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Delirium (DVD)

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Actors: Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni, Raul Lovecchio, Carmen Young, Christa Barrymore / Director: Renato Polselli / Writer: Renato Polselli / Producer: Renato Polselli / Language: Italian / Subtitles: English / Studio: Starz Anchor Bay / Released: 23 July 2002 / Run Time: 102 minutes

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      04.03.2013 10:46
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      An entertaining if slightly dubious giallo

      A film-only review - a US DVD can be imported through amazon for about £5.

      This is a crazy Italian horror movie from 1972. It's a giallo, ie a murder mystery done as a horror film, but it's much more lurid and strange than almost any other giallo you'll see. The director Renato Polselli, was also responsible for the remarkable Black Magic Rites, a sexy and bonkers old dark castle movie made with most of the same cast.

      A mad psychologist, Herbert Lyutak, murders a girl he had given a lift to. But then there's another murder, this time while Herbert is with the police. So it couldn't be him, right? The police have an alternative suspect, a car park attendant, and he manages to be at the scene of the crime in all the subsequent murders. Of which there are quite a few.

      The police in this film are properly stupid, as everyone watching will have guessed what's going on pretty much as soon as it becomes obvious that something is going on. The carpark attendant is such a lame red herring that the film doesn't even bother to give him a name (according to IMDB he's called John Lacey, but I'm pretty sure he's just called 'the car park attendant' in the film. Which is ridiculous, because he gets mentioned over and over again).

      There are two versions of this film, the European version and the American version. It was made in Italy, but the version released in America is radically different to the version shown in Europe. The DVD that's available contains both. The American version begins with a hilariously perfunctory Vietnam sequence which establishes that Herbert and the main police character, Edwards, were buddies in Nam. This is possibly intended to explain why the police cut Herbert so much slack. The audience knows Herbert's a murderer, because we clearly see him killing the first victim at the start of the film. The only mystery is who is killing the rest of the victims. But the police don't seem to wonder about Herbert's behaviour at any point, even though he's very obviously acting suspiciously.

      The basis for Herbert's initial crime is that he's impotent. He likes hurting his wife, who passively accepts his brutal S&M treatment, but the implication is that he's never actually had sex with her. She seems devoted to him anyway. Her niece seems to fancy her, and their maid wanders around openly rubbing herself in what I assume is meant to be erotic frenzy (she might just be suffering from some intimate itching, I guess). The cops wander around wearing incredibly loud shirts, but don't really make much headway in the case. The accused carpark attendant actually does a better job of finding out what's going on than the cops do.

      Most of the actors are familiar from Black Magic Rites, although some of the hairstyles have changed drastically. Mickey Hargitay plays Herbert. He was Jayne Mansfield's husband, and was a bodybuilder rather than an actor, a bit like Arnold Schwartzenegger (although Hargitay is dubbed so we don't have to hear his Eastern European accent). He gives it his all in a thoroughly entertaining display of overacting. He gurns a lot, which is always nice to see.

      He's probably the standout performer. His wife is played by lovely Rita Calderoni, and there are plenty of other sexy ladies in the film. The cops are also in Black Magic Rites, but are a bit more restrained in this film. The other really entertaining actor is Tano Cimarosa as the carpark attendant. He is sleazy and hilarious and looks a little like Saddam Hussein.

      As with Black Magic Rites, the film is genuinely well directed. Polselli clearly knew how to frame a shot in an interesting way, and it's a shame he made so few movies. It doesn't make quite as strong use of colour, but it does have some very good stuff in it. But only if you take shots out of context, really - while Black Magic Rites has a general feel of psychedelic coherence, even if the plot makes no sense at all, Delirium isn't quite as satisfying. It's pretty hilarious, and features a lot of quite strong nude scenes, but the director's obvious ability frustratingly suggests that the film could have been much more substantial than it actually is.

      For the sleazehound there's a lot of exposed ladyflesh to enjoy. Most of the women are sexy (the maid especially), and I think they all get naked at some point, with perhaps one exception. Unfortunately, most of them also get murdered, and they're usually naked or partly nude when that happens. This, of course, is a slightly uneasy feature of a lot of films like this, and you soon get used to it. But here the almost palpable air of grot is a bit more difficult to hand-wave away with a 'well of course, they were all doing it' excuse. It's the kind of film where all the women characters are there to be either humped or killed - or preferably both. This is as bad in some respects as Lucio Fulci at his worst. It does redeem itself a little by being funny, which is more than you can say for The New York Ripper, but it's still a rather stronger film than one would perhaps like.

      A couple of the violent scenes are genuinely nasty. The scene where the carpark attendant watches a character being (perhaps) murdered through the holes in a door looks much worse than it is, because we can't see everything, and what it seems we are seeing looks horrible in a really dark way. And there's a nasty, nasty suffocation murder.

      It's less sexy than Black Magic Rites when it does get down to the non-violent naked stuff. There are a few good lesbian dream sequences (why do I never dream lesbian scenes? You'd think I would, given how many cheap exploitation films I've seen. I did once have a dream that the big guy from Texas Chainsaw Massacre was chasing me round a house intent on killing me, but that was no fun at all).

      The dream sequences add a touch of genuine confusion to the film - they're edited in deeply confusing ways, which kind of adds to their effectiveness, but which looks accidental. Cheap films like this sometimes stumble across good effects by mistake, and it's tempting to think that the genuinely good stuff in this film is probably more luck than judgement.

      The music is decent, the usual loungey fare (and the film ends with a great song that plays for two minutes over stills from the film). The Italian language version is funny because several character names are English, and it's very incongruous having characters called Richard, Willy and Herbert in otherwise Italian dialogue. The film seems to be set in England, as the police wear British bobby outfits and they've painted a phone box red. But it's very obviously filmed somewhere in Southern Europe (almost certainly Italy).

      This is fun - I mostly enjoyed it - and sits somewhere between being so bad it's funny and genuinely interesting. It probably isn't an entry level giallo. I enjoyed it far more now than when I first saw it about six years ago, although admittedly I was disappointed then because I thought it was going to be a completely different film called Delirium. Black Magic Rites is a better film if you're looking for crazy Euro-horror. But it's well worth checking out if you're already steeped in 70s horror and are looking for a bit of novelty.

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