Review: The Chosen

[Originally published in Movietone News 58-59, August, 1978]

There’s a sharply defined moment at which The Chosen goes bad: just past the halfway point of the film, when the mad logic that has been carefully built up through imagery and coincidence convinces us that one of the film’s characters really is the Antichrist; and then, suddenly, a belated red herring is introduced, and we are asked to spend the next two reels identifying with the impossibly misplaced judgment of our hero who, having as much information as we do, has no excuse for being wrong. You see this kind of thing a lot in giallo and Italian horror. It’s a critical error, and because of it, The Chosen ends up a disappointment. Yet there’s a lot of promise in the film, particularly its first half; and it is superior in almost every way to the film of which, at first glance, it appears to be merely a cheap imitation: The Omen.

Sure, it’s another of those fusions of Old World and New World horror, contemporary life subjected to supernatural evil: The Exorcist, Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Omen. But here the horror is at once more cosmic and more tangible than in The Exorcist or The Omen, in which, as ominous as the intrusion of the Antichrist is made to seem, evil is represented by little more than an uncontrollable child and a handful of grisly murders. In The Chosen, as in the grossly underrated Exorcist II: The Heretic, nothing short of the salvation or destruction of the world is at stake (and, interestingly, both films are ably steered by superb Ennio Morricone scores that blend the savagery of evil with the calm of salvation). The Chosen relates ancient symbolism—especially numerology—to contemporary events in a far more clever and effective way than The Omen did. And director Alberto De Martino shares with his countryman Dario Argento a sensitivity for the potency of violence inherent in a world of glass, metal, and plastic—a sensitivity that serves him well in turning into chillingly palpable credibility such images as the computer as neo-prophet and modern machines as the “monsters” of ancient prophecy.

Dwelling on the potency is De Martino’s strong suit in The Chosen. He demonstrates a knack for suggesting evil to come, and he always pays off on his suggestion, though not necessarily in the expected way. He dooms his characters by visual innuendo that taps a wealth of cinematic conventions: when people keep coming up on a woman from behind, we might conclude that she’s got it coming—and she does; when a foreign dignitary steps off his jet into a deep-focus shot whose foreground is dominated by a sharp, red-tipped helicopter propeller blade, we have a tangible feeling that something nasty is going to happen well before the montage begins to set up the chain of circumstances that will actually bring it off. And the seven turbines of the thermonuclear reactor whose construction is the central issue of the film resonate in the viewer’s mind long before the hero and viewer finally make the connection De Martino works toward for more than a third of the film. He never hedges on the payoff shots, either, something that can’t be said of a lot of contemporary horror film directors who don’t understand the importance of graphic shock, the Schauerromantik that David Pirie stresses in his study of the British horror film, A Heritage of Horror. If De Martino almost gets away with The Chosen, despite the heavyhanded, selfconsciously symbolic script he’s saddled with, it’s because he’s good at this sort of thing. Even half a film can testify to that.

© 1978 Robert C. Cumbow

THE CHOSEN [alternate title: HOLOCAUST 2000]
Direction: Alberto De Martino. Screenplay: Sergio Donati, Alberto De Martino and Michael Robson, after a story by Donati and De Martino. Cinematography: Erico Mencer. Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi. Music: Ennio Morricone. Production: Edmondo Amati.
The players: Kirk Douglas, Simon Ward, Agostina Belli, Anthony Quayle, Romolo Valli, Ivo Garrani, Spiro Focas, Massimo Foschi, Virginia McKenna, Alexander Knox, Geoffrey Keen, Adolfo Celi.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.


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