Sunday, 1 March 2015

Kill, Baby, Kill! / Operazione Paura (Mario Bava, 1969)

Dr. Eswai arrives in a remote town to help the local police investigate a mysterious death. Greeted with mistrust and hostility by the superstitious locals, the urbane medic will have to grapple with madness in order to uncover the deadly secret of a cursed villa, where a vengeful spirit is rumoured to dwell. As the night comes, fear descends upon the settlement, and the terrified peasants bolt their creaky doors, dreading revenge from beyond the grave. Welcome to the foggy, brooding world of Mario Bava, Italy's foremost genre artisan!
Habitually stretching the meagre budget to achieve unmatched visual splendour Mario Bava brings us face to face with disembodied terror in his much-praised ghost story, Operazione Paura. To an extent, this 'abstract evil' does in fact have a face - that of a ghostly blonde girl, presented by the director in a highly stylized fashion. Bava chooses to show just the creepy child's stockinged feet, or a pale hand. Often the little Melissa Graps is shown from the back, or standing in the distance, or else her pale face gradually appearing beyond the windowpane, almost featureless save for huge staring eyes. The ghost child laughs mechanically and is oddly passive. The deadly spectre's mere presence is enough to make those who see her go impale themselves on the nearest spike. Scenes depicting terrified victims possessed by an unseen entity which forces them to take their own lives provide Mario Bava with ample opportunity for putting on dazzling displays of light and shadow.
The plot of Operazione Paura, with its' seemingly conventional Gothic premise quickly develops/derails into something far less tangible and distinctly Bavian. The characters are looking for the reasons behind all the deaths and the viewer is eventually provided with an explanation of sorts, coming in form of a monologue delivered by the embittered Baroness Graps - only to be thrust into a fragmented hallucination (and a landmark Mario Bava scene) seconds later. Operazione Paura doesn't have a finale in the traditional sense for it didn't really have a middle section and on the whole can hardly be called a narrative. Characters have no actual incentive to act unless prompted by supernatural elements - a gate shuts by itself, trapping the protagonists in a crypt and forcing to explore the catacombs in search of an exit, strange cries or laughter beckon from around the expertly-lit and tastefully framed corner. Opreazione Paura, with its´ emphasis on showing and an overwhelming lack of interest in explaining, belongs with the greatest Italian horror films. Things are happening just because they are. No motive, no possible logical explanation, no way to scrape back to the surface or reality after being exposed to this feverish, abstract nightmare. This fascination with the inexplicable, letting things unfold by their own strange rules, make the film a standout.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

From Corleone to Brooklyn/Da Corleone a Brooklyn (Umberto Lenzi, 1979)

Two-fisted comissario Berni (Maurizio Merli) heads to a wintry, gritty NYC to bring an exiled Italian mafia lord (Mario Merola) to justice in this somewhat slow-moving offering from genre specialist Umberto Lenzi. It's certainly entertaining seeing the trigger-happy Merli with his moustache and his violent ways land in the U.S. but, sadly, story-wise Da Corleone a Brooklyn is quite predictable and underwhelming. Lenzi excels at staging sudden outburtsts of violence and exhilarating chases and hasn't got the time for much else. The actors are left to their own devices in this sketchy tale of honour and betrayal which is propelled ahead not through dramatic storytelling but by fast zooms and generous helpings of Micalizzi's overly-emotional score laid over the travelogue footage. Biagio Pelligra and Mario Merola steal the show from the bland Merli. DoP Guglielmo Mancori, who´s capable of regular miracles - see Lenzi's visually superb Spasmo or Fulci's underrated Manhattan Baby - does a fair job framing the snowy NYC streets and dingy hotel room interiors, but the circumstances clearly weren't allowing him to create the distinct visuals he's known for. If you can abide by dreary sets and rudimentary psychology behind all the violence, Da Corleone a Brooklyn can be enjoyed for it's distinct, edgy feel and some expertly staged action scenes.

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