Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blood Stained Shadow

Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: gialli / In category: 2 of 10 / Overall: 13 of 100

‘Blood Stained Shadow’ was the second of two gialli directed by Antonio Bido, following ‘The Cat’s Victims’ (a.k.a. ‘Watch Me When I Kill’) and represents a quantum leap from its predecessor’s staid pacing and uninvolving mystery. Set – like Aldo Lado’s ‘Who Saw Her Die?’ – in an almost permanently fog-enshrouded Venice, ‘Blood Stained Shadow’ exploits its setting to good effect and values atmosphere and tension above gore and grand guignol set pieces.

Academic Stephano d’Archangelo (Lino Capolicchio) returns to his native Venice for some R&R – and, having struck up a rapport on the train with attractive fellow passenger Sandra Sellani (Stefania Casini), maybe something more – but his arrival home is met with truculence from the locals, suspicious looks, and a reunion with his brother that is overshadowed by strange events which soon lead to murder.

Stephano’s brother, Don Paolo (Craig Hill), is a priest whose actions on behalf of his parishioners have brought him into conflict with Count Pedrazzi (Massimo Serrato), a suspected paedophile. Pedrazzi attends séances conducted by a medium (Alina de Simone) who is using information gleaned at these events for personal gain.

Don Paolo witnesses the medium’s murder one stormy night, but by the time he raises the alarm the killer has fled. In trying to raise the alarm, Don Paolo finds himself alone in the house, both his brother and the sacristan Gasparre (Attilio Duse) having inexplicably chosen this most inclement of evenings to take themselves out on errands. The following morning, Don Paolo receives an anonymous note warning him to keep quiet. Other notes follow, their contents increasingly threatening.

‘Blood Stained Shadow’ is a veritable blood stained fishpond, a shoal of red herrings darting across the screen at any given moment. Is it coincidence that Don Paolo’s misfortunes begin the moment Stephano arrives back on the scene? What’s the story behind Stephano’s never-fully-explained medical condition? Why are his “attacks” accompanied by flashbacks, and what are these flashbacks to? What’s the secret that connects the local doctor and a midwife who behaves suspiciously? Why is someone willing to kill for a painting by Sandra’s bed-ridden mother-in-law and what does the canvas symbolize?

Bido plays with genre tropes and expectations just as deftly as he plants/obfuscates the clues. There are roving POV shots, not always from the killer’s perspective. There’s a pounding Goblin-like score clearly inspired by ‘Deep Red’ (‘Blood Stained Shadow’ was made a year after Argento’s masterpiece) that doesn’t always mean a fatality when it kicks in. Stephano’s love of art recalls Capolicchio’s character in Pupi Avati’s ‘The House with the Laughing Windows’, while the importance of a painting is a giallo standard perhaps most famously exemplified by Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’.

There are a couple of week spots: Capolicchio’s performance is as plank-like an unemotive as it was in ‘The House with the Laughing Windows’, while Casini – an intriguing actress who’s worked with Argento, Marco Ferreri, Bernardo Bertolucci and Peter Greenaway – is wasted in a nothing role. On the plus side, Craig Hill is excellent, investing Don Paolo with gravitas.

The murder scenes, while secondary to Bido’s penchant for suspense and misdirection, are (pardon the pun) well executed, particularly an extended set piece featuring two boats and a hapless individual who finds himself plunged into the dank waters of a canal.

For a city that subsists almost entirely on tourism, a city so frequently cited as a romantic destination, cinema has done Venice few favours: it’s a place of decaying grandeur against which von Aschenbach dies in ‘Death in Venice’, an appropriately sorrowful backdrop to a psycho-sexual study of loss and impending violence in ‘Don’t Look Now’, a place in which one becomes both physically and emotionally lost in ‘The Comfort of Strangers’, and the stalking ground of black gloved killers in at least two gialli. See Venice and die.


Aaron said...

Great review, Neil. I'm sold. I'm not familiar with Antonio Bido, and like I told Alex at his trashfilmaddict blog, I'm not familiar with Fredinando Merighi who directed a gialli that he reviewed. When it comes to gialli all I really know is Argento and Fulci and Martino so I'm looking forward to branching out and seeing what else the genre has to offer as far as directors and whatnot.

Neil Fulwood said...

Bido's kind of the forgotten giallo director since he only made two. The first, 'The Cat's Victims' (aka 'Watch Me When I Kill') is just plain dull. This one doesn't trade in the baroque camerawork and set design and inventive death scenes that characterize most gialli. It's more slow-burn than most examples of the genre, too.