Sunday, 25 October 2009

October Horror 2009 #7 - The Italian Horror Edition

In order to highlight the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon continuing until the end of the month over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies, this post will focus on several Italian chillers. They don't really indicate the peak of the genre or even all of its typical features, but a random sampling can still give a decent overview of what to expect. Though these are just titles that I either had hanging around or stumbled across in rental outlets, I was glad that I managed to get one each from the "masters" - Argento, Bava, Fulci. Not that you would necessarily recognize all of them as masters purely from these selections. In particular...

The Mother Of Tears (2007 - Dario Argento) - Well, that certainly was a wholly unpleasant experience...Argento's concluding chapter in his "Three Mothers" trilogy (Suspiria and Inferno being parts one and two - from 30 years ago) is overly serious, terribly dull at times and extraordinarily cruel. There's barely a drop of fun to be had. Of course, it's supposed to be a horror film and usually people die in horrific ways, but there was just something additionally nasty about the deaths in this film - particularly the women. The term misogynistic gets thrown around too often, but I'm tempted to use it here. The initial gutting of Asia Argento's workmate and the later impaling of another female friend felt overly vicious and didn't seem to jibe with the tone of the film. Suspiria was gorgeous to look at and a solid example of how to keep your audience on the edge of their seat. This was neither.

Don't Torture A Duckling (1972 - Lucio Fulci) - Though fine, this felt more like a run-of-the-mill basic giallo - not the garish, colour-filled, stylish ones we've come to expect. That doesn't make this a bad film of course, it just took the wind out of my sails a bit. Fortunately Barbara Bouchet was on hand to add the occasional gust. She's crazy beautiful (in case you're wondering, no that's not her in the fourth screencap down...). A remote Italian village is experiencing a rash of child murders and only a reporter and a young frivolous city girl seem to follow the trail of clues. It's not overly difficult to figure out by the end, but it does keep you guessing a bit in the middle. It's not particularly scary, but has a few great looking scenes. It also has one of the funniest final death scenes I've seen in a long while - who knew that a human head could cause huge sparks to flash out of it when it comes into contact with rock?

A Blade In The Dark (1983 - Lamberto Bava) - Of the titles in this post, this is probably the closest to the typical giallo fare of Italian horror. Stylish and with slow building scenes complete with tense repetitive music, Bava Jr.'s film was a great deal more fun than the previous two above. The blood is bright red, the death scenes are spaced as expected throughout and the killer will only be revealed at the end (though it's another case where it's not overly difficult to guess where the story is going). Unfortunately, it does hold true to other some giallo characteristics - the women in the film aren't given very intelligent things to say or do and simply don't meet very happy endings (though at least the opposite sex doesn't walk away scot free this time). The most egregious example is that of the one strong female character in the movie - the film director. For her film within the film, she needs to work with a male musician who is scoring her film and one evening at his place the two of them get spooked. Just in case you had been thinking that she could take care of herself and was in a position of power, the film undercuts her and has her say to the composer, "I'm starting to realize that as a woman, I'm a physical coward". It's been a long standing issue I've had with many of these films, but aside from that aspect, the film is quite well handled and provides some very good set pieces.

Lisa And The Devil (1974 - Mario Bava) - The elder Bava's turn and by far my favourite of the bunch. This is one beautiful film...There's not really a lot to the plot, the dialog is iffy at best and the acting spotty, but the style, the look and the feel is impeccable. Elke Sommers plays a tourist who wanders into a shop owned by Telly Savalas. She has an odd feeling about being there and sees a resemblance between Telly and a rendering of the devil she has just seen on a painting on a city wall. Upon walking out of the shop, she finds herself now in a city that seems to be completely abandoned. Eventually finding a rich couple and their chauffeur, she gets a lift for help until they break down outside a large mansion. They meet the blind woman and her son who live there as well as the butler who just happens to be, wait for it, Telly Savalas. Things don't go so well for several of the guests from there on. I love Bava's films because from one scene to the next you really don't know what kind of colour palette he may be using and how he may incorporate the sets into his shots. That alone makes it an entertaining film, but the slow creep and the goofy charm add a great deal more. Sommers barely speaks in the film and that strangely works in her favour - it just adds to the feeling that she is just a pawn in a larger game being played out.

Nightmare Castle (1965 - Mario Caiano) - By all accounts a bad B movie (acting, script, dubbing that doesn't even try, choppy edits, etc.), however there are still numerous quality moments in this Barbara Steele vehicle. She plays a dual role - first we see her as Muriel, the cheating wife of a scientist, and then as her half-sister Jenny, who later marries that same scientist after he kills Muriel as vengeance for her infidelity. The plan is to drive Jenny insane and get the ownership of the mansion from her (it was left to her after Muriel died), but Muriel's spirit is still present in the house. It's in the staging, the look and a few quiet moments that the film becomes a bit more than just a simple late night time waster. Barbara Steele has a face built for horror films - sunken cheeks, big wide eyes and an oddly shaped mouth that seems to completely change characteristics depending on her expression.


Peter Nellhaus said...

Yeah, Mother of Tears is not very good, especially compared to even later Argento films like Opera, but I kind of liked that evil monkey.

I've only seen a few Lamberto Bava films, but would recommend Delirium over Blade in the Dark, mostly because of Serena Grandi's voluptuous presence. One of Blade's actors, Michele Soavi, has been an interesting director, best known for Cemetery Man, but a very good TV movie, a policier titled Uno Bianca is also on DVD.

Bob Turnbull said...

Ha! I forgot about the evil monkey! You're right, he does add a certain something to the proceedings.

I read another review for "Delirium" (probably through the blog-a-thon) and added it to my list right away. It sounds like insanely silly fun.

I've seen "Cemetary Man" as well as Soavi's "Stage Fright". Both fine films, but I'm not sure if he has any further directorial efforts that would be worth seeking out. I get the feeling that neither "Demons 3" nor "Demons 4" will match his other films...