Lorna the Exorcist Blu-ray Review: One of Jess Franco’s More Well-regarded Films

Fairly regularly, the film discourse on Twitter and other social media apps turns to sex in cinema. There is a growing faction of film fans and critics who think that sex has no place in cinema unless it services the plot. I wonder what those people think of Jesús Franco. He was one of cinema’s greatest perverts, only rivaled, perhaps, by Tinto Brass. He often mixed horror with erotica (and sometimes hard-core pornography – something that got him banned from more than a few cinemas and put him on the outs with Christopher Lee who had starred in several of his films).

He’s one of those directors whose name looms large (at least for those of us who are fans of exploitation cinema). I’d heard of him long before I’d ever watched one of his films. Truth be told, I’ve still only seen a few of them. This is why I was excited when I heard Kino Lorber was releasing one of his more well-regarded films on Blu-ray.

Lorna the Exorcist was but one of seven films the director made in 1974. Dude was nothing if not prolific. He made over 170 films in his long career. Obviously, not all of them are masterpieces. Lots of people would argue that all of them are trash. But he has his fans. From what I’ve read, and according to the audio commentary on this disk by Tim Lucas, Franco wasn’t some hack cranking out low-budget exploitation flicks just to earn a few bucks. He genuinely loved cinema and always attempted to make good movies.

This one isn’t a great movie, I’m not even sure if it’s a good one, but it is definitely interesting. The title is a bit of a misnomer as there isn’t any sort of exorcism happening in the film, but William Friedkin’s film, The Exorcist had come out just a year before to great success and so everyone was trying to grab a little of that money. It barely qualifies as a horror film. It is more psychological in nature. It does involve the supernatural of sorts, and there certainly is terror involved, but there isn’t much by way of violence or gore.

To give you a feel for what Franco is doing here, I’ll describe the opening scene. A woman lies on a bed wearing a sheer nightie and nothing underneath. She slowly rubs her hands over her body, sometimes reaching down below in a masturbatory gesture. But it isn’t particularly erotic or sexy. It feels more like a girl joining Only Fans for the first time and trying to get some quick subscribers but ultimately just looking awkward. After a moment, she is joined by another woman. They do a bit of making out and then the second girl goes downtown. Now Franco isn’t one to shy away from sex. He made more than one hardcore film, and in this movie, his camera loves to zoom in on ladies’ crotches. In this scene, we are close enough to see genitalia and the second girl is using her tongue down there. But all she does is lick pubic hair. Vigorously. It’s bizarre. It certainly isn’t sexy. I wasn’t so much turned on as I wanted to give the poor girl some dental floss.

And yet, the scene is strangely hypnotic. The music behind it is this dual guitar thing that’s sort of soothing and mesmerizing. The shots are long and the girls take their time. The scene lasts over eight minutes. And this is the opener. No one has spoken a word; no plot has been given out. Chronologically, the scene happens much later in the film, but I guess the editor figured we needed some half-baked, almost hard-core lesbian lovemaking to get us interested.

The second girl is Linda Mariel (Lina Romey). She’s the daughter of Patrick Mariel (Guy Delorme), a rich businessman who we will later learn made a literal deal with the Devil. Or at least one of the Devil’s minions. That’s Lorna of the title (Pamela Stanford), and she’s come to collect her dues. She was the girl lying in the bed in that opener – we’ll understand why those two were in bed together later on. In a flashback, we learn that 19 years ago Patrick and his wife Marianne (Jacqueline Laurent) were poor, unsuccessful, and unhappy. While playing roulette at a casino, he meets Lorna, who gives him a little luck, letting him score big at the tables then takes him upstairs for some lovemaking. Before she completely gives in, she says she can make him successful and happy, and that if he runs home to his wife immediately after and has sex with her, she’ll give him a daughter. But once that girl is 18, she will be all hers. With money in his hand and his pants around his ankles, he agrees. But now that it is time to pay the piper, he’s not so sure. Turns out, he actually loves his daughter and doesn’t want to make her a slave to Satan.

None of what I’ve just told you comes out quickly in the film’s timeline. It is a good 45 minutes into the movie’s runtime that anything – anything at all – is in the least bit explained.

After the film’s opening sexual encounter, we meet the family. Linda is just days away from her 18th birthday and she wants to go somewhere special. But before they can go, Patrick gets a mysterious call from Lorna, who tells him he must go to the (incredibly cool and futuristic) casino where they first met. When they arrive, she tells him to meet her in a hotel room. Once there, she lays down the whole “you must give me your daughter” trip, but even then nothing is explained. We don’t know why she wants his daughter, or what for. That will come later in a dream sequence in which Lorna erotically haunts Linda, whom she calls her daughter. This film is weird.

In between these expository scenes are a lot of long shots of the family walking, or dancing, or lounging about half-naked. The film takes its time with everything.

At one point, Marianne, lying in bed completely naked, finds literal crabs crawling around her pubic hair. It happens again later and is never explained. Periodically, the film cuts to a different half-naked woman (Catherine Lafferière) who moans and writhes about in bed calling out for Lorna. Who exactly she is, the film never really explains either. She seems to be under Lorna’s control, but to what means or what purpose is unbeknownst to me. In a cameo, Franco plays her hapless psychiatrist. I told you this film was weird.

I’m making all of this sound a little more exciting than it actually is. Franco takes his time with all of it. To give another example of his filmmaking style, there is a scene in which Patrick is at the casino looking for Lorna. He approaches a clerk and asks him if he knows Lorna’s number (why some random clerk would know some random woman’s number isn’t explained). When he doesn’t know the number Patrick asks for a phone book. When he doesn’t find the number there he asks for the phone and dials information. As they are telling him they don’t know the number either Lorna shows up in person.

Why she couldn’t just show up in the first place is beyond me. Why they needed to go through that whole ordeal is inexplicable. I must assume it was a bit of lazy improvisation and Franco just let it be. The whole film has that kind of shaggy, “let’s just mess about and see what happens” feel to it.

But it is mesmerizing just the same. That hypnotic guitar instrumental plays throughout and the rest of the score is just as alluring. I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. On one hand, it feels like this shambolic mess of a movie, something thrown together, punctuated with nudity and the hardest softcore sex I’ve seen in a while. On the other hand, it has a quality to it that is hard to describe. Franco wasn’t a hack. He worked quickly and with tiny budgets. He certainly was a big cinematic perv, but there is more to him than that. I keep calling this film “hypnotic” and “mesmerizing” and that’s the thing, plotwise the story is a bit dull, and yet I couldn’t stop watching. It is slow and tranquilizing. It is like a Tarkovsky film, but with more pubic hair.

Extras on this Kino Lorber disk include the aforementioned commentary from Tim Lucas, interviews with Pamela Stanford and Gérard Kikoïne, and a visual essay by Stephen Thrower on the films of Franco.

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Mat Brewster

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