Monday, November 2, 2009

Lucifera - The Demonlover (1972)

AKA L'amante del demonio
Directed by Paolo Lombardo
Starring Rosalba Neri, Ferdinando Poggi, Edmund Purdom
Rated R
Italy

"We heard this was the House of the Devil. Can we stay the night?"

Sometimes, with these old 70's Euro-sleaze mish-mashes, you get the feeling that the translator is just fucking with the guy who taps out the subtitles, that he's making the whole thing up as he goes along after gulping down a handful of Mescaline and washing it down with half a bottle of cherry Nyquil. That's got to be the case here. If it's not, than Paolo Lombardo is insane, because nothing about The Demon Lover makes a lick of sense.

It all starts out beautifully, though. A mini-skirted Rosalba Neri and two of her groovy-mod pals visit a creaky old mansion for kicks. They are greeted by a friendly young caretaker who attempts to give them a historical tour of the joint. They are quite uninterested in his jibber-jabber, however, and Neri bluntly tells him to knock it off. She just wants to know if the devil really lives there. That's the rumor about the place. The caretaker is non-committal about the house's current occupants, but invites them to stay for dinner anyway. They eat boiled eggs at a giant dining room table. There's a set place on the other end for the mysterious owner, just in case he shows up. He does not, unless he's already there. You know, if he's invisible.

The girls stay the night, and head off to their individual bedrooms. During the night, there is much crashing and bashing, as their often is in these sorta of situations. Neri wanders the hallways to investigate the noise, and sees a portrait of a girl engulfed in flames. The girl in said portrait looks exactly like her. "I burn," mutters Neri, clearly shaken by the image. "I burn. I burn!"

Our previously wisecracking young friend goes pale from panic and passes out. She wakes up to find herself in a pastoral 16th century German village. In this village, she is Helga, the most beautiful virgin in all the land, and she is engaged to Hans (Ferdando Poggi), a dashing young so-and-so with such charm, he can pluck birds from their nests and storke their tiny heads while they coo appreciably.

These scenes - flashbacks, perhaps, or some alternate reality, or maybe just vivid fever dreams - are shot in like some sort of bizarre fairy tale, with ridiculous costumes that aim for "Period piece", but land somewhere around "Early 70's high school production of Mother Goose". Initially, I assumed this sudden sideways detour to the Renaissance Faire would be over quickly, so we could get back to the haunted house and the go-go boots, but alas, we are stuck in this old-timey purgatory for 95% of the film. Bummer.

Anyway, whoever these villagers are, they've been slugging the Nyquil nearly as much as the film's translator, because nothing at all happens for long stretches, and the dead-eyed denizens of this gloomy glen simply mill around town, playing flutes, "checking barrels", and carrying baskets of food to market. Even a bizarre sword fight in a tavern ends in a shrug-worthy truce. The only thing that seems to perk folks up is the impending marriage of Helga and Hans. In one pivotal scene, Helga's mom finishes sewing her wedding dress and presents it to her, warning her that only Hans can see it before the wedding. If any other man should lay their peepers on it before then, Helga will be cursed. "It's like a form of the 'Evil eye'," she tells her. When Helga holds it up to her voluptuous body in front of an open window (to see her reflection, I'm assuming. Perhaps they owned no windows), a dude in a red hood suddenly pops up, spooking her and, naturally, damning her with the evil wedding dress curse.

Not wanting to start off her marriage on a bad note, Helga goes to visit the local witch - a young blonde wearing a putty nose - who tells her that to lift the curse, she'll have to show up at the top of a local hill that evening with two of her virginal pals, and then recite a bunch of gibberish. She does exactly that, but her two friends lose their way in the darkness (again, this is where I think things may have been lost in translation - it's bright daylight, but the girls complain about it being too dark to see where they're going) and they get absconded by the witch and her hooded minions. The whole ritual was just a ruse, turns out. The girls get dragged to some cave where they are forced to take part in a Satanic orgy led by a topless blonde lesbian witch/vampire. So that's pretty awesome.

Then the devil/Dracula (Edmund Perdom) shows up and sinks his fangs into Helga's pals, turning them into his slaves. Later on, they stumble into a confused Helga. They bite her in the boobs, and she spends the next day wandering around in a silent trance. Nobody really notices, though.

A with-it local girl, who also happens to be madly in love with Hans, tries to warn the other villagers that Helga is now a slave to Satan, but Helga chains her up and tears out her tongue first. It's a fruitless effort, since the villagers find her mid-murder, and sentence her to be burned alive. Helga throws herself upon the mercy of the local priest, but when she looks under his hood, she is horrified to find that...well, no spoilers, but if you've read seen any other horror movie in your entire life, than you can guess the ending. Both of them.

Despite a story that flirts with all manner of perversity and hints at unspeakable violence, nothing much happens in The Demon Lover.Witless and bloodless (but with a generous helping of nudity), this meandering snoozer would be a complete waste of time were it not for the breathless beauty of Rosalba Neri. Neri's doe eyes and exquisite curves are so captivating that it doesn't particularly matter what else is happening on screen. And that's good, because most of the time, nothing else is. Disciples of Rosalba, rejoice. Everybody else, hold out for more interesting Satanic orgies.

Clip: Assorted scenes from the film.



- Ken McIntyre

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