People usually have certain expectations when they invest the time to watch a movie, especially if it has been advertised as a genre film like a western, sci-fi or horror thriller. This must have been a perplexing problem for the distributors of Arcana (1972), Guilio Questi’s mysterious tale of a widow and her brooding son who use fortune telling, tarot cards and seances to con a gullible clientele. The film dabbles in the supernatural but it also flirts with other topics like voyeurism, incest, Macedonian rituals, neglected children, middle class despair and inept bureaucracies. Some critics have pigeonholed Arcana as a horror film and it is certainly horrific in tone and attitude but don’t expect the movie to conform to genre conventions. The director even issues a disclaimer at the beginning: “To the watchers: This movie is not a story but a game of cards. For this reason both its start and the epilogue are not believable. You are the players. Play smartly and you’ll win.” Make of that what you will, I think Arcana works best as a puzzle, even if it is an often inscrutable and unsolvable one that is presented in two acts. Continue reading
Sometimes a film poster doesn’t offer enough information to let you know what kind of movie to expect. Take, for example, Eyes Behind the Wall (Italian title: L’occhio dietro la parete, 1977). The Italian poster suggests it might be an erotic drama with its image of an older man touching the exposed thigh of a younger woman. The background paraphernalia and laboratory setting could also indicate a sci-fi or horror premise. The American poster for the film displays a demented face, an oversize bloody knife and a topless female victim in the style of a trashy giallo. The simple truth is that Eyes Behind the Wall is hard to classify and doesn’t easily fit into any specific genre although you could file it under Eurotrash. While the film is problematic in many regards, it still manages to be consistently intriguing and unpredictable.Continue reading
First, let me get this out of the way. The Bloodstained Lawn (Italian title: Il Prato macchiato di Rosso, 1973) is a haphazard mash-up of a genre film, but an entertaining one for Eurotrash completists. The English language title suggests it might be a giallo or a horror film or even a poliziotteschi (crime drama). Actually, it has some elements of those with some sci-fi flavoring added. The central premise involves a form of vampirism which is a complete departure from the old school mythology of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and much closer to the metaphorical horrors of Alain Jessua’s Shock Treatment (French title: Traitement de Choc, 1973) and Rod Hardy’s Thirst (1979). Oddly enough, director Riccardo Ghione seems much less interested in playing up the horrific aspects of the story than depicting bourgeois decadence and the exploitation of the disenfranchised as a quasi-political fantasy. Continue reading
Italian director Elio Petri is probably best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), which won the Oscar for Best Screenplay (by Petri and Ugo Pirro) in 1972. Yet, most of his other work, with the possible exception of the cult sci-fi satire The 10th Victim (1965), remains overlooked or forgotten when film historians write about the great Italian directors of the sixties and seventies. And 1968’s A Quiet Place in the Country (Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna) is easily one of his most intriguing and visually compelling films.
By the mid-1980s the Italian film industry was in a state of major decline. The glory years of the fifties and sixties were now fondly remembered footnotes in the history of world cinema and even the popular film genres – giallo, poliziotteschi, spaghetti western and horror – were near the end of their heyday. There were still a few determined stragglers such as Tinto Brass with his fetish based erotica (The Key, Miranda, Snack Bar Budapest) and Enzo G. Castellari, who soldiered on with formulaic hybrids like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior and Striker. But the horror genre, in particular, was suffering with masters of the macabre Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento trying but failing to top past high water marks like The Beyond (1981) and Suspiria (1977). It was during this downward trend that Gianfranco Giagni made his directorial debut with The Spider Labyrinth (Italian title: Il Nido del Ragno, 1988). Continue reading
With a tumultuous background of waves crashing against a rocky coast, a descriptive statement from Sigmund Freud on the meaning of libido scrolls down the screen. Part of the Austrian psychoanalyst’s quotation defines libido as “the energy, regarded as a quantitative magnitude… of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word ‘love.’” But the film that follows is not about love but rather the perversion of it starting with an opening sequence in which a child witnesses the aftermath of his father’s violent S&M session with a female companion, an incident that scars him for life. Continue reading
When did Klaus Kinski first burst upon the international film world? The evidence points to his portrayal of the obsessive Spanish expedition leader Don Lope de Aguirre in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God in 1973. He followed that with other critically praised performances in Andrzej Zulawski’s The Most Important Thing: Love (1975), Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982) and even appeared in mainstream commercial fare like Billy Wilder’s Buddy, Buddy (1981) and George Roy Hill’s The Little Drummer Girl (1984). But most of Kinski’s early work from 1955’s Morituri (in an uncredited bit part) up to the ‘70s were supporting roles; some were breakout parts such as 1955’s costume drama Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende wines Konigs (he was nominated for best supporting actor in the German Film Awards) or superior genre efforts like Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western The Great Silence (1968). Still, leading roles were a rarity for Kinski but one of the early exceptions was Der Rote Rausch (1962), directed by Wolfgang Schleif. Continue reading
Tales of the Devil seducing and destroying man have been a popular theme in cinema since the silent era but Queens of Evil (aka La Regine,1970) puts a new spin on the concept which departs from the more familiar treatments we’ve seen in Faust (1926), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) or Rosemary’s Baby (1968). It’s weird, dreamlike, sexy, ominous, often unpredictable and unintentionally funny at times (in the English dubbed version). Though often lumped in the Italian horror category, Queens of Evil, directed by Tonino Cervi, is closer to a gothic fairy tale for adults or a cautionary allegory for its era about young idealists who reject the status quo but are susceptible to corruption when their innermost desires are unleashed. Continue reading