Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Giochi erotici di una famiglia per bene (1975)

... aka: Erotic Games of a Respectable Family
... aka: Juegos eroticos amorales (Amoral Erotic Games)
... aka: Juegos eróticos de una familia bien (Erotic Games of a Good Family)
... aka: Thrilling Story

Directed by:
“Francesco Degli Espinosa” (Enzo Matassi)

Known around town as the paragon of morals, values and social ethics, professor / city councilman Ricardo Rossi (Donald O'Brien) tells a few of his colleagues that “Everyone has the marriage they deserve” when the subject of divorce comes up. He's actually quite right. In the civilized world, no one can really force someone to marry someone else, nor does anyone absolutely have to stay in a terrible marriage. There are always other options. Ricardo's not immune from his own philosophy. Constantly busy with work, meetings and conventions (plus kind of an asshole to begin with), his younger trophy wife Elisa (Malisa Longo) isn't exactly happy. Suffering from stress, neck pain and nervous exhaustion, Ricardo skips a meeting and returns home early one evening only to find his wife upstairs in their bedroom entertaining company. Elisa's lover manages to conceal their identity and escape out of the window before Ricardo can shoot them. Elisa should have followed. Instead, her jilted hubby has special plans in store for her.

After slapping her a few times and calling her a “whore” and a “bitch in heat,” Ricardo asks his wife to pack her bags because she's leaving. She suggests they get a divorce and move on with their lives. Unfortunately, he's too paranoid about what that will do to his precious reputation and is publicly such a stickler on the indissolubility of marriage concept that he'll never allow that to happen. Ricardo then drives Elisa out into the country. He explains he's going to drop her off at a secluded mountain village where she'll live under a fake name and constantly be watched and monitored. Little does Elisa know, but he has other plans in store for her. He's already slipped sleeping pills into a drink she had before they left. When she passes out, he stuffs her in a sack, throws in a huge rock and rolls her body down a hill toward a lake.

Upon returning home, Ricardo sees the figure of a body lying under blankets on his bed. Just as he breathes a sigh of relief discovering they're just pillows, his wife's ghost appears in the doorway giving him the veiled threat that they'll soon be reunited for all eternity. But just as soon as she appeared, she disappears in the blink of an eye. Running through the entire trial in his head, Ricardo starts hitting the bottle and goes to a seedy area of the city to sulk.  As he's drowning his sorrows, he's approached by a hooker named Eva (Erika Blanc). She's not like the other girls. She's educated, intelligent, free-spirited, is a hooker because she wants to be a hooker and knows exactly what he, and perhaps any other man who'd seek the services of a girl like her, wants to hear. Sensing he's not like the usual tricks and has some class, she tells him she'd love to come stay with him for a little while and help him forget his female troubles. And what does he have to lose at this point?

Eva accompanies Ricardo home and then things start getting even weirder. The two head upstairs to make love while an until-now unseen grinning woman watches from the couch smoking a cigarette and the camera alternates between zooming in and out on the characters and zooming in an out on a spinning Frank Sinatra album; a simple yet quite hypnotic effect in a pretty clever erotic sequence. Afterward, Elisa's ghost makes her presence known yet again. The following morning, Ricardo receives a phone call from a woman who says “Murderer!” and then hangs up. A different kind of distraction soon appears on Ricardo's doorstep in the form of his wife's beautiful 18-year-old niece Barbara (Maria D'Incoronato), aka the girl who may or may not have been sitting on the couch watching him and Eva go at it. Ricardo soon finds himself courting the girl and to his surprise she's rather receptive.

Still, Ricardo finds himself wanting Eva back and is willing to pay top dollar for her to temporarily move in with him; handing out a 600 thousand lira advance on her services. There are more appearances by the ghost wife (who continues to threaten his life), more creepy phone calls and, to complicate matters further, a strange bearded man who was at the scene the same night Ricardo murdered his wife appears to be stalking him. Now that she's living with him, Eva cannot see Elisa's ghost like Ricardo can even when she's standing right next to her. Is he so racked with guilt he's hallucinating things and going insane? Is Elisa's ghost really back from beyond to settle the score? Did Elisa actually not end up dead in the lake after being pushed down the hill? And what part, if any, do Eva, Barbara and the mysterious bearded many have in any of this?

Essentially your standard issue “Is he or isn't he insane?” / “Is she or isn't she dead?” giallo mystery, this is livened up somewhat by amusing dialogue, welcome elements of black comedy sprinkled throughout, a decent cast and a heaping helping of flesh. Though the visual presentation often lacks punch (and style), the mystery itself is no worse than most other films of this type and it gleefully chucks out a bunch of twists toward the end that are as entertaining as they are silly. The script (which contains surprisingly decent dialogue) is from Renato Polselli, who'd previously directed such sleazy genre films as Delirium (1972), The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973) and Mania (1974), as well as some porn. He also wrote a number of 60s Gothic horror films. The director is a relative unknown whose only other directorial credit was the (reputedly terrible) spaghetti western comedy Once Upon a Time in the Wild, Wild West (1973).

Never released here in the U.S., this played theatrically in both Italy and Spain. The version I watched was taken from a Spanish language VHS released by Grupo Video in 1985. After this, I'm going to start keeping track of the amount of times Ms. Blanc actually wore that marvelous black bikini / bell bottom / catsuit hybrid in her various films. The outfit is so awesome she'd already worn it in both The Devil's Nightmare and The Red-Headed Corpse and it looks no worse for wear in this one four years later. It's obvious she had this outfit among her personal wardrobe, which makes me love her even more than I already do.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Olivia (1983) [filmed in 1981]

... aka: Beyond the Bridge
... aka: Double Jeopardy
... aka: Faces of Fear
... aka: Im Blutrausch des Wahnsinns (Murderous Frenzy of Madness)
... aka: Mad Night
... aka: Olivia: dulce asesina (Olivia: Sweet Killer)
... aka: Prozzie
... aka: Taste of Sin, A

Directed by:
Ulli Lommel

Built in the 1830s, the London Bridge once spanned the Thames River and was the talk of the whole city. However, by the 1960s it was slowly sinking into the riverbed and had to be removed. Instead of destroying the historic landmark, the city decided to put it up for auction. Missouri entrepreneur Robert Paxton McCulloch (best known for his chainsaws and oil company) ended up putting in the winning bid of 2.5 million dollars. The bridge was then dismantled and transported back to the United States. In his search for oil, McCulloch had previously purchased a bunch of land in northern Arizona and founded Lake Havasu City there. Now he wanted to invest big bucks into something to attract tourists. The bridge, a way to allow people to see a once important piece of architecture from a foreign country without having to actually go there, was perfect. Over a three year period and at a cost of over 7 million dollars, the bridge was carefully reconstructed stone by stone across the Colorado River. It was finally opened to the public in late 1971 and remains a popular destination to this day.

Not surprisingly, a number of filmmakers decided to take advantage of all the publicity. The first movie to ever be filmed there was the heist film The Day of the Wolves (1971). Later, two horror films were made using the bridge as its centerpiece: the made-for-TV Terror at London Bridge (1985) and this one. The former involved the spirit of Jack the Ripper being transported to the U.S.. Olivia is more of a psychological horror / drama with the bridge taking on a symbolic purpose. Lommel was inspired to make the film after a trip to Lake Havasu.

A London prostitute (Bibbe Hansen) with a sweet view of the bridge from her apartment window is entertaining an America soldier client (Nicholas Love). He seems nice and polite at first, even when he asks her to handcuff him, tease him and insult him (“You're the most disgusting man that I've ever met in my entire life!”), but instructs her not to untie him even if he begs her to. When he starts getting loud, she tells him she's had enough, asks him to leave and unlocks him. He then promptly beats her to death. Watching the whole sordid act play out from a hole in the wall is the hooker's young daughter, Olivia (Amy Robinson). The mother's body is dumped into the Thames and later fished out. A detective (played by the director) tries to break through to little Olivia but she's in too much shock to be of any help.

Jump ahead 15 or so years and we meet the now 20-year-old Olivia (Suzanna Love). Olivia is married to an older welder named Richard (Jeff Winchester) who, while perhaps not filmdom's most monstrous husband, is pretty damn bad. He's moody, insecure, insensitive and too prideful to even allow his wife to work a simple waitress job. Richard married her when she was only 16 and, to him, she's property whose purpose doesn't extend beyond cooking, cleaning and having sex with him whenever he wants it (whether or not she's in the mood being of no concern). Since he's usually gone late into the night, Olivia has had a lot of time alone to think, reflect and fantasize. After having to spend a depressing birthday alone, she starts hearing her mother's voice and finds herself being guided by her. She dresses up as a hooker in black leather boots, a miniskirt and sunglasses, goes down to the bridge where other hookers hang out and is soon picked up by a guy who takes her back to his mannequin-filled apartment. There, she ties him up and then beats him to death with a glass vase. (“Now you can show mommy how much you love her.”)

American engineer Michael Grant (Robert Walker Jr.), who's been flown over to England to help determine whether they should try to fix or demolish the bridge, starts spending a lot of time there. He spots Olivia several times; once in her normal attire walking her dog and another time dressed as a prostitute and becomes intrigued. The two end up going back to his hotel and, because he's kind and not into the kinkier stuff, they have “normal” sex and no one ends up dead. The two continue their passionate affair. After she returns home late on numerous occasions, Richard becomes suspicious. He catches Olivia and Michael kissing, there's a struggle and Richard falls over the side of the bridge. Olivia flees into the night.

Four years later, after the bridge has been moved over to America, Michael goes to Arizona to see it. Much to his shock, he hears a very familiar voice giving a boat tour. The woman, who goes by the name of Jenny, is a dead ringer for Olivia aside from her dark hair, glasses and more conservative attire. “Jenny” works there selling condos. Sometimes she behaves like she knows Mike, sometimes she doesn't. Either way, he gently pushes his way back into her life and soon notices she shares many things in common with the troubled woman he'd met in London years earlier, including the rather distinct habit of opening beer bottles with her teeth. That's because she is her. The romance starts up once again, but Olivia regresses to her old self. She dyes her hair back to blonde, dresses sexier and makes comments about how her mother may not approve of them getting back together. Like it or not, sometimes it's for the best just to let some people go... granted that's even possible.

Olivia seems like an attempt to bridge the gap between “respectable” Hitchcockian psychological thrillers of the previous decades and 80s exploitation / slasher flicks. The childhood flashbacks (complete with bedtime readings of classic fairy tales), the two different locations, the parallel / converging story lines, the dual personalities and the bridge used as the common link between the first half and the second mean there's subtext to spare here. Hell, the final sequence even features a quite literal disposal of baggage. At this point in his career, the director still had very good visual instinct, which was colorfully put front and center in his underrated The Boogeyman (1980) and is here in abundance, too. The interiors are lit with care in a noir style with central images neatly blending in with the darkness surrounding the edges of the frame. There are also some wonderfully filmed outdoor sequences, such as Michael encountering Olivia on the bridge as the sun sets behind them and the camera sometimes allows a peak of the light to enter and overwhelm the frame. The visual presentation wonderfully complements the plot and psychological content, as does an eerie piano and synth score from Joel Goldsmith.

Is the above enough to overcome a few rough patches, the occasional wonky editing cut and a bit of schlock like someone being murdered with an electric toothbrush? For me personally, yes, it was.

One can wonder what the hell happened to Lommel and his talent over time (I usually do after seeing a genuinely good effort out of him like this one or THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES), but one could wonder the same about his then-wife Love. While not the world's best actress, she wasn't half bad either and certainly appealing, talented and beautiful enough to warrant a better career than what she actually had. I also can't think of another actress during this same time period who was co-writing and producing most of their own movies. After their divorce, Love bowed out of show business and now reportedly lives the quiet life in Maine with her daughter. She and Lommel also teamed up for the punk film Blank Generation (1978), the two Boogeyman movies, BrainWaves (1982) and The Devonsville Terror (1983). I'm looking forward to watching some of those.

This was released under a whole slew of alternate titles. Produced in 1981 as Faces of Fear and also called Beyond the Bridge at some point, this played theatrically in the U.S. and Canada under the title A Taste of Sin. It was called Mad Night in France and Double Jeopardy in Australia and several other countries. The UK release is called Prozzie (slang for prostitute).

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...