‘My heart is blind and filled with death.’
A psychologist who works with the police picks up a young girl out drinking and savagely murders her in a remote spot. He’s identified by staff at the bar, but while he is in custody being questioned, another girl is killed…
Offbeat, semi-demented Giallo thriller from writer-director Renato Polselli. Hungarian-born actor and famous bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay tries to make sense of it all.
Working with Inspector Edwards (Raul Lovecchio) on murder cases is a regular gig for psychologist Herbert Lyutak (Hargitay), but the latest is slightly different. For one thing, he’s a suspect after being tagged as the man who picked up the young victim (Stefania Fassio) by barman Marcello Bonini Olas and car park attendant John Lacey (Tano Cimarosa). For another, he is the actual killer. Fortunately, while Lovecchio is questioning him, news comes in of another murder in the same locality. A young brunette has been slaughtered in a callbox after calling the police in a panic.
Hargitay might be off the hook for the crime, but he still has a heap of problems at home. His wife Marzia (Rita Calderoni) is still blindly devoted, but she’s pretty sure of his guilt. She’s prepared to overlook his impotence too, and their attempts at intercourse certainly seem to entertain their peeping maid, Laurel (Cristina Perrier). Meanwhile, Lovecchio has set a trap for the killer in the park using blonde Miss Heindrich (Katia Cardinali) as bait. It all goes wrong, and another woman is killed with a knife. Hargitay is on the scene by invitation, but Cimarosa is also discovered lurking in the woods.
Rarely has a film been more accurately titled than Polselli’s Giallo drama. It starts well enough with the opening scenes moving from unsettling to horrific as Hargitay charms the young Fassio into his car with the promise of a lift to a nearby nightclub and then begins to molest her on the way out of town. Chasing her into a shallow creek, he bludgeons her with a rock and then strangles her to death. It’s an effective way to begin, overturning the usual Giallo tradition of unmasking the killer in the final act. The reveal that he works with the police is another nice touch, which makes for an unusual dynamic with Lovecchio during his interrogation and subsequent release.
However, when Hargitay arrives home, the film goes off the rails pretty quickly. This is a very screwed-up household indeed, and the relationships between Hargitay, his wife Calderoni and servant Perrier and played in such an off-kilter way that they are never convincing. Polselli was probably aiming for the overall feel of a dream or, more accurately, a nightmare. However, it’s hard for the audience to stay invested when it’s unclear whether what is happening is real or not. Some scenes are clearly the twisted fantasies of the main characters, but other moments just as illogical, are presented in a far more realistic way, making for a head-scratching incoherence.
Perhaps it’s inevitable, given the oblique nature of the storytelling, the film is also short on many plot basics and details. Lovecchio mentions that Fassio was the seventh victim in this serial killer’s rampage. Who were the other six, and was Hargitay responsible for them? Is helping the police with the case? How has he evaded suspicion, given that his Modus Operandi with Fassio was to pick her up from a public bar in plain sight of a roomful of potential witnesses? There’s also a question mark over Cardanali, who takes part in the sting operation in the park. Is she supposed to be a police officer? She certainly knows Hargitay. When the Inspector sees her surreptitiously take a piece of evidence from the crime scene, he doesn’t call her out and somehow only remembers to question her about it later. On the way to her apartment, he and a colleague stop for a cup of coffee along the way for no significant reason, allowing the killer the time to get there first.
Calderoni’s visions of being chained up in a sex dungeon with Hargitay and her blonde niece Joaquine (Christa Barrymore) are certainly presented as fantasy. However, later, we discover that the room exists, and Barrymore is suddenly promoted (almost out of nowhere) from background scenery to a major player in the final act. Of course, there’s a suspicion that these sequences are only present to provide some significant nudity, and there’s more than a touch of unpleasant sleaze about a later scene involving the attempted murder of Perrier being witnessed by the voyeuristic Cimarosa.
The cast overact shamelessly at times, particularly in the overblown final scenes, which Polselli delivers with all the subtlety of Grand Opera. Gianfranco Reverberi’s progressive rock soundtrack, intrusive throughout, blasts away fearlessly through this wild finale as the doomed characters pull silly faces and throw themselves about with glorious abandon. It’s easy to laugh and blame the actors, but there really isn’t any other way to play such ridiculously over-the-top material.
In an apparent effort to make the film more coherent for overseas markets, Polselli shot some additional material, and the film was recut. Does it help? Well, a little. Now the film opens with Hargitay sustaining a severe combat injury in Vietnam, the effects of which could explain his strangely detached, robotic performance through much of the runtime. The scenes where he sweet-talks a young student into his car make more sense as they do have an actual payoff now, although it comes without apparent consequences.
Then there’s the character of Bonita, played by Carmen Young, who is rewarded with a special ‘introducing’ credit at the beginning of both cuts of the film. However, she doesn’t even appear in the original release and has only one very brief scene toward the end of the American version. The outcome of this additional event does provide motivation for Barrymore’s antics at the finish, but it all comes right out of left field as there is no prior mention of Bonita’s existence. Perhaps the sequence was also intended for inclusion in the original film but was dropped before release, leaving her acting credit intact. The American update still needs far more clarity, but the final twist does tie things up much more effectively, even if it’s seriously underwhelming.
Polselli was born in 1922 in the agricultural centre of Arce in the Central Italian region of Lazio. Little biographical information on him is available, but his first film project found him already established as a writer-director on the obscure drama ‘Delitto al luna park’ (1952). His first notable credit was ‘The Vampire and the Ballerina/L’amante del vampiro’ (1960), where a good level of early tension was squandered in favour of rather obvious horrors. Other chillers followed, such as ‘The Monster of the Opera/Il mostro dell’opera’ (1964), and ‘The Reincarnation of Isabel/Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel Trecento…’ (1973). The latter features so many of the principal cast that appears here that it may have been filmed at the same time. Outside of his own projects, he contributed to the scripts of other filmmakers, including actor Rossano Brazzi’s Giallo thriller ‘Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia’ (1969) and the odd ‘Questa libertà di avere… le ali bagnate (The Freedom To Have Wet Wings)’ (1971), which has sometimes been tagged with the same label.
Composer Reverberi conducted the Italian Eurovision Song Contest entry the same year Polselli’s film came out but enjoys a far greater claim to fame. In 1968, he and his brother Gian Piero contributed the song ‘Last Man Standing’ to the Spaghetti Western film ‘Django, Prepare A Coffin/Preparati la bara!’ (1968). Thirty-eight years later, parts of the melody and chord structure were crafted into the song ‘Crazy’ by US Soul duo Gnarls Barkley. The track was a global phenomenon, topping the charts in many countries and winning numerous awards. It’s appeared on the soundtrack of over 50 films and TV shows to date.
The film is certainly different, but its shortcomings make it a little hard to take seriously.