During a seance, archaeologist/occult enthusiast Liza Harris (Meg Register) has a vision of 5 nuns being crucified by a mob of torch-bearing villagers in a crypt. When she reports it to her contemporary, Paul Evans (Brett Halsey, of Fulci's "Touch of Death" notoriety) he dismisses it as hocus-pocus and chastises her for such silliness. Shortly after, they and a group of fellow Canadian archaeologists travel to Sicily, where they are currently digging around some ancient Greek ruins. Upon arrival, they are greeted by one of the locals who warns them that the other townsfolk are less than keen on the idea of having anyone poking about the ruins, what with there being a cursed medieval nunnery nearby and all. He warns them of the possibility that the villagers might even kill to keep the dead in their place, but this does little to deter the crew.
In a sort of daze, Liza wanders over to the monastery and starts poking around. An imperfection in one of the murals leads her to start hammering away at the wall (like a true archaeologist would) and behind it she discovers the crypt from her vision, complete with the corpses of crucified nuns. As she sleeps that night she dreams of Paul trying to warn her to stay away from the crypt, but she tells him she can't. Methinks she be possessed.
Either intrigued or bored (or possessed!), she goes to the local library to do some research into the history of the site, but finds the records missing. There she encounters a mysterious older woman who tells her what's missing from the books: in 1486, five nuns entered into a covenant with Satan and sacrificed an infant. The villagers caught on, dragged the nuns down into the crypt, killed them, and sealed their bodies away from the world. Liza's was no chance discovery; she's come back to finish what the nuns started. See? Told you she was possessed!
Besides the fact that Demonia looks like it was shot on tape, it's not as bad as I anticipated upon looking at the DVD cover. In true Fulci fashion, it's incredibly slow-paced, often cheesy, and delightfully gory. People get ripped in two (up the middle!), impaled on beds of spikes, harpooned, and mutilated by angry cats. And so forth. Bless you, Lucio. Keeping in style with his later films, the ol' soft focus lens is frequently put to use. Brett Halsey aside, Italo horror connoisseurs will recognize actors Al Cliver (Zombie, The Beyond) and Lino Salemme (Demons, Demons 2). Again, Fulci makes an appearance in his own film, as a police inspector.
Demonia does have it's share of shortcomings, make no mistake. It's one of Lucio's most derivative efforts, with scenes recycled from his previous gems, City of the Living Dead (the seance and fainting thereafter), The Beyond (crucified corpses), Manhattan Baby (the spike trap in the crypt) and The Psychic (hammering through the wall - though in this instance it looks as though he ripped it off of Dario Argento's Deep Red). As previously mentioned, the sluggish pace gets annoying at times. At least 40 minutes' worth of unnecessary dialogue and Liza wandering about in a daze could have been trimmed. Some of this excess footage actually provides unintended laughs. While Liza lies in her tent, trying to sleep, the rest of her team sing an irritating Irish song by the campfire. She and I must be on the same level, because as the song goes on her facial expression progresses from annoyed to angry to "I KILL YOU!!" Then they start up ANOTHER song and she looks absolutely...horrified. Laughed. My. Ass. Off. I wasn't crazy about Demonia but I've seen much, much worse.
Fall and Winter seem to have slipped right past, perhaps because I've been having ever so much fun trying to eke out a living in wonderful (and wonderfully expensive) Vancouver. Rest assured, I am still alive (though my soul has grown more greasy and ravaged over the months) and will resume posting sarcasm-laden reviews just as soon as I can. GG82
Dear gawd, when will the Fragasso reviews end? Soon, I assure you, very soon. But until then, beware: they will pop up when least expected, much like the Goblins' materializing out of nowhere in Troll 2, and just as devastatingly.
Father George (Michael Brandon) oversees the excution of a witch who murdered many children to provide innocent souls for Satan. However, the witch refuses to rest in peace, and torments not only George (who becomes an alcoholic pretty damn quick after the execution), but Father Peter (Gene LeBrock), his wife Annie (Barbara Bingham) and their children Martin and Carol (Martin is played by the same kid from Troll 2!) who moved into her house. Soon, almost randomly, the black-garbed, bloody-faced souls of the damned come for their children. They survive the first assault with some divine intervention, but rather than, say... MOVE AWAY, they do the smart thing and decide to stay in the house. Guess what happens next?
There's a few parallels between this film and Troll 2, which were likely made back-to-back. First, we have Joshua/ Martin. Then the soundtrack by Carlo Maria Cordio. In fact, it's the same soundtrack used in fellow Filmirage productions Troll 2, Witchery, etc. The makeup in Beyond Darkness is notably better than the crummy masks used in Troll 2, but the special effects are basically the same: wind, dry ice, and bright backlighting. I might mention that the acting here is much more believable, though the expected bad dialogue and derivative story ruin any chance Fragasso had of making a decent B movie. They seriously borrowed (aka ripped off) not only The Exorcist, but Poltergeist, The Fog, and The Beyond. I'm sure there's a couple of titles that I've missed, but you get the idea. What's most tragic is that there are a couple of spooky moments in the film, but they're never properly explored. Beyond Darkness is frightfully cheesy, but not in an enjoyable kind of way.
Dr Craig Mannings (Michael Moriarty) has recently been troubled by visions of himself murdering lonely women, which he attributes to the experimental therapy he's been under. In one such vision, he finds a clue that leads him to Hamburg, Germany, where his heretofore presumed dead siamese twin, Keith (Moriarty again), has taken residence. It's revealed that Craig has been seeing the murders through Keith's eyes (ala The Eyes of Laura Mars), and Keith through his just as often. Naturally, Keith seizes the opportunity to continue with his killing spree, now focusing on Craig's friends and framing him in the process. I wish I had an identical twin some days.
It's fairly easy to sum up Blood Link as a promising premise that's flatly executed. The mostly American cast takes away the Eurocheese feel from the proceedings, but the dialogue is long-winded and the performances feel forced at times. Oddly enough, I found Keith to be the most interesting character in the story, because he seemed the most dynamic, evil as he may be. Craig is a harder character to identify with, as he's weak and a bit slow on the uptake at times - and he screws around on his girlfriend, who ends up saving him in the end. In how many Italian thrillers of that period is the protagonist saved by his girlfriend? Can't think of too many.
Stylewise, Blood Link stands above it's ilk. The photography is lush and inventive, and makes good use of mirrored surfaces, disorienting compositions, and the ol' watery soft-focus lens. The moody, noirish lighting and beautiful, though forgettable Ennio Morricone soundtrack almost work with the general tedium of the film. Almost. It's still a dreadfully slow affair for a thriller, but not a bad film.
A little girl stumbles across a woman's charred, mutilated corpse in an abandoned vehicle on an Australian beach. Because the remains have been burnt beyond recognition, the only clue as to the her identity are the yellow pyjamas in which she died. Retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) is intrigued by the case and, unimpressed with the methods employed by the new generation of police, undertakes an investigation of his own. Elsewhere in the city, an ambitious waitress, Linda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), is up to her neck in complications surrounding her personal life. Dissatisfied with her marriage to poor Italian immigrant Antonio, Linda is having an affair with his best friend, Roy, and still seeing the sugar daddy professor (Mel Ferrer) she met prior to marrying, all the while trying to keep their knowledge of each other a secret. The seemingly unrelated storylines eventually intersect in a tragic and unsettling fashion.
The Pyjama Girl Case stands out as a most unique giallo in terms of plot, content, and style. Nowhere will one see razors, gloves, or fedoras, and most of the sex scenes in the film are uncomfortable rather than sexy. The grittiness of the subject matter, and the unabashed approach to it, are often unbearable at times. The film's bright, sunny look mocks Linda's predicament and her underhanded ways of trying to escape it. She's never presented as a manipulative, soulless whore, though. Instead, we see a frightened young woman who's resentful of her impoverished life, who spends much of her time crying and confused, treated as an object of amusement by Roy and her doctor friend. Her degradation, disappointment, and unfair demise are never properly compensated for, even after the capture of her killers, which only adds to the tragic beauty. Milland's cocky, oldschool detective character adds the only levity to the film, and keeps it from becoming too heavy or depressing.
From a technical standpoint, The Pyjama Girl Case is an accomplished effort. The shot compositions, editing, and camerawork are above-par, but what I found most compelling was the lighting and the music. The electronic soundtrack by Riz Ortolani is easily one of his best, and a couple of the funkier tracks have vocals by Amanda Lear, although most memorable is the pulsing, avant-garde electronic piece played during the public viewing of the corpse. As for the look, most of the film is bathed in sunlight, and the colour palette is suitably bright neutrals. The only real colour we see is the alternating red and green of a neon sign outside Linda and Antonio's apartment, which seem to parallel her own hot and cold feelings towards her husband. As a treat for the eyes, ears, and heart strings, The Pyjama Girl Case is definitely up there on my list of recommended gialli.
I feel I have to somehow justify the hours, nay, years I've spent watching some of the best, worst, and most unique horror and thriller movies ever made. I hope casual browsers might just catch on, and that experienced Italian horror fans might come across new and unheard-of titles to track down. If nothing else, please enjoy the pretty (and occasionally frightening) pictures.