Color, 1974, 100m.
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Pamela Stanford, Guy Delorme, Lina Romay, Jacqueline Laurent
InterVision (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
"She's causing trouble for us! Infamous, evil trouble!" Truer words were never spoken than that line of dialogue about Lorna the Exorcist, a face-painted vixen capable of sucking out men's souls and turning their offspring into hot-to-trot slaves of evil. For some reason Jess Franco had two of his French-made erotic horror films in the '70s with his longstanding muse, Lina Romay, passed off as clones of The Exorcist, though anyone expecting pea soup and head-spinning is in for quite a shock. The more famous one is Exorcism, which was widely distributed in a number of different versions, but for many horror fans, the real holy grail has always been 1974's Lorna the Exorcist (or as the title card reads, Lorna... the Exorcist), which became legendary in fan circles for a wild write-up in Phil Hardy's The Encyclopedia of the Horror Film describing such sights as a possessed woman's nether regions disgorging a horde of tiny sea crabs. Demand for the title resulted in some really awful, blurry gray market copies making the rounds, all missing substantial amounts of footage thanks to producer Robert de Nesle's decision to replace chunks of the film with hardcore inserts. The resulting non-explicit cut wound up clocking in around 81 minutes, missing almost 20 minutes of material from Franco's original. Even in truncated form, the film managed to live up to its reputation even if English-friendly versions were almost impossible to track down.
Fortunately after years and years of unavailability, Lorna the Exorcist has finally been unleashed from Mondo Macabro in a 100-minute version that easily surpasses anything fans could have hoped for. Using a variety of 35mm sources to compile the longest edition possible, it's a major event for Franco-philes and a video milestone for Eurocult cinema in general. As with Franco's early '80s time in Mexico, his French output for de Nesle (including Sinner, another Mondo Macbaro discovery) has been suppressed for so long that a major chapter of his work remains almost completely unexplored. This is the big kahuna, though, and the climactic salvo in a remarkable period that saw Franco fusing potent erotica and queasy horror over a two-year hot streak that also included the delirious Female Vampire, The Perverse Countess, and A Virgin among the Living Dead. All of these films have a certain ragged, improvisational charm that can be off-putting to newcomers but wildly effective to anyone willing to broaden their horizons a bit beyond the normal standards of '70s exploitation.
The story here is basically a kinky lesbian version of "Rumpelstiltskin" as young Linda (Romay) is haunted by erotic daydreams involving a naked, sinister blonde woman named Lorna (Franco regular Stanford, in her best role along with Franco's later Sexy Sisters). Linda's about to turn 18, and to mark the occasion, her successful businessman father Patrick (Delmore, the guy who tries to shoot Roger Moore during the hunting scene in Moonraker) has taken her and his neurotic wife, Marianne (Sinner's Laurent), to a futuristic seaside resort with some of the spaciest architecture you've ever seen. Soon Patrick gets a mysterious phone call from Lorna, who turns out to be very real and prone to wearing exaggerated blue eyeshadow. She insists Patrick meet her at a nearby casino, or his entire business will collapse. As it turns out, Lorna and Patrick had a tryst 18 years ago at the exact same location, and together they struck a deal; he gets one night of passion and a lifetime of financial success, in exchange for which he must turn over his firstborn daughter (conceived with his wife right after the adulterous dalliance) when she turns 18. Now Lorna's come to collect, and when Patrick refuses, Lorna's butler (Howard Vernon in a quick cameo) shows up to smack him over the head with a giant seashell. Meanwhile a sex-crazed asylum inmate (Celestine's Lafferière) spends most of her time naked and ranting under Lorna's influence despite the efforts of her doctor (Franco, another cameo), so we know Lorna's definitely up to no good. However, what she actually has in store for Patrick, Marianne, and sweet Linda is far more horrific than anyone could have imagined.
Much of Lorna's reputation rests on three scenes: the aforementioned bit with the crabs (which gets reprised briefly during the climax), Lorna's novel and very grotesque method of claiming Linda's virginity, and the lengthy, incredibly disturbing final shot, possibly the most chilling moment in Franco's filmography and the most intense moment of acting Romay ever accomplished (which is really saying something if you've ever watched her cut loose in Doriana Gray). The psych-rock music by André Bénichou is also a real stunner, up there with some of the director's best scores from Bruno Nicolai and Daniel J. White; in fact, the music can be credited for much of the film's macabre impact, as it even makes the protracted sex sccene that opens the film into an unsettling, dreamlike setpiece. Speaking of which, the restored footage here is surprisingly explicit at times and skates up to the edge of hardcore, with both Romay and Stanford offering poses that wouldn't be out of place in Hustler. This is risky stuff indeed, and no other director could have possibly pulled it off so well.
To say that Mondo Macabro's DVD is the first good presentation of this film won't mean much considering how miserable it's looked in the past, but really, it's miraculous what they've pulled off here. Yes, a few specks pop up here and there, but the 35mm source used for most of the running time is very good. Some of the salvaged shots have some stray green emulsion scratches here and there and look a bit more contrasty, but it's nothing to get too worried about. Somehow they've also included a complete English track for the film (or as the packaging calls it, the "Rnglish track"); it was released in a severely edited version as Luscious Linda, but this version was never issued on home video. A complete French track is included as well with optional English subtitles; either one works as both are dubbed and contain the same music tracks (a rarity for a Franco film), though the English track is especially peculiar since the female dubbing the "underage" Romay sounds like she's well past 40. The French track sounds a little crisper with better fidelity, but overall you'll win either way. Two of the video extras from Mondo Macabro's Sinner are carried over here, a critical appraisal of Franco's cinema by writer Stephen Thrower and an interview with the film's editor, Gérard Kikoïne; Thrower also appears for an additional interview specifically about Lorna the Exorcist in which he pointedly compares Romay's performance, quite accurately, to those in the films of Andrzej Zulawski, points out Franco's unqualified status as a cinematic "pussyhound," and tries to uncover the reasons for the film's "unhealthy" ambience. Text notes about the film as well as its cast and crew are also included, though the deleted and extended scenes indicated on the sleeve are nowhere to be found (unless they're hidden somewhere). All in all, a truly killer release and one of the strongest presentations of a Franco title out there on DVD.