Exorcismo (Exorcism, 1975) – #NineTenthsOfTheLaw

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Nine Tenths of the Law #2: Exorcism (Juan Bosch, 1975)

This is the third in a series of articles looking at Eurocult films from the 1970s and 1980s that focus on a theme of diabolical/demonic possession.

The international popularity of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) provoked a slew of European horror films about diabolical possession; peaking in the mid-1970s, this subgenre slowly petered out at the end of the decade before becoming increasingly hybridised with other ‘lowbrow’ Eurocult subgenres (for example, the ‘nunsploitation’ film). Initially looking towards The Exorcist as their primary model, these films about diabolical possession sometimes also bore the influence of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), and, later on, Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976). These are their stories.

Exorcismo (1975) - Vicar Adrian Dunning (Paul Naschy) and the gardener just before his murder(
Vicar Adrian Dunning (Paul Naschy) and the gardener just before his murder

Exorcismo – Plot

Driving back from a beachside Satanic ritual, archaeology student Richard Harrington (Roger Leveder) and his girlfriend Leila Gibson (“Grace Mills,” the Anglicised pseudonym of Spanish actress Mercedes Molina) are involved in a car accident. Leila is hospitalised. Her family—mother Patricia (Maria Perschy), half-sister Deborah (Maria Kosti), and half-brother John (Juan Llaneras)—await her recuperation and discharge. As they do so, John berates Richard for leading Leila astray: Richard has recently returned from a research trip to Africa, and has brought with him a fascination with “exotic” rites and practices that he has shared amongst his fellow students.

Patricia had her husband, Lawrence, incarcerated in a mental hospital after a diagnosis by Dr Lewton Buchanan (Jorge Torras). John and Deborah are still aggrieved by this: Patricia is their stepmother (and Leila’s biological mother), and it seems that Patricia had Lawrence committed in order to pursue an affair with Buchanan—and to claim her rights to Lawrence’s estate, which she has woefully mismanaged in the years since his death.

Exorcismo (1975) Walking among Satan's playthings
Richard walking among Satan’s playthings

Keen gardener John is found murdered in his beloved greenhouse, his head twisted 180 degrees. Shortly afterwards, Richard is also found dead in his flat, his head also rotated 180 degrees. A detective inspector (Juan Velilla) suggests to local vicar Adrian Dunning (Paul Naschy) that the murders may have a ritualistic element: according to legend, the devil would apparently twist the necks of witches who had betrayed him.

Meanwhile, Leila’s behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre, strange voices speaking German are heard in her bedroom—which also begins to stink of rotting meat—and Deborah suggests to Adrian that she believes her half-sister may be possessed. Adrian, who has experience of exorcism during time he spent in Brazil, believes that a rational explanation of these events is possible. However, his resistance to suggestions that something supernatural—nay, diabolical—is afoot is eventually worn down by Buchanan, who has tried—and failed—to find a scientific explanation for the changes in Leila’s behaviour.

Finally, Adrian is forced to perform an exorcism on the young Gibson woman.

Exorcismo (1975) - The first signs of possession in full gothic view
The first signs of possession in full gothic view

Critique: “Sometimes the soul gets sick”

Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina) was a powerhouse of European genre cinema, his presence anchoring so many memorable Spanish horror films made between the mid-1960s and 1980s. Though to Anglophonic fans of Eurocult cinema, Naschy is chiefly known for the series of werewolf pictures in which he played the cursed Waldemar Daninsky (beginning with La marca del Hombre Lobo/Mark of the Wolfman, directed by Enrique L Eguiluz in 1968), the actor appeared in numerous films that capitalised on global trends in horror cinema. In the mid-70s, these ranged from Carlos Aured’s mummy picture La venganza de la momia (The Mummy’s Revenge, 1975) to the post-apocalyptic Último deseo (The People Who Own the Dark; León Klimovsky, 1976). Amidst these films is Juan Bosch’s Exorcismo (Exorcism, 1975).

Though his pictures were often directed by various filmmakers (Juan Bosch, the director of Exorcism, is primarily remembered for a number of fairly bland Euro-Westerns he made in the early 1970s), Naschy’s films were clearly authored—for the most part—by the star himself. Naschy would often write the films in which he starred, and had a strong element of creative control over them—though, interestingly, he wouldn’t direct a feature until 1976’s Inquisición (Inquisition).

Exorcismo (1975) - The rampant sexualism of the occult
“There are Black Masses, covens, and whatnot. Obviously, this is an excuse to take drugs and give themselves over to sexual excesses. It’s just a racket organised by a few who get rich off it.”

Naschy claimed to have devised the basic premise for Exorcismo a number of years prior to the release of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), and in Spain Exorcismo was released to cinemas before Friedkin’s film—whose release was delayed in Spain until September of 1975. (By contrast, Exorcism was released in Spain in March of 1975.) Nevertheless, Bosch’s picture demonstrates some overt similarities with The Exorcist—enough to suggest that the apparently pre-existing script by Naschy was rewritten in order to emphasise its similarities with the Friedkin picture. In particular, Exorcism’s story follows a number of the key narrative beats of The Exorcist, including its interactions between Naschy’s character (an English vicar named Adrian Dunning) and a detective inspector (Juan Velilla) investigating the suspicious deaths at the Gibson house—which have some parallels with Friedkin’s film’s obsession with the relationship between Father Karras (Jason Miller) and Detective Lieutenant Kinderman (Lee J Cobb).

Rather than being a straight-up imitator of The Exorcist, then, Exorcism bears the hallmarks of another story hastily revised in order to incorporate elements recognisable from that oh-so iconic American horror picture. In particular, the film’s climactic exorcism of Leila, by the solo Adrian, is hurried and feels like a sequence Bosch and Naschy were obliged to incorporate rather than something that is integral to the film’s plot. Nevertheless, there is some particularly striking makeup in this sequence, with Leila’s face covered in sores, her hands and feet marred with stigmata, and her eyes covered with cataracts.

Exorcismo (1975) - Juan Bosch uses sexualism as a metaphor opposing Franco Fascist conservatism
Juan Bosch uses sexualism as a metaphor opposing Franco Fascist conservatism

Notably, however, where The Exorcist and many of its imitators are overtly Catholic, Exorcism features a Protestant vicar and even references (albeit briefly) the English Reformation in its dialogue. Many of Naschy’s films—along with a notable number of Spanish horror films—were set either completely or partially in England. Setting, and partially filming, these pictures in England reputedly helped Spanish horror filmmakers to circumvent the notoriously oppressive film censorship regime in Francoist Spain. However, these films almost invariably demonstrated a curiously alien sense of both the local culture and geography. Memorably, for example, another Naschy film from this era, La maldición de la bestia (The Werewolf and the Yeti/Night of the Howling Beast, 1975), opens with shots of London over which an incongruous bagpipe rendition of “Scotland the Brave” can be heard. (Filmed closely to Exorcism, The Werewolf and the Yeti features a number of the same cast as Exorcism and some of the same props too–including the statue that is at the centre of the Satanists’ rituals.)

Exorcism is no different: the story takes place in the English countryside, outside Bristol (in the south of England), but at one point Leila is revealed to be participating in Satanic rituals in the ruins of a castle near the town of Annecy (which is in France). Adrian and Deborah travel to the castle, and delving into its depths witness a group of middle-class students with countercultural aspirations, performing vaguely Satanic rituals involving bloodletting, a fugly Pazuzu-like statue, copious amounts of nudity, and sexual couplings galore. The borders between England and continental Europe are collapsed in a way that would make a Brexiteer’s heart explode with rage: Adrian and Deborah’s rapid journey from Bristol to Annecy takes place in a matter of hours, or less, and when the police storm the (French) site of the Satanic orgy, they are clearly English bobbies (complete with “tit-head” helmets).

Exorcismo (1975) - The obligatory brain-scan of the possessed
Not to be outdone, Exorcismo offers its own version of the obligatory brain-scan

Regardless of the illogicalities that surface within the internal geography of the film, in Exorcism the landscape of England looks—as in many of Naschy’s films with Anglo settings—for the most part like rural Spain. Nevertheless, Naschy and Bosch insert some English colour into the proceedings: is there anything more determinedly “English” than the manner in which stoic vicar Adrian is introduced, dead-heading a rose bush in a quaint rural churchyard? Additionally, in Adrian’s office at the church is a very prominent monochromatic photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, which is frequently framed over and behind Naschy’s shoulder.

Wherever they were set or partially filmed, Spanish horror films of the period almost invariably focused on issues of authority and control, channelling the repressive Francoist dictatorship. In Exorcism, this is confronted in the relationship between the three figures of authority within the narrative: the psychiatrist Dr Lewton Buchanan (Jordi Torras), revealed to be corrupt through his sexual relationship with his former patient’s wife, Patricia (Maria Perschy)—the widow of Lawrence, who died in an asylum after Buchanan had him committed; the reactionary detective inspector, who asserts that the Satanists are simply poseurs—deeply bourgeois students seeking exotic thrills, and using Satanism as a pretext to practice promiscuity and drug-taking; and Adrian Dunning, a more balanced and contemplative authority figure, who conducts research prior to taking action, and is meditative in his approach to drawing conclusions about the events he witnesses.


Exorcismo (1975) -True evil confronts the protestant church
Exorcismo (1975) -True evil confronts the protestant church

The first two authority figures—Buchanan and the detective inspector—are either corrupt (in the case of the psychiatrist) or simply deeply judgemental and authoritarian (the detective inspector). Adrian represents an alternative type of authority—a “third way” that is more contemplative, fair, tolerant, and liberal. The film posits an almost didactic approach to these three pillars of authority: representatives of Medicine, the Law, and the Church. If Buchanan and the detective inspector represent the negative traits of the Francoist regime (corruption, bigotry, and authoritarianism), the liberal—but no less authoritative—Adrian is clearly presented as an alternative to these: a type of authority that is necessary, but embodies a sense of responsibility and humanity that the others lack. Nevertheless, as the film builds to its conclusion (the exorcism of Leila), Adrian is essentially railroaded by the narrative into espousing a more conservative set of values: Leila is, after all, possessed, and Adrian is ultimately required to perform a ritualistic exorcism on her.

Furthermore, in many ways, the detective inspector’s repressive views—dismissive of youth, and of any countercultural ideals—are validated by the plot: the young people clearly are participating in sexual orgies, and seemingly have been “corrupted” by rites and practices that are exotic to the English setting, brought from Africa by Richard. (Compare this with the unashamedly critical representation of the similarly bigoted and dictatorial values espoused by the detective sergeant played by Arthur Kennedy, in Jorge Grau’s 1974 Spanish zombie film No profanar el sueño de los muertos/The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue.[i]) “In this materialistic and consumeristic era, there are people who get together and invoke Satan,” the detective inspector tells Adrian, “There are Black Masses, covens, and whatnot. Obviously, this is an excuse to take drugs and give themselves over to sexual excesses. It’s just a racket organised by a few who get rich off it.”

Exorcismo (1975) - A truly horrible view of the possessed, stigmata, sores and cataracts and all
A truly horrible view of the possessed, stigmata, sores and cataracts and all

Spanish horror films of the early/mid 1970s—such as Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead pictures—particularly La noche de las gaviotas (The Night of the Seagulls), released the same year as Exorcism—seem preoccupied with the idea of occult rituals practised on beaches. Exorcism’s opening sequence depicts a Satanic ritual that takes place on a beach, presumably near the castle at Annecy that is mentioned later in the narrative. The participants are clearly young, countercultural types—not “serious” Satanists but thrill-seeking hippie students, as befitting the prejudices of the detective inspector. An equivalence is swiftly drawn in these opening moments between Black Magic and countercultural youth, predicting and quietly validating the detective inspector’s later assertions.

Following the car accident, Leila’s brother, John, accuses Richard of leading Leila into a life of drugs and parties. Archaeology student Richard, whose interest in history was fostered in his youth by Adrian, has recently returned from a research trip to Africa; the film suggests that his fascination with occultism, and his initiation of the Satanic gatherings amongst other likeminded students, originated in Africa. (During the Satanic mass held in the ruins of the Annecy church, the film anchors this suggestion with cutaways to a black man playing the drums.) There is an explicit association that the film draws between the idea of diabolical possession and wayward youth being led astray by “exotic” and countercultural ideas. (This association of demonic possession and youth countercultures, or at the very least the notion of youthful rebellion, bubbles away behind almost all of the Eurocult films about possession.)

Exorcismo (1975) - Leila stalks the room like a devilish predator
Leila stalks the room like a devilish predator

Of course, also bubbling away beneath this all is the implication that privileged young people from upper middle-class backgrounds (such as Leila and Richard) are more open to these negative cultural influences. Nevertheless, the liberal Adrian is tolerant of youthful experimentation, asserting early in the film that “Leila was always difficult, and you know how kids are today. We don’t always like their concept of freedom, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes justified.” Interestingly, the film’s subtle focus on class and privilege is undercut by the sexual relationship that exists between the clearly bisexual John (his room is bedecked in both beefcake and cheesecake photographs) and the family’s maid, Sandra (Martha Avile). Following John’s murder, Sandra conducts her own investigations, leading to her death—and the discovery of her body in that most proletarian of places, concealed beneath a mound of coal in the basement of the house.

Also present in Exorcism is an exploration of familial tensions, and an engagement with the nature/nurture debate (in the form of the suggestion—albeit one which is quickly dismissed by the plot—that rather than being possessed, Leila may have inherited her father’s mental illness). Patricia is the stepmother of John and Deborah, but the mother of Leila; and both John and Deborah suggest Patricia had their father incarcerated in a mental institution in order to pursue an affair with the psychiatrist who committed him. They also believe that Patricia treats Leila favourably, and see Patricia as procuring their father’s estate—which she has mismanaged to the point that, in dire financial straits, the Gibson family may need to sell their luxurious home.

Exorcismo (1975) - The vicar returns to do battle with eternal evil
The vicar (Paul Naschy) returns to do battle with eternal evil

Where John sees Leila’s boyfriend, Richard, as “depraved, a junkie,” Leila accuses John of wearing a “puritan mask.” Leila’s own “puritan mask” slips away during her period of possession. She accuses her mother of killing Lawrence so she can sleep with Buchanan, and she tries to seduce Adrian—who stoically rejects her. “I’m an evil girl, and I’m going to prove it,” Leila promises at one point, adding that “These flowers seem to shudder when I touch them.” At her birthday party, she lashes out verbally, calling the gathered guests “Pigs! Garbage!” and telling them, “You make me sick, all of you!”

As in so many films about demonic possession, medical intervention is suggested for Leila’s strange behaviour, and we see her being given an EEG (the film’s equivalent of the angiogram administered to Regan in The Exorcist). Adrian, however, believes that something more sinister may be afoot: “Sometimes the soul gets sick,” he suggests. As Leila’s behaviour becomes increasingly strange, it seems that she may be possessed by the spirit of her dead father, seeking revenge against the wife, Patricia, who betrayed him. At one point, Lawrence seems to use Leila as a vessel through which he berates his widow: “You locked me up in that asylum and left me there to rot, while you went to bed with that disgusting doctor,” Leila tells her mother, speaking with a male voice. Or alternatively, the spirit that possesses Leila may be something more diabolical, and may simply be masquerading as Lawrence. (The film never addresses this issue directly, leaving it ambiguous.)

Exorcismo (1975) - The hundred yard stare of god's salvation
The hundred yard stare of god’s mercy and salvation

The film lightly sketches a backstory for Adrian that may have been shaped by that of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) in The Exorcist. In Friedkin’s film, the possession of Regan by Pazuzu refers back to Merrin’s encounter with the statue of the same demon during an archaeological dig in Iraq (depicted in the film’s opening sequence). In Exorcism, Adrian tells Buchanan of an exorcism he assisted in a number of years earlier, during some time he spent in Brazil: “The case had all the characteristics of possessed people,” Adrian says, “The girl spoke and wrote in languages completely foreign to her.” The priest Adrian was assisting performed an exorcism on the subject, though Adrian “thought it was all in her mind due to hypnosis or drugs.” When Adrian finally confronts the entity that possesses Leila, in the exorcism that takes place at the film’s climax, the demon speaks through Leila, telling Adrian that they “meet again”—a veiled reference to Adrian’s experiences in South America.

Adrian expresses doubt about the concept of demonic possession, but Buchanan—who has already exhausted his medical options in investigating Leila’s strange behaviour—seems more willing to believe in a supernatural cause. After listening to Adrian’s story, Buchanan suggests that there were periods in history during which diabolical possession was widely held to be true. “Do you mean the medieval witches?” Adrian asks, “They were almost always poor hysterical women, victims of their own ignorance and the ignorance of others.”

Exorcismo (1975) - Juan Bosch seems to rush his climatic finale as if it were a chore
Juan Bosch seems to rush his climatic finale as if it were a chore

Ultimately, though, Adrian’s sense of rationalism in this debate, and his doubts about the legitimacy of the idea of demonic possession—and the practice of exorcism—are put aside in the film’s final 15 minutes. The physical manifestations of Leila’s possession (sores on her lips and face, stigmata on her hands and feet, cataracts on her eyes) provoke him into performing an exorcism.

Just prior to this, however, Adrian suggests that the entity—whatever it may be—that is possessing Leila is purely focused on creating disharmony and discontent. Again, the film returns subtly to the theme of wayward youth being led astray by radical, exotic, and countercultural ideas. “Perhaps Leila is not what he wants, but us,” Adrian suggests, “He wants to create hatred, cause confusion—to make us look filthy and damaged.” (During the exorcism, Adrian tells the demon that its intention is to “wipe out the good, and love, and justice.”) Against this, Adrian enters into the exorcism with an absolute sense of self-assurance: “I’ll win,” he asserts without a shred of doubt, “I’m a man of faith.”

Exorcismo (1975) - VPD VHS Box
Exorcismo Canon VHS box

Release and Distribution

Exorcism was released in Spain a few months prior to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Elsewhere, it seems to have been distributed very poorly—though it was released on VHS in the UK (by Canon) and in the US (by All Seasons Entertainment). It has fared much better in the digital home video era, being released on DVD by BCI and, later, on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory.

[i] See the article this writer wrote about Grau’s film for Horrified Magazine.

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen (Magdalena Possessed by the Devil 1974) – #NineTenthsOfTheLaw

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

This is the second in a series of articles looking at Eurocult films from the 1970s and 1980s that focus on a theme of diabolical/demonic possession.

The international popularity of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) provoked a slew of European horror films about diabolical possession; peaking in the mid-1970s, this subgenre slowly petered out at the end of the decade before becoming increasingly hybridised with other ‘lowbrow’ Eurocult subgenres (for example, the ‘nunsploitation’ film). Initially looking towards The Exorcist as their primary model, these films about diabolical possession sometimes also bore the influence of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), and, later on, Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976). These are their stories.

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen (1974) - Lobby Cards
Original lobby cards for Magdalena vom Teufel besessen

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen – Plot

After her grandfather is found murdered, crucified in an apparently ritualistic slaying, schoolgirl Magdalena (Dagmar Hedrich) experiences a change in temperament. The previously repressed teenager, a student at a boarding school, begins to display alarming behaviour. The school directress (Elisabeth Volkmann) and her assistant, Helen Price (Eva Kinsky), seek the assistance of Dr Werner (Peter Martin Urtel) and Father Conrad (Rudolf Schündler).

As Magdalena’s behaviour becomes increasingly vulgar, she is taken to the country house of Professor Falk (Werner Bruhns) for rest and relaxation—and for further investigation of what ails her. Falk is assisted by Dr Stone (Michael Hinz); thrown together, Magdalena and Stone begin to fall in love. Following an interlude in which the possessed Magdalena uses her sexuality to entice two men into committing murder over her, and after which Magdalena vows to claim that Stone has raped her, the demon possessing Magdalena is finally vanquished via the power of Christian prayer.


Released a mere six months after The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973), Walter Boos’ Magdalena vom Teufel besessen (released in English-speaking territories as, variously, Magdalena Possessed by the Devil, The Devil’s Female, and Beyond the Darkness—the latter not to be confused with Joe D’Amato’s grisly 1979 Italo-horror film Buio Omega, also released in English as Beyond the Darkness) was one of the first wave of European imitators of William Friedkin’s iconic US horror picture.

The director of Magdalena was Walter Boos. Boos had begun his career as a film editor and assistant director before turning to directing features in the early 1970s. His directorial debut was the third Schoolgirl Report film, SchulmädchenReport 3. Teil: Was Eltern nicht mal ahnen (Schoolgirl Report 3: What Parents Find Unthinkable/Schoolgirls Growing Up, 1972), on which he shared the directorial credit with Ernst Hofbauer.

In the same year, Boos was responsible for no less than three similar sexploitation films: Die jungen Ausreißerinnen: Sex-Abenteuer deutscher Mädchen in aller Welt (Innocent Girls Abroad); Mädchen, die nach München kommen (Sex at the Olympics/The Swinging Coeds); and Krankenschwestern-Report (Nurses on the Job/Nurse’s Report/Nurse on Call).

Magdalena vom Tuefel besessen (1974) - The opening frames reveal Magdalena's grandfather brutally crucified in the streets
Magdalena’s grandfather hangs brutally crucified in the streets

The bulk of Boos’ body of work as a director of features (which was relatively short-lived, from those first pictures in 1972 to his final feature, Drei Schwedinnen auf der Reeperbahn—released on UK VHS as Nympho Girls—in 1980) consists of sexploitation films in a similar vein to the Schoolgirl Report films. Ostensibly a horror film, Magdalena, Possessed by the Devil is, at least superficially, the clear outlier in Boos’ filmography.

Magdalena’s script was by August Rieger, who only a few years previously had written the screenplay for Freddie Francis’ German-made horror-comedy Gebissen wird nur nachts: das Happening der Vampire (The Vampire Happening). Having written his first feature in 1951, Rieger was an experienced writer of features but was as equal a ‘noob’ to the horror genre as Boos: the bulk of the scripts Rieger had previously written were for comedies, thrillers, and adventure films—predominantly for West German films with limited to no international appeal or distribution, but occasionally for European co-productions (such as Mario Siciliano’s Sette baschi rossi, aka Congo Hell/The Red Berets/The Seven Red Berets, in 1968). Essentially, Rieger’s work as a scriptwriter followed whichever trends were popular in West German cinema at the time.

With such a pedigree, it’s unsurprising that Magdalena positions itself almost as much as a sexploitation picture as a horror film, with its themes intersecting as much with the Schoolgirl Report films (and their ilk) as with The Exorcist. The narrative quickly establishes its setting in a Catholic girls’ school (a familiar setting for West German sexploitation films of the early ‘70s) and seizes every available opportunity to present its lead actress, Dagmar Hedrich, in the nude. (Surprisingly, given the chutzpah she demonstrates in Magdalena, Hedrich apparently only appeared in two films—this, and as a German tourist in the obscure Brazilian film Férias No Sul, directed by Reynaldo Paes de Barros in 1967.)

In particular, there are two rather vivid scenes in which Magdalena is raped by an unseen force (which the viewer is led to believe is the demon that possesses her) that, in their staging, pre-empt Sidney J Furie’s much later horror film The Entity (1983). One of these is even filmed almost entirely from the point-of-view of the demon itself. In Furie’s film, of course, Barbara Hershey plays a woman who finds herself victimised sexually by an malevolent invisible entity. (Similar scenes also appear in Alberto De Martino’s Italian demonic possession film L’anticristo/The Antichrist, also released in 1974.)

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen (1974) - Magdalena writhes in demonic ecstasy
Magdalena writhes in demonic ecstasy in a visual that would of The Entity (1982)

Magdalena opens with the discovery, by a streetwalker, of the crucified corpse of Magdalena’s grandfather, Joseph Winter, whose death has occurred under seemingly ritualistic circumstances on Ash Wednesday: the victim’s larynx has been crushed, and a strange burn mark is found on his forehead. (Though not mentioned in the dialogue, this narrative event seems cognisant of the fact that Ash Wednesday is claimed to be the day on which pagan Druids would perform human sacrifice in order to ensure good crop yields.)

Following this, the film’s titles play out with an onscreen quotation from Pope Paul VI’s speech from the 15th of November, 1972, in which the Pope explored the nature of evil: “Wir alle stehen unter einer finsteren Herrschaft, der des Teufels, des Fursten dieser Welt, des Feindes Nummer eins. Deises dunkle und beunruhigenden Wesen gibt es wirk lich.” (“We are all under a dark rule, that of the devil, the prince of this world, enemy number one. These dark and disturbing beings are real.”)

With its subsequent scenes, Magdalena spends some time mulling about in the territory of the krimi (West German crime films), focusing on the investigation into Winter’s murder as the police interview various people who knew the victim—including his landlady, Mrs Baumer.

It’s Baumer who directs the police towards Winter’s granddaughter, Magdalena. An orphan whose parents were killed in an accident, Magdalena is shown performing the typical activities of a (screen) teenager: shopping for records, working part-time at a clothes shop, and dancing at a party. She is well-balanced and happy… except for the fact that she is regarded as frigid by her friends, who refer to her as the “vestral virgin.”

Magdalena’s classmates don’t share her reticence towards sex. “The poor thing’s so uptight she lives just like a nun,” one of Magdalena’s classmates observes; “That could never happen to us,” another girl responds, slipping her hand into the first girl’s knickers. This is simply the first of many scenes in Magdalena that wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporaneous entry into the Schoolgirl Report series—which throughout the rest of this article, is a phrase that will be used to encapsulate the general trends in various West German sexploitation pictures, which largely followed the lead set by the Schoolgirl Report series.

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen (1974) - Walter Boos also injects elements of German krimi (crime) films
Magdalena vom Teufel besessen also injects elements of German krimi (crime) films

Magdalena’s relationship with sex soon changes when she becomes the victim of demonic possession. The possession itself begins with the sound of buzzing flies, and strange growling sounds that Magdalena hears in her room at the school. Soon, she is wrestling on the floor with something invisible, and plotting to kill the cute terrier (named Alfie) who belongs to the school’s directress. (“That dog must die,” the possessed Magdalena mutters in reference to the cute pup.) The process of possession culminates in a scene in which Magdalena strips off her nightdress, writhing orgasmically on her bed as she is fucked by the invisible demon.

Later, in another sequence that wouldn’t be out of place as a vignette in a Schoolgirl Report film—aside from the manner in which the sequence concludes itself, that is—Magdalena runs away from the school. She hitches a ride in a vehicle driven by a young man. She falls asleep, and he sexually assaults her… but Magdalena is overcome by the demonic entity that possesses her, and she responds by attacking the young man, fracturing his arm and shoulder.

Once the possession of Magdalena manifests itself, the film returns to a familiar paradigm from European imitators of The Exorcist: scenes in which a representative of medicine (Dr Werner) and a man of the cloth (Father Conrad) debate the existence of evil. A medical investigation is performed (Magdalena is subjected to an electroencephalogram, this film’s equivalent of the angiography Regan undergoes in The Exorcist). Father Conrad has concluded that Magdalena is possessed. Meanwhile, Professor Falk believes Magdalena’s symptoms to veer between those associated with “hysteria to manic-depressive psychosis, or split personality, to signs of epilepsy, etcetera etcetera.” He denounces Conrad’s suggestion: “the Devil is not our domain,” Falk insists, adding that “I’m a doctor and a materialist.”

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen (1974) - Magdalena receives a brain-scan to figure out what causes her strange behaviors
It seems the gratuitous brains-scan scene made popular by demonic possession films did not escape Walter Boos

Later, Falk tells Conrad, “I can see you and I are diametrically opposed in the case. Medical science doesn’t accept that supernatural creatures can possess the soul.” The incoherence of this statement (that Falk, a man of science, talks about the soul, whilst denying that a supernatural entity can possess it) seems utterly unintentional—a case of unscientific science that wouldn’t be out of place in current times.

Notably, in the role of Father Conrad, Magdalena features the actor Rudolf Schündler. Schündler had played Karl Engstrom, the caretaker of the building in which Chris and Regan MacNeil live, in The Exorcist, and he would on to feature in a key Eurohorror film of the late-1970s, as Professor Milius in Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977).

The school itself, presided over by the directress and her assistant, Helen Price (named Hilde Price in the German-language version), is bedecked in primary colours and photographed using wide-angle lenses. At the heart of it is a spiral staircase where Magdalena’s strange behaviour is first noticed by her peers. In fact, the visual design of the school—not to mention the staging of the supernatural events of mysterious origin that take place within its walls—bears some presumably incidental similarities with the ballet school (the Tanz Dance Akademie) in the later Suspiria.

As in so many of these films, Magdalena’s possession manifests itself in vulgar language and increasingly sexualised behaviour. “I wanna fuck,” Magdalena tells Dr Werner when he arrives to inspect her, “Come on, put it in! Put it in!” To Father Conrad, she memorably rants: “I want to take communion, but not in my mouth—down here in my pussy, you dirty nunfucker.” If nothing else, these films can be counted on to offer some wonderfully quotable dialogue.

Like many of its contemporaries within the subgroup of European demonic possession films, Magdalena connects sex with the diabolical, with Dr Werner observing that Magdalena has been overcome with “a compulsion to use very offensive language, a compulsion to shout obscenities at the top of her lungs, an obsessive compulsion to make lascivious gestures.”

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen - Magdalena once again gets violated by a demon in a way that serves Boos' sexploitation goals as much as any narrative
Magdalena once again gets violated by a demon in a way that serves Boos’ sexploitation goals as much as any narrative

Like the Schoolgirl Report films, which were assembled from a series of vignettes, Magdalena is a film that features a number of interconnecting elements that don’t quite gel together in a completely convincing manner. Firstly, there is the influence of the krimi subgenre in the investigation into the murder of Magdalena’s grandfather. Then there is the suggestive Schoolgirl Report-style shenanigans that take place in the boarding school, culminating in the demonic rape and possession of Magdalena. This is followed by the dialectical conversations between Father Conrad and Professor Falk, and the medical investigation of Magdalena, which bears the film’s closest resemblance to The Exorcist. Finally, there is the movement to Professor Falk’s country retreat, with the romance between Magdalena and Dr Stone, and her murder of lusty local drunks.

Significantly, the film avoids the climactic exorcism that is the lynchpin of so many Euro imitators of The Exorcist. However, instead it turns Magdalena into a femme fatale who uses the lust of men to drive them to commit murder. Whilst staying at Falk’s country retreat, Magdalena sneaks out of the cottage at night and visits a local pub. There, she gives the “come hither” to a drunken patron, Robby, allowing him to touch her up before luring him to a deserted bowling alley. Then she returns to the pub, doing the same with Robby’s friend, George. (“Come on, stick it in me!” she tells George, “Fuck me.”) Inevitably, the two men confront one another, Magdalena goading them: “Let’s see which one is stronger. The winner gets me. I’m worth it too.” The outcome of this competition is that George kills Robby; Magdalena cackles like a witch and vanishes.

Again, this idea of a woman using her sexuality to drive an “innocent” man to kill his friend out of competitive lust, is a theme very much in line with the Schoolgirl Report films and other West German sex films of the 1970s. Men, these films often posit, cannot control themselves when there is a pretty girl around, reverting to crude animalistic behaviours. Elsewhere, Magdalena falls back on that old chestnut of shit-stirring femmes fatales of 1970s sex pictures—the false claim of sexual assault—when she tells Dr Stone, after he has helped her following a fall from her bicycle, “I think I’ll tell the professor that you were trying to rape me.” Not long afterwards, she follows through on this promise, engaging Stone in a kiss and canoodle session whilst she is naked, before strangling him with his necktie and screaming as if she is being assaulted.

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen (1974) - Some vomit peas soup, Magdalena vomits snakes
Some possessed vomit pea soup, Magdalena vomits snakes

In this context, it’s easy to see Magdalena vom Teufel besessen through 21st Century eyes and dismiss its caveman sexual politics as pretty definitively retrograde: men are, at their core, brutes who are unable to control their instincts; and women love to use their sexuality in order to lure men into a spirit of murderous competition. But in truth, such sexual politics seemed equally retrograde in the 1970s, during the era of the Women’s Lib movement.

Even the sequence in which Professor Falk hypnotises Magdalena is expressed in terms that are overtly Freudian. As Magdalena falls under the spell of Falk’s medical hypnosis, she goads him, “You just want me to pass out so you can fuck me, don’t you?” Hypnotised, she speaks in strange voices and other languages. Afterwards, Falk tells Conrad that Magdalena “acted exactly the way you described: gibberish, obscenities, bestial sounds; suddenly very feverish. But it was an unusual kind of excitation.”

As if to hammer home the Freudian subtext of this discussion of hypnosis—and equivalence that is drawn between the medical/religious investigation of a woman and sexual domination of her body and will—Falk concludes by stating that “I must one way another get to penetrate her subconscious.” “That’s what I want too,” Father Conrad tells him—but he aims to do this through prayer rather than the appliance of science.

When, shortly afterwards, Falk and Stone witness a naked Magdalena being sexually assaulted by the invisible demon (in a scene shot almost entirely from the demon’s point-of-view, and designed to titillate as much as horrify), Stone observes that “It looked as if some invisible creature was raping her.” In response, Falk suggests that Magdalena was “wrestling with her subconscious.”

Magadlena vom Teufel besessen (1974) - Walter Boos also explores the topic of religion versus medicine
Walter Boos also explores the topic of religion versus medicine

One of the key recurring themes of the Schoolgirl Report films was that of adolescent schoolgirls pursuing sexual relationships with male authority figures, and/or being sexually assaulted by older men. It’s perhaps fair to say that the 1970s have, particularly since the revelations regarding Jimmy Savile and other celebrities, come to be seen as a decade tainted by an emphasis on some privileged middle-aged men’s prurient interests in too-young girls. The Schoolgirl Report films pursued this cultural trend in the open and with gusto, albeit in scenarios that were absurd and with actresses who—as with US high school films of the 1980s and 1990s—were at least a decade older than the “schoolgirls” they were playing.

Nevertheless, the third film in the series—Boos’ directorial debut—was in the ‘00s condemned by the German censors and caused significant consternation when it was released on DVD by US label Impulse Pictures for its focus on rape and the sex lives of underaged folks. The cinematic pleasures of one era don’t always translate comfortably, or conveniently, to another.

All this is worth mentioning because a significant proportion of the scenes in the second half of Magdalena focus on a relationship that seems to be lifted straight out of the Schoolgirl Report playbook. Where her counterparts in the Schoolgirl Report films frequently became Hot for Teacher (Van Halen reference intended), after Magdalena has been taken to the cottage for treatment by Professor Falk and Dr Stone, she quickly becomes Hot for Doctor.

It isn’t long before Magdalena and Dr Stone develop a sexual relationship, which seems completely accepted by the other characters—regardless of the fact that Magdalena is both a schoolgirl and Stone’s patient. In fact, the film’s final moments see the “cured” Magdalena and Dr Stone walk off together, their relationship met with approval by Professor Falk and the others.

Magdalena vom Teufel besessen (1974) - VHS release covers
German VHS release cover (left). Canadian CIC release cover (right)

In this film, perhaps more than in some of the other European films about demonic possession, there is a clear association that is drawn between the articulation of female sexuality and the diabolical. The film suggests that women use their sexual power over men to lure them into committing acts of violence against others or against themselves. The medical investigation of “deviant” women requires dominating their body and will by “penetrating” their psyche.

Finally, in the film’s final moments, the demon is expelled from Magdalena’s body when Stone encourages her to recite a Christian prayer. A serpent—a creature that is both phallic and filled with religious connotations—writhes out of Magdalena’s mouth (in a truly disturbing moment), and Stone stamps on it. The serpent disappears, and Falk observes simply that “There are things between heaven and hell.”

What, precisely, those things are is never articulated directly.

What lingers in the mind about Magdalena vom Teufel besessen, aside from its emphasis on sex, are the lowkey effects used to suggest the demonic possession of the film’s titular character: a buzzing of flies on the soundtrack, an electronic hum, and makeup that—in comparison with the caked-on “demonic” makeup of many of its contemporaries—consists of little more than moisture on the face of Hedrich, to suggest a sweaty, glistening tone to her skin.

Release and Distribution

Outside West Germany, Magdalena had a theatrical release in a few countries, including the US, Japan, and France. The US cinema release was apparently cut, though the Canadian VHS release from CIC (as The Devil’s Female) was uncut. German videocassette releases were also uncut. In 2021, Magdalena vom Teufel besessen was released on Blu-ray by US label Dark Force Entertainment, in a presentation sourced from the film’s US internegative—but with the material trimmed from the US release patched in from a lesser-quality source.