A: Arcane Sorcerer (1996)

Letterboxd Master List

Pupi Avati is a director largely known on these shores for a couple of offbeat genre films: Zeder (covered two years ago) and The House with Laughing Windows (which is going to have to wait for the letter H). With typical grace, I stumbled onto this particular movie, and was happy to slot it into the opener for this Hubrisween.

In what appears to be the early 18th century, Vigetti (Stefano Dionisi), a seminary student, makes the double error of seducing a woman, and, even worse, convincing her to abort the resulting child. On the run from Church Inquisitors, he desperately accepts a position acting as a clerk to an excommunicated priest known as the Monsignor, or “The Arcane Sorcerer” (Carlo Cecchi), who lives in seclusion at his ancestral home. The Monsignor was dabbling in forbidden texts, knowledge and rites far too much, but his family is old and powerful, so the Inquisition allows him to live in exile. Merely looking at him will get you excommunicated, too.

And his former clerk, Nerio, has apparently died under mysterious circumstances.

After burying the deceased clerk in unhallowed ground, Vigetti gets down to his duties, which come down to taking coded dictation from the Monsignor, delivering that letter to the nearby House of Lay Sisters (full of failed nuns who can’t go home), from whence it is delivered to some unknown personage – and then assisting Monsignor in some odd, dangerous rites to communicate at a distance with another sorcerer. However, Vigetti has found notes left by Nerio that seem to indicate what the Monsignor has been communicating with is actually a Prince of Hell – and that Nerio seemed to have a plan to magically return from the grave with the assistance of that same devil.

On top of all that, it seems that Nerio had something to do with the disappearance of two of the girls from the convent. Vigetti has a bunch of mysteries to unravel, none of which are made easier by the sudden appearance of an Inquisitor, Don Zanini (Andrea Scorzoni), who aims to use Vigetti’s indiscretion as leverage to discover what dark crimes the Monsignor might actually be committing.

Arcane Sorcerer is long on atmospherics and short on actual shocks – it could be considered possibly the oddest giallo ever. Avati gets a lot of mileage out of actual period locations, and the few studio sets – the cramped interior of the manor, where every wall is a bookshelf, filled to exploding with books, reaching up several stories – are impressive. If you’re looking for an actual horror movie, The Arcane Sorcerer may not fit the bill. But as a rumination on the nature and degrees of sin and forbidden knowledge – and as a weird mystery – it’s pretty good.

1 Comment

  1. Oooh, a new find. This bodes well. Thanks!

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