let loose. Likewise, it's interesting to hear dialog from the 1970s regarding society's view of religion and its relationship with science, and how much it resembles sentiments of today (refer to the quotation above)

The relationship between Mario and Luisa is obviously one that has lost its luster, if it were ever all that shiny to begin with. Mario is aware of his wife's trysts, but in one scene, he blames Luisa's sadomasochistic tendencies on his daughter's sudden debauched lifestyle. Later in the film, Luisa, after watching her daughter slowly lose her soul, decides to get away from her rapaciously lustful lover -- much to his chagrin. Both she and Mario seemingly re-establish their relationship; but again, this sort of exposition is glossed over in favor of lots of screaming and head-banging from Danila before her transformation to a red-eyed, chapped-lipped, chain-swinging, puke-slinging demon.

Italian singer Stella Carnacina gets many chances to work her vocal chords in the scream fest that is L'OSSESSA. Just shy of 20 when she did this picture, Carnacina channels a variety of emotions, spending most of the film being sexed up by Satan, nailed to a cross (by Satan!), seducing any number of male characters (including her father!), and momentarily putting the breaks on her demonic fits of vocal protestations by ripping out, and eating her hair. She also throws herself into a bit of energetic chunk-tossing business during the climax that ranks with the best of puking scenes.

Euro exploitation stalwart Ivan Rassimov plays the Devil. He pops in and out of the movie, and doesn't have a whole lot to say till the last 10 minutes. Prior to that he cackles a lot when he isn't penetrating Danila's body and soul. Rassimov is perfectly cast, too. Bearing a face suited for such roles, if ever there was an actor who would need little makeup for the classical depiction of Lucifer, it's Rassimov.

Luigi Pistilli appears during the last 25 minutes as the Obi Wan Kenobi-ish Father Zeno; apparently taking this role to pay penance for all the nasty villains he's played over the years. Pistilli is unusually solemn in this role and plays his priest like a man who has seen many terrible things, wearing his experiences like they were tattoos. His role feels like an afterthought, as he's never even mentioned till moments before we see him.

Both Lucretia Love and Gabriele Tinti defend their trash film titles with the greatest of aplomb. Spanning all manner of Euro-trash, the two appear together in one of the films highlights, the rose thorn whipping sex scene. Of the two, Tinti is particularly prolific, lending his swagger to dozens of Europe's top tier of its bottom of the barrel exploitation. TV show fanatics will recall his guest star turn on a season eight episode of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW of all things. But don't get your hopes up, there was no Emmanuelle in Mayberry for Tinti's participation.

He's not credited, but Carlo Rambaldi built the ornate, Satan-housed statue that takes the form of Ivan Rassimov. He also cooked up some demonic special effects on Alberto De Martino's own EXORCIST clone, THE ANTICHRIST (1974), released here as THE TEMPTER. Rambaldi got his start building the dragon in the Italian peplum fantasy, SIEGFRIED (1956), and monsters in films like VENGEANCE OF HERCULES (1960), and PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1962). He dabbled in every genre, and found his greatest fame on films like KING KONG (1976), E.T. (1982), CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984), and DUNE (1984).

It might be little more than a quick cash-in, but THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW complements its fleeting societal issues with some professional polish on a few occasions. The Devil's first appearance, and his subsequent sexual domination of Danila as the cross he was strapped to burns in the background; and a well directed sequence where Danila is stalked to her upstairs apartment by her Hell-dwelling consort -- invisible, but audible via echoing footsteps and heavy breathing. This scene recalls a similarly effective one in the recent devil doll flick ANNABELLE (2014).

If you're in the market for cheap thrills, you'll get quite a bargain with Mario Gariazzo's tale of demonic possession. It has some things to say, but puts its topical discussions behind loftier ambitions of the salacious sort. Definitely eerie, those who specialize in Italian horror movies should enjoy this horror show.

This review is representative of the Code Red Blu-ray. Specs and extras: Katarina Mode; 85 minutes; 1080p; anamorphic widescreen; 1.78:1. Limited to 1,000 copies.


Dick Vincent said...

Hi Brian,
Great review. I finally scored one these from Bill the other day after several weeks of "there and it's gone" at his website. I have had a couple of really crappy PD releases and am looking forward to checking out the blu-ray. I hope he gets around to THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT at some point.
I picked up his newer 6 pack a few weeks ago as it had a version of PSYCHO FROM TEXAS from 35mm. I've always liked that weird little film and want to do a post on it soon.

venoms5 said...

I just recently ordered the Italian DVD of DEVILS WEDDING NIGHT. It looked fantastic from the screen shots I saw of it.

I also picked up that six pack strictly for PSYCHO FROM TEXAS! Geez, what an awful movie, but it's so damn hilarious. I wanted it solely for that foot chase alone, lol. "IIIIIII got yo' ass!" Lol.

I'm curious to read your take on it as I was planning to post one at some point after it arrives.

Dick Vincent said...

That Italian DVD IS beautiful. I ordered one when it first came out. Bill posted awhile back (in one of his cryptic messages)that he had a really nice 35mm print that he was going to be putting out (who knows when though....)
I love hat foot chase in PSYCHO FROM TEXAS (especially with them being about 10 ft. apart for the entire time !). It's a really screwy movie, but something about just works for me.

venoms5 said...

I've had the Elvira DVD of TDWN since that one came out. I was never a huge fan of the film, but do like it. I remember seeing it on Movie Macabre back in the day.

PSYCHO FROM TEXAS came in the mail today (along with a few others) so I will spin it shortly.

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