Summoned, The (1974)

The most beautiful visuals on the planet aren’t found on tropical beaches or the walls of the Louvre — they’re found in experimental Super 8 films. Especially when these movies include a scene of someone carving a pentagram on their chest before being possessed by a demon.

I’m talking about The Summoned.

Shot completely silent on Super 8, The Summoned is the first attempt at a full-length horror movie by Donald Farmer. He only made it to 40 minutes. But if you’ve seen any of his 1980s shot-on-video slimers, like Cannibal Hookers or Demon Queen, you know that 40 minutes of Donald Farmer is A LOT of Donald Farmer — in any setting. That’s probably why The Summoned is so satisfying.

Deep in the woods, a demon (aka someone wearing an old man mask and a monk robe) lives in a cave with his man servant. Meanwhile, a couple discovers a dead body on the side of the road. The man tells his wife to wait in the car while he investigates. With his beer gut, mustache, and perm, he looks like a 1970s version of Danny McBride as Kenny Powers in Eastbound and Down. After a walk in the woods, the guy discovers the cave, shoots the demon, and watches it melt into nothingness. BIG MISTAKE! Soon after, the demon’s servant sacrifices a human in order to resurrect his master in his own body. He succeeds. Cue the vampires, zombies, and axe murders.

The art of silent filmmaking has basically fallen off the face of the Earth. So it’s easy to forget how effective this method can be. When we watch a silent movie, the emphasis is entirely visual. We’re forced to hyper-focus on what we see, while our imagination fills in the cracks. When a house falls on Buster Keaton in One Week, we all feel something different because of the way that our brain reacts. This leads to a singular experience that’s custom tailored for each individual. That experience is multiplied two-thousand-fold when the crude beauty of Super 8 is added to the mix. The Summoned takes full advantage of this secret dimension.

Utilizing charming intertitles with press-on letters (“Hoping to reanimate his dead master, the servant seeks a sacrificial victim”; “Meanwhile, in the surgical room”) and experimental visuals (time lapse photography, dream sequences, black and white flashbacks), The Summoned is a minimalist trash-horror dream arena that’s unlike anything else in Donald Farmer’s filmography. This movie features knife-wound bloodbaths, a gnarly autopsy scene that feels like a junior high version of Faces of Death, and plastic vampire teeth. But unlike Farmer’s later coke ‘n’ neon fueled adventures, this is a sincere attempt at building and sustaining a mood — one that’s perfect for midnight viewings by black candlelight on Halloween night. There might be three or five too many scenes of people driving in cars. But even those droning moments are heightened by the scratchy, oversaturated visuals that come with the territory when shooting on Super 8.

Like Folies Meurtrieres and Day of the Reaper, The Summoned is a beast of dreamy aesthetics, a movie that depends on sensory reaction over plot, performances, or logic. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.

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