I don’t know what it is about me and the films of Jess Franco. A bit like a woman you know is bad for you but whom you can’t resist, they draw me back time and time again, even though while I’m watching I have a sort of guilty feeling that I should be spending my time doing something far more worthwhile. EXORCISM is a 1975 effort of his that was also know as DEMONIAC in its more horror-orientated ‘unerotic’ form (although I’m not sure you can call the more complete version I have just seen erotic), and came out in Europe under the wonderfully sleazy title THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME. In fact, like many of Franco’s films, it’s quite possibly had more titles than people who have actually seen it, or at least people who stayed until the end.
A character knocks on a door wearing one kind of coat and then enters the room dressed entirely differently. A girl gets out of bed in closeup only for the long shot to show her getting out of bed again. The camera wobbles, goes out of focus, into focus and then out again. That is, of course, if it’s being touched by a living person at all and not just left in a corner to seemingly randomly record whatever might pass for acting in whichever hotel room has been rented for the purpose. Scenes either begin or finish on close-ups of ladies’ pubes, and when they don’t there’s a fair bit of crash-zooming in on them in the middle.
To his critics (of which there are many, including me on the days when I’ve got a bit exasperated with his work) the above is probably a reasonable summary of Franco’s oeuvre, never mind this film in particular. What’s a shame here is that the plot of the film is actually quite interesting, and in the hands of someone capable of taking a bit of time and care could have been a superbly subversive commentary on censorship and freedom of expression.
Franco himself plays Paul Vogel, a demented defrocked priest who writes saucy stories for ‘Venus’ publications. He overhears a conversation between Lina Romay (of course) and her editor about attending a black mass. Actually it’s a saucy show Lina and her lady friends put on for debauched millionaires, and we’ve already seen one over the opening titles (which, by the way, give up and go away before a directorial credit ever appears). Vogel spies on the show, goes even more mental than he was before, and starts to kill everyone involved, believing he’s doing the Lord’s work because he can absolve his victims of their sins as they die, thus ensuring their passage into heaven.
I may be damning Franco with faint praise here, but his ability to make attractive naked ladies not at all erotic in scene after scene of soft core gropiness must require some kind of special ability. What it also does is keep your mind on the plot (and the technical gaffs and mistakes of which there are a few), make you feel just as disturbing a voyeur as some of the audience members in the movie, and also remind you that no matter how bad Franco gets, for some reason he always has the most amazing eye for locations - some of the buildings he picks out for this film are fabulous examples of architectural flamboyance.
I spend too much time watching Jess Franco films. I probably spend too much time writing about them, too, and this won’t be the last time. But those are my sins and I feel I shall have to live with them. Just as long as some demented priest doesn’t come along to show me the error of my ways.