An escaped convict on the run from the police witnesses a woman burying a body at a coastal villa. When he’s apprehended a few minutes later, he keeps his mouth shut about what he’s seen. When he’s released thirteen years later, he returns to blackmail the family involved but finds that he’s picked the wrong people to victimise as he gets far more than he bargained for…
Wild and wacky Giallo/horror mash-up from director Sergio Bergonzelli that almost defies description. The audience is treated to a barrage of bizarre, fragmentary plot points and some incredibly melodramatic over-acting from his cast, coupled with a heavily stylised and distracting filming technique.
On the run jailbird, Pascal (Fernando Sancho) has just enough time to see governess-housekeeper Lucille (Eleonora Rossi Drago) digging a grave in the family garden before the cuffs are back on and he’s dragged back to prison. The police don’t notice what Drago has been up to and Sancho isn’t about to grass her up. He’s got another plan in mind. However, the coastal villa happens to belong to notorious mob boss André (Alfredo Mayo).
By the time Sancho is released from prison and returns to demand money from the family, the gangster’s been missing in action for many years. Ever since that night when Drago was doing her spot of midnight gardening strangely enough. Worse still, there’s more than one skeleton in the mansion’s closest. Or more accurately in the acid bath in the outhouse. Most of them have been put there by daughter, Falesse (Pier Angeli) but cousin Colin (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) is just as likely to be responsible. Drago seems happy to help clean up any inconvenient consequences. The vicious Sancho doesn’t realise he’s on borrowed time, of course, and begins his reign of terror.
This sounds like the formula for a dark, blackly comic thriller with Sancho and the family plating a cat and mouse game of treachery and murder. But that wouldn’t be an accurate description of the film. By the time Sancho returns to the scene, director Bergonzelli, who co-wrote with Fabio De Agostini, has already assaulted the audience with a bewildering and apparently random, series of events. These have mostly involved Angeli flirting with any male visitors to the house, and then killing them. Caba also has some fun hobbies: feeding the pet vulture, keeping in the front garden and strangling dogs. On the other hand, Drago just has recurrent flashbacks to naked women being gassed by the Nazis at Belsen.
Not weird enough for you? Well, all this action is punctuated by crazy camera angles, black and white still photographs, split-second inserts of a speeding train and some of the worst decapitation FX in movie history. If the intention was to demonstrate our main characters’ fragmentary states of mind, this scattershot technique is understandable. However, Bergonzelli pursues it so remorselessly over the first half of the film that it’s likely to have induced a similar mental state in his audience. Many will check out early and just turn off the film, believing it to be 90 minutes of meaningless self-indulgence. But, surprisingly enough, they’d be wrong.
It turns out that the first hour or so of the film is just a curtain-raiser to the main story and the film suddenly settles down to tell it. Godfather Mayo, who was supposedly the victim of the first murder at the start of the film, comes back alive and well. He’s been in hiding for the last 13 years, but with a brand new face courtesy of plastic surgery. Now he’s back to reconnect with his family, but he’s in for a surprise or two. And so are we. Because what follows is a series of such outlandish plot twists and reveals that they take the suspension of disbelief to a new level. Does everything make sense now? Yes. Is it even remotely believable? Not a chance. If Bergonzelli was trying to make the point that traumatic events in the past can turn anyone into a mad killer, well, any fan of the Giallo could have told him that!
At the distance of half a century and with little production information on the film available, it isn’t easy to know what the filmmakers intended.
Were the final plot developments supposed to be so insanely ridiculous? Was it a black comedy? That would certainly explain the overcooked performances. After all, Angeli was a very capable actress who was on the cusp of stardom in the 1950s after her breakthrough appearance opposite Gene Kelly in ‘The Devil Makes Three’ (1952). She appeared in ‘The Silver Chalice’ (1954) and ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956) with Paul Newman. She could act, even if she never made it to the top of the tree. Well, you would never know it from her turn here as she unmercifully chews the scenery in a cheap blonde wig and too much makeup.
It’s not just Angeli either. This was Drago’s final film before retirement, and she had over 20 years of experience in Italian cinema, going straight into leading roles with almost her first picture, ‘Altura’ (1949). She’d acted with big-hitters such as Claudette Colbert in ‘Love, Soldiers and Women’ (1954), Orson Welles in ‘David and Goliath’ (1960), and Jack Palance in ‘Sword of the Conqueror’ (1961) but, again, you’d question her ability on this evidence. It seems likely then that the cast just gave the performances that the director wanted.
This is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly is an interesting one. It’s likely to polarise opinion and, as such, it might be worth your attention, but fans of the more familiar Giallo formula would be advised to stay away.