Release Date(s)1974 (October 24, 2023)
Studio(s)Comptoir Français du Film Production (Kino Cult – Spine #1)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
Since its release in France in 1974, Les possédées du diable has not only been known by many titles the world over (Lorna the Exorcist [with and without the ellipses], Sexorcisme, Linda, Possessed of the Devil, Demoniac, Exorcism, Sexy Diabolic Story, and Luscious Linda), it’s also been endlessly re-cut for every market that it came to. One of Jesús Franco’s (under the pseudonym Clifford Brown) most appreciated and reviled works, quite often simultaneously in the same breath, Lorna the Exorcist (as it’s most commonly known) has continued to thrive as a piece of unyielding erotic horror that is, by no means, a mere ripoff of The Exorcist. Indeed, it has very little in common with that film or the original story it was based upon. In fact, folks should have a gander at films like Beyond the Door and Abby after viewing Lorna the Exorcist and decide for themselves just whom was really the guilty parties when it came to cashing in on the demonic exploitation hysteria that The Exorcist left in its wake.
On the other hand, let’s not be precious here. Make no bones about the fact that Lorna the Exorcist is a clear slice of exploitative sensuality, complete with heaping helpings of female nudity and blatant sapphic content, simulated or otherwise. However, unlike much of the pornographic content produced during this era that used “stories” and “characters” as a means to an end, Lorna the Exorcist is just as concerned with visuals and thematics, even if the narrative details don’t always succeed. There’s a clear distinction here. Franco is interested in telling the story of a young woman coming into adulthood at the behest of her “mother,” but like the majority of his work during this era, it’s the kind of cinema that’s purely his own. Most will look at it and judge it as nothing more than an excuse to gawk at the female anatomy, and they’re not entirely wrong either, but there’s also someone behind the camera who’s attempting to take you on an unconventional journey of sorts, which makes the film all the more compelling... that is, if you’re not averse to that kind of content. In short, Lorna the Exorcist is a genuine piece of erotic storytelling with horror trappings. ’Nuff said.
A quick recap of the story: Guy (Patrick McNeil) comes home from a business trip to his wife Marianne (Jacqueline Laurent) and his daughter Linda (Lina Romay), the latter of whom is about to turn eighteen. Guy begins receiving phone calls from the mysterious Lorna (Pamela Stanford), demanding that he hand over his daughter to her. Meanwhile, Linda has been having vivid sexual fantasies. Ignoring Lorna’s demands, he takes his family on vacation, where Lorna is waiting, further insisting that he give Linda to her. It’s revealed that many years prior, Guy had an affair with Lorna, who claimed to be a witch, and promised Guy vast wealth if he gave her his yet unborn daughter when she reached the age of eighteen. Guy again refuses, which puts him and his wife in danger, but not before Lorna approaches Linda herself, revealing that she’s her true mother and to give in to her power.
Lorna the Exorcist was shot by director of photography Étienne Rosenfeld on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Kino brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time in the US with what is assumed to be the previous master that’s been available elsewhere in the world. In fact, it’s likely the same master used for the French Blu-ray release from 2018. It’s a presentation that you have to approach with a certain amount of forgiveness. Since the film was endlessly re-cut for various markets at various points in time, assembling Franco’s original version must have been quite the undertaking indeed. That said, the final presentation has an abundance of obvious visual flaws, including missing and cracked frames, speckling, tears, edge wear, and uneven color temperatures. It also appears to have been culled from various sources, most of it seemingly from the original camera negative, with interpositive and print elements interspersed throughout. As this would likely have been an expensive restoration for a smaller tiered title, let’s be thankful that it’s viewable at all, and quite viewable it is. Scenes may appear a little too bright at times, but the majority of the film is mostly even-keeled in terms of quality. Armed with a very high bitrate that sits between 30 and 40mbps, and even sailing over that, it offers a richer, crisper, more film-like experience than the previous DVD release.
Audio is included in French or English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both have similar qualities when it comes to the repetitive guitar-driven score, though the English track pushes it volume-wise just a tad bit more in certain areas. Performances are far better on the French track, and while it features hiss that’s not overly intrusive, the English track is definitely cleaner with dubbing that’s much less integrated with the other elements. In other words, the original French soundtrack is superior, and should be the initial experience for newcomers.
Lorna the Exorcist is title #1 on Kino Lorber’s new label, Kino Cult. The Blu-ray disc sits in a blue amaray case with artwork and a slipcover that uses the same artwork from the Mondo Macabro DVD release (depicting a moment that doesn’t take place at all in the final film). The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Tim Lucas
- Meet Pamela Stanford (HD – 22:23)
- Kiko and the Count: A Conversation with Gérard Kikoine about Robert De Nesle & Jess Franco (HD – 25:53)
- Fear and Desire: Stephen Thrower on the Cinematic Currents of Jess Franco (Upscaled SD – 30:03)
New to this release is author and film critic extraordinaire Tim Lucas delivering another excellent audio commentary, expounding dutifully on the careers of Jesús Franco, Lina Romay, and Pamela Stanford. He analyzes the film and makes valid arguments for Franco’s use of overt nudity and sexuality, and how it works within the confines of the narrative at hand. Like all of his commentaries, it’s essential listening, and an indispensable addition. Next are separate interviews with Pamela Stanford and Gérard Kikoïne, though both appear to be alternate versions of the 2018 and 2010 (respectively) interviews included on previous releases of the film. Meanwhile, Fear and Desire combines two interviews from 2010 with Stephen Thrower. In the first part, he discusses Franco, his career, and his feelings on how he’s perceived by critics and audiences. The other is geared more to analyzing the film at hand. Besides the alternate versions of the film not being included, neither are a few previously-existing extras, including additional interviews from the 2018 French Blu-ray release with Alain Petit and Jacqueline Laurent, as well as a restoration demonstration.
Where to start in the filmography of Jesús Franco for the uninitiated isn’t an easy question to answer. Though he worked within many genres, most fans would contend that his erotically-charged work is his more creative, and more reflective of him personally. Lorna the Exorcist is as good a place to start as any, though one might argue that you might have to see several Franco films a couple of times before you really start to understand and appreciate their unorthodox rhythms and subject matter. If that’s your bag, then Kino Cult’s release of the film will help set you on that path. In any case, it’s a release that definitely comes recommended.
- Tim Salmons