Yes! It’s that thing where I watch some movies you aren’t interested in and then tell you what I think about them, while prefacing my words with a comment My Lady of Infinite Patience made about them. Look, I just haven’t had chance to read anything lately. Sorry but, uh, them's the breaks. Anita Strindberg in Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (1972)
Anyway, this… PHENOMENA (1985) Directed by Dario Argento Written by Dario Argento & Franco Ferrini Starring Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Fiore Argento, Frederica Mastroianni, Fiorenza Tessari, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Patrick Bauchau and Donald Pleasence as Professor John McGregor. Special Guest Chimp “Tanga” as Inga Music by Simon Boswell and Goblin
….and she said, “I think I’m going to be sick…”
That wasn’t a comment on the movie; we were barely forty minutes in when She of The Streaming Content was taken badly. This left me with a dilemma: I could either watch a ridiculous movie in which a baby-faced Jennifer Connelly hunts a serial killer in a Swiss girls school aided only by her ability to communicate with insects together with wheelchair bound pathologist Donald Pleasence and his trained chimp, Inga, or…or…or I could provide succour and comfort to my ailing heart partner. Obviously, I watched the movie. Now, before you trip over yourself in your rush to judgement may I just remind you that this was a ridiculous movie in which a baby-faced Jennifer Connelly hunts a serial killer in a Swiss girls school aided only by her ability to communicate with insects together with wheelchair bound pathologist Donald Pleasence and his trained chimp, Inga. Sometimes Life’s all about priorities, kids.
Even though we (well, I. Sorry, dollcakes) watched it via a streaming service and so it wasn’t HD, and thus it was like watching it through a piece of soiled muslin, Argento’s much lauded stylishness was still more than apparent. Having avoided his work thus far in my life I am really warming to Dario Argento; there is just something supremely endearing about the seriousness and sheer graft with which he approaches the most preposterous baloney. As preposterous baloney goes PHENOMENA is amazingly so right until the end. At which point the preposterousness and the baloniness reach such a hysterical pitch that they pummel you into submission. Truly, the ending to PHENOMENA is just a thing of wonder and a joy forever, because this ending goes on for a good half hour and just keeps piling insane nonsense atop insane nonsense, in a kind of splendidly insane nonsense Jenga of an ending. And somewhere in there Donald Pleasance is “doing” a Scots accent to boot. HELP MABOAB! Look, if you are okay with a barely pubescent Jennifer Connelly attempting to locate the killer’s house by taking a fly on a bus ride then you, sir or madam, are in for an intoxicating treat. PHENOMENA was PHENOMENAL! (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Shame is for lesser men!)
TENEBRAE (1982) Directed by Dario Argento Written by Dario Argento Starring Anthony Franciosa, Giulana Gemma, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D’Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Eva Robins, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, Daria Nicoldi, Giuliano Gemma and John Saxon as “Bullmer” Music by Massimo, Fabio Pignatelli and Claudio Simonetti
…and she said, “Do they not have bras in Italy then?”
Oh, we both liked this one. Belay that, we both loved it! Sure, enjoyment was expected but amore was a pleasant surprise. That Dario Argento, the tricksy scamp, outflanked me by making a wicked-smart movie; one not just with a plot that made sense but one with real cinematic smarts too. The stuff cineastes adore is here with “doubling” abounding, a meta-textual message to his critics embedded in the meat of the movie (one that needs to be reconsidered once the movie ends) and playful jumps between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Or, cough, so I hear. For us layfolk who are here for the entertainment that’s all well and good, but it’s probably nicer that with TENEBRAE Argento’s got several people who can act in the cast, rather than the usual just one or two (or none). Also, style? This thing is lacquered in style. It’s so ‘80s I was tempted to try and snort it through a rolled up tenner. TENEBRAE may mean shadows (or darkness) in English but the movie is shot in such a way as to eradicate as much shadow as possible. This is Hell in the glare of a neon flare. Murder in a world lit like a Supermarket. (Some of my trademark overstuffed writing there in case you were missing it.) Even a chase through a park at night denies the quarry the safety of shadows. A park at night, even! That’s visually tricky stuff to pull off that is. But Argento et al pull it off, alright. There’s just something fantastically right about TENEBRAE; as though it’s the movie Argento was working towards and everything after it could only ever be a decline. (Calm down, Argentophiles: That’s relatively speaking; his “decline” still includes PHENOMENA see above). Argento is just ON with this one. He even has one of the most flamboyantly pointless camera moves in history and it’s just a delightful indulgence soundtracked by the best blare of Death Disco soundtrack yet.
Anthony Franciosa winningly essays a charmingly jovial author whose new schlocky horror novel (‘Tenebrae’, natch) is found at the scene of a brutal murder which leads to the police taking an interest in him, and his taking an interest in the crimes. After all, imagine if “Peter Neal” (for 'tis he), could catch a killer - imagine the book sales! Unfortunately he fails to consider what might happen should the murderer have other ideas –imagine the bodycount! Don’t worry you won’t have to. You’ll see it. There’s some mighty fine murders in this one. Although Franciosa’s persistently upbeat performance owns the movie he gets good support from the ever sturdy John Saxon (who has fun playing with his hat and wiggling his eyebrows), the cops (Carola Stagnaro and Giulano Gemma) are sympathetically puzzled and Daria Nicoldi gets the best of the female civilian roles (most of the other female roles involving screaming and bleeding) and, really, the only weak spot in the main players is what seems to be a young Martin Amis in a bad jumper. But, you know, for an Argento movie the cast is like MAGNOLIA solid. Not only that but the plot makes sense. I know! I wasn’t expecting that at all. Usually you’d have more chance identifying the killer by opening a book of Baby Names at random, but this time if you’ve got your wits about you the smug luxury of being right is within your reach. TENEBRAE’s not perfect, there are still some of Argento’s bad habits like some truly ridiculous plot contortions to get a character to accidently enter the killer’s den and some stilted lesbian arguing but when it ends you won't remember any of that. When TENEBRAE ends you'll just remember that sometimes the darkness is within. TENEBRAE is TENEBRAE!
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972) Directed by Sergio Martino Screenplay by Adriano Bolzini, Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini Story by Luciano Martino and Sauro Scavolini Based on the story The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe Starring Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino, Angela La Vorgna and Enrica Bonaccorti as “Hooker” Music by Bruno Nicolai
…and she said, “Phew! For a minute there I thought we weren’t going to see her breasts.”
Seriously, who could resist a movie with a title like that? Not I, honeythighs. YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY ! It’s like something a bell-bottomed Howard Victor Chaykin would use to chat up “foxy chicks” in the ‘70s at a roller disco: “YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY!” (Subtext: THE KEY BEING MY PENIS!) Fan-tastic. Obviously the movie doesn’t live up to that promise of staggering ridiculosity, but it certainly has an admirable crack at it. YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY is a 1970s Italian movie adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat, but in a really sleazy giallo stylee. So, there’s pair of gloved hands, some heavy breathing POV, blaringly cool murder tunes, scads of stabbing and a pint pot of plot twists. That’s the giallo bit taken care of. The 1970s bit is covered by the unpleasantly leering air, the use of unfortunate racial terminology, a supercrazysexygroovy party scene, excessive motocross footage, asphyxia mocking levels of smoking, and wardrobe choices which turn everyone into a sartorial criminal.
Well, everyone except Luigi Pistilli who has that distinctly craggy machismo which enables him to carry off looking like a disco shepherd. Anyway, he sulkily plays a debauched writer who can’t write, and so like any writer fills his time by drinking, smoking, throwing supercrazysexygroovy parties, drinking, abusing his wife (Anita Strindberg doing a nice line in “Crazy Lady Eyes”©®), smoking, drinking, feeding his black cat (“Satan”, natch), smoking, drinking and knocking off (in a sexy sense) his ex-student. Then someone knocks off (in a dead sense) his ex-student and things escalate into a crazy slasher flick for a bit before calming down into a movie normal human beings might endure at a push, but then his sexually, uh, accommodating niece (a very, uh, vigorous Edwige Fenech) turns up and things hurtle off into the a realm of mental delirium so unapologetic Poe would probably approve. (Although he’d probably have had conniptions over the surfeit of tits.) YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY was DELIRIOUS!
So, um, next time – COMICS!!!