Monday, September 29, 2008
Also known as, Cock Blocked from Beyond the Grave.
Here we have another picture from Mario Bava, the Italian Hitch-schlock. This one will probably help to steer me clear of marriage for at least another few years (or decades). Stephen Forsyth plays a wealthy fashion designer (specializing in wedding gowns), named John Harrington, living in Paris, stuck in a loveless marriage, and harboring a terrible secret buried within his memories. He's also been murdering lovely young ladies on their wedding night with a hatchet. Don't worry, I'm not spoiling a damned thing. We know who the killer is in the very first scene. Unlike most giallos (term that basically describes italian mystery or thriller), the mystery to be solved doesn't involve the killer's identity, but rather his motive.
Harrington narrates the story and, from the beginning, is aware of his own madness. Each time he kills a bride-to-be he learns a little more about his repressed memories (something involving his mother, her lover, him as a boy, etc). Meanwhile, his wife, Mildred (icily played by Lara Betti), informs Harrington that she will never grant him the divorce he so desperately desires. In fact, she will be with him always. To illustrate her cruelty towards him, she tells him she's going to visit her ill sister for a week but, suddenly, returns unannounced after only a single day has elapsed. What if he'd been jerking off? She can't even give him a fucking week for chrissakes. So, anyway, he eventually kills Mildred (while, himself, in a wedding gown and makeup) only to have her ghost return to haunt his every moment. Except with a bit of a twist. He can't see her, but everyone else can. You've got to be kidding, right? This is the ultimate cock-block. Harrington goes to a disco club to pick up a loose girl who takes one look at the apparition of his wife sitting next to him and says "I'm not that kind of girl" (slap!). Now what? How the fuck do you get rid of a ghost? Harrington tries. He burns her body in his incinerator and dumps her ashes in the Siene river. Still, the wife shows up at a fashion show to scare away more potential hook-ups. I don't know, fucking evil variation on the typical haunting scenario. Murderous widowers need to get laid too.
Forsyth is great as the meek, perpetually calm, killer. He never gets rattled. In this way, he reminded me of the Bohm character in Powell's masterpiece, Peeping Tom. Of course, there's an inspector working the case who always seems to show up at the most inopportune times like, for instance, immediately after Harrington offs his bitch wife (sorry, but she was). In the film's tensest moment (and strangely, also the funniest), the inspector barges in certain that he heard a scream. Harrington convinces him it was just the Bava film he was watching on the television (Black Sabbath). Meanwhile, the still dying wife is dripping blood from the second floor onto the carpet below, inches away from the oblivious inspector.
Dagmar Lassander (House by the Cemetary) is the beautiful Helen Wood, a prospective model, potential fling, and a girl who knows a bit more than she initially lets on. God, all the women in this thing (except for the wife) are gorgeous and, this guy, Harrington could have any one of them. Son of a bitch. He's a charming good looking fellow (looks like a young Clint Eastwood). Yet, he still insists on popping into the side room to bone a gowned-up mannequin every now and then. He actually makes love to the thing with soft kisses, lays it gently on the bed, fondling, caressing, etc. No wonder his wife is pissed. She must be the coldest fish in the sea.
Bava pulled out all his usual tricks for this one. His frequent zoom-ins and outs, the great score (with a pretty jarring guitar riff), lots of beautiful women, unparalleled use of shadows and colors (particularly red). His visual tricks still seem new after all these years. The picture is not gory at all, but he sure makes it seem like it is. There are a few plot holes such as the inspector and his constant proximity to Harrington. Actually, it doesn't even seem like he's doing any real detective work. Just waiting to get lucky, I suppose. Sure, Harrington is a designer of wedding gowns and, yes, one of the missing girls did model for him. Also, he has an incinerator in his green house and a rather large smokestack that's constantly in use. Still, barely circumstantial. Look for some real evidence professor like blood in the carpet, hair, fibers, etc. The only real investigating he does is when he calls the television station that aired Black Sabbath and determines that a woman in the movie did not, in fact, scream at the time just before he came barging in. Impressive.
This picture is often creepy, sometimes funny, a little dated i guess, and never boring. There's a scene where his wife finally appears to her husband as a ghost that sent some chills down my spine. It's certainly not on par with Bava's better pictures. I wonder what this guy could have done with some of Hitchcock's budgets because there is an undeniable mastery evidenced in the majority of his work. The version I saw was dubbed into english which is all too common for Italian films from this era. Didn't bother me in the least but, I suppose, there are those that will be put off by it. This picture also comes with a moral: I guess don't marry a vindictive cold-fish bitch when there are beautiful models willing to ride on your train or take it in the caboose or whatever.*
*also, don't murder virginal sluts on their wedding night.
Is this what I'm passing off as a review these days? Sorry folks, I promise to do better next time.