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.