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.
Dr Olman has, for God knows what reason, created an extremely deadly humanoid rat-monkey hybrid in his Caribbean laboratory. The night before he is to transport the Rat Man to a genetics conference, it escapes from it's flimsy wire cage. On another part of the island, photographer Mark, models Marilyn and Peggy, and Mark's assitant Monique are working on a sexy sun 'n surf photoshoot, when they stumble across some pulpy human remains. Rather than do the logical thing and alert the authorities, they wave it off as Peggy is leaving for New York the following morning, and the others want to find a more suitable location for the next shoot. Excellent excuse for not reporting a homicide, especially when the killer is probably still in the area. Anyway.
That night, Peggy borrows Marilyn's purse and goes to a party. On her way home, she is followed by a knife-wielding homeless person, so she hides in a closet in an abandoned building, where she encounters... the Rat Man! Needless to say, this doesn't bode well for her. The following morning, Mark, Marilyn, and Monique set off for the jungle, unaware that Peggy is dead, and they are being trailed by not only the Rat Man, but his creators, as well as Marilyn's sister Terry, who was erroneously informed of her sister's death because of the purse mixup, and mystery novel writer Fred Williams, who met Terry in a taxi mixup.
To sum things up here: Tits, Ass, Blood. A good portion of the film is spent ogling Eva Grimaldi's ample assets, not that that's a bad thing. Don't expect much storywise, as Rat Man is tasteless tripe, a mere excuse for the sexy goings-on. The writing is definitely on the lazy side, as aspects of Tenebre and Zombie are inserted throughout. Though the premise, as well as the characters' motives for their brainless actions, are laughable, Rat Man is up there on the creepy scale. That little creature is seriously unnerving, moreso because we rarely catch more than a glimpse of it's paws, shadow, or beady little eyes, or hear it squealing. Even in full light, it's hideous. The way it scuttles up curtains, burrows through walls, and hides in shadowy crevices elevate Rat Man from hilariously cheesy B-movie status to hilariously creepy B-movie status. Recommended for lazy Sunday afternoon viewing, or if one has already burnt through the hundreds of better titles that Italian horror has to offer.
Italian language teacher Diana Berti is hired by a prestigious private school halfway through the school year. On her first day as the new teacher, she learns that:
A) The previous teacher died.
B) A student was kidnapped the year before.
C) The students are a secretive, manipulative lot, and their headmistress (Daria Nicolodi) is their protector.
Nonplussed by the barrage of bad news, she starts the semester enthusiastically, though her optimism fades quickly when she catches onto a secret, sinister "game" that her pupils are playing in the school's basement. Little does she know that the kids have already waged psychological warfare on her, and intend to include her in their game.
Il Gioko is one of Bava's better made-for-TV movies, with some content that must have pushed the boundaries of acceptability at the time. The film kicks off speedily enough as the soon-to-be dead teacher is chased through a vault, stumbling across a severed head and teased by kids' shadows before falling to her death. The following 85 minutes or so do live up to the prologue's promise of steady pacing, heavy atmosphere, and general weirdness. The hurried conclusion, however, may be unsatisfying for most. Character-wise, my only beef was with Diana, who, despite being clever enough to catch on to the game and associate the students with her predecessor's death , cannot see that she is being played. Fortunately, her policeman boyfriend is there to keep her ignorance and rampant emotions in check. 1989 and the woman still needs a man to figure things out; guess that was the style at the time, but I digress.
This film is an unmistakeably Bava production. Though he's never had the most original ideas for his pictures, he's always given them a slick, professional look that is uniquely his. The fluid, voyeurish camerawork, stylized lighting, creative compositions, and even the soundtrack by frequent collaborator Simon Boswell are pure Lamberto. His recurring theme, "what horrors the kids get up to when the parents are away", as demonstrated in most of his previous work, is also found in Il Gioko. More mystery than horror, Il Gioko is somewhat engrossing and worth a watch, though one will be hard-pressed to track down this TV obscurity. Happy downloading!
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.