Having just watched Mondo Macabro's new, long-awaited release of Jess Franco's LORNA... THE EXORCIST (1974), I find myself surprised, shaken and stunned. Before my review appears in VW 162, I want to use this blog to spread the word about this release because it warrants your support, if you're brave enough to go where it will take you.
I've seen this film several times in its French version via various ragged, incomplete bootlegs, but now, having seen the film uncut for the first time and as good as it's ever going to look -- given the loss of the original negative and MM's painstaking three-print reconstruction -- I find it a very different and revelatory experience. I must caution my readers that this film contains a good deal of full frontal nudity and lesbian coupling and feels pornographic though it literally is not; it is also not traditionally "well-made" and is quite toxic in its intent. Owing to these qualities, it's not a film I could recommend to casual horror fans.
That said, LORNA is unique in Franco's sprawling filmography because here he summons, from the most shambolic ingredients (including, to be fair, some shots of immense beauty), something I find quite rare within the horror genre: a truly terrifying film.
It's a story, a Faustian fairy tale really, about male weakness and female empowerment. The film builds to a final revelation of Lina Romay's character in which she gives what is certainly her finest work onscreen -- a concise portrait of demonic possession achieved entirely through performance and without special effects. When the scene faded out, I wanted to stand and applaud right there in my living room. It is the hope that I will see at least one more horror film of this uncanny power that keeps me going.
This is powerful, taboo-shattering, primal filmmaking. But what is most compelling about LORNA is how it demonstrates that great actors, elegant cinematography, a consistent sense of style, traditionally good direction and even a completed script can be absolutely irrelevant to producing a film that can reach into the deepest emotions of a viewer and give them a good twist.
Yes, you could point to many things that seem "wrong" about the movie: it's a short story padded to feature length, the character makeup is overdone, the wide-angle lens work often draws more attention to itself than seems necessary, the camera crosses the line, inserted cutaways disrupt the precious suspense of the main scene unfolding simultaneously, the casino flashback goes on far too long and fails to ratchet up any tension, the camera lingers on some shots long after they have made their point... all of this is hard to dispute. But, when all is said and done, what I once called "the sex scream of Jess Franco" has never been more piercing than it is here.