William Friedkin’s film THE EXORCIST is a phenomenon. When it burst into movie theatres in 1973, this story of demonic possession caused a sensation and was a massive box-office hit. It was by no means the first mainstream film on the topic. For example, Ken Russell’s 1971 film THE DEVILS played with the theme, and one year before THE EXORCIST, the supernatural horror film THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY had been a minor hit - featuring Shirley Maclaine, whom author William Peter Blatty based the character of Chris Macneil on. But this big budget feature carried such an impact that it became what these days is called a 'game changer' - it set the template for virtually every film on the subject for the next three decades, in the same way that George A Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) left its mark on virtually every subsequent zombie movie.

Over time, audiences would be treated to several additions to the EXORCIST saga, in the form of two sequels - EXORCIST II - THE HERETIC (1977) and THE EXORCIST III (1990, written and directed by Blatty); two versions of a prequel - EXORCIST - THE BEGINNING (2004) and DOMINION - PREQUEL TO 'THE EXORCIST' (2005), both featuring Stellan Skarsgard in the role of Lankaster Merrin, Max Von Sydow's role in the original film, and a spin-off, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1977), featuring a minor character from THE EXORCIST, astronaut Billy Cutshaw, as a main character, and written and directed by Blatty from two novels he authored telling the same story. However, apart from the official sequels, prequels and spin-offs THE EXORCIST spawned a legacy of features which were inspired by the success of the original film, which eventually became the first ever horror film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. THE EXORCIST’s influence extends its demonic hand until the present day, especially early on amongst exploitation film-makers, who soon responded in kind.

Read Part 1.

Italy wasn't the only European country cashing in on the exorcism craze: others also made their own variants on the theme. Over in Germany, film director Walter Boos came up with MAGDALENA, VOM TEUFEL BESESSEN; this translates as MAGDALENA, POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL, the title under which, in 1976, it would be released in the United States. At this time, Boos was more famous for his softcore pornographic movies (including the SCHOOLGIRL REPORT series from 1970-80 and 1973’s LOVE IN 3-D) which gives an idea of the approach he takes with his filmmaking. The titular Magdalena (Dagmar Hedrich) is an orphan, living in a boarding school in Munich, who becomes possessed by a demon. She proceeds to commit assorted mayhem until the (anti-)climactic exorcism releases the demon within. THE EXORCIST’S legacy of regurgitation is here referenced in the scene where Magdalena vomits a Satanic black snake. Unlike the original film (but not unexpectedly, given Boos’ earlier work), there is copious nudity.

At the same time, that other hotbed of Eurotrash, Spain, was busy producing several EXORCISTs of its own. One of the most notable of these was EXORCISMO (1975), directed by Juan Bosch and starring horror icon Paul Naschy. In this, the victim is a young woman who is possessed by the spirit of her late father. Naschy, usually known for playing his werewolf character Waldemar Daninsky, is the 'good guy' here, a village priest who comes forward to confront the evil spirit and exorcise it.

Further Iberian horror, released the same year, was LA ENDEMONIADA (1975), which made its way Stateside in 1976 under the title DEMON WITCH CHILD. This was directed by another Spanish horror maestro, Amando de Ossorio, known for his BLIND DEAD series of horror movies and also the vampire thriller MALENKA (1969). Here, a gypsy’s curse on the daughter of a police commissioner leads to the possession and, ultimately, the exorcism (complete with a Linda Blair style head-spinning sequence). The star of the film is Marián Salgado, who, as a voice actor, had re-dubbed Linda Blair’s voice in the Spanish version of Friedkin’s film. Because of this, she was deliberately cast by D’Ossorio as the protagonist Susan Barnes to provide a link with the original.

And the Spanish weren’t finished. Also in 1975, EL JUEGO DEL DIABLO was made, directed by Jorge Darnell. This was released in English as DEVIL’S EXORCIST. The victim here is a teenager, Teresita (Imma De Santis), beset by visions and other phenomena, who starts to become violent, eventually committing matricide (although it is judged to have been an accident). Medical science (in the form of Dr Beneau, played by Euro-regular Jack Taylor) tries to help the troubled teen but to no avail, and a priest is eventually called... but is it too late?

One cannot talk about Spanish exploitation without mentioning the offbeat and incredibly prolific master Jess Franco. His twist on THE EXORCIST actually owes very little to the original, and Franco gives it his own idiosyncratic spin. The film in question was LES POSSÉDÉES DU DIABLE, which was actually produced in France; it features here mainly because it was released in English with the come-on title LORNA THE EXORCIST. It has also been released under the blatantly false title EXORCISM. The titular Lorna (Franco regular Pamela Stanford) is not an exorcist, but actually a succubus whose seductive yet baleful influence is extended over both a businessman, Patrick (Guy Delorme) and his teenage daughter Linda (Franco’s partner and frequent collaborator Lina Romay). It features none of the head-spinning or pea soup puking of many of the other films, nor does it feature any exorcisms! The film was remade in 2002 as JESS FRANCO'S 'INCUBUS'.

Franco has a distinct anti-clerical bent, and is particularly critical of the Catholic Church; because of this, a number of his films are thematically similar; for example, the picture LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN 9197) features a young woman who is accused of being possessed, and ends up being abused by agents of the Catholic Church (who are actually Satanists), the Devil himself, and the Inquisition.

Perhaps the most extraordinary of the continental rip-offs is SEYTAN, also known as THE TURKISH 'EXORCIST'. Turkey has achieved some notoriety in its blatant imitations of popular American films; there is a Turkish version of SUPERMAN (1978) called THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN (1979), and a Turkish STAR WARS (1977) (the latter featuring actual footage from the Lucas film, used without permission) called DUNYAYI KURTARAN ADAM (known in English as THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD, 1982). SEYTAN takes the EXORCIST template and places it in a uniquely Turkish setting.

Another film worthy of note is not from Europe but from Mexico: ALUCARDA, LA HIJA DE LAS TINIEBLAS (translates as 'Alucarda, the Daughter of Darkness', the film is also known simply as ALUCARDA). The title suggests a vampire film (ALUCARDA spelt backwards is ADRACULA), but this is in fact another anti-clerical picture produced in a Roman Catholic country. This tale of Satanism has thematic similarities to THE EXORCIST. It takes place in a Catholic orphanage, where two young girls come under the influence of Satan, causing all manner of mayhem (and possibly the record for the largest amount screaming in a single film) before a fiery climax.

We will round off this section by briefly mentioning the French film called CAUCHEMARS (Nightmares) and released in 1977. This is actually a France/Canada co-production filmed in Montréal with an English speaking cast. It is better known to American audiences as CATHY’S CURSE, and features a twelve year old girl possessed by the spirit of her aunt – homicide and the spouting of profanities ensue.

In the 1970s, the American networks were usually quick off the mark in producing made-for-television imitations of popular cinema films. However, they were much slower to come up with their take on the Friedkin movie, possibly because the explicitness and profanity of THE EXORCIST did not lend themselves well to prime-time US television. An imitation (of sorts) would eventually appear in 1977, under the title THE POSSESSED. This was intended as the pilot for a television series which did not materialise, and revolved around the exploits of Kevin Leahy (James Farentino), a former priest who is now tasked with fighting evil. In this pilot, he investigates sinister goings-on at a girls’ school (a popular venue for these sort of shenanigans), culminating in an exorcism scene with Leahy and the possessed victim facing off by the side of the school’s swimming pool. This being 1970s television, pea soup was out of the question, and instead the possessed woman spits a stream of nails at the unfortunate Farentino, who still manages to stoically save the day.

The year 1977 also gave us GOOD AGAINST EVIL, in which Andy Stuart, a writer (played by the splendidly-named Dack Rambo) and Father Kemschler (Dan O’Herlihy) team up to take on the forces of darkness. The villain here is the sinister Mr Rimmin (played by the ever-reliable Richard Lynch) who is grooming a young woman to be the bride of Satan. The film ends with Kemschler, an acknowledged exorcist, in a battle against the demonic forces. This was another failed pilot, but has a good pedigree, being directed by TV movie specialist Paul Wendkos and scripted by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster. The cast includes a very young Kim Cattrall from TV's 'Sex and the City'.

We have seen above that some films have been retitled to suggest similarities with the Friedkin opus. There is also a subcategory of films that seem to have been retitled just for the hell of it! Here are some samples...

VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST (1974) This Spanish horror film, originally titled VUDÚ SANGRIENTO ('Bloody Voodoo') is actually about a mummified Voodoo priest reanimating and causing havoc on an ocean liner.

KUNG FU EXORCIST (1976) This obscure film from Hong Kong features Kathy Leen (her only credit) fighting against an evil Shaolin priest.

EXORCIST MASTER (1992) Nearly twenty years after THE EXORCIST came this Taiwanese action comedy, originally titled KUI MOH DO JEUNG, which actually features a kung fu master’s battle against vampires in a Chinese village.

As well as being a fertile source for numerous rip-offs, THE EXORCIST movies also had an influence on similar projects which, while different in tone and incident, owe much to the success of the original film in making 'horror' mainstream.

In particular, it paved the way for other religious terrors, in particular Richard Donner's THE OMEN (1976) which has various thematic similarities: a well-to-do family with a troubled child, the intervention of the Catholic Church, a troubled priest (Patrick Troughton, who doesn’t last long) and a final battle between good and evil. Like THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN was a huge hit, and would eventually spawn three sequels and a remake. In turn, THE OMEN inspired its own quota of imitations and rip-offs, the most notable of which ia probably Alberto de Martino’s HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977) with Kirk Douglas and Simon Ward – but that’s another story!

Another successful series (and also 'based on fact') is the AMITYVILLE sequence of movies, beginning with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) which spawned a whole raft of sequels, beginning with AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982), in which a boy is possessed by demons and slaughters his entire family (a rather tasteless fictionalisation of the story of Ronald de Feo, who did indeed kill his parents and siblings in the Amityville house). In the film, the troubled youth literally turns into a bug-eyed demon in the climactic exorcism sequence.

Later sequels included AMITYVILLE 3D (1983), which added an extra dimension to the visuals if not to the characters. Other entries in the series focus on possessed objects supposedly from the original house, such as a haunted clock in AMITYVILLE: IT’S ABOUT TIME (1992) and culminating in the most recent offering, AMITYVILLE DOLLHOUSE (1996)! In 2005, the original AMITYVILLE HORROR was re-made, sticking closer to the 'true' story and featuring Ryan Reynolds as the possessed father and Kevin Baker Hall as Father Callaway.

Another high class horror was AUDREY ROSE (1977), based on Frank De Felitta’s novel in which Anthony Hopkins' character Elliot tries to convince a couple (John Beck and Marsha Mason) that their daughter (Susan Swift) is the reincarnation of Audrey Rose, Elliot’s deceased child. Here the person possessed is Elliot, who spirals out of control, leading to a shocking climax.

More recently, we have had STIGMATA in 1999, in which a young woman suffering from the wounds of Christ is possessed by the spirit of a dead priest, and is used as a vessel to spread the Gospel of Thomas, which the Vatican will do anything to suppress, including sending out 'hit squads'! (Somebody should have told the film-makers that the heretical Gospel of Thomas is not suppressed at all, and has been published in translation in 1959.)

A reappraisal of EXORCIST II by John and Paul Rowlands.

John C. Kerr started life as a graphic designer before mutating into a film archivist. He has had a passion for cinema ever since seeing Disney and 007 as a child. John has a Diploma in Film Studies, and although originally from Manchester, is now based in London.

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