Almost 20 years after he witnessed his father commit a sex murder, a young nobleman returns for the first time to the family home where it happened. It isn’t long before things start to go bump in the night, but is the house haunted or is his father actually still alive? Or is one of his house guests responsible?
Dark, twisted thriller from Italian wrtier-directors Ernesto Gastaldi and Vittorio Salerno. It’s often listed as an early example of a Giallo, that batch of disturbing, sometimes graphic, precursors to the American slasher movie that took Italian cinema by storm in the late 1960s. The definition of film genres is quite a tricky business and, whereas certain elements of this production definitely became staples of the Giallo, in other ways it’s quite different.
Handsome little rich kid Christian (Giancarlo Giannini) has grown up traumatised after seeing his father kill a blonde tied to a bed in a roomful of mirrors and then throw himself into the sea. Which would be enough to unsettle anyone. Now, it’s only three months until he comes of age and into the family fortune, so he’s persuaded to go home again by his father’s lawyer Luciano Pigozzi. Luckily for the audience, the guys bring along their partners; dark-eyed beauty Dominique Boschero, and dim blonde Mara Maryl. But events of the past have left their mark on Giannini, and it’s not long before he starts seeing signs of his father everywhere. After all, his body has never been found!
Obviously, this setup doesn’t seem very original these days, but it can be difficult to evaluate that quality when so many variations on the same theme have appeared in the years since. Actually, Giannini tumbles fairly quickly to the idea that someone is trying to send him mad to get at his money, even if it does seem to be working! He quickly unravels after hearing mysterious footsteps, finding his childhood windup toy and seeing a dark figure in the rain. It’s clear that he has problems anyway; preferring to play peeping tom when Pigozzi and Maryl fool around to getting hot and heavy with his wife Boschero. They even sleep in separate rooms! It’s probably the fact that our protagonist’s sexual hang-ups are central to the plot that has given rise to its association with the Giallo genre, along perhaps with a scene that features a killer in black gloves.
The real strength of this film lies in its script which constantly wrong foots the audience and keeps everyone guessing. Yes, it’s always more of a question of ‘who’ rather than ‘why’ but the mystery is never less than fully engaging. In fact, this is an object lesson in how to make an effective film in one location with a small cast. Sure, the final reveal owes a debt to an earlier film (no title because it’s a slight spoiler), but even then there’s still another fine twist to come.
Another highlight are the all-round excellent performances of a cast who exhibit lots of screen presence and acting chops. Although his name might not be immediately familiar, Giannini has enjoyed an incredibly long and successful film career, even being Oscar nominated as Best Actor in a Leading Role for Italian comedy ‘Seven Beauties’ (1975). He’s perhaps best known to modern audiences for playing Rene Mathis in Daniel Craig’s opening Bond film ‘Casino Royale’ (2006) and its sequel ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008). Pigozzi might not have ever reached those heights but he was active for over 40 years in the industry, appearing in everything from classic Mario Bava chillers like ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964) and ‘Hatchet For The Honeymoon’ (1970), to many Spaghetti Westerns, the atrocious ‘Devilman Story’ (1967) and ‘guilty pleasure’ favourite ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). lt would take too long to list everything that would interest a fan of cult cinema.
Our two women are also worth noting. Boschero was a riot in deliciously campy superhero romp ‘Incident In Paris/Argoman, The Fantastic Superman’ (1966), played in Peplum like ‘Ulysses Against Hercules’ (1952) and big budget comedy ‘Paris When lt Sizzles’ (1964) with Audrey Hepburn. She also did musicals, Eurospys and, inevitably, a couple of Giallo pictures in the early 1970s. Maryl had a much briefer career, appearing just seven films over 27 years. Five of these had Gastaldi in the canvas chair, probably because he was her husband. It’s a shame that she didn’t act more often as she’s a lively presence here and obviously a lot brighter than the character she plays as she is credited with this film’s original story. Gastaldi was mostly a writer himself, penning scripts for over 100 films in many different genres; biblical epics, sword and sandal dramas, Westerns, horror films (some of which starred Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele) and cult favourite ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1983). He also worked several times with horror maestro Mario Bava and on several later projects for director Sergio Leone, including ‘Once Upon A Time ln America’ (1984).
This ﬁlm may not be a lost classic, but it’s still an efficient, well-acted, well-written murder mystery with an edge, keeping the audience fully engaged until its pleasingly dark resolution. Worth seeking out.