FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Nov 17, 2008

Film Club: The Antichrist

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.

Wait, what?

Film Club Coolies, y'all!

Acheter et entretenir ca tronconneuse (now with BILINGUAL action!)


Friend Mouse said...

"Goatilingus" - heh.

Unknown said...

Good to read some more thoughts on this, a movie I like in this weirdo sub genre.

There is more money spent on it than I would've guessed going in and right from the opening in the shrine there's a surprising attention to detail, which I agree digresses once we get to the exorcism. I love that other worldly dream moment with the satanic ceremony and the bedroom turning into that soundstage hell all around her. And the goat licking thing is surprising, to say the least (!).

Having just watched BEYOND THE DOOR again, I've been thinking about the EXORCIST playbook and how scary these rip-offs manage to be, even when they are obviously, uh, rip-offs. I think it has to do with how strong our fears of aging and mental illness are and how the familiar EXORCIST tropes of people we love slipping into madness and transforming, becoming dangerous to themselves and others, are all common anxieties. THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY, which I also recently saw, almost feels like an extended first act of THE EXORCIST, about having a close relative becoming "someone else" and you can't control it. It's really scary and connects to a lot of things in our lives like dealing with death or heartbreak, and I feel gets to the heart of what these films tap into (versus the makeup and special FX). Even a movie that I otherwise thought was inexcusably bad, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, had those scenes in the beginning of our girl being visited by demons that completely freaked me out. And like THE ANTICHRIST, it's that combo of ridiculous and completely effective that I love about these films.

StinkyLulu said...

I too was disturbed by how undisturbed I was by this film...

Anonymous said...

Wait, where's my wackadoo-Catholic-shrine footnote?!

Actually, that rite isn't all that off from medieval witchlore. Now, while I don't recall ever seeing "caprilingus" in any of the Latin texts, it was a commonplace that to be initiated into a coven (i.e., as a follower of Satan), that you had to, I'm not kidding, kiss Satan's ass. And Satan being a goatish guy, I guess that's a reasonable, if insanely icky, take on it. (And, yeah, you also got to get your freak on with him too.)

Your devil-satisfied woman picture may be the best thing evar. I hope we see her frequently. She will make me laugh every time...

(My verification word is Mochilus, which sounds like a demon's name...)

Natazzz said...


That is one sick movie.

What does it say about me that I now really want to see it?

Jason Soto said...

I was totally gonna do this but stupid netflix had it on the "very long wait" list, well, forever. Oh well, maybe next month.

Anonymous said...

I was also stymied by the "very long wait" by Netflix this Film Club.... Oh well, next time...and next time there better be some sort of lingus involved, Stacie!

Uh, in the next Film Club pick...that's where there should be the the movie...uh...

Richard of DM said...

I freakin' love The Antichrist. In fact, I swoon at most Italian Exorcist rip-offs and this one is truly special. It's totally ridiculous and offensive but surprisingly straight-faced and well made. "Goatilingus" indeed.

Anonymous said...

What I like about the Italian rip-offs is that they are sleazier than their inspiration. But not this one. It really needed to take the EXORCIST formula and just prison rape the shit out of it. It needed more blasphemy, truckloads of sodomy, monkeys, transsexual nuns, cross dressing priest flinging feces, a demonic golden shower with pigs and a blind guy getting killed by his own dog.

Anonymous said...

So nice, and weird, to see this film being discussed abroad - Down Here (i.e. Italy) it does have a minor cult reputation of its own, and Carla Gravina's presence is effective (she was a well-known actor in her day) but the film itself is regarded as a phenomenally effective bad luck charm.

(Seriously, people won't even *touch* the VHS. And every genre buff is more than willing to share a story about their best friend's girlfriend's neighbor's kid brother who watched it and then watched his life fall apart. We're so bloody progressive.)

Phil Neglected said...

Awesome flick! Right up there with 'Abby' and 'Beyond the Door'. Let's not to mention the great overactor Arthur Kennedy ('Living Dead at Manchester Morgue' and other great Italian sleaze epics); his histrionics save the last third of the movie.