Archive for the ‘Giallo’ Category

SPASMO (1974)

Ah, Umberto Lenzi. What a terrible mess you have made of this movie. Or maybe it is not your fault. But most likely it was your fault, since you want to take credit for rewriting the story. Not to mention inventing the whole giallo genre.

Wake Up Barbara

Actually, SPASMO is a great idea. A cross between a surrealist reworking of LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and a weird mediation on the unstable world of a serial killer.

SPASMO’s world is one where the characters have a tenuous grasp on reality and the film gleefully plays on that with disjointed conversations and off kilter staging. Plus there is the weird inclusion of the quick shots of variously posed mannequins, but more on that in a moment.

SPASMO centers on a hammy playboy named Christian, a typical tight-suited unbuttoned smooth chested skinny; the type of European pretty boy who skids along these giallos, failing and sometimes saving the day. Overplayed by Robert Hoffman, Christian is possibly tormented, possibly suggestible stooge. Does he have a dark secret or is he a victim of a loony conspiracy? Seems both, actually.

In one of the films defining moments, Christian who might have just picked up a prostitute named Barbara, earnestly played through sweaty makeup by Suzy Kendall (To Sir with Love & Argento’s Girl With the Crystal Plumage). She has a demanding pimp/boyfriend who lounges on the side of the frame projecting greasy threatening threats.

But it is Barbara who is the real threat. She demands that before they make it together, Christian must shave off his beard. He does so with little protest, which could be read several ways. The most obvious is that Christian has been unmasked. He turns the corner, stripped of his protective mask, he enters a maze of psychological disruption. Nothing is what it seems and he is nakedly unprotected.

Beardlessness might, also, set the viewer up for a bait and switch. A MacGuffin, of sorts, where Christian is being set up to look like someone he is not. Possibly a twin? Or another sort of doppelganger? Both are the sorts of absolute left turn twists offered by these giallos. Of course, it should come a no surprise that Christian isn’t what he looks like. He IS a sick serial killer, not the gently confused hero of some sinister plot.

Mannequins in the Woods

The only other effective aspect of SPASMO is the quick cuts to the disrobed and anatomically correct mannequins. Elaborately staged like violent crime scenes, the few times actual people discover the life sized dolls, the make out lovers or the gardeners, these people are shocked then confused. These quick shots befuddle the viewer, as well. They might be disconnected hallucinations of an off screen killer. They might be stand in dislocations for actual crime scenes, actual murders seen as grotesque objet d’art, posed as the disturbed killer sees them? They seem to be cast as key pieces in the film’s psychological puzzle.

Of course, there are other hints at a better movie that might have been filmed. The unfamiliar familiarity of the old man and his provocative red haired companion who materialize out of the night only to know more than they possibly could know. There is the windy scenery of the tower, under lit and creepy. There is the nefarious bother lurking in a well to do office taking phone calls. Then there is that stupid home movie.

I must say something about that home movie. In the film’s pivotal confrontation between the brothers, a scene that should reveal the psychological impetus of the horror, the film totally fumbles the ball. The home movie, showing two little boys ominously staring at the camera, close up of mental institution needles and equipment, and a somber birthday party , all play laughably incoherent. Nothing is revealed.

In fact, the film and confrontation is so ineffective, the movie needs to explain itself in a phone message. Much like the doctor’s speech at the end of PSYCHO, this message explains the whole movie in a few brief sentences. Stupidly as well.

SPASMO tries to be innovative and introduce some subtly into the over the top violent gore of the giallo. BUT. It fails. The failure is mainly built into the structure of the narrative. In order to strip the genre of its tent poles, Lenzi casts aside all suspense or coherency of danger. Since we are never shown that murders have actually be committed, the fact that they have been comes as an “oh okay” moment. The fact that there are no police bumbling around, removes the audience’s only guide through the off screen action. Etc.

Had Lenzi been a better writer or maybe had a better cinematic vocabulary, SPASMO might have proved to be an effectively strange film of psychological horror. As it exists, it is a bit of a strange mess.


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Who are you to kill my mom?

Dario Argento returns to the murderous nature of art and music in SLEEPLESS where a haunted musical instrument serial killer returns after years of silence. Max von Sydow shuffles through his scenes with an over-aged bumble. While excellently filling out the faulty memory of the retired inspector who first tracked the case, he has little to do and the pain of his affliction is inconsistently displayed. He remembers, then he doesn’t, its a flaw in the scripting more than anything else.

The Dwarf Killer is on the loose again, killing with cut out farm animals and using silly contrapasso means of dispatch. There are some fairly effective scenes of tension and gruesomeness, but the gore is fairly light. Plus the sheer meanness of the killer is not as pronounced. Which might have something to do with the fact that Asia Argento is played by  Chiara Caselli, in this one.

The lighting is not as richly artificial as other, more effectively disconcerting, Argento pictures. Nor are there many of the off-putting out of reality rooms or other spaces that establish so much of the nightmare dread. SLEEPLESS happens too much in the real world, which makes the problems with the plot and time line all the more glaring.  Still, the loose ends and red herrings aside, we have seen this solution a few other times in giallos, but it is a pretty good reveal in this one too.

Overall, I would recommend this a a fine giallo, but a mediocre Argento, easily skipped over.

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Canker upon canker upon one million tiny punctures

What starts out as a wonderful sister’s holiday, ends with a hotel held hostage to a sex manic pyschokiller!

Or something.

Because there is clearly maybe a ghost story, a double cross drug plot, and  a romantic love triangle/story! All subplots that, ultimately, go no where. But the seaside hotel it all happens at provides some wonderful outdoor shots, especially when the wind kicks up and all the actors start to shiver.

THE SISTER OF URSULA is more soft core skin flix than a giallo gore. The killer, who disembowels the victims through their vaginas after she has paid to watch them all have various kinds of sex. Or skulked in the corners, voyeuristically shadow draped, with only the ominous giallo eyes revealed! The killer’s identity is never in question, really, and there are some rather laughable sex scenes – like the diddling with the gold chain – but then some other rather implied hardcore moves. The religious icon as murder weapon is not credible, considering the damage it was supposed to have inflicted.

This is some particularly horrible dialogue as the two sisters quibble over a dead father and absent mother, made all the more absurd by the nudity of D’Amario as they are arguing. Magnolfi plays the proto-goth with all the bed sheet grabbing angst of a spoiled loony. The scene in the stone side chapel where she caresses the carved Christ before fainting dead away must be seen to be believed. It is beyond campy. And do not get me started on the silver shimmer of a nightclub act, the dubbing of which made it look like a sketch from SCTV. Love it.

Still, the great locations, a drug narc subplot, and a lot nude females kinda make this clunker a watchable dud. Not to mention the fact that Stefania D’Amario, the titular Ursula, goes on to star in Fulci’s ZOMBI! As Barbara Magnolfi, with her dangerous puppy dog eyes, makes a fated appearance in Argento’s SUSPERIA.

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I just want to make love.

This is a filthy little movie. Part naked lady soft core Eurotrash porno and part inexplicable giallo. The movie really reveals in the Freudian “hysterics of overly sexed ladies.” In fact, its whole conceit is based on it.

The movie begins after naked Mararet Lee is wracked in sex spasms of sleep, watched by the creepy shadow killer. Clearly, she has problems! Then we are cut to a frantic car ride where a blonde woman suddenly loses control of herself and attempt to steer the car into a terrible crash. Wanting to kill her husband is understandable, according to the dialogue, but killing herself, this does not make any sense. Thus the necessity of her going to treatment at the titular Hotel! Her psychopathic desires manifest so quickly, as she attempts to smack a doctor with a two by four. Great stuff.

By the time we are introduced to the other patients at the asylum, it is obvious that all of them are going to spend a lot of the movie scantily clad. There is the nymphomaniac played by Rosalba Neri, there are the lesbians (a morose Jane Garet and her nursey massage lover Monica Strabel), the wealthy heiress kept against her will, and the brilliantly posed Klaus Kinski, as some sort of revolutionary psychologist.

His methods are strange. They involve cold showers, getting high, nightly cocktail parties, chain smoking, seducing the patients, and croquet. And a lot of nudity. Oh so much nudity.

There is a lesbian massage and bath scene which culminates in the silliest dance scene this side of THE WICKER MAN. There is a lot of rolling around on beds with suggestions of masturbation.  And there is at least one sex scene in a green house, no gardener can resist the nudity of Neri!

The killer sulking around is rather stupid and almost inept. His heavy breathing prefigures Jason and the giallo dark mask and black gloves are in full plumage. Though, I suppose, it is rather apparent why the killer chose this asylum to  undertake his spree, the whole place is rife with medieval weaponry – even a working iron maiden!  There is a cross bow through the neck, there are stabbings, beheadings, broad swords, hatchets, and scythes.

The ending feels tacked on, as if when the production realized they ordered too much ketchup for the catering, someone came up with a bloodbath rampage. The unmasked killer rampages through the nurses dorm stabbing and hacking at a group of poor ladies huddled in the corner. Silly and surprisingly out of place.

Ultimately, this is a great Kinski piece of acting. His whole persona is a slightly fey brush of his hair as he smokes and poses in every scene. Basically, collecting a paycheck for his name and his reputation as a bad guy to throw a red herring into the mix. Because, he is not the killer. Unfortunately.

My idea of psychotherapy!

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