Written by Joel Seria
Directed by Joel Seria
Starring Jeanne Goupil, Catherine Wagener, Gerard Darrieu, Michel Robin
Released April 5, 1971 (Cannes Film Festival)
RT 102 min.
Home Video Mondo Macabro (DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)
Watching a lot of horror films, there have been times when they cease to shock me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m never completely desensitized by the awful acts that occur and the graphic images that appear. It just becomes increasingly rare to see a movie that makes an emotional impact by causing me to feel truly uncomfortable, like I just saw something I shouldn’t have. Don’t Deliver Us from Evil (1971) does this.
Intellectually, I’m able to identify three reasons why this movie had such an effect on me. It’s not because of the story, which isn’t itself necessarily distressing: two Catholic schoolgirls forge a sinister relationship as they dedicate themselves to Satan and ask for help to “do evil.” The devil is in the details, though, and my first reason may not be the obvious one…
While seemingly insignificant, the acts they perform reflect pure psychopathy. Anne (Jeanne Goupil) and Lore (Catheine Wagener) have neither conscience nor empathy. They kill the groundskeeper’s canary. Leon (Michael Robin) is mentally challenged and is devastated by this act. They set fire to a local farm. Sure, Emile (Gerard Darrieu) is a pervert, but this act probably destroys his elderly parents’ livelihood.
There are no consequences for the girls for their actions. Leon doesn’t seem bright enough to put two and two together and there’s no further mention of the destruction of Emile’s farm. If not for their final act of depravity, during which they offer refuge to a man who runs out of gas on the road, I might wonder if the girls are simply living some kind of perverse fantasy in their heads.
My second reason for discomfort with Don’t Deliver Us from Evil is the age of the girls. In the movie’s climax, they’re identified as being in “year eight” of school. I’d guess, then, that they’re around 12 to 13 years old. They seem older than that, but even so, they’re still young teenagers and certainly not of age. The fact that they are so young and so committed to evil with no remorse is deeply disturbing.
If you think I’m overreacting, you have to consider the sexual nature of the film. These girls undress in front of older men, taunting them to the point of physical contact. The one sign of vulnerability is when these men cannot resist their urges and begin to molest them. Lore, in particular, becomes genuinely upset. Don’t feel sympathy for her, though; she acts as if nothing’s happened to her after the fact.
My third reason is the obvious one, and I imagine it’s apparent: the perceived age of the actresses portraying Anne and Lore. Goupil was 21 at the time; I guess that’s OK. Wagner was only 19, though, still legal, but too close for comfort. Physical age aside, they look like they’re the age of their characters. I couldn’t put that out of my mind and I felt really uncomfortable watching them in the sexual situations.
The only comfort the movie offers is that the girls are ultimately self-destructive. Fearing they’re going to be discovered, they choose [spoiler] to end their lives rather than be separated by prison. Here is where you see that Anne is the dominant personality, perhaps leading Lore astray. She tells her, “When this fleeting life is done, we’ll be together forever.”
Actually, I’m not certain that Lore is aware of the plan. In Anne’s internal monologue, she says, “I don’t want to scare Lore, but it will soon be over.” What causes me to hesitate on this point is that at the moment of truth, Lore has an opportunity to run. Instead, she embraces Anne. The physical event represents what I hope happens to the girls throughout eternity.
I chose to watch Don’t Deliver Us from Evil because I’m interested in horror movies that incorporate religious themes. I didn’t realize Catholicism would have so little to do with it. Anne and Lore don’t perform harmless pranks at bedtime. I suppose they’re fictionally similar to Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed (1956), but Rhoda is Little Mary Sunshine compared to these two!
The technical presentation of the movie also contributes to its effectiveness. Writer/director Joel Seria gives it to us matter-of-factly, with no flourishes. The music by Claude Germain and Dominique Ney alternates between a creepy organ tune and a simple piano melody. In a movie full of disturbing elements, one of the most disturbing is that this melody reminds me of Disney’s It’s a Small World.
Today’s passport stamp:Part of the Countdown to Halloween. Tomorrow… Spain!