Originally released in 1974 as L’ossessa, 1974’s The Eerie Midnight Horror Show—a horrible American title (other titles include The Tormented and The Sexorcist) is Italy’s riff on the hugely popular The Exorcist. Directed by Mario Gariazzo, the movie has the overall structure of William Friedkin’s masterpiece, but the story (screenplay by Ambrogio Molteni, with the story by Gariazzo and additional dialogue by Ted Rusoff) is pristine Eurotrash, focusing on deviant sex and lurid obsessions.
The Eerie Midnight Horror Show centers on Danila (the exotic-looking Stella Carnacina), a young artist working to restore arcane works of art. The institute she works for manages to secure the purchase of several life-sized crucifixes from a decommissioned church. One of the statues beguiles Danila—it is supposedly of one of thieves crucified beside Christ. The wooden carving is uncannily realistic and Danila cannot help but be attracted to the man on the cross.
Danila’s parents Mario (Chris Avram) and Luisa (Lucretia Love) are very well off but are unhappy. Luisa also happens to be a sexual deviant, enjoying the play of masochism on her nude frame, courtesy of Gabriele Tinti. In a rather outré scene, Tinti strikes Luisa with the thorns of roses while making love to her.
Although some may feel such a scene is simply throwaway exploitation, this scene is important to the overall tale of sexual deviancy and its connection to Satan himself. It turns out that such deviancy is hereditary and that poor Danila will suffer the same fate. It is this suppressed deviancy that attracts Satan himself (played with flair by Ivan Rassimov), who is trapped within the carving. When Danila fantasizes about the carving, Satan manages to escape. In another graphic scene, Satan aggressively seduces Danila, taking her on the floor (some would say rape, but Danila seems to enjoy herself during this sequence). This penetration leads to her possession, which constitutes the bulk of the movie.
The remainder of the film covers the usual territory, with Danila’s parents seeking out medical help and said medical help finding no recourse, with the psychiatrist finally hinting at an exorcism to psychologically snap the girl out of it (sound familiar?). The exorcist is Father Xeno (Luigi Pistilli, who played a soft-spoken priest—and Tuco’s brother—in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly), who also shows weakness when confronted by Danila’s sexuality. To overcome such weakness, Xeno takes a page out of the Penitente handbook and flails himself. The movie’s climax has Danila vomiting out the evil, a common theme in Italian horror cinema.
Although a good entry in Italian horror and exploitation, The Eerie Midnight Horror Show simply relies too much on The Exorcist to really stand out. The movie’s novel introduction works really well, particularly when Satan comes to life through the wooden carving. The movie’s sexual angle actually works but tends to get lost in favor of focusing on the exorcism and possession.
Another key problem is the American dubbing, which may have changed some of the dialogue. There are hints that perhaps the “demon” is not Satan at all but rather another force of evil, such as Baal (the opprobrious form of Beelzebub). When Danila visits a dilapidated church, she encounters a man who tells her that before the place became a place for Christianity it was a center for the worship of Baal. Danila then enters the church, where she is “sacrificed” to Baal, although the dialogue says Satan.
The Eerie Midnight Horror Show is worth watching. It has some over-the-top moments, some stunningly creepy scenes, nudity, and overall weirdness. It would be ideal to watch this movie in Italian with accurate subtitles, as it may actually be a better film than the English version would have one believe. Even the American title shows that perhaps the distributors did not really understand the movie’s themes.