The Anti-Christ threatens to become the most unscrupulously exploited bogeyman in the modern horror repertoire.
Supernatural tricks were adequately represented with the R-rated "The Fury" an G-rated "Return From Witch Mountain." But the latest arrivals - "The Chosen," "The Medusa Touch," and "The Manitou" - create an apocalyptic surplus gucky as an oil spill.
"The Chosen" is an obscure co-production written and directed by Italians and starring Kirk Douglas as a desperate nuclear engineer who becomes persuaded that his son, Simon Ward, and a new power plant, he has proposed are spawn of the devil. The film has no connection whatever with the novel of the same title which enjoyed some celebrity in the mid-60s.
The film appears to represent a haphazard, headlong effort to beat the sequels to "The Omen" to the screen. The producers of "The Omen" had announced that their little Anti-Christ, having escaped extermination at the hands of crazed foster father Gregory Peck, would reach maturity in subsequent instalments. Ward's character, named Angel Caine (which sounds more appropriate for a stripper) and also identified as the Anti-Christ, enters fully grown, if not credibly conceived.
After "The Chosen" and the upcoming "Damien," the first sequel to "The Omen," it may be necessary to help clear the air of the stench of aerosolspray brimstone by doing a spoof. The "Saturday Night Live" staff might consider John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Duelling Anti-Christs.
"The Chosen" only springs to life when something graphically vicious is in store: a stabbing, a beheading, a crushing, a mass murder of newborn infants in a maternity ward. At a more demanding level of invention the filmmakers betray gross ineptitude. Douglas spends a particularly hateful reel conspiring in an effort to abort his mistress' expectant child, aided by a character reputed to be a Roman Catholic priest. They are supposed to be acting under the fear that Douglas' second offspring will be a demon, but since Angel has already been identified as the second offspring - a surviving twin son - this does not even have supportable narrative excuse.
Douglas' willingness to lend his sincerity to crazed nonsense has turned him into the leading grotesque star of the spring. Although "The Fury," in which a deranged Douglas attempts to find his son, is more auspicious junk than "The Chosen," in which a deranged Douglas attempts to kill his son, the abiding derangement seems unintentionally funny. These roles encourage an actor as strenuously demonstrative as Douglas to become a parody of himself. It's almost as if we were watching his impression of Frank Gorshin's impression of Kirk Douglas.
Perhaps Douglas was unduly impressed by the film's "message" - equating nuclear energy with a hydraheaded monster which must be stopped before it's too late. His son Michael is now collaborating with Jane Fonda on a thriller about skullduggery at an American nuclear power plant.
Richard Burton, who certainly has nothing to learn from Kirk Douglas when it comes to overacting in faintly ludicrous vehicles, appears as a tetched doomsday machine in "The Medusa Touch." Though not an Anti-Christ, Burton's character is "heap bad medicine," to borrow an expression used by Michael Ansara as a Sioux medicine man laboring to neutralize a demon in "The Manitou."
Burton's career has declined so relentlessly ove the past decade or so that it's bound to be funny when he's given declarations like "I have a gift for disaster . . . I am thenman with the power to create catastrophe." Within the context of the movie this means that his character possesses frightful telekinetic powers. Indeed, the filmmakers would have us believe that this psychic phenom has been responsible for just about every disaster you've read about - and can keep it up after death.
But who can resist taking Burton's remarks out of context? His presence wasn't always a guarantee of movieloingdisaster. It just seems that way lately. In "The Exorcist, Part II" he played a tormented priest seeking redempting through a showroom with a demon. In "Equus" he was a tormented shrink who envied the "holy passion" of a psychotic patient. Now he gets to play the psychotic patient - to Lee Remick's bland but not so tolerant analyst - but he still hasn't learned how to avoid disastrous roles. Burton's inflections and outbursts seem even more familiar and predictable than Douglas'.
The screenplay knocks itself silly trying to juggle elements from "Laura" and "Donovan's Brain." The story begins with the Burton character being ludgeoned to death. He recovers miraculously while the investigating officer - Lino Ventura as a French policeman temporarily attached to Sctoland Yard - is at the scene of the crime.
Nuclear power plants turn out to be a pet target of the folks responsible of "The Medusa Touch" too. At the fadeout Burton threatens to a zap a nuclear facility, and although the filmmakers have been depicting him as a murderous lunatic, they may be detected endorsing some of his self-righteous pronouncments. However, they also provide him with a case history so ridiculous - he preps for mass murder by knocking off a fanatic nanny, an unloving mum, an oblivious dad, a snotty schoolteacher and a nagging neighbor in oddly facetious circumstances - that it's difficult to give them credit for even dubious polimical intentions.
"The Manitou" may hand tolerant adolescents an occasional laugh, but it has less to conjure with than either "The Chosen" or "The Medusa Touch." Tony Curtis, looking haggard, and afflicted with a terrible haircut, is the fading star this time around. How about a bad horror movie co-starring Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton and Tony Curtis? Why fool around when you might befoul three careers with a single turkey?
Curtis doesn't overact, but he is required to go through some awfully dumb motions with a reasonably straight face. The dumbest finds him getting so annoyed with a rampaging Indian evil spirit that he announces firmly, "All right, Misquamacus, I've had enough! Who do you think you are, anyway?"
Misquamacus happens to be rubbery little devil who begins as a lump on the back of Susan Strasberg, cast as Curtis' girl friend, and enlarges into a hideous humpback fetus. Although he is ventually put back in the spirit world through the combined will powers of Curtis, Strasberg and medicine man Ansara, the sight is neither thrilling nor edifying. This spring's crop of demons and madmen is on the sickly side.