It’s good to see a return of old-school hype and hustle to the crappy-movie business. William Castle would certainly be pleased. The late producer was a master of this sort of thing, amping up the crowds at his cheapo horror films—The Tingler, Mr. Sardonicus—by slapping buzzers under the seats and stationing nurses at the door to deal with anyone overcome by fright (as if anyone ever was). Golden days, those were.
The Castle spirit was briefly fanned back to life at the screening I saw last night of The Devil Inside. Filing in, the audience was greeted by a heavily equipped DJ down front, booming out hip-hop hits and encouraging everyone to Twitter out reactions to the upcoming film while it was running. Then five amusingly solemn men dressed as priests paraded in. One of them stepped forth to address the crowd, telling us grimly that we had “made the choice to be here,” and that “I do not endorse seeing this movie.” Then, oh Lord, the movie began.
The Devil Inside is an unholy mashup of The Exorcist (yes, yet another demonic-possession flick) and The Blair Witch Project (yes, yet another shaky-cam “found footage” annoyance). The movie is so tritely predictable you could improvise it at home with some friends without even bothering to see it. Which I would recommend.
The story can be swiftly summarized. In 1989, an American woman named Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) flips out—writhing and frothing and cursing in tongues, that sort of thing. A team of exorcists—two priests and a nun—is dispatched from the Catholic Church’s top-secret exorcism school in Rome. Maria reduces them to lunch meat, is tried for murder, declared insane, and shipped off to a mental asylum—again, in Rome. (Don’t ask why; I didn’t bother.)
Twenty-some years later, Maria’s now-grown daughter, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), arrives in Rome with a cameraman she has retained to shoot a documentary about her flipped-out mom. They make their way to that top-secret exorcism school (which is located rather openly right inside the Vatican) and there recruit two priests—well, “ordained exorcists” (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth)—to assist in paying a visit to the asylum where her mother resides. This doesn’t go well. Maria flips out even further, twisting and raving and hurling one of the priests across the room. In the midst of this commotion—forgive them, Billy Friedkin!—she even hisses, “The pig is mine!”
The “twist” on these familiar proceedings is that Maria is possessed, not by one demon, but by three or four of the little rascals. And they have the novel ability to slither from one person to another through simple physical contact. This is all you need to know to remain unsurprised for the rest of the movie.
The film is a brazen audience cheat. Although its trailer would seem to promise a nail-chewing thriller, the picture is in fact very talky, with much discussion of Church hypocrisy, demonic arcana, documentary camera strategies, and whatnot. And the action, whenever it does erupt, can’t really shake the proceedings awake because we’ve seen it all—all—before. My screening audience, fully primed at the outset, was reduced by the film’s outrageously limp conclusion to howls of angry disbelief. And they were seeing this thing for free.
At least the price was right.