Sunday, August 4, 2019

On German Sexploitation and Devil-Possession Movies: Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen (Magdalena, Possessed by the Devil) (1974)


directed by Walter Boos (as Michael Walter)
starring Dagmar Hedrich, Werner Bruhns,
Michael Hinz, Rudolf Schündler


Let's say you're looking for ace parody of the innocent-girl-inhabited-by-demons-and-turned-into-a-foul-mouthed-wildcat films that sprouted like post-Spring Break genital warts across the Seventies' cinematic landscape in the wake of a certain William Friedkin masterpiece. Well, you needn't bother with witless spoofs such as 1990's Repossessed, in which an apparently-short-on-coke-money Linda Blair decided to cash in on her sole claim to fame by pasting on the old demon-girl makeup and vexing a bumbling priest played by The Naked Gun's Leslie Nielsen. You may also skip — as funny as it is — the faux Exorcist sequel from Saturday Night Live's first season, in which guest host Richard Pryor and blaxploitation/black-sitcom regular Thalmus Rasulala show up to exorcise a possessed Laraine Newman and wind up strangling the demon out of her when it starts talkin' 'bout dey mommas. Blaxploitation's 1974 Abby comes closer, with Carol Speed from The Mack as a Louisville preacher's wife taken over by an ancient African sex deity — a real back-to-the-jungle pilgrimage for this respectable daughter of the emergent black American middle class. Though, sadly, it lacks the wanton displays of sooty tittage you'd expect from a cautionary folktale about Negroes succumbing to their inner Bantus and all the dangers that poses to civil rights gains and to black family stability, the bulk of it is so community-theater-workshop in its acting and directing as to exceed every fantasy you've ever had about what a great bad movie should be. But then it chucks moments at you like the scene where Speed is carving up chicken in the kitchen and starts slicing away at her own arm in crazed, tongue-wagging ecstasy — the effects are as startling as they are campy and the movie begins to achieve a bit of legit trash-horror momentum.


What you're looking for, then, is none other than Deutschland's 1974 entry in the demonic-strumpet sweepstakes: Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen, directed by assembly-line teen-nudie hack Walter Boos under the pseudonym of Michael Walter, as if Magdalena's producers didn't want their genre masterpiece tainted by association with Boos' less-than-illustrious resume, whose highlights include such softcore paeans to the incandescence of youth as The Swinging Co-eds, Schoolgirl Report 3: What Parents Don't Even Suspect, Schoolgirl Report 5: What All Parents Should Know, Intimate Teenager, Swedish Playgirls, The Tavern of the Sinful Daughters, Confessions of a Campus Virgin and — lest it vanish into the mists of history — Schoolgirl Report 13, with its seemingly definitive proof of God's cruelty in the rather inordinately developed gifts of thirteen year-old jailbait (and future jailbird) Katja Bienert. (Fun fact: Schoolgirl Report producer Wolf C. Hartwig is the very same Wolf Hartwig who'd make a bid for legitimacy by bankrolling Sam Peckinpah's last great film — 1977's Cross of Iron.)


Boos imbues Magdalena with an Ed Woodian pseudo-solemnity that, combined with the film's tonal disjointedness and the porn-worthy bons mots on the English-dubbed dialogue track, makes it a must for smug agnostics who like to host Bad Movie Nights. He opens on a drunken whore in a candy-red fright wig tottering home after dismissing the advances of a fat cheapskate with the temerity to offer only a single bill for the use of her trashed-out stank-box. (She: "For that stinkin' amount, I wouldn't even let you smell it!" He: "Smell it? Who the hell would want to?!") She then enters a courtyard where she discovers the corpse of an old man, crucified fully Christ-like on the wall next to the door. As she stumbles off, screaming for help and now wigless, a quote from Pope John Paul appears over the dead man to lend some spiritual gravitas to his demise, I suppose. Then, over a freeze frame of this blasphemous spectacle, the film's title theme kicks in: a romantic Liszt-gone-Muzak piano number that's, of course, so hilariously inappropriate for the visual it's matched up to, and for the mood that Boos is trying to establish here, you have to wonder if the film is in on the joke. But then you recall the autistic humorlessness of your average German, and you remind yourself that the Seventies predated the overuse of "irony"-as-deflation by today's worthless hipster shitbags — nope, this thing is dead serious.


As the film's insta-plot has it (you could conjure it from your own memories of a thousand B-horror clones), the crucified old man was the beloved grandfather of our Magdalena, who's grown up the goody-two-shoes of her girls' boarding school after the death of her parents in what's referred to with delicious ominousness as "that terrible accident." She's played by Dagmar Hedrich with all the toothy ebullience of a model in a Colgate commercial as she bops along asexually to a tune in a record shop and leads the other girls in a hip-hip-hooray for the school's headmistress after having virtuously resisted a boy's come-on — it's the same exaggerated girl-next-door-ness that the Schoolgirl Reports and their hardcore knock-offs among the era's German fuck-flicks would use to make the inevitable blond bush-baring defilement over breathily grunted "oh, ja's" that much sweeter. Magdalena starts all po-faced with the old man laid out on a coroner's table as his crushed larynx and his forehead adorned with a strange claw-like marking are explained, TV procedural-style, to the investigating detective. There's an endearingly feeble stab at spooking us — it's like your little nephew trying to tell you a scary story he heard — as the assistant headmistress recounts the ritualistic details of his death and looks right into the camera at us, as if she'd been directed to imagine peering into our very souls.


Then, Grandpa's corpse springs to life — erect — and our Maggie drops to the floor in the middle of a party, her pelvis thrust into the air in a coital arch, her mouth agape as an involuntary receptacle before erupting in the money shot of a foamy white discharge. The disc I have of this movie was clearly sourced from an old VHS tape, as video tracking lines appear at the bottom of the screen with amusingly lo-fi regularity — especially appropriate as Magdalena's one of those movies you'd have plucked from your neighborhood video store shelf on an off-night back in 1987, based on little but whatever scantily clad cooze was plastered across the display box. That relegation to a now-fossilized era of home video technology lends a nifty proto-Ring synchronicity to the "scares": the tracking lines flare up here at the precise moment that Magdalena begins convulsing and rocking her head from side to side in Dagmar Hedrich's best approximation of a fit, distorting the image and even the accompanying audio as if whatever was bursting out of her was so powerful that it crossed over into our realm and had caused the tape containing it to warp inside the VCR at the same time.


Soon, our Maggie's running a clawed fingertip up the length of our twitching lapsed-Catholic hard-ons the way a bargain-bin demon dolly should: fighting off an invisible hellhound in the grip of bare-assed delirium; demolishing a door like a charging linebacker and smashing up every dish in the house; damning the dead before climbing up a wall like a wild animal; overpowering a would-be car rapist with her newfound Incredible Hulk strength; dispensing with enough creative insults — "whoremaster," "ass-licker" — to qualify for a David Mamet play; causing the whole furniture-flying-about-the-room bit; ripping a Bible in half in a stage-worthy stunt that could've garnered her the frontwoman spot in an all-girl black-metal band; communing with her dead gramps — now revealed as a Satanist whose postmortem telepathic molestation of her provided the force inside him with a new host — and declaring her murderous allegiance to their dark lord; demanding that a priest slip his communion wafer between her other set of lips before accusing him of being a "dirty nun-fucker." (This film couldn't even afford a top-notch demon — at least Pazuzu from The Exorcist would have hipped Maggie to that open secret about the priests and their altar boys.) Maggie sits with wires attached to her head as a doctor runs his battery of tests on her — per The Exorcist, no one in these movies ever believes the causes of the problems are supernatural — and then the doctor convenes with the priest: there's nothing wrong with her brain as far as he can tell. A professor interested in her case invites her and the doctor to his country home for further study, as if ping-pong, riding horses, and the goo-goo eyes she winds up making at the doctor could remedy a sudden schizophrenic switch from vestal virgin to sailor-mouthed cocktease from hell; Boos is, of course, only softening us up for what's to come.


She awakens in a slutty-jailbait-Regan-from-Exorcist-II trance in the middle of the night, then slips off to the local biergarten to flash titty at a bearded stranger through the window, luring him outside to make out with her and finger-fuck her behind a tree. She makes him wait for her while she goes back to the window to repeat the bit with the bearded man's friend — the demonic entity, of course, having kicked away the hedge of behavioral restraints that society's placed around her for her own benefit. She gets this second man off to a secluded area, then stands there nude, gyrating her hips at him in a goofy yet titillating pinch of Brigitte Lahaie frisson to make it plain to him that she ain't there for get-to-know-you chat. When the bearded man arrives to scuffle with his mustached friend for having dashed off with his night's conquest, our Teutonic Teufel-taken tart switches to a tactic so frighteningly relevant to our current mass hysteria of "believe all women no matter how uncorroborated or suspiciously timed or obviously politically motivated their allegations are," she may as well have squatted upon the ground and left well-funded, would-be career-wreckers like Christine Blasey Ford plus the entire fueled-by-whores'-regret #MeToo movement writhing in their on-camera afterbirth: she claims to the bearded man that his pal tried to rape her, then she takes a ringside seat to the fight to the death she's just incited, purring at them that she'll fuck whoever wins. "I'm worth it, too," her voice double coos as Hedrich parts her thighs and air-grinds Maggie's rivalry-moistened hotbox just over the wooden floor so vigorously that you're imagining some poor-yet-lucky bastard on the film crew being tasked with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers for the splinter she's about to catch.


Curiously, the film anticipates the true-life case of Maggie's fellow fräulein Anneliese Michel, a Bavarian girl who wasted away in 1976 after a year's worth of Catholic exorcism rites to rid her of demons that she and her deeply religious parents believed inhabited her. An autopsy pointing to malnutrition and the subsequent trial of her parents for criminal neglect made her a cautionary tale of faith run amok for the new godless West — the former Johnny Rotten used her as a conduit for his own Catholicism issues on the first Public Image Ltd. album in 1978; countless horror flicks since (Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Requiem, et al.) have used her case to supplant The Exorcist as the new devil-possession template. The surviving audio tapes of her various exorcisms attest to lead-singer-of-Cannibal-Corpse growls and other profoundly masculine sonorities unlikely in normal circumstances to have erupted from an emaciated twenty-three year-old girl for hours on end. Magdalena scripts this to the letter, except it's a litany of scorned-woman aggressions we get from its sweaty, contorted Anneliese in sinister old-maid tones: strangled husbands' mistresses, blood and bone marrow slurped from victims, sodomy "with whores and beasts," sliced-off testicles. At last, the story behind the Christ mockery at the head of the film: the voice of Magdalena's grandfather, testifying to his having been strangled and pinned to the wall of his house by his own wife (on Ash Wednesday, no less). It's not until the film's immediate post-climax that we get any visual confirmation of Magdalena's possession, when an induced "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" causes her to vomit up a tiny black garden snake that's crushed underfoot in a typical Euro-grindhouse fulfillment of the genre's apparent animal snuff mandate. The real Devil in our teen-orphan Miss Jones, though, is there all along and it's nothing less than the "devil" that animates all womanly flesh, Boos affirms: the collective taste for chaos-making of strumpets and virgins, little girls and old maids alike; the manipulative blackness and aristocratic wielding of pussy power that oozes post-menarche from false gods sanctified in the true religion of Western civilization — female worship — as inevitably as their monthly discharge.


Boos literalizes the cocktease-from-hell conceit: the mustached man stabs his bearded friend to death and Maggie literally vanishes over the echo of her sadistic laugh. Riding bikes with the doctor she's been leading on, she fakes a fall then threatens him as he dashes over to her: "I think I'll tell the professor that you were trying to rape me." She offers herself to him over the ping-pong table, then pushes him off, cackling. She takes him in her arms after another horse ride, then lays it out for him: he's going to have to kill the professor for "imprisoning" her at his clinic. The doc knows full well she's up to her "damn tricks," as he'll spit at her later, but like the classic film-noir fall guy, he's beholden to his own beta masochism — hopelessly entangled in femme-fatale gossamer that feels too good to break. When he finds her playing piano in the nude (in the kind of unabashed trash-flick eroticism more "legitimate" sex films have yet to learn from), he engages her in a makeout session with those inky, snatched-soul orbs of hers captivated by something or someone only she can see before she attempts to strangle him with his own ascot. After this, she'll beckon him to her room then holler you-know-what exactly as she'd promised, and what could be funnier or more fitting for an ascot-wearing dandy who refuses to learn the truths to which men far below his station have long since resigned themselves, than that she does so immediately after he's declared his all-consuming love for her?


Obviously, this is sexploitation-schlock with horror elements rather than the other way around — and thank my benevolent Christian God for that; were my entire cinematic diet to consist of lockjawed Downton Abbey emoting from gummy Brit spinster-faces too high off the passing fancies of Oscar buzz and thespian "integrity" to realize that they'll never matter as actresses until they get their kits off and properly purify their Apollonian jiggle in the Lake Minnetonka of our collective smirking-Prince gaze, I might wind up doing something drastic. Three ripe hunks of Magdalena Limburger make the exploitation cheese hall of fame. The first is Hedrich's solo pantomime of a sex scene as Magdalena's roused from sleep by her demon for funny business. She asks aloud what it wants of her, she begins porno-delighting in its invisible diddling; seized by a rush of carnal urgency, she Hulk Hogans her flimsy nightgown, revealing the gap between milkers of a distractingly evident tit job — you could fly from L.A. to Munich in less time than it would take you to go from one tit to the other. Then, she's flipping over and serving up her peach of an ass to the demon's craftily foreshadowed yen for doggystyle — and to her own gut need as a woman to be taken in as bestial a fashion as possible. Next, and even better, is a scene charged with the exhibitionist impulse of every authority-hating Catholic schoolgirl: stark naked as the headmistresses look on in shock, Maggie rips in half a photo of her dear deceased parents, shouts obscenities and sprays spit at the two older women; then, while masturbating and declaring that she wants to fuck, she drops to the floor, her generously exposed (and rather respectably trimmed for the Seventies) bare bush bucking wildly against the air, waxing circles against the phantom pelvis that's batter-ramming engorged spirit-cock into her inner Baphomet's head. The assistant headmistress' attempt at restraining her turns Maggie into a feral cat; seconds later, under a poster of a kitten — the more tameable variety of pussy that any civilization requires its future mothers to embody — it's the male penetration of a doctor's injection that brings her back to pliability.


The film's climax — and ours — is an extended rape-by-malevolent-entity centerpiece shot entirely from the demon's point of view, which gives us, the closet perverts of the sexploitation crowd with our Rear Window longing from safe distances and our quenchless hunger for sacrificial celluloid lambs, the ultimate in queasy, vicarious thrills: we're violators by proxy. We're hovering right over Magdalena as she glares into us with panicked hope against hope, weakly attempting to shield her breasts and her stiffening nipples from us as she bleats her impotent "no's" and cries of "You're hurting me!" over the cacophony of sound effects that's swirling around us and nearly drowning out her resistance as if God himself had ordained this defilement and all of nature had aligned in unison to assist us in its unholy consummation. It's we the audience who pin her wrists to the mattress and hold her down; it's we the audience whose shadow darkens her triangular thatch of bush and her taut, open stomach as we advance upon her and pry her legs apart with a single decisive jolt. It's we the audience whom Boos' camera brings close enough to tongue the beads of sweat collected on her forehead; and it's we the born voyeurs watching anonymously from the confines of our own living rooms, whom Boos grabs by the napes of our necks and thrusts face-first into the very fantasy that we've paid to have enacted for our pleasure: we're forced into participation, into complicity with what's unfolding, into ownership of all our dirty-little-cunt degradation fantasies. We're denied the flattery of middle-class remove with which better films, in all their civic-duty brow-furrowing over "problematic" depictions of women, keep themselves — and us — floating above the fray in an antiseptic cloud of superiority. Boos yokes our moviegoer's impatience at being denied an easy payoff to the rapist's pique at his victim's struggling — Magdalena kicks us off of her just when we think we've got her subdued, and then we really get rough with her: snatching her down onto the bedroom floor, then throwing her back onto the bed, where she's pinned face-down, arms wrenched behind her, as we creep toward her and around her Roman sculpture of an ass offered up to us like freshly cooked farm kill, before we mount her and proceed to mash her pretty little grimace into the bedsheets with perversely drawn-out hymen-bursting savored by the film in an unbroken, real-time wave of hand-held turbulence that'll cause seasickness in the misguidedly sensitive.


Never mind Magdalena's demons, Boos the audience exorcist has just trapped us in a room with our own and, in the process, he jerks off the shared unconscious of a Womyn's Lib™-battered West to a far harder, far more eruptive finish than any of his grindhouse contemporaries ever dared; far harder, in fact, than even hardcore pornography has ever managed — barring, of course, some of the extreme fetish videos put out by the warped bastards in Japan.

©2019 Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic

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