For my money 1974’s Lorna the Exorcist that just hit Blu-ray this week thanks to Kino Cult, is one of Jess Franco’s best. And while it has the expected gratuitous soft-core sex, stylistically it has Franco doing what he does best, by using style, audacity and an inventive script to elevate what would normally be a sleazy dose of sexploitation. The film employs a Lynchian dream logic in its story of Patrick Mariel (Guy Delorme) who while down on his luck makes a deal with what feels like the hotter gender swapped version of the creepy guy with the video camera from Lost Highway, Lorna (Pamela Stanford). While the film is called Lorna the Exorcist, it’s obviously a cheap ploy to capitalize on the Friedkin classic, since there are in fact no exorcisms or demons in this film. Instead the film feels more like a retelling of Rumplestiltskin, wherein a man promises his first born on her 18th birthday, to a lesbian witch in exchange for wealth.
The film begins on Linda’s 18th birthday (Lina Romay) while the family accompanies the patriarch on a business trip. Unbeknownst to them Patrick’s been summoned by Lorna to finally make good on his bargain. Of course Patrick doesn’t want to give up his beautiful daughter, who we discover has already being groomed by Lorna in her surreal erotic dreams. Lorna here is the paranormal paste, that for me really brings this insanity together. Pamela Stanford perfectly inhabits the creature, whose ghostly visage is accentuated by these garish baby blue mascara racoon eyes. It gives her a nearly ethereal appearance that feels out of place in the very subdued world around her, which coupled with an immaculately decorated post modern apartment really helps the character feel larger than life.
The bulk of the film’s dramatic weight is on Patrick’s meek shoulders as he attempts to weasel out of his bargain, while this film transpires during his daughter’s birthday festivities. It only amplifies the guilt and tension on the father, since he’s the only one who knows the price he paid on this lavish celebration. The juxtaposition of the daughter’s sexual awakening through these dreams of Lorna and her father’s helplessness to stop the witch feels like the film thematically is a bizarre coming of age story, through Franco’s distorted zoom lens. I feel like that’s why the film ultimately punishes Linda’s mom, who’s happy to be subservient to Patrick in his attempt to hold his daughter back. There’s also some South Sea Queen undertones in there as well, with the setting in a casino by the sea, and the use of crabs and conch shells in the film, in some shocking ways. This also plays into the mythological and fairytale leanings of the film’s already dense and surreal subtext.
The disc itself has an overall very film-like HD presentation, with a sharp scan that sadly illuminates some of the film’s shortcomings. It’s definitely a more humble production, unlike some of the other Franco films I’ve reviewed recently, and it’s more apparent here thanks to that scan. Some scenes are better lit than others and some fall out of focus quite easily, but that’s part of the charm of these films on Blu-ray. Kino have done their best, to make the image as consistent as possible and to tweak the contrast and color scene by scene depending on the circumstances. While there has been some work done to restore Lorna, it still has the grain, frame wobble, splice marks and fine lines that you’d get from a print a few weeks into its run. The film is supported by an interview with the man who wrote the two books on Franco, Stephen Thrower and if you had any doubts after watching Thrower discuss the film, there’s also a full length commentary another Franco scholar by Tim Lucas to seal the deal.
It was also a highlight seeing an interview with Lorna herself, Pamela Stanford who does more of a discussion of her career and how she got into acting, not just her experiences on this particular film on an extra.
While Lorna is no doubt a sexploitation film, thanks Franco’s choice of music cues, story, composition and performances it elevates the material morphing it from simply titillation, into the realm of transgressive cinema. This coupled with the exhaustive and all encompassing commentary track resolves any doubt one would have that Lorna is nothing less than a complex and ambient feminist erotic work. It says volumes how much Franco can say so much with a soft focus, an ill timed zoom or a music cue, but it’s now easier to appreciate with Kino releasing what is easily one of the director’s more accessible works in his sexploitation oeuvre surrounded by material that helps frame the film in the proper context. Personally, it could be my favorite from the director, because of stylistically how strong it is and how dense the film is with subtext that delves into some pretty dark thematic territory.