Saturday, November 29, 2014

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Delirium: Photos of Gioia

Roughly speaking, the glory days of the giallo spanned 1964 (when Mario Bava stylistically defined the template with ‘Blood and Black Lace’) to 1987 (when Dario Argento made his last great throw of the dice as a filmmaker with ‘Opera’). But even that last flowering of Argento’s genius is the exception rather than the rule, and the giallo as a genre was already on the wane by the late ’70s.

Despite a falling off in both quality and active production from the ’80s onwards, gialli have never entirely disappeared. Argento made ‘Sleepless’ in 2001 and ‘Giallo’ in 2009. Eros Puglielli made a truly great contemporary giallo in 2004 with ‘Eyes of Crystal’. Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani put a knowing contemporary arthouse spin on the genre’s conventions with ‘Amer’ in 2009 and ‘The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears’ (a film whose title alone references at least five classic gialli) in 2013.

As a rule of thumb, though, gialli made after, say, 1977 are generally rubbish. A couple of Argento films buck the trend. As do a couple of Bavas. Not Mario, though. By this point in the genre’s development, we’re focusing on the work of his son.

Lamberto Bava made his directorial debut in 1977 with ‘Shock’, which he co-directed with his father. His graduation was more or less immediate and his next two outings – ‘Macabre’ and ‘A Blade in the Dark’ – were minor giallo classics. ‘A Blade in the Dark’ in particular demonstrated what a subjective, prowling camera and a shoal of red herrings could achieve above a limited budget and a single location to film in. Following a handful of lesser genre flicks (including ‘Monster Shark’ and ‘Demons’), Bava made ‘Delirium’ and took all the lessons he learned with ‘A Blade in the Dark’ and applied them to beautiful effect.

Having said that, ‘Delirium’ opens like a Channel 5 trouser-arouser directed by A. Gregory Hippolyte: a slideshow of the voluptuous Serena Grandi in various lad’s magazine poses, in and out of swimsuits. Turns out this sequence is actually sketching in the backstory for us (ain’t Bava thoughtful?): Grandi’s character, Gioia, was a former pin-up model who now owns a glamour magazine called Pussycat. It soon becomes apparent that someone is murdering the Pussycat cover girls (ah, after the semi-intelligent reviews I posted earlier this year, here I am halfway through the Winter of Discontent typing a sentence like “someone is murdering the Pussycat cover girls” without batting an eyelid!) and the roster of suspects is as all-encompassing as you’d suspect.

Is it Mark (Karl Zinny), Gioia’s wheelchair-bound, gun-loving neighbour who spies on her through a telescope and harasses her with pervy phone calls? Or her untrustworthy, narcissistic actor boyfriend Alex (George Eastman)? Is it Evelyn (Daria Nicoldi), Gioia’s brittle PA? Or Flora (Capucine), the business rival who is sexually fixated on her? How about shady photographer Roberto (David Brandon), who runs a studio with Gioia’s brother Tony (Vanni Corbellini) and disapproves of Tony sleeping with the models? Or could it even be an elaborate orchestration by Inspector Corso (Lino Samelle) – who by his own admission is more often taken for a mobster than a cop – to get closer to Gioia?

Whoever it is, they swiftly despatch cover girls (Trine Michelsen) and Sabrina (Sabrina Salerno) and organise their bodies in front of wall-size pictures of Gioia in a perverse parody of the photoshoots that have been Gioia famous, both as model and editor. They also have a skewed perception: in the film’s most infamous sequences (the models are stalked in typical giallo fashion from the killer’s POV), the killer hallucinates their faces as, respectively, a large eyeball and an insect. Clearly, this is someone whose psychology is a tad wonky. Fortunately, though, come the big reveal there’s none of the “morbid fear of tennis balls bouncing in the night” silliness that mars the final act of ‘A Blade in the Dark’.

High fashion was always a favourite backdrop for gialli, from outright classics like Bava pere’s ‘Blood and Black Lace’ and Emilio Miraglia’s ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ to such tawdry division three entries as Andrea Bianchi’s ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ and Carlo Vanzina’s ‘Nothing Underneath’. If Bava fils doesn’t quite hit the heights with ‘Delirium’ it’s mainly because its an ’80s movie and therefore its retinue of power-dressing and big hair could never have been as cool as anything set in the same milieu but made during the ’60s or ’70s.

Narratively, the red herrings come thick and fast and just about everyone in the cast is given their “hmmm, I wonder” moment and they generally make the most of it. Grandi, whom I’d always regarded less as an actress than a lingerie model who’d somehow managed to wander onto a handful of film sets during in her career, carries the film adequately for what it is. Eastman is Eastman with everything that observation applies, but at least he doesn’t rip anyone’s entrails out.

Visually, it’s nicely filmed exercise in architecture porn. There are one or two quirky compositions, but nothing that comes close to, say, Argento at his most grand guignol. Put simply, ‘Delirium’ is a giallo that’s fun to watch and ticks most of the required boxes but leaves you yearning for some excitingly distasteful flock wallpaper and an interior designer with a morbid tendency towards stained glass and rococo furnishings.

No comments: