Alberto De Martino's THE ANTICHRIST - 4K Blu ray from Kino Lorber
THE ANTICHRIST (L’anticristo )
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Starring Carla Gravina, Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Alida Valli and George Colurous.
Kino Lorber 4K Blu-ray released February 2022.
It’s a movie I’ve admired since its domestic theatrical release under the title THE TEMPTER. I was a projectionist at the time, working primarily at the rundown Colonial Cinema in Keansburg, NJ. It was across the street from an amusement park and midway. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, it drew crowds to its many attractions, nightclubs and its bayside beach just over the dune. It was amid this setting where Alberto De Martino clobbered me.
THE TEMPTER began its Colonial run on the evening of June 21, 1978 at 7:30 with yours truly up in the booth. We’d just finished a week of Larry Cohen’s IT LIVES AGAIN the night before, so having back-to-back horror bookings was my kind of living. Its one sheet poster revealed nothing about the film’s origin. Distributor Avco Embassy Pictures sneakily withheld that information in favor of a fish-eye lens view of a stressed female in her bedroom and hyperbolic copy: “Enemy of the Earth. Foe to the Human Race. Thief of Life. Inventor of Obscenities. Satan, why do you stand and resist?”
Okay, I’m ready to be defiled.
And so I watched THE TEMPTER from my perch and quietly supposed there must be a longer European version that I’d never see.There’s more to this movie than the casual viewer realizes... maybe someday I’ll get to see the full version! Nonetheless, I was completely taken by it even though the grainy domestic prints were struck from elements several steps away from the camera negative. Once the run was over, I kept the one sheet and sourced the Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai collaborative score from Beat Records, a label in Rome with whom I’d established a relationship the year before. The soundtrack existed only as a 45rpm, but I had to have it.
In 1985, Embassy Home Video released THE TEMPTER on VHS for $59.95. This was during the era when rental shops flourished and only folks with plenty of discretionary income could afford to outright buy new releases. I rented THE TEMPTER and it looked like crap. The box touted a 96 minute running time which was exactly the same as the theatrical version. There was nothing new to be found except for the following kooky synopsis on the back:
Picture this: a beautiful young woman becomes devilishly possessed, and after committing a series of unspeakable acts – shown in graphic detail, of course – a priest is called to exercise some exorcism. Sound familiar? Well, move over, Linda Blair, ‘cause there’s a new Demon on the block! The successful EXORCIST formula of Girl-Meets-Devil-Girl-Gets-Devil-Girl-Gets-Exorcism is spine-tingling enough, but what makes THE TEMPTER even extra-tempting is its terrifyingly titillating scenes, including an “Orgy in Hell” sequence you have to see to believe! MEL FERRER, ARTHUR KENNEDY and Italian actress, CARLA GRAVINA, lend their talents to a movie that’s more than just scary… it’s a real scream!”
Then, in 2002…
At last! Anchor Bay Entertainment unveiled the complete 112 minute version on DVD under its original title, THE ANTICHRIST. A lovely transfer and an exhilarating viewing experience featuring a full 16 minutes of unseen footage. Well, I won’t have to buy another copy of this movie ever again!
Or so I thought. On October 17, 2020 Kino Lorber announced its Blu-ray edition as coming in 2021. A brand new 4K restoration by StudioCanal who was also responsible for the Anchor Bay version. I haunted Kino’s website throughout the year when finally, in December (!), the label announced a Feb 2022 release and that it was taking pre-orders. Nicely discounted too! And it’s the best version I’ve ever seen; well beyond what I'd imagined existed back in 1978 in that small Colonial Cinema projection booth.
The movie is an overindulgent feast of Devil domination and boasts a world class acting roster: Arthur Kennedy, Mel Ferrer, Carla Gravina, Alida Valli and George Coulouris. Gravina is cast as paralyzed Ippolita Oderisi whose miraculous ability to walk again is accompanied by decidedly out of character behavior. She’s alternately sexual, demonic, innocent, prowling, horrifying and downright cruel. The range of emotional extremes with which Gravina portrays Ippolita is a breathtaking showcase of acting discipline. Her abrupt decay into satanic possession at a celebratory dinner is terrifying. Her performance is flawless and chilling even through the dubbed dialog. THE ANTICHRIST’s tech pedigree also enjoys a who’s who of Italian A- and B-cinema geniuses, most notably cinematographer Aristide Massaccesi (a.k.a. Joe D’Amato), composers Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, co-scripter Gianfranco Clerici and editor Vincenzo Tomassi. And while it’s not perfect – blue screen optical effects during fantastical set pieces work against it – for those of us who are intuitively drawn to Euro B-movie filmmakers and comprehend their styles and sensibilities, THE ANTICHRIST is something very special.
The conscious artistic excesses that De Martino applied are the same ones that made Italian westerns, giallos, spy and the poliziotteschi (cops and crime) genres so popular. THE ANTICHRIST is deliberately over the top with nervous dialog, unafraid scenes and skilled actors who sell the preposterous whole…all’Italiana (Italian style)! A simplistic explanation for all’Italiana would be the stereotypical opinion that Italian’s can’t speak unless they’re waving their hands about; an expressive characteristic that adds import and grandness to a discussion whether warranted or not. This passion for cinematic character is wholly embedded throughout De Martino’s film. The style is exaggerated entertainment with heightened visuals and vile concepts (Ippolita’s back alley seduction and mutilation of a teenage male). These touches can also be as subtle as a snapping head movement at a camera cut. It requires multiple viewings to catch them. There is much to see, muse and interpret. If you’ve never seen THE ANTICHRIST, please treat yourself. I do envy those who see it for the first time in 4K resolution… a wondrous luxury unavailable 43 years ago.
Disc extras are a repeat presentation of the RAISING HELL featurette that first appeared on Anchor Bay’s 2002 DVD. Director De Martino and composer Morricone appear. There’s a commentary track with Lee Gambin and Sally Christie, a TV spot and the opening credits to THE TEMPTER. Optional language choice is Italian.
Coda: The Colonial Cinema was eventually razed to make way for a small condo complex. I drive by the property once or twice a year to reminisce. Avco Embassy’s CEO, Joseph E. Levine (1905-1987), donated his company’s files and effects to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. According to the Center, there are nearly 80 boxes and many “packages” of Avco Embassy material kept there. Among the inventory list, there are odds and ends pertaining to the company’s release of THE TEMPTER that include boxoffice return reports when released under the title of BLASPHEMY.
Eighty boxes? Hmm perhaps someday I'll...