Do you like your exorcisms in black & white or tinted color?
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 04/24/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"To be very clear, this is not really a double feature we are watching this Saturday night, but a strange opportunity to see the same movie twice. "Naked Evil" is a 1966 black & white film directed by Stanley Goulder who adapted it from a play by Jon Manchip White called "The Obi." The film was not merely known as "Exorcism at Midnight" when it was screened in the United States, it was (a) given a framing device shot in color that appears at the start, middle, and end of the film, and (b) the rest of the black and white film was tinted. Not only that, there is actually an explanation in the framing device for why most of the movie is tinted.
In "Naked Evil" is set in an English town that seems to be populated mostly by Jamaicans and when two rival gangs go at it one of them employs an obi, which is a voodoo object that is simply a bottle filled with graveyard dirt and stuffed with feathers. Breaking it is a bad thing because it releases a demon and then wackiness ensues (like people flying out of windows). With people dying violently and the local graveyard being desecrated, so Inspector Hollis (Richard Coleman) is checking out some leads at the local youth hostel where the Jamaicans and other science students from around the Commonwealth live. The headmaster Mr. Benson (Basil Dignam) and Father Goodman (Olaf Pooley) happen to know something about obis and voodoo, so that helps take care of the exposition. They also find that Amizan (Brylo Forde), the old caretaker from the West Indies has dead chickens and other voodoo type stuff in his basement room. Meanwhile, Danny (George Saunders), one of the Jamaican students gets possessed by the demon and the Inspector is no longer talking about pranks. Suzanne Neve is Janet, the headmaster's secretary, and Anthony Ainley is Dick Alderson, his assistant, who are seeing each other and get to be the white couple in danger, presumably so the audience has characters with whom they can more readily identify, although they less interesting than Danny and his fiance.
You have to remember that this is a story about demon possession and exorcism before William Peter Blatty and Linda Blair. The gang element is so low keyed you forget it is part of the story, and it is the exorcism that becomes the climax of the film. This is a low budget film put out by Columbia and there is a nice touch at the end as the sound continues over the Columbia logo. But even for the English this is really just such a low-keyed film. Every one is just too calm and talk about demon possession and exorcism in the most reasonable terms. Even the Jamaicans are rather cool given there are a far way from home and engaging in voodoo and mayhem. So when we get to the drama of the actual exorcism and the attempt to cast out the demon as it jumps from body to body, it is really hard to get too excited, which is not what you want at that point in a film like this one.
In "Exorcism at Midnight" we get the exact same film but with the framing story stat offers Lawrence Tierney ("Reservoir Dogs") as the doctor, Catherine Erhardt as the nurse, and Addision Green as Blair, the guy the doctor talks to when he is not talking to the nurse. I hear this new footage was shot in one day and you can get a kick out of everybody taking seriously the nonsense they are spouting to try and make the framing device work. The tinting job is actually not that bad and certainly makes more sense then going from full color to black & white. At the very least, this is an interesting way of watching a movie twice, so just go ahead and do it.
Unlike the DVDs from Something Weird and Killer Creature Double Feature there are relatively slim pickings when it comes to extras. There are a pair of trailers for "Naked Evil," although besides the scratches on the second one I am not sure what the differences are between the two (but I did learn the movie was in "Evilcolor"). There is a commentary track for "Exorcism at Midnight" that lasts maybe half the film by Sam Sherman, where he explains why they did what they did and who gets credit for what, and eventually runs out of stories (what is the point of talking about dirty limericks without actually telling one?). I rate both versions at 3 stars so there is no need to do additional math. Be sure to join us next weekend when we go back to cheap American horror movies with "The Beast From Haunted Cavez" and "The Brain That Wouldn't Die.""