Ippolita (Carla Gravina) is a wheelchair-bound young woman whose paralysis is really the least of her problems after her copious daddy issues and sexual repression leave her with a nasty case of Satanitis.
Alberto De Martino's The Antichrist (1974; hacked up & released here as The Tempter in 1978) is undoubtedly inspired by William Friedkin's The Exorcist, which appeared in theatres just a year before. While the films' respective climaxes are similar, De Martino's effort delves much further into the sexual aspects and blasphemous nature of demonic possession than its predecessor.
After a visit to a wackadoo Catholic shrine fails to restore her ability to walk, Ippolita begins regressive hypnosis therapy with a psychiatrist. Through flashbacks, we learn that Ippolita's father (Mel Ferrer) drove the family car off the road, killing his wife and crippling his daughter when she was twelve.
Her spinal injury has since healed, however, which leads the shrink to conclude that 1) Ippi's trauma is mental, and 2) it must be some jerk of an ancestor who is...err, keeping Ippi in the wheelchair or something. Makes sense, right? I've decided to start blaming all of my bad luck and illnesses on my jerk ancestors. Obviously its their fault I've got commitment issues.
Anyway, it turns out that the jerk ancestor (also named Ippolita) pledged herself to Satan the night before she was due to enter the convent. As a result of this extreme lapse in judgment, she was burned at the stake as a witch.
Meanwhile, in modern day Rome...
Whilst in the grip of a jealous fit over her father's new girlfriend, Ippolita takes to her bed for a pout. She begins to remember the fateful night of the ritual hundreds of years before, and before you know it, our Ippi is naked and taking part in the ritual herself, even if only in her mind. For those of you who are curious, it seems that there are four steps you must take in order to pledge yourself to Satan:
1) lick some random blood, perhaps that of a toad
2) eat a toad's head
3) give a goat a rimjob
4) make sexy times with a dude in a goat mask
The entire sequence is disturbing and undeniably profane, despite the fact that De Martino keeps the action off screen. For example, there's a shot of the goat's anus as it's presented to Ye Olde Ippolita, then we cut to Ye Moderne Ippolita grotesquely licking air for a minute or so. The audience connects the dots, and the audience wants to barf.
Ippolita claims that no man as ever shown any interest in her; of course, now the Lord of Darkness has shown interest in her and she's more than satisfied, finally getting what she's been missing all these years. By "what she's been missing", of course, I mean sex.
Her ambulatory powers restored, Ippi heads out in search of more forbidden booty. In one of the film's best scenes, she wordlessly seduces a German teenager who's on a field trip; she breaks his neck after she gets what she wants. She then seduces her useless brother Filippo for a little good old fashioned afternoon incest.
If all this wasn't bad enough, Ippolita starts to act like a real jerk. She says horrible things to her father's girlfriend at dinner, she foams at the mouth, she stops washing her hair, and she makes furniture fly around the room. Her psychiatrist finally cries uncle, literally- Ippi's uncle is a priest, who pays a visit and determines she needs an exorcist.
Thanks to a ceremony we pretty much saw in The Exorcist, the demon is eventually cast of of Ippolita and the Antichrist bun in her oven disappears.
It's too bad that the exorcism itself was so familiar; ultimately, it's this third act that's the least interesting thing about The Antichrist. The blasphemy and profane sexuality witnessed early on really set this film apart from any other "possession" flick I've seen.
Though De Martino took great care in choosing his shots and creating color schemes, the film's dated matte effects are, unfortunately, pretty laughable. This shortcoming, however, is more than made up for by a riveting performance by Carla Gravina. She's run through the wringer in what must have been an exhausting shoot, and while Ippolita is anything but likable (even aside from, you know, that whole demon thing), Gravina lends the character enough sympathy that we're rooting for her anyway. I only wish that The Antichrist had been subtitled rather than dubbed.
Mel Ferrer, on the other hand, barely phoned in his performance.
The entire affair brings up the problem I have with most possession-based films: the powers granted to the possessee are inconsistent at best. Ippolita can crack the roof of the house and throw furniture around and the like, but she can't untie the ropes holding her to the wheelchair? What's the point of being possessed if you just hang out in your bedroom all the time? It sure seems like an inefficient way for Satan to get shit done.
Ah well. Overall, I really enjoyed The Antichrist despite the fact that I wasn't nearly as disturbed by it as I'd anticipated. Actually, not being wicked disturbed by a film that features goatilingus is almost more disturbing than the goatilingus itself.
Film Club Coolies, y'all!
Acheter et entretenir ca tronconneuse (now with BILINGUAL action!)