24 July 2008 | lazarillo
A different twist on the "devil movie"
I accidentally mistook this for an Italian "Exorcist" rip-off (it has the same alternate title at Alberto De Martino's "Anticristo"). But even though I saw it by mistake, I ended up really liking it. It somewhat resembles "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", but filtered through an Italian Catholic sensibility. Claudio Cassanelli plays a writer who agrees to ghost-write the autobiography of a monsignor who had collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. He moves with the priest to a kind of religious asylum headed by a very controlling Mother Superior (Glenda Jackson, basically playing an ecclesiastical version of "Nurse Ratchet").Also staying at the asylum is a nymphomaniac (Lisa Harrow) who betrayed her husband for her lover, resulting in the former's death, and a man who has fallen in love with his sister. The writer's presence upsets things at the asylum--there is a suicide and several patients leave (one priest even leaves the priesthood). The writer falls in love (or at least strongly in lust) with the nymphomaniac, and the tyrannical Mother Superior comes to believe that he just might be the Devil himself. But a couple more twists at the end make it more than a little ambiguous just who the real "Great Tempter" of the title is. . .
Claudio Cassanelli was one of the most underrated Italian actors. He always comes as a very nice guy, very different from Jack Nicholson who played a similarly disruptive influence in "Cuckoo's Nest". This actually works though in maintaining the deep ambiguity of the story. Glenda Jackson is very good too (she and Cassanelli both dub their own voices). The movie does not shy away from making some strong critiques of the Catholic Church--the monsignor is excommunicated at one point, not because he admittedly collaborated with the Nazis, but because he threatens to expose that his superiors did as well (perhaps, it's implied, even the pope).
The talented director Damiano Damiani later WOULD do a kind of "Exorcist" knock-off with "Amityville Horror 2". While that was definitely a superior horror movie, this much more subtle and subversive exercise is actually quite a bit more effective. This movie does have SOME exploitative elements. Lisa Harrow (an Australian actress who later married Sam Neal) has some memorable nude scenes as the guilt-ridden nymphomaniac. The lovely Ely Galeani is also in this, but unfortunately wasted in a pointless cameo (although she was no doubt glad to be in something of this quality since by that time her career had largely been relegated to softcore porn movies). Perhaps the best thing though is the musical score which would do ANY horror movie proud. Recommended.