Monday, May 2, 2016

The Washing Machine (1993)

AKA Vortice mortale (Mortal Vortex)

Its interesting to think that during the heyday of the giallo in the 70’s when filmmakers like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino and Umberto Lenzi amongst many others were defining the genre with films like The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and Spasmo (1974) just to name a few, that Ruggero Deodato was surprisingly missing from the giallo game. Deodato’s first 70’s thriller Waves of Lust (1975) owed more to a film like Polanki’s Knife in the Water (1962) than any of the films that inspired the giallos of the day and he would follow that film with Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976), an essential title in the poliziotteschi subgenre, and of course Deodato would soon make his entry in the cannibal genre with Jungle Holocaust (1977). It wasn’t until the late 80’s when Deodato chose to helm his first giallo and the resulting film, Phantom of Death (1987), was certainly one of the more unique the genre had to offer with a strange plot combing murder with the disease progeria of all things. Deodato would return to the giallo in the early 90’s with The Washing Machine, one of his best films and one sets itself apart from other films in the genre with its bizarre eroticism, demented sense of humor and overall oddness.

Inspector Alexander Stacev is called to the home shared by sisters Ludmilla, Vida and Maria after Ludmilla claims to have discovered the body of Vida’s pimp boyfriend Yuri chopped up in the washing machine in the middle of the night. When Alexander arrives on the scene however there is no body to be found nor any evidence that a crime has even been committed. Dismissing Ludmilla’s story as a drunken hallucination, Alexander concludes that, without a body, there is no case. The sisters however see it differently and begin to follow Alexander everywhere pestering him to look into Yuri’s disappearance, eventually seducing him one by one making things quite complicated as the more he investigates the more the sisters seductive mind games suck him deeper into their strange world.

While The Washing Machine is technically an erotic mystery/thriller, in truth the film doesn’t exactly play out like a typical mystery story, at least until the third act. Its not that Deodato totally eschews the mystery of Yuri’s disappearance or the question of whether or not he disappeared at all, but that particular plot element quickly takes a backseat to the wild goose chase Alexander is led on by the three loony sisters, described by Alexander at one point during the film as “deranged”. Its an appropriate description as the situations Alexander finds himself in with each of the sisters are quite loopy, making the film come across as some sort of off-kilter psychosexual comedy. It very quickly crosses over into absurd territory featuring a scene involving an attempt at seduction via a salad bowl thrown into Alexander’s crotch and a fairly uncomfortable looking sex scene taking place against a staircase railing which Alexander is handcuffed too. There’s also the zaniness that arises as a result of each of the sisters occupations, culminating in a hilariously bizarre scene featuring Alexander and one of the sisters going at each other in a museum surrounded by blind people. Such things might make the film seem impossible to take seriously as a mystery/thriller but the matter of fact way in which it’s all presented only adds to the films strangeness and give it its own identity along with Deodato’s slick direction, the cold, blue hue that saturates nearly every frame and Claudio Simonetti’s equally icy score.

Despite the fact that again, the film is one of Deodato’s best, Deodato himself doesn’t feel that way and has gone on record expressing his disappointment with the film, specifically singling out the cast saying in the book Cannibal Holocaust: The Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato “I wasn't very happy with The Washing Machine because I was never convinced that the casting was correct, and the film was made too quickly… I can only say that I am not at all pleased with the final result because it's a very intimate movie and should have had well-known actors, which it does not. So, after the first few minutes it collapses.” With all due respect to Deodato, this is clearly a case of an artist being his harshest critic as the cast is actually one of the best things about the film! The three sisters especially were all perfectly cast with Barbara Ricci really standing out as the drunken Ludmilla and Dylan McDermott look-alike Philippe Caroit giving an appropriately bewildered performance as Alexander. The Washing Machine was also Deodato’s last theatrical feature until his 2016 return Ballad in Blood so here’s hoping that in time his opinion of the film changes. There’s really nothing else like The Washing Machine either in Deodato’s filmography or the realm of the erotic thriller making it an eccentric, sleazy and at times ridiculous highlight for Deodato and giallo fans.

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