Monday, July 21, 2008


While Dario Argento deservedly receives recognition as the maestro of the giallo--the Italian murder mystery heavy on horror elements, prominent during the 1970s--he often overshadows some equally deserving filmmakers in that genre, particularly Sergio Martino. While Martino's TORSO stands out as a deliriously violent and exhilarating precursor to the American "slasher" film, he often imbued his earlier efforts with more rousing, psychedelic images and mind-bending narratives, especially THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH and ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (American title: THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU). Both films share common screenwriters (Ernesto Gastaldi), in addition to featuring a common cast, George Hilton and, most notably, Edwige Fenech.

Compared on more than one occasion to ROSEMARY'S BABY, ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK bears some surface-level similarities to Polanski's more celebrated film, most notably a young female protagonist (Jane, played by Fenech) beset by paranoia and the presence of the occult. However, little else ties the films together: the victim of an accident that cost her her pregnancy, Jane struggles to re-connect with her boyfriend sexually and hence turns to psychotherapy. In the meantime, she experiences disquieting visions, including those of a very creepy blue-eyed Ivan Rassimov stalking her. When psychotherapy fails to pay off, Jane takes the advice of a friend and attends a black mass, thinking that perhaps her answer lies in the occult. Already sensing that the boundaries between reality and fantasy have started to slip, Jane's visions take on a violent role in her waking life, as the people around her start to die.

While not as heart-pumping as TORSO, ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK brings a great deal to the table, not the least of which is Fenech herself. I'll confess it: next to Fay Wray, Fenech is my favorite scream queen because of the qualities she brings to films like this one. Aside from erotically charging every scene she appears in, Fenech also successfully communicates a sense of helplessness and desperation, especially as the veil between her visions and the "real" world begin to collapse. Thanks to her performance, the scenes of the black mass come across as genuinely disturbing and threatening. Martino also plays with the conventions of the giallo in a satisfying manner, eschewing a straight-forward stalk and slash formula for a reality-defying narrative. And Rassimov . . . man, that guy only needs his eyes to give a sinister performance--or are those contacts?


Karswell said...

Edwige Fenech is one of my faves too. I totally remember the radio ads for this when it was playing the drive-in circuit in the mid 70's as They're Coming to Get You. Scared me shitless, I was only 8 at the time though. Nice post.

Kitty LeClaw said...

Rassimov is giving Jeff Fahey a run for his piercing, blue-eyed money!

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