Greetings, readers, Bill here with a morning dose of Euro-horror for you today. This morning’s film, also known as THE POSSESSED, is directed by Amando de Ossorio, best known for his work with the BLIND DEAD franchise, and stars Marián Salgado, who dubbed Linda Blair in the Spanish-language release of THE EXORCIST. Her presence, then, in this film, capitalizing on the success of THE EXORCIST, comes as no surprise then. I got this film in the Grindhouse Experience 20 film boxed set, on the same disc as THE CHILDREN, HIGH SCHOOL HITCHHIKERS and CARRY ON EMMANUELLE. Let’s take a look at de Ossorio’s take on Friedkin’s Catholic horror, shall we?
An old witch is arrested in connection to a kidnapping case, one to which she freely admits to having committed, stealing the child to sacrifice to Satan. When threatened with jail time by the police commissioner (Ángel del Pozo, of ASSIGNMENT TERROR and THE HORROR EXPRESS) if she doesn’t reveal the location of the missing boy, the witch hurls herself out the window to her death.
The second-in-command of the old witch’s coven is pretty peeved by this, and decides to get revenge by using the police commissioner’s young daughter Susan (Salgado, who also appeared in 1976’s WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?) as an unwitting vessel for Satan. Giving the young girl a number of gruesome occult relics (including stuffing an idol of Baphomet into her teddy bear), before long Susan is hurling verbal abuse, levitating in her sleep, transforming into a pint-sized withered hag and castrating men across town. It falls to priest Father Juan (Julián Mateos, last seen around here in THE HELLBENDERS) to rescue Susan from the coven’s hold.
It’s almost hard to believe that this film is from the same man that gave us the BLIND DEAD films. Where those films are stylish and original, DEMON WITCH CHILD is bland and stultifying, offering very little that we haven’t already seen from THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN and THE BAD SEED.
The make-up work is surprisingly good, especially in converting young Susan into a possessed little witch. She’s a cute kid here, and the transformation effected by make-up — hair dye or a wig, some moles, wrinkles — and performance is startling and effective. She really seems like she transforms into a different person during her episodes.
One thing I really liked with this film was the way it emphasized what flawed characters everyone in the cast is. Susan’s parents, her mother’s lover, the priest, the priest’s former love…everyone in the film is neck-deep in their own sin, which possessed-Susan takes advantage of, spouting off their crimes to their horror and consternation. Redemption is required of them before they can help Susan. This, of course, goes right back to why THE EXORCIST was so popular in Spain and Italy to begin with; deeply Catholic countries, THE EXORCIST was a deeply Catholic film, and it hit a major cultural nerve in Spain and Italy.
Another nice point for me was how the film plays up the conflict between science and superstition in the modern day. It takes a long time for anyone to suggest that Susan might be possessed, and concerns of schizophrenia, drug abuse, and simply acting out for attention are explored and dismissed before anyone will take the idea of demonic possession seriously. It’s a nice change from the real world, where far too many people immediately dismiss possibilities of mental illness in favor of automatically assuming possession.
I’m more than a little disappointed with the print of this film – it was pretty hamfistedly cut into a pan-and-scan version from a widescreen version, so there’s a lot of sequences of faces half out of frame and half the opening credits are cut off. The film quality has deteriorated, resulting in colors that seem to be saturated beyond the director’s intent and some bleeding of color. I know there’s a couple other DVD releases of this film, but I don’t know if any of them are different/better prints of the film than this one. Code Red has recently released a double feature of this film and another film also known as THE POSSESSED, which might be worth checking out.
Final Analysis: It’s nice to see a 1970s ripoff that’s not from Italy, though it’s a little disappointing to know that my feelings about Amando de Ossorio based on the BLIND DEAD films will likely be ever colored by the knowledge that he also made this bland little possession “shocker.” There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and honestly after films like THE EXORCIST this film just feels too tame. It may have been made to capitalize on the popularity of THE EXORCIST, but with its minimal gore and no real shock effects, it feels like it could have been made in 1965. It’s a film that fills an hour and a half of your time but doesn’t tax you emotionally or mentally. If you’re a completist for possession films I’d say seek it out, but overall it doesn’t have a lot to draw attention to it.
Overall, I give DEMON WITCH CHILD (1975)…
TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.