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Sunday, April 10, 2022

Film Movement Plus Serves Up Two Cult Arthouse Shockers

Film Reviews: “Il Demonio” (1963) and “The Reflecting Skin” (1990)

by Joseph Perry

Il Demonio (The Demon)

It’s pretty much a given that no demonic possession film released after 1973’s The Exorcist will ever come close to matching that classic movie, but a decade before William Friedkin’s feature caused a sensation, Italian/French coproduction Il Demonio (The Demon) addressed the subject in a gorgeously shot, terrifically acted effort.

Daliah Lavi stars as Purificata (nicknamed Puri), a young woman living in a rural village in the south of Italy. She bucks the straight-laced, Catholic mores of the tiny village, including delving into witchcraft in an attempt to win the heart of engaged man Antonio (Frank Wolff). Is her behavior a descent into madness or is she actually possessed by a demon? The locals certainly believe that it is the latter, and an exorcism attempt in a church sees her doing the now-famous spider walk popularized by outtakes from The Exorcist. 
This sequence is far more impressive than those outtakes because Lavi is actually performing the feat by herself, and for an extended amount of time. It’s just one small part of her amazing performance in this film, in which her character is put through an emotional wringer and the actress nails every subtle nuance and physical feat asked of her. 

Director Brunello Rondi creates a mesmerizing atmosphere in which much of Purificata’s bizarre behavior takes place in broad daylight. Carlo Bellero’s black-and-white photography is absolutely sumptuous, capturing Rondi’s beautifully framed shots perfectly.
Highly recommended for aficionados of possession horror, folk horror, and classic sixties Italian cinema, Il Demonio is an outstanding achievement.    

Il Demonio (The Demon)
Directed by: Brunello Rondi
Written by: Ugo Guerra, Luciana Martino; story by Brunello Rondi
Produced by: Titanus, Vox Films S.p.a., and Les Films Marceua
Genre: Horror, Drama
Starring: Daliah Lavi, Frank Wolff
Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes
Rated: NR
Release Date: August 27, 1963 at the Venice Film Festival

The Reflecting Skin

Filmmaker/author/playwright/painter Philip Ridley’s debut feature The Reflecting Skin puzzled, confused, and shocked audiences on its 1990 release, and the film is no less challenging today. 
Jeremy Cooper stars as Seth Dove, an eight-year-old boy growing up in the rural Midwest of the 1950s. After a jaw-dropping scene early on in which he and two friends inflate and kill a frog for laughs, he believes that a foreign-born widow neighbor named Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan) is a vampire. 

Local little boys go missing and then turn up dead, directly affecting Seth’s family in horrible ways. When his older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) returns home from military service, Seth is both scared for his safety and jealous of his love for Dolphin. 
There is much to chew on in this discomfiting take on childhood, and the film is not an easy go by any means. It is easy on the eyes, though, with captivating  mise-en-scène, superb performances, and visionary direction. Plenty of horror happens throughout, and though much of it is offscreen, that doesn’t make it any less effective; in fact, what Ridley leaves viewers to fill in with their minds is more disturbing than many graphic, lurid, shock-for-shock’s-sake scenes in other fright-fare outings. 

The Reflecting Skin
Directed by: Philip Ridley
Written by: Philip Ridley
Produced by: British Screen Productions, BBC Films, and Zenith Entertainment
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Cooper
Runtime: 1 hour 36 minutes
Rated: R
Release Date: 1990

Il Demonio and The Reflecting Skin are available on Film Movement Plus at https://www.filmmovementplus.com/.

Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/). He also writes for When It Was Cool (whenitwascool.com), the film websites Diabolique Magazine (diaboliquemagazine.com), Gruesome Magazine (gruesomemagazine.com), The Scariest Things (scariesthings.com), and Horror Fuel (horrorfuel.com), and film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope (videoscopemag.com) and Drive-In Asylum (etsy.com/shop/GroovyDoom). 

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