Saturday, November 29, 2014
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.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Franco Prosperi’s grubby little home invasion thriller was retitled ‘Last House on the Beach’ for the American market, although an equally apposite alias would have been ‘House by the Edge of the Sea’ – Prosperi’s, ahem, aesthetic is perhaps more keyed into Deodato’s gruelling opus rather it is to Craven’s underside of Americana. But that’s argument for film scholars; Winter of Discontent is when this blog abandons any intellectual precepts, grabs a beer (or several) and deposits itself on the couch. It’s also when the blog owner’s wife wonders ruefully whether or not her husband is a suitable case for committal.
But I digress.
‘The Seventh Woman’ is a fairly unlikeable piece of work even by the low standards of exploitation cinema in general and its subgenre in particular. It boasts a couple of noteworthy elements, but we’ll leave them for last in an attempt to end this review on a remotely positive note. Let’s get the plot synopsis and a few general remarks out of the way first. This could be a pretty short review.
After one of the lamest bank robberies ever, thuggish douchebag assholes Aldo (Ray Lovelock), Walter (Flavio Andreini) and Nino (Stefano Cedrati) make a less than quick getaway in a clapped out Citreon. It’s a testament to how long it takes the police to show up that they actually evade capture. The car conks out near the coast and they hole up in an isolated house. In said property, Sister Cristina (Florinda Balkan) and five of her pupils (Sherry Buchanan, Laura Tanziani, Laura Trotter, Karina Verlier and Luisa Maneri) are taking a break in the lead up to exams and rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Quite why I’ve fixated on that detail I don’t know: the film sets it up as if it’s going to be somehow crucial to how the plot unfolds, then decides otherwise and the Bard isn’t mentioned again.
(Oh, if you’re wondering how the figures add up in relation to the title, the seventh woman is either the housemaid who buys it within half a minute of being onscreen, or the woman that Sister Cristina becomes in order to survive. Let’s be charitable and assume the latter; it makes the film sound more interesting.)
Aldo discovers that Sister Cristina and her charges aren’t expected back at the academy for three days and thus the expected cat-and-mouse shenanigans ensue … except that “cat-and-mouse” suggests a certain degree of tension. And indeed, between the ever-present threat of violence, the clandestinely plotted escape attempt and what the filmmakers probably intended as a cauldron of sexual tension, ‘The Seventh Woman’ had no reason not to be a taut, claustrophobic, edge-of-the-seat B-movie.
In actuality, it’s dreary, predictable, uninvolving and even its most leering bits of nastiness inspire little more than tedium. Its antagonists tick the expected boxes in regard to snivelling villainy, but there’s none of the demented menace that David Hess brings to the aforementioned Craven and Deodato movies. Lovelock was never the most charismatic of exploitation leads and here he just goes through the numbers. Even the usually dependable Bolkan seems like she’s phoning it in.
Grazie, then, for Cristiano Pogany’s dappled widescreen cinematography that at least conjures some nice backdrops; Maneri’s icy presence as one of the increasingly vengeful schoolgirls; and a retributive finale that Quentin Tarantino probably had uppermost in mind when he shot the last scene of ‘Death Proof’.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
It’s just not a successful Winter of Discontent without certain movies: you need a video nasty, you need a grubby revenge thriller, and – at some point, whatever you might think of the man and his almost uncatalogueable body of work – you need un film de Jess Franco.
In selecting a Jess Franco opus, questions need to be asked: do you favour his muse and career-long leading lady Lina Romay; do you opt for one of his many riffs on the work of the Marquis de Sade; or do you just pick something with a funky title?
Employing the latter, we find ourselves in the company of ‘Nightmares Come at Night’, a title which deserves some kind of award for stating the obvious. I almost wish it were part of a trilogy, followed by ‘Daydreams Occur in the Day’ and ‘Insomnia Happens When You Can’t Sleep’.
‘Nightmares Come at Night’ tells the story of Anna (Diana Lorys), a Zagreb-based stripper (the script repeatedly references the city, presumably to compensate for the budget not allowing any establishing shots) who comes into the orbit of the rich and seductive Cynthia (Colette Giacobine) who promises to groom her as a film star. This, predictably, never occurs and Anna finds herself confined to Cynthia’s mansion and treated as little more than a plaything. Worn down by Cynthia’s mind games and cruel treatment, Anna begins having vivid nightmares involving sex and death (what else? this is a Jesus Franco production, y’all). At this point Cynthia engages the services of Dr Paul Lucas (Paul Muller), who was variously referred to as “Dr Lucas”, “Dr Paul” and “Dr Peters” in the English dub that I watched. Still, one does simply expect continuity from Jess Franco.
Most of the film occurs in flashback as Anna narrates to Dr Lucas her history with Cynthia and the shadowy, half-forgotten act that might mean she’s a murderer. Meanwhile, a young couple – Andrea Montchal and Soledad Miranda – spy on Anna and Cynthia from a neighbouring property, spout portentous dialogue that suggests there’s something conspiratorial going on, and get naked a lot.
Ah yes, the raison d’etre of Franco’s entire output: nudity. Anna’s nightmares all full of it, and she awakens from them only for her diaphanous nightgown to fall open; Cynthia lounges around sans chemise most of the time; during one crucial flashback, Anna meets a couple at a nightclub, next thing they’re reconvened somewhere private, and – whaddaya know? – they all slip into something more disrobed.
All of which is enough is make a case for Franco as little more than a pornographer, but if you did that you’d have to throw the net just that bit wider and include Jean Rollin in that definition. And though Rollin’s raison d’etre was pretty much the same as Franco’s (only with a fetishistic obsession with grandfather clocks thrown into the bargain), Rollin at his best was a poet of surreal and dreamy eroticism.
Franco – with his love of off-kilter compositions, discontiguous narrative, and mise en scene as burlesque – often seems like the almost-Rollin. Perhaps the key difference is Rollin’s absolute focus on atmosphere where Franco instead rolls up his sleeves, gleefully rubs his hands together and really gets stuck into the sleaze. Which is just as well, since ‘Nightmares Come at Night’ boasts neither an interesting resolution to its half-baked mystery or a single notable performance: Lorys occasionally tries to emote, but mostly drifts through the film with a blank expression; Giacobine doesn’t for a moment suggest a femme fatale with a dominant enough personality to enslave and manipulate those around her; and Miranda – memorable in Franco’s ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ and ‘She Killed in Ecstasy’ – is left to flounder in a nothing role.
But ultimately, the tao of Franco can be summed up as “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that sleaze”. ‘Nightmares Come at Night’ got that sleaze. Plenty of it.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Glancing back through some of the grim and gory fare that has featured on these pages over the five years I’ve been hosting the Winter of Discontent, I started thinking about all the quintessential exploitation directors whose work I’ve considered: Joe D’Amato, Andrea Bianchi, Uwe Boll, Tinto Brass, Cesare Canevari, Enzo G. Castellari, Ruggero Deodato, Jess Franco, Lucio Fulci, Jack Hill, Tobe Hooper, Aldo Lado, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, Nico Mastorakis, Radley Metzger, Amando De Ossorio, Guilio Questi, Jean Rollin, Joe Sarno, Tom Six, Michele Massimo Tarantini, Bo Arne Vibenius.
One name in particular was missing. Could it be that I hadn’t been doing my job properly? That I hadn’t fully immersed myself in the absolute worst that exploitation cinema has to offer?
I dug back through the archives more thoroughly. There was one reference to him – one minor reference – during an ill-advised overview of the Black Emanuelle films back in 2010. But apart from that, my suspicions were confirmed: in half a decade of seeking out the most venal trash I could find, I had yet to review a film by Bruno Mattei.
The time, ladies and gentlemen, has come.
And what better film with which to break this blog’s Mattei virginity than ‘Hell of the Living Dead’, a.k.a. ‘Virus’, a.k.a. ‘Zombie Creeping Flesh’?
The film starts at a “Hope Centre”, the nature of which isn’t explained until the very end*. It looks like nothing more than an oil refinery and it’s staffed by a lot of scientist types in white coats. The equipment consists of huge 80s mainframe computers, display panels that don’t seem to display very much, and entire swathes of buttons that light up, sometimes in white, sometimes in green. This particular Hope Centre is based in Papua New Guinea and its staff are working on “Operation Sweet Death”. Which seems an oddly named project for a Hope Centre. I started wondering where the other Hope Centres were based and what projects they were working on. “Operation Buy the Farm”? “Operation Swing Low Sweet Chariot”?
So anyway, there’s a sterilisation breach, a dead rat comes back to life and eats a technician, a cloud of green gas gets released and then it’s zombies a-go-go. The project director has enough time to order the centre’s complete isolation and record a message of hollow apology, then the undead are at his office and it’s goodnight Vienna.
Cut to: a terrorist group holding hostages at an American embassy (which American embassy? you ask; where? fucked if I know: the script doesn’t either) and demanding the dismantling of the Hope Centres. A crack anti-terrorist team stage an incursion and swiftly decimate them. That’s “crack anti-terrorist team” as in “squabbling bunch of macho assholes”, by the way. No sooner have they liberated the hostages than they’re sent into the thick of the inhospitable Papuan jungle to investigate the goings-on at the Hope Centre. The Hope Centre’s on the coast, so quite why their mission perameters call for them to go endlessly overland, through jungle, through town, through jungle again and then cross a freaking river in order to get to it I have no idea and neither, again, does the script.
But before we go any further, let’s take a moment to meet these gun-toting good ol’ boys. The platoon commander is called London (Jose Gras) and his small team constitutes Santoro (Franco Garofalo), Osborne (Josep Luis Fonoll) and Vincent (Selen Karay). In terms of characterisation, London is the one who barks orders, Osborne is the one who does the driving and Santoro is the frankly fucking bonkers one who’s zombie-killing modus operandi is to fling himself into the centre of a group of them and scream things like “you wanna eat me?” and “fuck you, I’ll kill all of you” before shooting them in the head**. Not that he ever manages to kill more than one zombie in any group before forcing his way out of the melee and running off.
Subject of the old shoot-’em-in-the-head rule, Santoro is the first and only member of the troop to realise this and he reminds his cronies every time the zombies show up and the guns come out. Every fucking time. And no-one listens!!! Scene after scene, zombie attack after zombie attack, when a quick point-blank to the cranium fight back would decimate their slow-shuffling attackers, these gun-toting douchebags empty cartridge after cartridge and never once go for a motherfucking head shot.
But then again ‘Hell of the Living Dead’ is rife with facepalm moments.
Take the randomly inserted bits of stock footage which suggest that monkeys, elephants, snow owls and marsupials co-exist in the Papuan ecosystem.
Take the United Nations scene, which consists of half a dozen people in suits sitting in an otherwise empty lecture hall and throwing sheaves of paper in the air.
Take the abrupt cut from London and co. beginning their mission to the arrival of intrepid reporter Lia Rosseau (Margit Evelyn Newton) and her cameraman Max (Gabriel Renom) at a deserted township. Lia is there to make a documentary on the outbreak of the virus (oh, sorry, forgot to mention: that snafu at the Hope Centre at the start of the film? it’s now apparently gone global), yet all she has by way of a crew or a production team is one cameraman.
Take the fact that Lia and Max have, for reasons the script yet again fails to explain, hitched a lift with a couple who have decided to bring their pre-pubescent son into the wilds only for him to be injured by an offscreen native and the two are having the most godawful row about whose fault it is. Only one of these two loathsome individuals is even named and they’re both disposed of as zombie fodder (the kid, no surprise, is a zombie in waiting), but not before we’ve suffered their company for five wretched and pointless minutes.
Take the coincidental arrival of London and his boys at the same township and their willingness to allow an investigative reporter and a cameraman to tag along on a secret mission.
Take their arrival at a tribal camp, where Lia Rosseau goes native (she’s previously lived among them for a year – Rousseau: geddit?) by stripping down to a loincloth and daubing herself with body paint (Mattei throws in the most gratuitous boob shot ever to make the cut of an Italian exploitation movie, and when you stop to break down the component parts of that sentence you’ll realise the degree of achievement I’m talking about here). This is the point at which ‘Hell of the Living Dead’ quits ripping off Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ for all it’s worth and rips off ‘Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals’ instead.
Take the “score” by Goblin, which is basically a judicious sampling of their earlier scores for ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘Contamination’, the opening credits brazenly trying to con the audience into thinking the Goblin had taken it into the studio especially for Mattei and his collaborators.
And take said collaborators. ‘Hell of the Living Dead’ was co-written by Claudio Fragasso, notorious as a director in his own right for ‘Troll 2’ (and it occurs to me that I have yet to review a Claudio Fragasso film on this blog. Shit.) We shall not speak of John Cabrera’s cinematography. The cast we’ve already mentioned, but it’s worth taking a moment to consider how bad they are. Renom, Fonoll and Karay are merely bland; Gras is incapable of delivering a line of dialogue without pouting like it’s Christmas morning and he got an Action Man when he wanted a G.I. Joe; and Garofalo does bug-eyed crazy in a manner so unrestrained that Dennis Hopper in the middle of a decade-long cocaine binge would probably be moved to advise him to tone it down a bit. But it’s Newton who’s the absolute worst of all, a vacuum into which the very concept of doing anything in front of the camera – let alone acting – disappears and is never seen again. It’s not even a deer-caught-in-the-headlights performance. It’s roadkill and the headlights are five miles distant.
The title is well earned, if just slightly inaccurate. ‘Hell of the Barely Half-Alive’ would have been better; it certainly describes how it feels to watch it.
*Without wishing to get spoilerific, the nature of the Hope Centres is kind of like if Ian Duncan Smith had chaired a think tank on overpopulation.
**He also calls them “monkey faces” at one point, which gave me a nasty little flashback to ‘Fight for Your Life’; and any film that provokes a ‘Fight for Your Life’ flashback is one that automatically loses brownie points.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Moving from Rio de Janiero to Toyko – and blazing a devil-may-care trail through the least salubrious areas of both locations – Takashi Miike’s ‘City of Lost Souls’ pays demented homage to everything from spaghetti westerns to lovers-on-the-run thrillers of the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ ilk, by way of yakuza epics, a booby-trapped ping-pong table that your average Bond would be proud of, and an ocean-side pay-off that evokes the cynical inevitability of ‘Get Carter’.
If you’re cursing me for a spoiler fiend at this point, relax; half an hour into ‘City of Lost Souls’ and you’ll probably realise where it’s going – it’s just the route it takes that’ll flummox you. Plus, it’s Miike directing. Y’know, the guy who made ‘Rainy Dog’, ‘Full Metal Yakuza’, ‘Audition’, ‘Visitor Q’, ‘Ichi the Killer’ and the ‘Young Thugs’ saga. What were you expecting, a light romantic comedy?
Although, for the record, Miike has made some family-friendly films. They just happen to be overshadowed by his prolific output of bizarre, violent, magnificently fucked-up and decidedly un-family-friendly work. And I do mean prolific: at a still relatively youthful 54 years of age, Miike has racked up 96 credits as director according to IMDb; in 2001 alone, he directed eight features, three of which – ‘Visitor Q’, ‘Ichi the Killer’ and ‘The Happiness of the Katakuris’ – are bizarro masterpieces.
‘City of Lost Souls’ was made the previous year, when Miike obviously decided to take it easy and only direct five movies. It starts as magnificently as any movie I’ve seen. (Okay, it doesn’t quite maintain said ballsy and iconic magnificence, but starting as well as any movie you’ve ever seen is quite some feat.) In short order, Brazilian/Japanese loner Mario (Teah) fucks up a bar full of antagonists, does time for it, gets released, hi-jacks a helicopter at gunpoint, fucks up a prison bus convoy and rescues winsome girlfriend Kei (Michelle Reis). This occupies about the first ten minutes and I watched from the half-inch that constituted the edge of my seat; my jaw was slack, my eyes were bulging and there was a big dumb grin on my face, the likes of which is usually only triggered when my local supermarket has drastically underpriced a bottle of Talisker.
What pollinated this massive surge of movie-love? The iconography; the absurdly stylish direction; the hyperkinetic editing; the use of music. Basically, just how damn cool the whole thing was. (Here I mention again that ‘City of Lost Souls’ never quite sustains its early super-fucking-coolness, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a certain sense of disappointment that the rest of it is merely good instead of being the best thing that ever slapped its imprint on a reel of celluloid.)
The plot, as it progresses, has Mario and Kei look up Mario’s old flame Lucia (Patricia Manterola) who can put them in touch with Russian go-to guy Khodoloskii (Anatoli Krasnov) and a passage to safer shores. And here the first problem: Reis’s Kei is certainly willowy and pretty, but there’s absolutely no chemistry between her and Mario, whereas Manterola’s Lucia is fiery, wanton and commands the screen as if she’s got the cinematographer on a leash. The lovers-on-the-run aspect of the film – which needs must be the engine that propels the plot through its contrivances, coincidences and (being honest) clichés – never gets off the ground. (Although Kei does have a highly memorable set-piece involving a bottle of vodka and a cigarette lighter.)
The criminal underworld aspect of the film fares better, and runs the gamut of feuding gang bosses, drug deals and cockfights. The cockfight scene is hilarious. While I wouldn’t put it past Miike to film an actual cockfight, it probably occurred to him at some point in the film’s development that it would damage his US and UK distribution to do so; thus he gives us a CGI cockfight. But Miike being Miike eshews the usual CGI-pretending-to-be-real-and-hoping-you-don’t-notice approach. His cockfight is deliberately fake, the capon antagonists throwing kung-fu style moves at each other and even seguing into slo-mo. It’s as if Monte Hellman had got hold of the rushes for ‘Chicken Run’ and re-edited them after an all-nighter of ‘Drunken Master’ films and cheap tequila.
It’s when Miike stops being a sociopathic visionary jester (yes, I know that phrase doesn’t make sense on a technical or linguistic level, but it will once you’ve watched a few of his movies) and films scenes in long static takes or decides to follow conventional narrative beats that ‘City of Lost Souls’ seems to drag. If anybody else was directing, it probably wouldn’t. But when you’re one of Asian cinema’s most extreme practitioners, even the merest hint of normality is an annoyance.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
A word from your genial host:
Greetings, trash film fanatics and cineastes of sleaze - greetings, and apologies. Real life has exercised its alienable right to get in the way of what your trusty blogger would rather be doing, and as a result I'm somewhat behind on watching Winter of Discontent content, let alone writing the reviews. Pray bear with me a few more days: by the weekend things should be back on course. I have lots of lovely disreputable things lined up for you between now and Christmas, including films by Takeshi Miike, Lucio Fulci and the man with the most inappropriate first name in the history of cinema, Senor Jesus Franco.
In the meantime, please enjoy a gallery of classic exploitation posters, many of which I've already reviewed on these pages, and some of which I haven't ... yet.
Friday, November 14, 2014
Before ‘The Hunger Games’, before ‘Battle Royale’, before ‘The Running Man’, there was ‘The 10th Victim’, perhaps the most day-glo, pop-art, comic-book example of the people-hunting-each-other-down-for-entertainment-value subgenre ever slapped in wash of grimy yellow across a few hundred feet of celluloid.
The plot barely needs dwelling on: in a slightly futuristic society (or at least what a slightly futuristic society looked in 1965), the Big Hunt is highly popular means of channelling violent tendencies and avoiding global conflict – contestants undergo ten rounds, five as hunter, five as victim. Those surviving all ten (by, respectively, killing their prey or murderously turning the tables on their hunter) are allowed to retire from the game with a healthy slab of prize money and the kind of celebrity status that the average Kardashian would bare their booty for. A computer (the 1965 type of computer, all big buttons and flashing lights) randomly pairs off hunters and victims. When it pits Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni) against Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), cat-and-mouse suspense crackles with sexual tension as director Elio Petri turns up and the heat and – … oh, who the hell am I kidding?
‘The 10th Victim’ fails on almost every level, mainly because Petri and his four co-writers (yes, that’s right, it took five people to bring a short story by Robert Sheckley to the screen) never seem to agree on whose perspective any given scene is anchored to, how the spatial relationships between character and geography work, or whether the film is sci-fi, thriller, romance, black comedy, satire or out-and-out surrealism. This is nowhere more evident than in the languid mid-film section which fixates on interior design to an almost unnatural degree (seriously, you’ve got Andress at her most voluptuous posed against a picture window on a sofa and the cinematographer is more interested in the positioning of seating and sculpture), and the equally unhurried final act which limps from one funny bit of buffoonery to the next.
Narratively, ‘The 10th Victim’ is a clusterfuck. In terms of performance – Andress is mere set-dressing; Mastronianni wanders around in a daze (a pretty fucking cool daze, natch: this is Mastroianni after all) – it’s a non-starter. As a thriller, it’s just too slow moving. As a sci-fi, it doesn’t really deal in interesting enough concepts or even try to make a coherent microcosm of its dystopia. As a romance, there’s no real chemisty, though damned if Andress doesn’t look more stunning here than even in ‘Dr No’. As a comedy, it’s often just plain embarrassing. As a satire, it fumbles around for its targets, not entirely sure what point it’s trying to make.
As surrealism? Yeah, the film has its moments.
But what really makes it unmissable, what makes it worth an hour and a half of your time and never mind the 400 words of carping that constitute the bulk of this review, is how lusciously, indulgently, dementedly beautiful the whole thing is. ‘The 10th Victim’ is one of those films that you can pause at random and find yourself gazing at an image you immediately want to frame and hang on your living room wall … assuming your living room also contains a bubble chair and a lava lamp.
‘The 10th Victim’ was lensed by Gianni Di Venanzo (previous credits: ‘La Notte’, ‘8½’, ‘Juliet of the Spirits’) and his genius is stamped on every frame.