Friday, October 8, 2010

DAMNED IN VENICE aka Nero Veneziano

(Ugo Liberatore, 1978)
Some may discredit Damned In Venice as a mere Omen or Rosemary's Baby clone, but it's actually a highly original and stylish Gothic horror film that only shares the scarcest of elements with aforementioned films.
Young Mark and Christine are sent to live with their snooty, cantankerous grandmother following the deaths of their parents. Mark, we learn, is blind but prone to having menacing visions which increase in frequency upon their arrival in Venice. When their grandmother is accidentally incinerated in church, Mark and Christine are sent to live with their aunt and uncle, the Winters, in a gloomy, run-down boarding house, whereupon Mark is besieged by visions of murder and decay.
Mark begins to suspect that the house is cursed when he has a vision of his aunt being stabbed in the chest by a dark haired man and she dies soon after of heart failure. Mark learns of a well in the Winters' basement that is said to have miraculous healing properties so he bathes his eyes with the water, unaware that it is teeming with rats and snakes. Troubling also is that his sister allows him to do so, and that her disbelief of his visions is completely unwarranted as Mark uncannily describes their surroundings on a few occasions.
Their uncle dies soon after, and Mark and Christine inherit the boarding house. A freak accident brings in their first tenant, Dan, a dark figure Mark recognizes instantly as the man from his visions. Christine somehow becomes pregnant by Dan, though she claims they never actually had intercourse. Dan, typical guy he is, leaves the boarding house and is never seen again. Distraught, Christine marries her drunk boyfriend, Giorgio, and turns the boarding house into a brothel replete with saucy vixens! Mark becomes convinced that Christine is carrying the Antichrist, and that he must destroy it before he himself is killed.
To tell more would be to rob the viewer of the shocking climax and twist ending. Damned in Venice is, in my opinion, one of the best late Gothic Italian horror films made. The story is intriguing, if a little mean-spirited, and peppered liberally with gloomy atmosphere and horrific shock scenes. As previously mentioned, the story does borrow elements from Rosemary's Baby (Satan's unborn child, conspiracy) and The Omen (family and friends dying in freak accidents or by their own hands, the black dog), but takes them in a wholly different direction. Rosemary's Baby and The Omen used a slow pace with cleverly inserted shock scenes to gradually build the horror and unease, and Damned In Venice is similar in this respect. It does, however, manage to add even more scares and has a much darker feel to it than either film at their climax.
The photography, lighting, and compositions are outstanding in their dark beauty, and the original score by Pino Donaggio is more than fitting. Being Italian, and late 70's at that, Damned in Venice also features an abundance of exploitive elements including nudity, lesbianism, and violence against children. Highly recommended, but hard to find as it's not had a North American DVD or BluRay release as of yet.

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