Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Don't Deliver Us from Evil (1971): or, Satan Gets All the Chicks

Don't Deliver Us from Evil starts out with a bang. After a moody opening with the camera slowly zooming in on a lone candle in a somber cathedral, we cut to the dorm in a Catholic girls' school, where a young nun checks on the children in her care and then ducks behind a back-lit curtain to get out of the habit, stripping down porn theater-style to a nubile nude silhouette. From one of the beds, dark-haired pupil Anne (Jeanne Goupil) watches, chewing gum most significantly. Already I feel the need for confession.

Anne does too, as once the show's over she hides under the covers to write her wicked thoughts in her journal. However, rather than addressing the entry to "Dear Diary," she dedicates it to Lord Satan! It seems that Anne and her blonde BFF Lore (Catherine Wagener) have decided being good is for the birds, and naughtiness is much more fun. In the confines of the school, the girls avail themselves of such opportunities for evil as reading erotica together under their bedclothes (zang), outraging the priest with made-up sins at confession, putting on lipstick when no one's looking--and, of course, pledging themselves to Satan in their diaries. "We get such pleasure from doing bad," Anne scribbles to Old Scratch, "to sin has become our chief aim." Well, it's important to have goals in life.

This being a modern Catholic Girls' School, the pupils are allowed to go home on the weekend, though they're expected to spend one of their days off attending Mass. Anne and Lore are neighbors in beautiful rural France, where Anne's parents have a large estate, complete with herds of cattle, dirty uneducated farm hands, a house full of servants, and ruined buildings on the grounds for the girls to play in. Alone with her nice but not-very-attentive parents, Anne is obviously bored and pining for time with her evil blonde companion. She spends her time riding her bike, smoking, and kissing herself in her bedroom mirror, practicing wantonness for future use.

Rub it like you mean it.

She perks up when it's time to go to Mass, however, as the time at church allows her to reconnect with Lore. The new young priest is delivering another in his series of sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins, an no points for guessing which one is the subject this week--that's right, LUST, everyone's favorite. While the priest rails against this "most terrible" of sins, the girls imagine him naked and raving, frothing at the mouth and falling over--a rare comedic scene in what is otherwise a deadly serious movie. (Shots of the congregation listening to the sermon, picking their noses, mouths agape, obviously reflect the girls' view of their church-mates as ridiculous.)

Most germane to the plot, when the girls go up for communion at the end of the service, we see them both palm and pocket their Holy wafers. Shortly we learn that Anne and Lore are planning to perform a ceremony at the abandoned chapel on Anne's family's estate, and have collected "almost 100 Hosts" for the purpose. Back at school the following week, they also steal some holy robes, an old chalice, and a few sips of sacramental wine. cue the blasphemous music...

While returning to their bunks, they spy two twittering nuns--"Sister Martha and the novice!"--going into a locked room. Looking through the keyhole Anne sees the women doffing their wimples and exchanging a giddy kiss! Later she rats out the sapphic sisters to her priest, who gets very hot and bothered hearing about it, wanting to know "how it made [Anne] feel." She plays along, imagining the priest undressing and coming toward her...

You know she wants it.

So by this point writer/director Joël Séria has done a good job of setting up these two girls as intelligent but immature nymphettes, exploring both their burgeoning sexuality and their personal power with unusual but largely harmless pranks. They may have odd fixations, but they are clearly just kids--children playing at maturity, girls who are basically good but getting a kick out of being bad. However, when the summer vacation rolls round Anne's parents go on a two-month trip through Europe, leaving Anne alone at the estate in the care of the attentive housekeeping staff and Lore's parents, who are their neighbors. Without regular adult supervision or the structure of daily classwork, the pieces are in place for the girls to escalate their behavior, with increasingly dangerous and tragic results.

The first step up occurs when Anne and Lore are out biking and run into one of the cowherds in the process of taking a leak against a fence. After teasing him about that, they join him watching his cows and proceed to tease him in a more general way, Lore stretching out on the grass and flashing her panties while Anne asks suggestive questions like "Have you ever made love to a woman?" Driven to distraction, the farm hand finally makes a grab at Lore, who takes off running across the field laughing in a girlish, innocent way. She stops laughing when he gives chase and catches her, throwing her to the ground and proceeding to get very rapey in an extended, progressively harder-to-watch molestation scene. Finally Lore is able to dislodge him with a well-placed knee to the groin, and while he writhes in pain she and Anne, laughing again, open the gate and let all the cattle out before getting back on their bikes and zooming away.

Having tasted the sweet fruits of harassing the uneducated labor force, Anne and Lore next go to the hovel of Léon, a mentally challenged farmhand whose only companions are his half-dozen caged songbirds. Coldly, methodically, the girls poison the birds--"One at a time...so he'll suffer more." Séria lingers on one unfortunate creature writhing in its death throes (one suspects, despite assurances to the contrary, that animals WERE harmed in the making of this film) and later on the sadistic smiles of the girls as they watch poor Léon discovering his deceased pet. Later that night they go to the rapey cowherd's shack and set it and the surrounding haystacks of FIRE! (Shots of the girls riding their bikes through the fiery cataclysm, laughing all the way, are actually quite chilling.) Yes, things are DEFINITELY getting serious.

From the French remake of Norman J. Warren's Inseminoid

Deciding that the time has come to go all the way with their planned "ceremony," the girls recruit the unwitting and witless Léon to help. At the abandoned chapel in the woods they dress Léon in the stolen holy robes and have him swing a censer and administer the Eucharist as they both swear fealty to Satan! This blasphemeriffic scene, with the girls kneeling in white and spouting their devilish oaths before the idiot priest, is quite affecting in a strange way.

Afterward they row out to the middle of a lake with Léon and cast their collected Holy Wafers into the water as a final act of evil effrontery to God. Finally tumbling to what's going on, Léon freaks, at which point the girls push HIM overboard! Things go from slapstick to gradually more serious as the viewer starts to worry for the farmhand's safety--but finally he makes shore along with the girls, at which point they lead him through the woods, once again flashing their legs at him and trying to whip him into a lustful frenzy--it works, and Léon gets rapey too, Lore once again the object of his attentions. This time Anne must rescue her friend by kicking the poor tard in the nose, leaving him bloody and beat as they fly off, their laughter not nearly so pure and innocent now.

There follows a strange interlude where Lore goes away for a few days, once again leaving Anne lonely and bored--trying to amuse herself, she goes to Léon's room again, ripping up his nightclothes and burning holes in his underwear before taking another canary out of its cage and crushing it with her bare hands! Without Lore it's just not fun, though--in fact, perhaps realizing a bit of the enormity of her fall, Anne rushes to the abandoned chapel in tears and falls on her knees at the altar, sobbing--it's a quiet moment that implies Anne's loss of innocence is complete and sadly irreversible.

Backlit Brides of Beelzebub

When Lore returns, the girls set up housekeeping in another of the abandoned buildings on Anne's family estate, spending the time drinking wine, smoking, and writing their own evil erotica, a Baudelaire-influenced manuscript entitled Pieces Cruelles. One night they happen upon a middle-aged motorist who's out of gas, and bring him back to their pad to tease in their usual way. Predictably he gets all rapey on Lore, leading Anne to club him to death with a log from the fire! Having crossed the final line, they drop the body into the lake and return to school, their consciences and fear of punishment weighing on them heavily. Finally unable to stand it anymore, the girls devise a way out that closes the movie in a beautiful, memorable, and still genuinely shocking way.

This movie was apparently inspired by the same source material as Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, which was also about two young girls whose friendship and fantasies led to murder (though in that case their imagination took the form of a magical fairyland rather than hardcore Satanism). However, while I watched it I was reminded more than once of MMMMMovies favorite Alucarda. The girls' extremely close friendship--bordering on but never quite crossing over into a sexual union--is similar, as are the scenes of the girls pledging themselves to Satan as a rebellion against their restrictive upbringing; though in Don't Deliver Us from Evil, the rebellion seems to spring more out of boredom and parental laxity than strictness. (Also, Alucarda has 100% more goat-headed gypsies, and 300% less rapey Frenchmen.)

The acting is very good throughout, particularly by Goupil, who was an art student Séria recruited because she was NOT a known actress. (She later went on to appear in several more films.) The cinematography is also quite beautiful, and some of the images Séria gives us will really stick in the viewer's mind, particularly the girls reciting Baudelaire in a concluding talent show that really brings down the house.

"Actually, I don't think they are made for walkin'."

Though it loses some points for failing to 'sploit the kissing and undressing nuns as much as I'd have liked (come on, Joel--it was RIGHT THERE!), this is still a quiet, thought-provoking film that is definitely worth a watch. 2.5 thumbs, and remember: next time you're bored on summer vacation, nothing's more fun than SATAN!


Anonymous said...

**shudders at thoughts of poor little birdies biting it**

I can't watch any movie that has outright animal/pet/baby/young child torture/murder in it. That's the one thing that gets under my skin - I can watch Hostel, I can watch Saw, show me song birds being poisoned and I'm done!

The Vicar of VHS said...

Absinthe--they *do* claim in the supplemental materials that no animals were harmed ("The birdies were just *resting*!"), though as I noted above I have serious doubts about this. They were definitely hugely symbolic to the director, however, as the fragile innocence of the girls, being crushed by their bad deeds.

In fact later in the movie, at the talent show right before the Big Finale, a younger class from the girls' school does a ballet in which all the young, innocent girls are dressed as (you guessed it) goldfinches! I can't help thinking it wasn't an accident.

>>animal/pet/baby/young child torture/murder

And yet you claim to love Halloween III? WHICH IS IT, ABSINTHE? ;)

Tenebrous Kate said...

C'mon, Vicar! Those kids in "HIII" were ASKING for it! Besides, they got mushy-bug-headed all in the name of a good cause--sacrifices to pagan gods. Get hip to it, liebling ;)

I'm really curious about this film after reading your write-up. The stills gallery makes it look like a nicely-crafted character study. I will confess to sharing some of Absinthe's dislike of animal abuse in films. I've watched snipped prints of a couple of Eurotrash nasties simply because I didn't feel like seeing wee furry critters bite the big one.

The kids in "HIII," though--still totally asked for it.

Emily said...

I just watched this one and HELLO rapey Frenchmen! Who knew there were so many of them? And while I hate to blame the would-be victim, after the second, you'd think these girls would learn.

But asking-for-it rapyness aside, I really enjoyed it. Great companion piece to Heavenly Creatures. And that final scene was AMAZING!

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