Thursday, July 30, 2015

Spasmo: Surreal Thriller Lite


Director: Umberto Lenzi

Cast: Robert Hoffmann, Suzy Kendall, Ivan Rassimov, Monica Monet

Scorpion Releasing / All Region / Rated R / 2.35:1 widescreen (1080p) / English and Italian mono tracks / English subtitles option / 94 minutes

Extras: Interview with Director Umberto Lenzi / Original Theatrical Trailer / Reversible cover art ----


Italian filmmaker Umberto Lenzi isn't given the respect I believe he deserves. His name should definitely be right beside the likes of Argento, Bava and Fulci as a master of Italian horror and exploitation films. His classic Man From Deep River was the first of the Italian jungle/cannibalsploitation craze in the '70s, made popular by Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust and Lenzi's own, more salacious Cannibal Ferox. But Lenzi also made some of the best Poliziotteschi (Italian crime) like Gang War in Milan and gialli (Italian slashers) like Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. Akin to and sometimes lumped in with the giallo genre, he also made a completely nonsensical thriller called Spasmo that will either draw you in with its weirdness or turn you off with the very tame sex and violence usually associated with these kinds of movies.

This surreal psychological drama ("thriller" is kind of a strong word in this case) opens up with a young couple frolicking and making out when they are spooked by what looks like a woman hanging from her neck, but it turns out to be a mannequin. Not-so-coincidentally, we then meet our leading man Christian who is at the beach with his girlfriend when they spot a woman laying face-down in the sand. Looking very dead, the woman, Barbara (giallo favorite Suze Kendall) nonchalantly gets up and brushes herself off after the couple wakes her and blames her unconsciousness on the hot sun. She then abruptly leaves and Christian runs into her at a yacht party later. She takes him to her place for a little sexy time (but only after he shaves his beard?) where, of course, he is attacked by a madman with a gun but wrestles it away and kills the intruder.

From there, the movie just gets kinda random and yes, ridiculous and absurd. I mean, things happen and it ends up making sense but only after the 20 minute explanation at the end of the movie. One of the most bizarre things that is not even part of the plot is a scene where Christian is thumbing a ride in the middle of nowhere on a rural road that runs through the forest and there is a gaggle of hookers huddled around a campfire having a random conversation. Alrighty then... There is also the mannequin plot device, where they just show up out of nowhere and no one really even notices them most of the time. Lenzi helped to re-write the script and added that part himself "to be different from other giallo". Mission accomplished, sir! Hell, he wasn't even the original director, Fulci was. And the script had like a half-dozen writers. No wonder it was so screwy! Lenzi also wanted it to be more respectable, so that's why the sex and bloodletting was so lame, uh, tame.

I know it sounds like maybe I didn't care for Spasmo, but that's not the case at all. The actual filmmaking elements (other than the writing obviously) are all pretty solid and the characters and actors make the whole thing very charming and entertaining. The movie is basically Christian's decent into madness and the irrational dialogue and haphazard goings-on make everything seem so surreal. Lenzi's ludicrous direction and Guglielmo Mancori's (Manhattan Baby) beautiful cinematography add to the appeal of Spasmo, not to mention yet another spot-on score by everyone's favorite Italian composer, Ennio Morricone. There are two versions (four if you count the language variations) of the new high-definition transfer on the new Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing; a "fixed" (run through a DNR filter) and unfixed (no filter) which has more detail. They both look great, depending on your preference.

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