Laughable French horror-sleaze from 1975. A pompously psychedelic, nudity-filled account of witchcraft in the French countryside, A WOMAN POSSESSED was banned for many years in its native land, which is pretty hard to believe these days. Why was LA PAPESSE (titled A WOMAN POSSESSED in the English speaking world) banned in France (which really takes some doing)? Honestly, I have no idea. Perhaps French censors were shocked by the copious full frontal nudity, but it’s not as if this was the first film, French or otherwise, to feature such a high volume of naked flesh. The suppression was more likely due to the very real possibility of mass walk-outs by disgruntled moviegoers!
The film’s director Mario Mercier had in 1972 made EROTIC WITCHCRAFT (LA GOULVE), which like A WOMAN POSSESSED was a druggy, gory and quite silly melange of sex, witchcraft and sheer nonsense. Mercier, incidentally, had much better luck as a novelist, in books like the mind-roasting JEANNE’S JOURNAL.
Laurent, a seemingly normal young man, is looking to join a witches’ sect that resides in a forest near his house. The only thing is Laurent’s wife Aline also needs to join the sect in order to complete his initiation. Aline is understandably reluctant, so the sect’s heads design a series of events designed to break her down: she begins to experience freaky hallucinations and gets raped. Things come to a head during a nighttime bacchanal from which Aline manages to break away, but she’s chased down by a strong-arm who for some reason walls her up in a cave. Aline misses out on a lot of naked ladies dancing spasmiodically, but ends up raped—again—by a hallucinatory creature.
The next morning Aline once again escapes her imprisonment, but not for long. The guy who captured her the night before gives chase, this time bringing a vicious dog that gores Aline’s neck, effectively ending her days as a witch…or anything else.
Nearly every tacky seventies film convention you can think of is (over)used in this film: intrusive zooms, jarring electronic music and gratuitous psychedelic interludes (at times the photography suddenly turns infrared for no apparent reason). The make-up and “special” effects are better left unmentioned, and there’s little to admire on the acting front.
The sad thing is that the film actually has some intriguing elements—or at least, elements that could have been intriguing had the filmmakers shown any conviction. The narrative has an authentically (accidental?) dreamlike arc in its straightforward presentation of sorcery. Even more promising is the utter lack of any sort of conventional morality. Good and evil don’t enter into this film’s outlook—one is either a witch or one isn’t. But again, these are could-bes, possible only if the film wasn’t such an utter disaster.
A WOMAN POSSESSED (LA PAPESSE)
Director: Mario Mercier
Producer: Robert Paillardon
Screenplay: Mario Mercier
Cinematography: Robert Schneider
Editor: Claudine Merlin
Cast: Jean-Francois Delatour, Geziale, Lisa Livane, Erika Maaz, Lina Olsen, Mathias von Huppert