A random group of strangers being forced to share close quarters during an impending disaster or emergency situation is a familiar trope in genre films. The situation becomes even more dire when most of the stranded individuals prove to be loathsome or extremely annoying. This is essentially the set-up for Something Creeping in the Dark (Italian title: Qualcosa Striscia nel Buio, 1971), a quintessential old dark house thriller which starts as a suspenseful melodrama and quickly descends into the realm of the occult.
It opens, appropriately enough, on a dark and stormy night as Sylvia (Lucia Bose) and her husband Donald (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) quarrel while driving to a social gathering celebrating a friend’s new nose job (yes, you read that correctly). They are passed on the road by Spike (Farley Granger), a wanted murderer, who is being chased by two policemen, Detective Sam (Franco Beltramme) and Inspector Wright (Dino Fazio). A washed out bridge prevents Spike from escaping and he is apprehended by his pursuers. It’s only a matter of time before rising flood waters force these motorists to seek shelter at a remote mansion along with another car carrying Dr. Williams (Stelvio Rosi), his prim, infatuated assistant Susan (Mia Genberg) and Professor Lawrence (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, who is doing double duty here as the composer of the film’s score).
The refuge in question is the home of the late Sheila Marlowe and Joe (Gianni Medici), the caretaker, is unwilling to accept any unwelcome strangers into the mansion. But the police persist and Joe reluctantly allows everyone inside to what will soon become a temporary prison for them all.
Despite the presence of the two detectives, the maniacal Spike is clearly a threat to everyone’s safety. Of course, the real danger is something that may lie beyond the grave. It seems the deceased owner of the house was a practitioner of black magic and it isn’t long before something malevolent is unleashed in the rooms and hallways.
Something Creeping in the Dark is a relatively restrained frightfest and is not going to satisfy devotees of extreme horror or gore fanatics but if you are a fan of old dark house thrillers brimming over with atmospheric art direction, creepy characters and occult happenings such as seances, demonic possession and vengeful ghosts, this Italian genre exercise is a lot of fun despite a cliché-ridden premise.
Part of the attraction is a first-rate international cast headed by the glamorous Lucia Bose as the beautiful but bitchy Sylvia. She’s completely unsympathetic, whether she is insulting her obnoxious husband or provoking the other guests. Yet, her jaded socialite has style and Bose is clearing enjoying her role as a self-appointed diva. Sylvia immediately reveals her true colors to the group with her bold announcement: “We’re all bored. A group like us should entertain itself. It’s a marvelous opportunity for an orgy, a chance of a lifetime to rid ourselves of our inhibitions. After all, it’s unlikely we’ll ever meet each other again. I think it would be fascinating.”
Bose, the former winner of the Miss Italia beauty contest in 1947, made her film debut in 1950 in Giuseppe De Santis’s Under the Olive Tree. She win on to become internationally famous for roles in two early Michelangelo Antonioni films, Story of a Love Affair (1950) and The Lady Without Camelias (1953), and Juan Antonio Bardem’s Death of a Cyclist (1955). She married Spanish bullfighter Luis Miguel Gonzalez Lucas in 1956 and gave up acting temporarily to raise a family but returned to acting in the 1960s, including an appearance in Fellini Satyricon (1969). In her later years, she appeared in several exceptionally vivid genre films such as Giulio Questi’s Arcana (1972), The Legend of Blood Castle (1973) and Blood Stains in a New Car (1975). On a sad note, Bose was one of the early victims of the Covid epidemic and died at age 89 on March 23, 2021.
Farley Granger, in one of his many Italian films of the 70s, is genuinely chilling as the sociopathic Spike. His smug sense of humor and predatory self-confidence provides the perfect cover for a remorseless serial killer. It also appears from a flashback sequence that he had some sort of twisted relationship with Sylvia. Equally threatening, though, is the mysterious Joe, whose unstable behavior suggests he is not who he appears to be. Even his own girlfriend (Giula Rovai) is frightened by his mood swings into contempt and sadism.
The music score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino strikes the perfect mood starting with the rainy night opening set to ominous bongo drumming with fortissimo accents for freeze frame credits. It proceeds from there to eerie organ and string intonations and lush romantic themes not unlike Carlo Rustichelli’s heavily orchestrated score for Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963). Equally impressive is the sound design which enhances the spooky atmosphere with audio effects like a wall of clocks that suddenly stop ticking, the sound of disembodied heavy breathing moving along an empty corridor or creaking doors and rustling leaves.
Lavagnino composed more than 200 film scores during his 30 plus year career in the film industry, working on star vehicles like Legend of the Lost (1957) and The Naked Maja (1958), peplum pulp (The Revolt of the Slaves, the Colossus of Rhodes, The Last Days of Pompeii), spaghetti westerns (Gunmen of Rio Grande, The Tramplers, Requiem for a Gringo) and action-adventure programmers (Commando, Mission Bloody Mary, Assault on the State Treasure). Ironically, he is more famous for scoring Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight (1965) and three award-winning documentaries, Empire in the Sun, White Vertigo and Lost Continent aka Continente Perduto, a portrait of maritime Southeast Asia which won the Grand Jury prize at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.
As for the cinematography by Giuseppe Aquari, it stands out for some exceptionally eerie lighting effects, especially during the séance sequence, where the possessed Donald looks like a ghastly cadaver.
It all adds up to a handsome if somewhat old-fashioned supernatural chiller that still manages to serve up some memorable moments. A sequence where one of the detectives is stalked in the woods by Spike, culminating in a long and violent fight to the death, is unexpected and disturbing. There is also some unintentional comedy amid the madness thanks to the awkwardly translated, English-dubbed dialogue with characters saying things like “This type of morbid exaltation can be harmful to the nerves.” Indeed!
One of my favorite scenes features the possession of Susan, the doctor’s assistant, by a ghost, transforming a demure-looking librarian stereotype into a sexy minx who takes off her glasses, lets her hair down and wanders into the doctor’s bedroom. “You look changed. What happened to you?” he asks before she seduces him. It’s that kind of movie.
Something Creeping in the Dark also has the sort of open ending where the film could have spawned a sequel if it had been a commercial hit. One of the few survivors after a night of bizarre deaths exclaims, “Was it a collective hallucination or could it be that a frightening reality does exist outside of ourselves?”
The director of the movie, Mario Colucci, spent most of the 1960s working as a screenwriter on low-budget crime and action thrillers like Destination: Istanbul 68 (aka Occhio per Occhio, dente per dente, 1967). He only directed two features, a spaghetti western with John Ireland (Revenge for Revenge, 1968) and Something Creeping in the Dark. On the basis of the latter, he certainly deserved the opportunity to try his hand at other horror/mystery thrillers or possibly giallos.
Something Creeping in the Dark has been available on DVD in various English-dubbed versions over the years but it could certainly use a Blu-ray upgrade from a offbeat genre specialist like Synapse Films or Vinegar Syndrome. For Italian genre completists and Eurotrash aficionados, it’s certainly worth a look.
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