Monday, January 9, 2017

Dangerous Game (1993)

AKA Snake Eyes

1993 was a strange year for Abel Ferrara with the maverick New Yorker helming two very worthwhile films that were unceremoniously thrown under the bus upon their respective releases. Coming off of the grimy and fiercely independent Bad Lieutenant (1992), Ferrara did something interesting and unexpected by taking on the most ambitious project of his career, Body Snatchers (1993), the third adaptation of Jack Finney’s book. Body Snatchers was a huge undertaking with the largest budget Ferrara ever had and according to Ferrara, the shoot was a nightmare plagued by studio interference and the technical challenges inherent in such large scale productions. Nevertheless, Ferrara soldiered on and delivered a fantastic sci-fi/horror film. Unfortunately the film would get buried by its own studio. After years of hype in various genre magazines and millions of dollars spent, the film essentially went direct to video after only being released in a handful of theaters. With Dangerous Game, his second film that year, Ferrara went in the complete opposite direction. Despite starring one of the biggest pop stars in the world in Madonna, Dangerous Game is one of Ferrara’s most uncommercial films, a deeply personal look into the world of filmmaking that seemed to bewilder a good number of critics upon its initial release. The Ferrara faithful however know better and over the years have rightfully championed Dangerous Game for what it truly is, a misunderstood masterpiece.

New York based director Eddie Israel (Harvey Keitel) arrives in Hollywood to begin production on his latest film entitled “Mother of Mirrors” which centers around the dissolution of a marriage between a hard partying husband and a remorseful wife who recently found religion and changed her ways. Almost immediately, the films leads Sarah Jennings (Madonna) and Frank Burns (James Russo) begin an affair and it isn’t long until Sarah finds her way into Eddie’s bed as well. The shoot quickly turns sour however with Jennings and Burns unable to get along and Eddie constantly pushing both to their emotional limits for the best performances. The more tensions on the set increase along with Eddie’s own personal transgressions gradually eating away at his conscience, the more the plot of “Mother of Mirrors” begins to mirror reality and vice-versa.

Snake Eyes”, the films alternate title couldn’t have been more apt as Dangerous Game is a venomous film featuring Ferrara’s typically downbeat outlook as well as some of screenwriter Nicholas St. John’s most vicious dialogue. In some ways the film is comparable to another film within a film, Andrzej Zulawski’s La femme publique (1984) as its been suggested that Francis Huster’s character of director Lucas Kessling was meant to be a stand in for Zulawski the same way that Keitel’s Eddie Israel could represent Ferrara himself. Again, “personal” is the adjective that could be used to define the film and at times almost uncomfortably so. There are times when the film feels confessional, particularly when Eddie confesses his infidelities to his wife, played by Nancy Ferrara, Abel’s wife at the time. Ferrara’s approach to the film within a film devise is interesting both from a narrative standpoint as well as stylistically in that its almost always obvious when a scene from “Mother of Mirrors” is being shot, however given the attitudes of the characters towards each other, what’s taking place in the film could easily be going on behind the scenes as well. The same could be said for Keitel’s pressuring of the actors which could also echo Ferrara’s own techniques which, if indeed is the case, they work as the performances are astounding. While Madonna is rightfully praised for her performance, the unsung hero of the film is James Russo who gives an unbelievably raw and fierce performance, downright visceral at times.

Dangerous Game was the first film produced by Madonna’s own Maverick Pictures and ironically it was the leading lady that led the charge against the film. In a 2002 interview with the AV Club, Ferrara remarked “It was just another one of our films that never came out. But on that one, the audience didn't really like the film. Madonna killed it. The first impression people get on a movie is the one that never gets out of their mind. So after Madonna got so trashed for doing Body of Evidence (1993), she thought she was going to beat the critics to the punch and badmouth the film. And she actually got good reviews. She never got a good review from the Voice or The New York Times in her life, but she got good reviews for this movie, which she came out and trashed. I'll never forgive her for it.” Ferrara went on to say “…I never had an actor badmouth a movie. It's just something that isn't done. But she's not a film-business person” and “ It's being paranoid and scared, and that's the reason she can't act, because she hasn't got confidence.” Whatever she or some critic may or may not think of the film at this point doesn’t matter, what does is the fact that Dangerous Game is one of Ferrara’s most confrontational, introspective, cathartic and ultimately brilliant films.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Lulu (1980)

It makes complete sense that Walerian Borowczyk would adapt Frank Wedekind's “Lulu” plays for the screen. The plays, Earth Spirit, first performed in 1895 and Pandora’s Box in 1904, attracted a considerable amount of controversy upon their premiers due to their treatment of topics considered at the time to be taboo, namely female sexuality, not unlike the controversy that would later surround Borowczyk and several of his films, for instance Immoral Tales (1974) and The Beast (1975). The plays have been adapted a few times, with the most famous being G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film version of Pandora’s Box (starting screen legend Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu) which was first brought to the screen in 1921 by Arzén von Cserépy whereas Earth Spirit was made into a film by Leopold Jessner in 1923. The plays were also turned into an opera via Alban Berg in 1937 and severed as the inspiration for the 2011 album Lulu, the notorious and fiercely divisive collaborative effort between Lou Reed and Metallica. Borowczyk’s version is somewhat of a hidden gem in his filmograpgy. Easily Borowczyk’s most neglected film, Lulu may lack the scandalous reputation of some of Borowczyk’s more well known films and the source material may be Wedekind’s, however said material was prime for a Boro treatment and the resulting film is unmistakably Borowczyk and one of his most interesting films from a stylistic standpoint.

For Lulu, Borowczyk combined both Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box, detailing the downfall of the titular Lulu (Anne Bennent), a young dancer married to the much older Dr. Goll, who drops dead of a heart attack after discovering Lulu cavorting with Schwarz, a painter whom Lulu was modeling for. Lulu and Schwarz soon marry, although that too ends in tragedy and Lulu soon finds herself married to the affluent Dr. Schoen (Heniz Bennent). Lulu’s luck takes a turn for the worse however when she finds herself implicit in Schoen’s death which sends her and her lover Alwa, Schoen’s son, onto the streets where Lulu is forced into prostitution and makes the fateful decision of taking on Jack the Ripper (Udo Kier) as a client.

If Lulu is remembered for anything its for “featuring Udo Kier as Jack the Ripper!” and while its true that Kier is amazingly wild-eyed and menacing in the role, ultimately it’s a very brief appearance and Lulu has much more going for it than one scene. What makes Lulu a fascinating film is Borowczyk’s approach and handling of the Lulu character. There have been many interpretations of the character over the years, with some claiming that Lulu was a misogynist creation, that her fall from grace was a punishment resulting from her promiscuity while others see Lulu as a positive example of liberated female sexuality. The later is most certainly more akin to Borowczyk’s tastes, with the celebrating of uninhibited females a constant in his work and Lulu is no different. Borowczyk presents Lulu as an archetypal “free spirit” who refuses to be tied down and is eventually brought down not by her lack of inhibitions, but rather the selfish and domineering men that surround her and wish to control her all for themselves. Lulu’s frivolous nature is perfectly captured by Ann Bennent who always has a whimsical nature to her even during the later portion of the film when Lulu is living in squalor which makes the outcome of the film all the more unfortunate. Being based on a play, Borowczyk directs in an appropriate fashion, having the film play out over the course of five confined and meticulously composed scenes, or “acts”, complete with precise staging and Borowczyk’s typically voyeuristic idiosyncrasies.

German actor Heinz Bennent who plays Lulu’s third husband Dr. Schoen was in fact lead actress Anne Bennent’s father. The following year Bennent would go on to work with another Polish master, playing the role of the wonderfully eccentric and hilariously zen Heinrich in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981). Udo Kier would of course work with Borowczyk again the following year playing Dr. Henry Jekyll in Borowczyk’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborune (1981). While being interviewed for DVD release of Dr. Jekyll, Kier described working with Borowczyk as amazing due to his aesthetic mindedness and specifically singled out his scene in Lulu as Jack the Ripper, stating that Borowczyk took an unusual amount of time in getting the position of the hat Kier was wearing in the scene just right. Interestingly, Kier also reminisces about Borowczyk wanting him to play the role of the infamous French child murderer and compadre of Joan of Arc, Gilles de Rais in a film centering around his trial although the film never came to fruition. Just one of several projects Borowczyk was unable to find support for in the 80’s. Lulu however did get made and again, the film may be one of Borowczyk’s most ignored but the films visual design along with Borowczyk’s approach to Wedekind’s plays and the instances of Boro’s odd humor make Lulu well worth the time for Borowczyk fans.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Killer Barbys (1996)

AKA Vampire Killer Barbys

Along with Lina Romay and the cinema, music, and particularly jazz, was the other great love of Jess Franco’s life with a good number of his films defined by their soundtracks. Franco’s fruitful collaborations with Bruno Nicolai immediately spring to mind, from the lush classical compositions of Justine (1968) to the exotic Velvet Underground inspired soundscapes of Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion (1969). Venus in Furs (1969) has often been described as a jazz influenced film, complete with a soundtrack courtesy of Manfred Mann of all artists! Female Vampire (1973) wouldn’t have been the same without Daniel While’s melancholic main theme, just one example of White and Franco‘s various collaborations. Franco’s experimental video project Paula-Paula (2010) was constructed around pieces recorded by the legendary Friedrich Gulda, who’s brilliant soundtrack to Franco’s Succubus (1967) helped make that film the mystifying masterpiece that it is. Then there’s of course the Vampyros Lesbos (1971) soundtrack, which has gone on to become as famous as the film itself. Given the types of music Franco was known to have an affinity for, it shouldn’t be a stretch to say that horror inspired punk rock isn’t the first thing to associate with Franco. Nevertheless, the two would become acquainted with Killer Barbys, somewhat of a comeback film for Franco after a few years of inactivity as well as the last film Franco would shoot on 35mm.

Following a concert, punk rockers the Killer Barbies set out to their next gig although they are soon in a dilemma after getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere late at night. A strange old man, Arkan, approaches and invites the band to stay the night at a nearby castle, home of the Countess Von Fledermaus, whom Arkan is of service too, until morning when a mechanic can be contacted. The band agrees, however they soon realize the mistake they’ve made upon discovering the Countess’ lust for the blood of the young in order to retain her beauty, and the Killer Barbies find that they fit the criteria perfectly.

Killer Barbys saw Franco returning to the realm of gothic horror which is where his story in the genre began, although admittedly Killer Barbys is a far more frivolous endeavor than the likes of The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) and The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962). While first and foremost a horror film, Killer Barbys is yet another example of Franco’s tendency to hop between genres at any given moment as the film also has a good number of comedic moments. So while the film may be all over the place tonally, going from horrific to hilarious and at times both at once, ultimately it all ends up working as the film succeeds in both spectrums. As a horror film it works for a few reasons. The biggest one being the incredible atmosphere Franco was able to conjure up despite the films relatively small budget. The film has the look and feel of the classic British gothic horror films from the 60’s, complete with liberal use of a fog machine, heavy blue tones and naturally, an imposing castle with a dark past. The film is also a pretty interesting twist on the Bathory legend and surprisingly the rock songs that make up most of the soundtrack don’t deter from the gothic ambiance. The Killer Barbies themselves are the reason the films lighter moments work as the entire band handle the comedic parts well and are clearly having a blast, lead singer Silvia Superstar especially who is a natural in front of the camera.

The Killer Barbies are an actual Spanish pop/punk band and the bands name is spelled in the correct way although it was altered for the title of the film as a precautionary measure in order to avoid a lawsuit from Mattel. Franco and the Barbies would team up again during Franco’s digital years for the supremely ridiculous Killer Barbys vs. Dracula (2002). Interestingly, the band had nothing to do with the original script, it wasn’t until Franco became involved with the project did the idea for the band to star in the film came into play. Convenient timing seeing as their second album Only for Freaks was released around the same time. By all accounts the shoot was a blast and hilariously, band leader Silvia Superstar wanted so badly to be covered in blood for the film but Franco refused. Its also interesting to note that Caroline Munro was originally in talks to play the Countess but things fell through. Even more interesting is that one of the band members is in fact the grandson of Charlie Chaplin. Small world. Obviously Killer Barbys isn’t an intensely personal work from Franco, but as a somewhat silly and at times fairly gory gothic horror romp it does its job very well and more importantly, it restarted Franco’s fire and led to him becoming prolific again, shooting several films a year again up until his passing.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Waves of Lust (1975)

Ruggero Deodato has had a particularly interesting directorial career, especially when compared to careers of some of his fellow Italian genre masters. While it isn’t uncommon for directors to hone their craft in a multitude of styles before cementing their legacy in a particular genre, (this is especially true of say, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi) Deodato’s career path is nonetheless more curious than most. For starters, Deodato’s friendship with Renzo Rossellini, son of the legendary Roberto, led to Deodato learning from the master while doing second unit on some of Rossellini’s films. Deodato also made a comfortable living for himself shooting commercials, and eventually made his feature film debut, albeit uncreditied, with Hercules, Prisoner of Evil (1964). From then on he helmed a variety of films in different genres ranging from musical comedies to adventure/superhero films before taking a break from features in 1969 to concentrate on television work. It wasn’t until his return to features in the mid-70’s did Deodato enter the Italian genre market that was booming at the time and even still, Deodato’s work differed from the likes of Bava, Argento, Fulci and Martino just to name a famous few. Rather than throw his hat in the giallo ring, Deodato’s first thriller, 1975’s Waves of Lust was a sun baked Polanski-esque potboiler that really set in motion the types confrontational and pessimistic films Deodato would eventually become notorious for.

Vacationing couple Irem (Al Cliver) and Barbara (Silvia Dionisio) spot playboy George (John Steiner) and his girlfriend Silvia (Elizabeth Turner) water-skiing from a distance and are immediately intrigued by George’s demeanor and carefree attitude towards Silvia’s safety. Later in the day, Barbara encounters George and after a bit of flirting the two make plans for dinner later that night. Unbeknownst to George however it’s a ruse and all four find themselves together. Despite barely knowing each other, George invites Irem and Barbara to accompany him and Silvia on his yacht and the group set sail the next day. Almost immediately, George reveals himself to be a verbally and physically abusive tyrant, with Silvia essentially his slave. There is also an obvious attraction between Irem and Silvia as well between George and Barbara. Despite agreeing to lose all inhibitions, George’s attitude and increasingly erratic behavior become too much and it isn’t long until tension and jealousy erupt into violence.

Although nowhere near the savagery of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) or The House on the Edge of the Park (1980), Waves of Lust (Ondata di piacere) is still a nasty piece of business with Deodato’s nihilistic worldview in plain sight. It would be easy to describe Waves of Lust as simply “horrible people doing horrible things to equally horrible people”, although as is the case with Deodato nothing is ever that black and white and the shades of grey quickly become more defined. For a film that is so blunt in terms of eroticism, its also rather ambiguous when it comes to character motivations. Almost immediately its made clear that George is an insufferable bastard and his relationship with Silvia is dominant/submissive, what’s not so clear is Silvia’s true feelings on the matter. It would certainly appear that she is unhappy with the situations yet its also hinted at that she sticks around solely due to George’s wealth. What’s also left out in the open is Irem’s true feelings regarding the relationship that develops between him and Silvia. Does he truly care for her well-being or is it purely sexual? Even Irem and Barbara’s love  comes into question at times with it being hinted that, despite being together, it wouldn’t be a shock if one betrayed the other. Deodato brilliantly juxtaposes the misanthropic story with the films tropical locations and nautical theme song with the claustrophobic confines of the yacht and isolation of the open sea only adding to the already uncomfortably tense mood.

At the time the film was made, Deodato and lead actress Silvia Dionisio were married. When Deodato told her he was going to direct an erotic film with plentiful nudity Dionisio objected, that was unless she had a role in the film which is essentially how she got the part despite the fact that the role of Barbara was already cast. It might seem strange to think Deodato would be uncomfortable filming anything, yet Deodato admitted that he was incredibly nervous shooting the nude scenes and actually wasn’t all that interested in making an erotic film at all but rather wanting to make a straight-forward thriller. So even if it may have been accidental, the end result wound up being a mash-up of both. Deodato also expressed some reservations about the finished film, wanting to have shot more outside of the yacht but bad weather prevented it which actually worked in the films favor as again, the confines of the yacht made for many a tense moment. Its also worth pointing out that the film was the first screenwriting credit for Lamberto Bava. Waves of Lust is a film that any Deodato fan owes it to themselves to see as it establishes the attitude Deodato would adopt for his future films and really proves that (fans of the film with immediately understand) even when viewed upside down, the world looks just as sick.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The House of Witchcraft (1989)

AKA Ghosthouse 4: Haus der Hexen (House of Witches)

Unlike Mario Bava, Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci who all excelled when dealing with supernatural themes, Umberto Lenzi is one Italian genre specialist that didn’t dive into the mystic nearly as much. Much like Ruggero Deodato, Lenzi preferred his horror and thriller films to be rooted in reality somewhat, focusing on the horrors humans are capable of inflicting on each other as witnessed in his early erotic jet set thrillers starring Carroll Baker such as Paranoia (1969), So Sweet… So Perverse (1969) and A Quiet Place to Kill (1970). Lenzi also showed a knack for psychological puzzle films with the bizarre giallo Spasmo (1974) and Euro crime classics like Almost Human (1974) and The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (1977) display the gritty nihilism that Lenzi brought to a good number of his films. Still, Lenzi did on occasion delve into some otherworldly territory and even if his more esoteric efforts aren’t held in the same regard as some of his more renowned titles, they are nonetheless interesting films when viewed in the greater context of Lenzi’s entire body of work. In 1989, both Lenzi and Lucio Fulci signed on to direct two made for TV films under the banner of “The House of Doom”. The House of Witchcraft, Lenzi’s second film for the series is somewhat of a hidden gem and perhaps Lenzi’s most successful attempt at mythical and magical material.

Every night, Luke Palmer is plagued by a reoccurring nightmare. The dream is always the same, with Luke running through the woods into a mysterious house, into the kitchen where he meets a witch who promptly disposes of his head in a boiling cauldron. Following a nervous breakdown, Luke’s wife Martha suggests some time away at an estate Martha rented will do Luke good. Much to Luke’s surprise, the estate happens to be the exact same house from his dreams and sure enough Luke beings seeing the witch around the estate. Feeling uneasy and untrusting of Martha, Luke invites his sister in law Elsa and her daughter to visit and it isn’t long until they too, along with Sharon, the niece of the estates owner, find themselves trapped in a waking nightmare.

For a relatively low-key made for television production, The House of Witchcraft (La casa del sortilegio) is a fairly ambitious and mature endeavor, one which puts a fresh spin on various horror tropes. Even by 1989 the blurring of dreams and reality probably seemed a bit old hat but with the witchcraft angle Lenzi effectively avoids cliché in creating a sort of ambiguous world which may resemble reality yet may also be suspended between the waking and dream world. The film is basically split into three stages with the first two acting as a slow set-up, exploring Luke’s dreams as well as his for all intensive purposes defunct marriage to Martha, a fascinating character who plays a major psychological role in relation to Luke’s constant unease. Lenzi also makes creative use of another well-worn horror device, that being the house with a dark secret which again thanks to the element of witchcraft is given new life. When more characters eventually enter the fray the film essentially becomes a body count movie while all the while retaining its slightly surreal essence. The film is one of Lenzi’s most visually accomplished with the house and its surroundings shrouded in atmosphere with Lenzi wasting none of its potential giving way to such striking imagery like bleeding flowers and a decrepit, dungeon-esque basement suddenly being filled with snow. The witch herself has an interesting look. Perhaps a bit goofy looking at first she gradually becomes more and more grotesque and even a bit unsettling with each appearance.

Italian horror fans should get a kick out of Lenzi’s homage’s to his fellow countrymen during the course of the film, the most obvious being the character of Andrew Mason, the owner of the house the film takes place in, a blind man with a companion German Sheppard, a clear reference to Cinzia Monreale’s character of Emily in Fulci’s The Beyond (1981). Mason was played by the legendary Jess Franco's favorite Paul Muller who would go on to appear later the same year in Lenzi’s Hell Gate (1989). One of the most interesting, and potentially confusing things regarding The House of Witchcraft is its German re-branding as Ghosthouse 4. Although its common knowledge amongst Italian horror fanatics, Lenzi’s film Ghosthouse (1988) is technically part of a series of unrelated films re-titled for their Italian release, the “La casa” (The House) series. The first in that particular series being The Evil Dead (1981) which was released in Italy as La casa. Lenzi’s film was released as the third La casa film with the fourth film to get the La casa tag in Italy being Witchery (1988) staring Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff, also known as Witchcraft, not to be confused with Lenzi’s film! The House of Witchcraft is a proper horror film, one that should be a treat for genre fans looking for something somewhat different, from both Lenzi and films dealing with witchcraft.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Oasis of Fear (1971)

AKA An Ideal Place to Kill (Un posto ideale per uccidere) and Dirty Pictures 

Although he’ll probably forever be best known, and perhaps rightfully so, for the radiation sickness outbreak epic Nightmare City (1980) and notorious cannibal classic Cannibal Ferox (1981), Umberto Lenzi doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the contributions to the giallo field. During the time period in-between Mario Bava’s jumpstarting the genre with The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Dario Argento’s opening the floodgates with The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), Lenzi, along with many other filmmakers, was responsible for several thrillers that would continue to lay the foundations for where the giallo would eventually be headed in the 70’s. Long before the infamy of Salon Kitty (1975) and Caligula (1979), Eurotica maestro Tinto Brass delivered the Antonioni influenced pop art thriller Deadly Sweet (1967) which starrted Jean-Louis Trintignant and Ewa Aulin who would both go on to star in Giulio Questi’s bizarre and utterly singular Death Laid and Egg (1968). Even Lucio Fulci got in the giallo game early on with Perversion Story (1969). That same year also saw Lenzi began his string of erotic jet-set thrillers with the Carroll Baker led Paranoia (1969), So Sweet… So Perverse (1969) and A Quiet Place to Kill (1970) which Lenzi followed up with 1971’s Oasis of Fear, one of his best thrillers and a film which see’s Lenzi putting an interesting spin on previously explored obsessions.

Dick (Ray Lovelock) and Ingrid (Ornella Muti), two young American tourists are financing their trip across Europe by selling pornographic photos of themselves. After running into some trouble with the law in Italy they find themselves with a 24 deadline to leave the country and their luck gets even worse after being ripped off by a gang of bikers, leaving them with no money and no gas. The two eventually stumble upon a seemingly abandoned large estate and in a move of desperation, attempt to siphon gas from a car in the open garage, although they are interrupted by Barbara (Irene Papas), the lady of the house. After explaining their situation, Barbara becomes sympathetic and even invites them to stay and the three have a wild night together. The fun is short lived however as Dick and Ingrid discover Barbara’s reasoning behind keeping them around is far more sinister than what she originally led on.

In many ways Oasis of Fear is a spiritual sequel to Paranoia with Lenzi once again utilizing somewhat of a home invasion angle, although here he reverses the roles with the younger generation being the pawns. Where the films differ is in Lenzi’s toying with audience expectations in regards to characterization. In Paranoia, it was obvious from the get go that Carroll Baker’s character would be the victim and therefore easy to sympathize with. With this film however Lenzi obscures the notions of “good” and bad” a bit, presenting the audience with a bit of a moral conundrum by leaving it out in the open as to whether or not Dick and Ingrid’s way of dealing with their dilemma is the best solution. This is were Lovelock and Muti really excel in their roles, perfectly capturing Dick and Ingrid’s youthful spirit early on in the film and also their naivety when things become dangerous. As Barbara, Papa’s is brilliant as the brooding and mysteries femme fatale with obvious ulterior motives yet there is also a seductive empathy about her which Lenzi exploits to gain a bit of uncomfortable sympathy from the audience due to Dick and Ingrid’s treatment of her. The class warfare and generational gaps between predator and prey that were prominent throughout Paranoia are even more pronounced here and it could be said that Lenzi’s outlook is more nihilistic this time around with the outcome of the film essentially mirroring what would very likely happen in a similar real life situation.

Given the release history of some of Lenzi’s previous thrillers, its only appropriate that Oasis of Fear would have some alternate titles liable to confuse some viewers. The film was released in Italy under the title Un posto ideale per uccidere or An Ideal Place to Kill. This is of course not to be confused with Lenzi’s A Quiet Place to Kill which was also released as Paranoia, not to be confused with Lenzi’s 1969 film Paranoia also known as Orgasmo! Lenzi would return to the giallo fold a few more times following Oasis of Fear, reuniting with Carroll Baker for the excellent Knife of Ice (1972) along with helming two films more in line with the direction the giallo would take as the 70’s moved forward, Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972) and Eyeball (1975). Then there’s the bizarre Spasmo (1974), Lenzi’s delirious psycho thriller that in many ways almost dares to be classified as a giallo. In between all that Lenzi also found time to plant the seeds for the Italian cannibal film craze with The Man From Deep River (1972) as well as begin a series of films in the Eurocrime genre of which Lenzi is rightfully considered a master of. As far as his giallo/thrillers are concerned, Oasis of Fear is right up there with the best of them with a perfect cast as well as a fairly bleak world view.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Paranoia (1969)

AKA Orgasmo

The world of the Italian horror/thriller has seen many a memorable artist/muse collaboration over the years. One that springs to mind immediately would be the now legendary pairing of Lucio Fulci and Catriona MacColl with the trilogy of City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and The House By the Cemetery (1981). Another obvious one being Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi with Argento giving Nicolodi, his wife for a time, numerous roles in films like Deep Red (1975), Inferno (1980), Tenebre (1982), Phenomena (1985) and Opera (1987). Then of course there’s the king and queen of the giallo, Sergio Martino and Edwige Fenech who defined the subgenre with The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971), All the Colors of the Dark (1972) and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972). One of the more fruitful director/performer tag-teams to come from the golden age of Italian genre cinema would be Umberto Lenzi and former Hollywood blonde bombshell Carroll Baker, who from 1969 to 1972 made four films together after Baker relocated to Italy following legal troubles and a divorce, Paranoia, So Sweet… So Perverse (1969), A Quiet Place to Kill (1970) and Knife of Ice (1972), with the first of these collaborations, Paranoia, being the best along with being one of the best Italian thrillers to come from this period and one of Lenzi’s finest films.

Kathryn West (Baker), a wealthy jet set widow retires to her estate in Italy following the death of her husband. One afternoon, Kathryn hears a car horn outside the gates and meets Peter Donovan, a young local who’s car has broken down and needs to use the phone. Peter returns later that night and Kathryn aggress to let him stay and the two begin a passionate affair with Peter eventually moving in. Not long after, Kathryn is introduced to Peter’s sister Eva whom Kathryn takes an immediate liking too and she too moves in. At first Kathryn feels reinvigorated, letting go of all her worries and having fun until she returns home one night to find Peter and Eva in bed together. Soon Peter and Eva’s sinister intentions behind befriending Kathryn dawn on her as she finds herself becoming a plaything for the two incestuous sadists amusement.

Featuring dialogue like “One has to be afraid of everything these days, especially when one’s happy” and “When I think of myself I want to vomit. But I’m happy because I realize it”, Lenzi makes no attempt to hide his nihilism throughout the course of Paranoia. Even by Lenzi standards Paranoia is a pessimistic gem, shining a light, albeit a highly eroticized and pulpy one, on some of the rotten things human beings are capable of doing to each other. As a thriller, the film works for all the obvious reasons although what’s interesting is that there really isn’t a sense of mystery to the film setting aside Peter and Eva’s end goals. Virtually every advertisement for the film made it glaringly obvious that Peter and Eva aren’t what they seem and in any other film a similar storyline probably wouldn’t have much momentum however in the case of Paranoia its what gives the film its wheels. This is mainly thanks to the wonderful performance of Carroll Baker who is sympathetic from the start of the film and only gets more so as the film becomes more mean spirited. Baker perfectly captured the devolution of Kathryn’s psychical and more importantly, mental state which Lenzi also perfectly translated visually by deliriously liberal use of the zoom lens. What also makes the film interesting is that underneath the main plot is a none too subtle element of class warfare and generational gaps which Lenzi would explore again in the similarly themed Oasis of Fear (1971).  

Paranoia is one of several Lenzi films that has a tendency to confuse some newcomers to the world of European cult cinema based on its title. The film was originally released in Italy as Orgasmo (Orgasm), however once it entered overseas markets the films title was later changed to Paranoia. One year later following this film and So Sweet… So Perverse, Lenzi and Baker teamed up again for what was originally released in Italy as Paranoia later became A Quiet Place to Kill. This particular re-titling can lead to some confusion of its own as the aforementioned Oasis of Fear is also known as An Ideal Place to Kill! Lenzi would encounter the re-title again and sometimes ironically as when his TV movie The House of Witchcraft (1989), part of the House of Doom project Lenzi did along with Lucio Fulci was released in Germany as Ghosthouse 4, despite having absolutely nothing to do Lenzi’s original Ghosthouse (1988). Then there was Lenzi’s underrated voodoo/zombie mash-up Black Demons (1991) which was renamed Dèmoni 3 and marketed as the third film in Lamberto Bava’s Demons series. Regardless of its title, what’s certain is that Paranoia or Orgasmo is a special film from an unusual yet surprisingly simpatico director/actress collaboration. Sexy, stylish, more than a bit misanthropic and featuring what has to be one of Carroll Baker's finest performances, Paranoia is unquestionably an essential Lenzi title.