(1974, Italy, a.k.a. L'anticristo, The Tempter)
A delirious Italian riff on both The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby!
After a road accident, a young woman resents her wheelchair and rejects God, allowing herself to be possessed by a witch from a past life and attracting the sexual attentions of the Devil himself...
Now that I've seen an uncut version of The Antichrist, it not only makes (much more) sense, but is now hugely enjoyable. When originally shown in UK cinemas, it had many of the shock moments (and swearing) cut out of it, that left me thinking it was badly made because it made so little sense, and seemed badly edited. The loose English dubbing of the Italian cast drew laughs from the audience, especially during any swearing. Of course, it would have taken time and money to send the censored version back to Italy so that they could tidy it up, so what we saw was a patchwork of what we were allowed to.
Despite this being my second ever 'X' film experience, I've hardly revisited it, remembering only its lack of impact. I saw it, The Omen and Exorcist II before seeing The Exorcist on its five-year reissue. The Antichrist was also overshadowed by the supporting feature, a reissue of The Legend of Hell House. I saw this double-bill in a South London cinema in July 1976, two years after The Antichrist debuted in Italy, making me think that it might even have been a re-run. More likely, I did see it on its first run, but it had been delayed by censorship problems.
To their credit, the filmmakers had done their best to deliver shocks similar to The Exorcist, assuming that they would be also allowed to show anything that William Friedkin had already. I remember the vomit, but not much swearing. The scene with the Devil I remember very little of, and that was certainly the most likely to be censored down - with sex acts, extensive nudity and, um, a goat... Only on this recent rewatch, on the UK DVD, did the story finally make sense to me.
Besides borrowing shock moments, the filmmakers had to avoid being sued, evoking visual elements and story ideas from The Exorcist while giving them a lawsuit-avoiding twist. This has been creatively done, and adds to the enjoyment. Rather than Washington D.C., The Antichrist is set in Rome - a much more picturesque capital. They include a spinning head, white eyes, lots of moving funiture, and even a stair fall...
Rather than have the story dominated by a priest tackling a possession, the story delays any religious intervention by having a psychiatrist try to cure her. This still favours a supernatural angle because the regression therapy leads her to a series of spectacular witch flashbacks!
A story of a woman rather than a young girl being possessed, means that the story can go much further with the bad behaviour of the character - an astonishing and convincingly devilish performance by Carla Gravina - who can be shown as far more sexual and foul-mouthed.
At the same time, it seems influenced by The Devils, in that the witchy flashbacks take place in a past where medieval modernism looks smarter than the stuffy 'townhouse' where they live. Full of grand rooms, dripping in historical art to the point of excess, their dining room has a ridiculous number of gigantic paintings on the wall, too grand even for a museum.
The visual approach points towards Suspiria. Besides the story of a modern witch, the big house has baroque, overly-grandiose rooms inside a steep-sided stone house. Some of the walls are painted in block red. The presence of Alida Valli, here in a sympathetic role, also hints at a connection.
The cross-cutting, seventies styles and dated special effects will amuse as much as they convince. Sometimes it all evokes surreal dreams, other times just presents awful effects. The fake toad and snake anticipate similarly unsuccessful moments in Lucio Fulci horrors. The variable optical compositing often fails to convince, but a bold use of back (front?) projection is still effective, especially when all the colours are distorted.
Entertaining in many ways, The Antichrist includes some great moments of W.T.F.! My favourite being the volleys of low-flying vinyl during the exorcism.
I've recently seen this called 'low-budget', but that's not my impression. The location work in and around Rome, and the huge complex sets are lush by comparison with many other Italian horrors. The director was regularly entrusted with films that were aimed at international success, like his Bond spoof OK Connery, starring Sean's brother Neil! More notably, Alberto De Martino soon delivered a riff on The Omen. Holocaust 2000 had lavish location work and a solid cast headed by Kirk Douglas.
Apart from the star, most of the cast speak English. Familar faces include Arthur Kennedy in a dog collar (good practice for his role in The Sentinel), George Coulouris (The Skull, Tower of Evil, Citizen Kane) as a mysterious monk and Mel Ferrer (The Hands of Orlac, 1960) as Ippolita's guilty Dad.
The Optimum region 2 UK DVD from 2009 (above) has no extras, but the print is in great shape, with rich colours and an anamorphic widescreen 16:9 aspect. It appears to be the longest, original version (in the USA, not only was it delayed until 1978, it was cut down by nearly 15 minutes and renamed The Tempter.
The main difference is that most of the prologue has gone, where Ippolita queues up amongst assorted freakouts hoping for a miracle cure, and witnesses an exorcism going wrong).
The long version was also released by Anchor Bay in 2002 (above). It also includes some short interviews as extras.
I'm really glad to have seen this uncensored, full-length presentation of The Antichrist, it's raised my respect for a film I'd dismissed several times before.