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.

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