Horror Imagery & Cappellini

Saturday, 19 September 2020

I thought I would take a quick moment to share an interesting advertisement that I recently came across in the May/June 1980 issue of Harper's Gran Bazaar Italia. The advert is for the Italian furniture atelier Cappellini and was produced during the company's new creative direction at the helm of creative director, Giulio Cappellini. Cappellini sought to incorporate a more contemporary style of design into the atelier's product range; bringing in the designs of a range of, at the time, up and coming, contemporary designers to inject a new vibrant and forward looking design sensibility into Cappellini. The new creative direction proved fruitful and Giulio Cappellini modernised the atelier creating an international business featuring some of the most iconic designs in the past fifty years.

The above advertisement produced for Cappellini (advertising agency unknown) highlights the company's new creative direction. It's a striking image with clear horror overtones filtering macabre imagery through a high fashion sensibility. There's a beautiful use here of classic horror imagery with a glamorous woman about to succumb to an unseen killer. Malevolent shadows are cast on the muted background creating a sense of foreboding with the killer moments from striking. The image is punctuated by the vibrancy of the woman's red dress with its dramatic flowing form almost imitating a cascade of blood. Whilst the sideboard isn't at the forefront of the image, there's a nice contrast between the minimalist sleek furniture Cappellini presents and the rather archaic looking long handled axe. I love the dramatic flair of the image and what it conveys from a storytelling point of view, depicting a dark scene that's soon to unfold. The advertisement also serves as a reminder of the importance of interior design in the horror film; often serving as the theatrical staging for violent tableaus where sideboards and sofas are as much a part of the visual narrative as blood letting and macabre murders. Perhaps that's why the Italian horror films of the mid to late twentieth century resonate with me so greatly aesthetically; they are reflective of the Italian design trends of the period, showcasing trailblazing Italian style that perfectly marries with the contemporary themes and stylings of the Italian thriller. 

Unfortunately, I've been unable to find evidence of further images associated with this campaign or of Cappellini's historic print advertising but I'll continue to scour second hand Italian design magazines in the hope of finding some follow up images. If you want to see more concise posts about design and the Italian genre film, please let me know! 

Obbligo di Giocare - Zugzwang (Cesarano, 1989)

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Note: This review contains spoilers 

Early one morning, Marco (Kim Rossi Stuart), an architecture student and lighting tech for a local theatre, puts up posters around the EUR district of Rome promoting the group's latest show. Whilst lost in his task, he hears a gunshot and in the search for its source, discovers a murdered young couple lying out on the pavement. The culprit of the murders (Andrea Prodan) hops on his bike and casually cycles away unaware of Marco's presence. Marco is struck by the casual indifference of the killer and feels compelled to follow him back to his home. Haunted by what he has witnessed and unable to shake his unease, Marco feels compelled to return to the killer's house the next day and follows him to a local supermarket. Whilst stealthily tracking the man down the aisles, Marco witnesses the man stab a woman before casually leaving the scene of the crime rendering Marco in a state of shock. Marco becomes obsessed with the mysterious man and decides against reporting the crimes instead, continuing to voyeuristically watch the man kill; simultaneously horrified and intrigued by the senseless murders he bears witness to. This new found obsession begins to eat away at Marco's relationships; putting a strain on his romance with girlfriend Paola (Nicoletta Della Corte), further damaging his already frayed relationship with his mother (Sonia Petrovna) and alienating his university friends. Yet Marco is seemingly unbothered, consumed by an overwhelming compulsion to partake in a silent game of cat and mouse that will inevitably end in his untimely demise.

The only directorial credit of television crime procedural writer, Daniele Cesarano, Obbligo di Giocare - Zugzwang is a curious entry in the cannon of Italian thriller cinema feeling like somewhat of an experimental, art house styled interpretation of the thriller film. In his debut, Cesarano utilises a loose thriller styled framework to examine protagonist Marco's existential crisis against the backdrop of an alienating, contemporary Rome. Cesarano clearly draws influence from the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, both thematically and visually, as a means to explore Marco's psychology and his difficulties in finding meaningful connection to the world he inhabits, often conveyed through visual allusions and drawing immediate comparison to cornerstones of Antonioni's career such as The Red Desert (1964) and Blow-Up (1966). Obbligo di Giocare's title, which translates in English to Obligation to play, perfectly captures Marco's compulsion to partake in a precarious game with the killer despite the danger it poses as a means to simply feel something. Yet, Marco inevitably becomes a prisoner of his obsession and compulsion. The zugzwang part of the film's title refers to a situation in chess in which a player feels compelled to move despite it being disadvantageous, making their position significantly weaker which is the narrative crux of Cesarano's film. 

Obbligo di Giocare's script was a collaboration between Cesarano and esteemed Italian screenwriter, Ugo Pirro. Pirro's work typically veered towards the political and his collaboration with director, Elio Petri characterised the politically charged Italian cinema of the late sixties and seventies. The pair worked together on several of the key political films of the era such as We Still Kill the Old Way (1967), Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971) and Property is No Longer a Theft (1973). Pirro was nominated for two Oscars for his screenplays for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (De Sica, 1970). When discussing a fairly obscure film like Obbligo di Giocare, it's difficult to ascertain the involvement of certain individuals in the writing process however, some of the thematic tenants of Pirro's work are evident in Obbligo di Giocare especially in regards to the ambiguity of Marco as a protagonist as well as loose thematic ideas concerning the malleable constructs of society and reality. At the time of production, Cesarano was only 27 and as a result, Obbligo di Giocare feels very much like the product of a young filmmaker - a comment not meant as a criticism but as a reflection of the director's distinct voice as a young man and what that brings to the fore in terms of ideas and ruminations. The thematic ideas surrounding identity, existentialist dread and growing ennui brought on by the realities of adulthood feel authentic and identifiable as concerns of a young adult who finds themselves increasingly alienated and disenfranchised in trying to ascertain his role in society. 

As a result, Obbligo di Giocare feels fairly academic in nature; a rumination on society, the family unit and the existential crise of a young man in Rome in 1989. There's little dialogue throughout the film with much of the story conveyed through visual storytelling which suits the film well as its ambiguous nature lends itself to interpretation. But despite the film's sparse dialogue, we are given enough of a window into Marco's life to feel empathetic towards his character and understand his inherent need to pursue the killer despite the great danger he exposes himself to as a result. Kim Rossi Stuart, in a relatively early role, imbues the character of Marco with a sensitivity, competently expressing his character's spectrum of emotions; from abject horror to morbid fascination. Cinematographer, Alessio Gelsini Torresi's lens perfectly captures Marco's tortured expressions in a series of close up shots that convey his character's innermost feelings without a need to vocalise them. 

Yet despite the dialogue in Obbligo di Giocare being somewhat secondary to the film's visual storytelling, the sparse conversations that are presented provide a fleeting insight into the situations the characters find themselves in. Whilst much of the film focuses on extensive stalking sequences between Marco and the killer, Cesarano intersperses them with insight into Marco's torrid personal life. Marco lives with his mother in a modest Roman flat and their relationship is fraught. The mother and son rarely communicate despite Marco's mother's best efforts. Marco is either monosyllabic in his responses or irritated by his mother's questions and judgements. It's clear that Marco's mother wants to understand her son but isn't quite sure how to relate to him and her attempts to do so alienate him further. Marco's mother seemingly has a lover, who potentially wants her to move in with him, but she is reluctant to commit to him and says she must speak to Marco about their relationship. The lover is dismissive of Marco's mother's concern for her son and states that it doesn't concern him yet a burgeoning relationship between Marco's mother and her lover clearly is a concern for Marco who has become increasingly alienated by the change in his family dynamic - dismissed by his mother's new partner. Marco's father is absent from the family home and the pair communicate through stilted telephone calls. Marco's father hasn't seen his son in months and attempts to reach out to him but is unable to communicate with Marco beyond asking how his studies are going. In Marco's second phone call to his father he directs his ire at his dad, expressing how frustrated he is at being incessantly asked how his studies are and the lack of face to face conversation between the two which he renders pointless due to the banality of their telephone calls. There's also potentially a reference here to Marco's father having a new family (a baby) which would again indicate uncertainly in Marco's family life pushing him out of the picture of both his mother and father's life although one could argue that it's Marco who is shutting them out to avoid his own feelings of hurt and inadequacy. Marco's conversations with girlfriend Paola also serve to highlight his apathy and indifference to the relationships in his life. Marco's pursuit of the killer is deeply personal and Paola's reluctance to understand Marco's obsession highlights the distance between them.

Further context is given to the film's thematic ideas via the theatre production that Marco conducts the lighting design for, offering somewhat of an insight into the film's underlying themes with characters on stage waxing lyrical about unhappiness, deception and betrayal  - all very real aspects of Marco's own life. One line in the play feels particularly pertinent "they pay for that little piece of happiness however they pay dearly" (paraphrased) which foreshadows the film's ending in which Marco finds perverse happiness in his final moments. Another line spoken on stage about women dying young foreshadows the fate of Marco's mother - the catalyst for the film's final act.  

But undoubtedly Cesarano's forte in Obbligo di Giocare, is his understanding of film as a visual medium with sublime use of cinematography, composition and the Mise en scène.  The visual artistry of the film is clear to see and the aforementioned influence of Antonioni is undeniable with Cesarano's stark use of  architectural landscapes conveying the alienation and disassociation that Marco inherently feels. The environments Marco traverses have an, at times, oppressive and claustrophobic feel. The cinematic landscapes deviate between vast open concrete spaces and maze like constructions with narrow spaces that convey the idea that everything in Marco's life is rapidly closing in on him. Various recognisable Roman locations are featured in Obbligo di Giocare such as the Villaggio Olimpico, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana and the Rome metro with the vast majority of filming taking place in the EUR district of the city. Italian critic, Claudio Bartolini commented on Cesarano's cinematic landscape having a quality that resembled the work of Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico and it is a visual comparison that certainly has credence. Cesarano's imposing architecture consisting of facades and arcades, casting long shadows whilst exhibiting elements of the surreal certainly resembles de Chirico's surreal painted depictions of architectural landscapes.

Each environment that Marco stalks the killer through is constructed in a labyrinthian manner. Mundane settings such as supermarkets, car parks and institutional buildings become visual mazes conveying the cat and mouse, game like nature of Marco's pursuit of the killer and in turn, the killer's pursuit of Marco.    This maze like motif is present from the film's opening shot which depicts a glass fronted building's grid facade imitating the appearance of an aerial view of a maze or a chess board. This grid motif continues throughout the film extending through the labyrinthian environments and their symmetrical motifs and ornamentation. And when we think of the environments depicted in Obbligo di Giocare we inevitably are drawn back to the film's title and the use of the chess term Zugzwang which is reflected in these labyrinthian scenes - visually playing out like a strategic game of chess with Marco and the killer navigating around their environments like pieces on a chess board, anticipating when next to move even if in Marco's case, it's disadvantageous. Which in essence is the crux of the film, Marco is compelled to partake in this strange game despite the imminent and inevitable risk to his person. The grid like nature of these spaces conveys the idea that Marco is on a path to his inevitable end, his life has already been mapped out for him and he's simply following its regimented course. A concept that one could argue applied to his life prior to witnessing the murder at the film's beginning. 

Marco's profession as an architecture student, something that is frequently referenced throughout, feels fitting in a film that is preoccupied with architectural symmetry and space. Marco is also arguably the architect of his own downfall, compelled to follow the killer and seemingly willing to risk his life. In a telephone call with his father, Marco speaks of a class he's taking in mathematical analysis which again, mirrors the theme's symmetrical environments and the mathematical nature of chess and the calculated risk the killer and Marco take. 

Whilst much of the film's symbolism is conveyed through architecture, other visual motifs are present throughout Obbligo di Giocare, most notably the presence of water. Rain water, puddles, swimming pools, sea water and spilt milk feature prominently. Numerous meanings can be applied to the significance of water in a text but here in Obbligo di Giocare, I suggest that it represents the subconscious mind of Marco; a manifestation of his inner turmoil and unrest. The stillness of the sea in the film's final moments suggesting that Marco's now at peace. 

Cesarano is adept at conveying the anxious thrill Marco feels in his pursuit of the killer and the stalking sequences are well crafted drawn out sequences that cultivate a real sense of mood and foreboding. As mentioned, Obbligo di Giocare is largely devoid of dialogue with long swathes of the action contained to Marco tracking the killer yet the simplicity of what's happening on screen is strangely hypnotic with the visuals leaving a marked imprint on the viewer. In one particularly effective stalking scene that takes place in the Rome Metro,  Marco pursues the killer through eerily quiet underground passages and walkways. The location is one that's been used before in Italian thriller films from Mystére (Vanzina, 1983) to Dial:Help (Deodato, 1988) but here the location has less of a frantic, bustling feel instead taking on an almost dreamlike feel due to the lack of commuters. This surreal aspect is heightened when Marco loses sight of the killer at the top of an escalator and instead finds the corpse of the killer's latest victim ascend from below indicating Marco's own impending doom. 

As a director, Cesarano successfully straddles the line between aching familiarity and surreality splicing routine scenarios against fantastical notions. This is evident in the film's pivotal double murder which takes place at the break of dawn. Here, Cesarano captures life as it slowly judders to a start. It's a time that often feels safe; the start of a new day before anything of note happens. We see people queue at bus stops ready to start their days - the early morning feeling like a time of humdrum routine which makes the double murder that takes place at the film's start all the more jarring and surreal.  The killer's lack of reaction to the murder he has committed and lack of urgency to remove himself from the scene of the crime adds to this surreal feel alongside Marco's ability to successfully track him home. When Marco returns to the theatre after a number of other murders have taken place, the killer alerts him to his presence by sitting in full view of the stage, illuminated by the theatrical lights Marco controls. When the lights switch, the killer disappears leaving his jacket behind. Another example of Cesarano leading the audience to question the validity of what Marco witnesses by creating an improbable, surreal scenario.

What's particularly unnerving about Obbligo di Giocare - Zugzwang is the normalcy of the murders that take place and the familiarity of the environments they occur within; the mundane framing for violent deeds. The murders are fleeting; violent acts punctuating banal settings. Once they have occurred, they instantly feel unreal or imagined as normalcy promptly resumes. The semantics of the murders or their nature aren't what's interesting here. The murders aren't the crescendos of elaborately violent, stylish set pieces but fleeting moments of bloodless violence made all the more shocking by the humdrum environments they take place within. Due to the fleeting nature of the murders and the immediate return to normalcy, we question the validity of what Marco sees. Both the killer and Marco are able to evade detection or questioning leading us to question whether the murders are in fact a product of Marco's imagination, a manifestation of a fractured state of mind or real life events. The film's experimental like sensibility further serves to indicate that the film's proceedings are a figment of Marco's imagination, a rumination on Marco's psychological state. An idea emphasised in the scene in which Marco's bicycle is revealed to be the same as the killer's indicating the film's ending will have a marked psychological bent. Cesarano plays with his audience's expectations in the film's climax when Marco and the killer finally meet and we realise that the events both we the audience and Marco have witnessed are in fact reality. Marco himself seems to experience unbridled joy in his meeting with the killer amongst a maze of beach huts on a deserted beach, gleefully enjoying being pursued whilst seemingly accepting of his fate, smiling as he's shot. It's the first time we see Marco smile throughout the film's duration, typically depicted as despondent and conflicted; a man wrestling with an acute sense of unhappiness and obligation.  Marco's ennui is palpable throughout the film and one gets the sense that death for him is a way to feel something, that the pursuit of the killer gave purpose to Marco's life and that subsequently nothing else mattered even if it led him to his inevitable doom. Yet, there's a calmness to proceedings. Marco is accepting of death, willing to walk into it, positively relishing in it. Post Marco's death, the killer seems perturbed for a moment, surveying Marco's body before walking off. The film's final shot of a pier surrounded by water with no means to access it is perhaps a rumination on the isolation that permeates Obbligo di Giocare. The final beach location also echoes a conversation with Marco's mother in which she encourages Marco to go to the beach with his father so it feels fitting that this is his final resting place and the resolution of the game he was obligated to play until its natural conclusion. 

Obbligo di Giocare - Zugzwang is an evocative, captivating piece of cinema that cultivates a distinct mood utilising architectural landscape in a love letter to Antonioni and as a means of conveying the thematic ideas at the heart of the narrative. Cesarano's film is experimental in nature eschewing a traditional thriller narrative yet it's a film that doesn't seek to provide answers, rather to pose questions inviting the viewer to transpose their own thoughts and feelings to the ideas presented throughout. Whilst Obbligo di Giocare may be an acquired taste it's a film that I find myself mesmerised by, transfixed by the rich cinematic landscape and questions it poses about existence, humanity and the existential crises of coming of age in an increasingly unfamiliar landscape - concepts that are just as pertinent in the modern age. 

If you like what I do here at Hypnotic Crescendos and want to show a bit of support, you can always drop me a few pennies via my PayPal - Rachaelnisbet@yahoo.co.uk 

Crystal Eyes aka Mirada de Cristal (Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano, 2017)

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Note: This review contains spoilers

At a high concept fashion show in Bueno Aires, brattish supermodel Alexis Carpenter is set to close the show in typically dramatic fashion. However, after lashing out at those around her in a drug fuelled series of diva like demands, she succumbs to a terrible accident, burned alive in front of a horrified audience of industry veterans. Flash forward a year later and the tragic death of Alexis Carpenter is still very much on the minds of those within the Bueno Aires fashion industry. Lucia L’uccello, the ruthless editor of the most sought after fashion magazine in the city, Attila, decides to commemorate Alexis’ passing with a memorial edition of the magazine pitting rival models Eva Lantier and Irene del Lago against one another for the coveted front cover. The night before the photo shoot is due to take place, Alexis’ dresses - which were to be worn by the models for the shoot - are stolen setting in motion a chain of murders committed by a sinister figure in a black leather raincoat and doll like mask. Is the culprit someone seeking revenge for Alexis’ death or has Alexis herself returned from the grave? 

Over the course of the last decade, the neo-giallo has come into prominence - lurid, fetishistic trope laden films inspired by the work of prominent giallo directors such as Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. The neo-giallo, a term initially ascribed to the artful films of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, has increasingly become a genre of its own via the films and shorts of a myriad of filmmakers who have displayed their love for the giallo by paying tribute to it via the adoption of visual styles, tropes and narrative cues typically attributed to the stylistic cinema of Italy’s cinematic golden age. Whilst the majority of these love letters to the Italian giallo rely heavily on the genre’s obvious 1970s aesthetic; Argentinian directors, Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano, with their cinematic debut Argentine giallo, Crystal Eyes, buck this trend instead filtering their tribute to the Italian giallo through a thorough a 1980s sensibility. Whilst Endelman and Montejano’s influences are apparent, they manage to craft their tribute to the giallo into its own distinct entity not constrained by a need to emulate the historical period typically associated with the genre. 

Crystal Eyes draws its stylistic cues from the 1980s whilst referencing the thriller conventions of the Italian gialli of the early 1970s. An amalgamation of the operatic flourishes of the giallo combined with the extravagance of 1980s cinematic excess. The film feels like its own distinct entity with the 1980s slant making for a welcome change in a genre dominated by homages to golden period gialli from the early 1970s. Yet, Crystal Eyes still retains a distinct giallo flavour throughout with its clear homages to the genre and frequent references to the films of Dario Argento interspersed with dashes of the hedonistic high glamour of later period 1980s gialli such as Nothing Underneath (Vanzina, 1985) and Delirium (Bava, 1987). 

Crystal Eyes’ is a fairly straightforward take on the models in peril strain of gialli with various figures in the fashion industry finding themselves at the mercy of a vengeful killer set against a backdrop of catty rivalries, drug abuse and the vacuous nature of the fashion world. The plot is presented in your traditional murder mystery format in the vein of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and is fairly simplistic but despite the lack of complexity with character motivations and back stories, enough detail and context is given to feel sufficient for the film’s narrative. The film is somewhat formulaic with its twists and turns but that’s by no means a bad thing - part of the enjoyment of Crystal Eyes is anticipating the various murders that take place and participating in the process of elimination. Endelman and Montejano’s simple yet effective story allows for Crystal Eyes’ startling art direction to shine whilst still providing enough of a framework for the film to feel beyond a simple exercise in style. Whilst the film’s inspiration is clear to see for seasoned fans of the giallo, a knowledge of the genre isn’t a requirement to appreciate what Crystal Eyes has to offer. The brisk rhythm and cast of eclectic characters and impressive 1980s visuals are sure to catch the interest of those with a passing interest in thriller horror cinema and stylistic excess. 

Crystal Eyes premiered in 2017 at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival in Argentina and then premiered in the UK to audiences at FrightFest in 2018. On the festival circuit the film was warmly received and it is clear to see why. Beyond its homages to the giallo, lurid style and murder set pieces, Crystal Eyes has a sense of humour and self awareness playing to its audience’s knowledge of the genre without veering too far into pastiche or parody. There’s a campness, with the exaggerated performances of its players and most of all, a sense of fun that makes the film such a delight to spend time with. Endelman and Montejano’s enthusiasm radiates throughout the film and Crystal Eyes’ cast clearly relish the theatrical nature of their roles. 

Crystal Eyes is populated by a large cast of, mostly, superfluous characters with the film lacking a protagonist per se, instead trying to capture the stories of the various individuals who work for Attila from Alexis’ rivals to the movers and shakers of the Buenos Aires fashion scene. Crystal Eyes is competently acted with a cast that manage to hit both the film’s comedic and horror notes and are suitably convincing in their respective roles. The film’s stand out performance comes from Silvia Montanari, a Argentinian television veteran, who delivers a deliriously camp turn as self confessed villainess and editor of Attila magazine, Lucia L’uccello. Montanari clearly relishes her role in all of its exaggerated soapy glory and perfectly captures the cutthroat spirit of the fashion world she inhabits whilst feeling like an Argentinian version of Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington especially when she spits “Being a villainess is not a trend so try something else”. Other characters of note are principled make-up artist, Barbara, who befalls a fatal injury at the hands of Alexis. As a character, Barbara initially feels like someone who will have a larger role in the film’s proceedings but ultimately fades into the background before reappearing in the film’s final act. Whilst Crystal Eyes lacks a protagonist for its first half, model, Eva (played by Anahí Politi), comes into the fore in the film’s second half morphing into Alexis and inevitably attracting the attention of the killer. L’uccello’s twin nieces, Nadia and Nidia also attract, sinisterly flanking their aunt in mannequin like positions. The cast of characters at times feel as interchangeable as the mannequins in the shop front - a point made by one of the models herself who says “to be a model feels like being trapped in a shop window without escape”. Endelman and Montejano acknowledge the artifice of their characters both in their roles as models but also as cyphers to be slain for the gratification of the audience. In Crystal Eyes, back stories may be thin on the ground but that’s mostly in keeping for the genre they pay homage to which is frequently more concerned with stylised violence than character development. And speaking of homages, one of the film’s minor characters is sure to catch the interest of Italian horror fans - caretaker/security guard, Lucio with his milky blue eyes is a clear tribute to The Beyond (Fulci, 1981).

Crystal Eyes comprises of several murder set pieces in the spirit of the giallo taking place in the typical settings of car parks, concrete traverses and fashion boutiques. For the most part, the murder set pieces are very effective; cinematic in nature and high on drama. Endelman and Montejano clearly understand the mechanisms of the giallo and what makes for an effective set piece and deliver a series of well paced, suspenseful moments. The stalk and slash moments are executed successfully and whilst not high on gore, still have enough blood letting to satisfy genre fans. The film’s opening fashion show, which ends in horror, is the perfect introduction to Crystal Eyes’ 1980s inflected take on the giallo whilst the boutique murder scene perfectly encapsulates the genre’s fascination with the fetishisation of mannequins and fashion. Another stand out moment is the gruesome murder of L’uccello’s twin nieces, Nidia and Nadia, who once murdered in typically Argento like fashion, lie splayed out on a double bed holding hands in a gruesome tableau that gives a small indication of the killer’s identity. Whilst, not a murder set piece, Eva’s beautification ritual in her apartment is a beautifully shot purple hued, melancholic moment that gives Crystal Eyes some much needed breathing space whilst providing Endelman and Montejano’s film with its usual visual panache. 

The film’s climax is undoubtedly Crystal Eyes most grandiose set piece, taking place in a beautiful Argentinian turn of the century building to be used as the location for Alexis’ memorial fashion shoot. The macabre funeral staging, comprised of mourning mannequins, a perverse yet disconcerting tribute to Alexis which sets the stage for the killer’s vengeful climax. In the film’s most effectively violent death, a silver sculptural piece bird skewers Eva in giallo fashion where sculptural art often plays a pivotal role as seen in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Argento, 1970) and Tenebrae (Argento, 1982).

The killer’s motivations for the murders are vengeful but also psychological in nature as par the course for a genre obsessed with fragmentation of the psyche as the catalyst for one’s vengeful psychosis. Alexis’ brother, Matías is revealed to be the killer, the feminine like nature of his costume a visual diversion to his true identity and an indication of his character’s fusing with his sister - as foreshadowed in Nadia and Nidia’s death scene. Whilst we have little insight into Matias’ character and relationship with Alexis, what the film presents is sufficient enough as justification for what transpires on screen and Matías’ madness feels convincing thanks to Diego Benedetto’s flamboyant performance. There’s natural attempts at misdirection in Crystal Eyes through the bountiful list of potential suspects but they are quickly whittled down, leaving Barbara the makeup artist, disfigured by a wrathful Alexis, as the prime suspect. Thankfully Endelman and Leandro, forgo the obvious suspect whilst still making her relevant to the film’s ending when she is arrested for the murders, wrongly framed. However, in true genre form, Crystal Eyes concludes with a twist ending as Matías on arrival at a local hospital, murders the employees before escaping to continue on his vengeful mission. 

The killer’s design is naturally based on the conventional leather trench coat wearing killers of the giallo but with the added twist of a mannequin like, masked appearance. The killer approaches their victims with staccato like movements dispatching their victims in a sort of uncanny valley like way with unnatural movements and mannerisms; their face contorted in a fixed wide eyed way unmoved by the atrocities they commit. Their introduction in a designer boutique filled with mannequins in an array of 1980s fashions and poses is highly effective and forges the connection between the killer and the fashion world. The doll like mannerisms of the killer are accentuated by the mannequins that surround them that seem to take on their own human like qualities akin to the use of mannequins in Black Belly of the Tarantula (Cavara, 1971) and Spasmo (Lenzi, 1974). When Matías’ accomplice Hernan screams before he is murdered, one mannequin appears to be covering their ears shielding themselves from the deafening scream. 

Naturally, in a film indebted to the giallo, clear references are made to the genre’s visual tropes and infamous murder set pieces. The aforementioned design of the killer pays tribute to the genre’s iconic leather coat, fedora wearing gloved killer with a contemporary twist based on the genre’s fetishisation of mannequins. Whilst other generalised tropes such as the spiral staircase and straight edged razor as a murder weapon also come into play. Typically giallo like themes are also present with voyeurism, vengeance and pop psychology prominently featured. However, the vast majority of references to gialli are in relation to the films of Dario Argento and fans of Deep Red (Argento, 1975) will note the many allusions to the film from the bathtub murder to the premonitory coffee burn prefacing Alexis’ fiery demise. The use of a mirror shard as a jagged weapon is a fitting homage to Argento’s predilection with broken mirrors however, in the case of Crystal Eyes, this reference also fits the film’s own high fashion themes of reflective characters, faded glamour and artifice. The influence of Argento’s work extends to the film’s production design which is heavily indebted to the Italian director’s distinctive visual environments. Ruthless magazine editor, Lucia L’uccello’s office is a clear homage to supernatural horror, Suspiria (Argento, 1977), with its art nouveau style doorways and red, black and white geometric floor motif clearly modelled on Suspiria’s Tanzakademie. A sculpture, that sits on a side table, is a clear mock up of the crystal bird sculpture in Helena Markos’ ornate dwelling - a fitting object d’art for Lucia L’uccello whose name translates to bird (also a likely reference to Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage). 

And Crystal Eyes’ sleek stylised production design is arguably the film’s greatest asset presenting a hyper-stylised depiction of the mid 1980s inspired by the bold fashion of the period. The obsession with 1980s haute couture and visual excess recalls Body Double (De Palma, 1984) and other De Palma films of the period alongside the sleek, high tech American yuppified cinema of the decade. The fashion based neon drenched setting also recalls Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon (2016) and Crystal Eyes, whilst a different entity, fits nicely alongside the hyper stylised 80s and gialli indebted cinema that has emerged in the latter half of the 10s fusing horror and high fashion concepts. 

The majority of Crystal Eyes’ sets were lovingly constructed and designed by Endelman and Montejano and despite the film’s limited budget, it manages to feel high concept. One gets the sense that creating a cohesive visual style was of great importance to Endelman and Montejano and they pull their difficult stylistic brief off with great aplomb. Neo-giallo aren’t always successful in their attempts to recreate the historical period they pay homage to but in Crystal Eyes, Endelman and Montejano manage to successfully create hyper stylised environments full of neon signage, period technology and vintage posters that feel eighties inspired whilst retaining their own distinct sense of stylisation authentic for the high tech fashion world the film takes place within.

There are plenty of nods to the period from comparisons made by characters to Scarface’s Elvira Hancock to Patrick Nagel style imagery on hairspray cans and posters of Syd Brak’s airbrush art. Authentic props such as a vintage 1980s Pepsi ashtray can be seen in shot and it’s these small details that really sell the film’s 1980s aesthetic. Alongside the aforementioned production design that pays homage to the striking sets of Argento, there’s a wry nod to the genre’s beginnings, and the master of the thriller film himself, via the placement of Alfred Hitchcock books in the drawer of one of the twins.

There’s also great care and attention given to the film’s costuming and hair and make-up design to create authentic high fashion looks from the mid 1980s with characters that look like they’ve stepped outside of the pages of Italian Vogue circa 1985. Again, it’s these details, and slant towards the 1980s aesthetic, that make Crystal Eyes such a visual delight and sets it apart from other modern horror thrillers that cite giallo as an influence without necessarily exhibiting the visual flair of the genre, regardless of the period the film is set within. Of course, the giallo is intrinsically linked to the 1970s but it’s often the stylised nature of the genre that attracts interest and this was certainly evident in the Italian thrillers of the 1980s such as the aforementioned Nothing Underneath and thematic sequel Too Beautiful to Die (Piana, 1988) which, like the gialli of the seventies, showcased emerging and popular Italian fashion trends. 

Crystal Eyes rich 1980s soaked environments come alive under the cinematography of Cecilia Casas and Vanina Gottardi. There’s a real visual flair to their cinematography and the film’s direction is rarely static; comprising of dynamic varied shots from high angled looming shots to classic giallo POV shots. Characters skulk around car parks and dramatic staircases perfectly framed and followed by Casas and Gottardi’s roaming camera. Crystal Eyes is beautifully lit in candy coloured hues reminiscent of the kaleidoscopic lighting characterised by the gialli and Gothic horrors of Mario Bava whilst also feeling reflective of the fashion photography and music video imagery of the mid 1980s. Crystal Eyes may face criticism for being vacuous and an example of style over substance but that would be perhaps unfair as there’s a competent plot here, which despite being fairly straight forward, is still serviceable as an enjoyable whodunnit. Of course, the original gialli, were a testament to Italian style and modernity with the superficiality of the lifestyles of the bourgeoise characters who populated them a common theme which naturally draws comparison to Crystal Eyes and the superficial environment the characters exist within.

Many of the Neo-gialli that have emerged over the course of the last decade have been characterised by their electronic, synth laden scores, which at times, can feel somewhat derivative and jarring for films whose source material often had far more melodic, instrumental style scores. However, in Crystal Eyes, the driving electro synth based score, courtesy of Pablo Fuu, feels fitting for a film set in the eighties where synth based components became more prominent in popular music and horror film scores. The eighties inflected electronic soundtrack captures the excitement and glamour of the film’s opening fashion show in which the catchy female sung synth pop number reflects the vibrant, high octane fashion scene of the decade. The score is authentic feeling from its cheesy synth pop numbers to darker sounding, Goth inflected mid eighties Depeche Mode styled musical cues. As Eva beautifies herself in her apartment, a music video plays on the television screen the lyrics conveying the themes and ideas present in the film. The use of a music video like segment in a homage to the giallo inadvertently recalling a similar scene with Stefania Stella in Fatal Frames - Fotogrammi mortali (Festa, 1996). The song is made all the more striking by the decadent surroundings and visual composition of the shot perfectly marrying together to surmise the ideas at the heart of Crystal Eyes.

Crystal Eyes is a beautifully crafted and loving homage to the Italian giallo filtered through a lurid mid ‘80s sensibility drawing upon both the later period gialli of Carlo Vanzina and the established tropes of golden period gialli. Whilst the film doesn’t deviate too much from its giallo influenced template, it’s a well executed thriller instilled with a real sense of fun and vibrancy which makes it a joy to behold. A film rich in visual style, Crystal Eyes could easily be an exercise in artifice yet appearances can be deceptive and the film proves to be a successful film in its own right that uses its superficial setting to great effect and is sure to be a hit with both fans of and newcomers to the Italian giallo.

Crystal Eyes is now available to stream via the Arrow Video channel.

If you like what I do here at Hypnotic Crescendos and want to show a bit of support, you can always drop me a few pennies via my PayPal - Rachaelnisbet@yahoo.co.uk 

Giallo Inflected Imagery in Anni 90 Parte II (Oldoini, 1993)

Thursday, 7 May 2020

In Enrico Oldoini's 1993 episodic comedy Anni 90 Parte II, one of the episodes of the piece, Luna di fiele, contains a scene which feels indebted to Bitter Moon (Polanski, 1992) but also feels reminiscent of the giallo.  In Luna di fiele, womaniser Salvatore has a sexual encounter which quickly proves to be more than he bargained for. Meeting with an elegant, mysterious woman (played by American supermodel Carol Alt), Salvatore eagerly follows her back to her sumptuous villa with the expectation of a night of passionate lovemaking. Yet when they arrive at the villa, things soon take a sadomasochistic turn and Salvatore finds himself at the mercy of the mystery woman who scratches his torso with her long crimson fingernails and binds his hands with a silver belt. Heading to her bedroom, she then reappears dressed in a PVC black raincoat, stockings and high heels with a straight edged razor in hand. The scene an example of the glamorised sadomasochistic eroticism that appeared to be de rigueur in the early 1990s.

With Anni 90 Parte II coming out in 1993, a year after Polanski's Bitter Moon, the scene is undoubtedly a comedic tribute to the memorable sex games that occur in Polanski's erotic thriller, Oldoini even goes as far as to name the episode Luna di fiele - Bitter Moon's Italian title. However, despite the overt references to Polanski's thriller; the red inflected lighting, opulent villa interior (Villa Gallarati Scotti) and visual signifiers of the giallo (straight edged razor, black raincoat) conjure comparisons to the Italian thriller. Is this perhaps an example of the way in which the imagery of the Italian thriller went on to shape the thriller cinema of the United States and beyond and how that it turn, once again manifested in the Italian cinema of the 1990s? Never the less, in a somewhat mediocre nineties comedy, this small scene provides an injection of the style and drama one would typically associate with the giallo all'italiana of a bygone age.

The Return of Hypnotic Crescendos

Sunday, 3 May 2020

The blog has been lying dormant for a few years now so I thought it was time to resurrect it and focus on blog writing once more. This will be somewhat of a challenge for a multitude of reasons so I'm going to muse over some of my thoughts in regards to what I've been up to, writing and the blog and social media. I accept this will be terribly boring for most so feel free to ignore this post and await actual film related content soon...

In the interim since I've abandoned the blog I have continued to work on various releases and have now worked with labels such as Arrow Video, 88 Films, Indicator, Vinegar Syndrome and *upcoming mystery label*. Alongside writing, I have appeared in a few documentaries and special features discussing the careers of the likes of Umberto Lenzi, Giannetto De Rossi and Jess Franco alongside discussing films such as A Black Veil for Lisa, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and the Emmanuelle series. More recently, I've established the Fragments of Fear podcast with my good friend, Peter Jilmstad.

Fragments of Fear is a podcast dedicated to the discussion and appreciation of giallo cinema with a slant towards the genre’s lesser celebrated titles. I've wanted to do a podcast for a long time but felt I needed the right person to do it with. Peter and I had discussed a podcast previously but the timing never felt quite right until last year. It was originally supposed to be launched earlier than it was but my Grandma's death hit me incredibly hard and delayed proceedings. Luckily, I was able to get to a place where I felt I could manage embarking on a podcast and the demands it would entail. It's worked out incredibly well because we, I like to think, compliment each other exceedingly well offering different approaches and focuses to these films but for the most part, we're on the same page. I prefer writing to speaking so it's been a bit of a learning curve and it's taken me a while not to feel flustered 90% of the time. I worry I don't sound eloquent, talk too quickly, slur, have awful vocal ticks etc. I know I've been guilty of all of these things and hope that I'm improving and we do a hell of a lot of research and preparation so I hope that comes across. Peter is a champ as he undertakes all of the editing duties which can probably be quite tricky when we go off into some bizarre tangent. It has been amazing to see our audience and I'm still flabbergasted that we have so many lovely listeners who support us, both in terms of listens and via our Patreon. It feels like we're doing something right and it's all about the films so we are glad we are bringing some focus on lesser known titles - even if the quality of those films isn't as great as an Argento or Martino. Passionate about the genre, we felt that if we highlighted these lesser seen titles, it would bring a new audience to them placing a focus on films that are often barely mentioned in the discussion of the genre despite being a part of its fabric. We aren't averse to covering the more well known entries of the genre in the future but we feel, as of now, it's better to focus on films that are less likely to be discussed in a podcast format. I particularly enjoy being able to discuss one of my favourite aspects of cinema; production design but alas, a podcast can be limiting when you need visual examples. So I'd like to focus on this a little more by resurrecting this blog.

A while back I set up a Hypnotic Crescendos Instagram account with a view to sharing interesting examples of production design from gialli and other Italian genre fare. I found myself writing detailed descriptions but Instagram, as a predominately visual medium, seemed to be more about sharing pictures than saying something about them and Twitter was limiting in terms of its character limits. I guess that's why I've returned to the blog. It allows me to share images I have collated and information I have sourced alongside my own analysis in order to bring you my own bits and pieces about films in my own space. I like to think it won't get lost in the noise and will be a handy resource. I apply this statement to myself but the problem I sometimes find with social media is that it rewards instant gratification - a quick picture of a dvd you're about to watch could garner hundreds of likes whereas someone's essay that they've painstakingly put together yields little interaction or acknowledgement. For that reason, it's easy to become focussed on the likes from one tweet when one should put more effort into saying something of worth or insight. I found myself tempering my own voice because it was easier to share a picture with little commentary as I'd escape the inevitable rude replies. But even doing that, I've still found myself attracting the ire of some disgruntled individual or found someone trying to explain to me something basic about giallo or Argento etc uninvited - dinnae teach yer Granny tae suck eggs... 

I don't want to extensively go into my issues on here but I've touched on them in a post in the past. The gist of it is that I struggle greatly with self confidence and self worth. I know that's true for a lot of people - especially women of my age - but it's something that's become a real problem for me in the last couple of years. Writing about film is a source of great joy for me but also great anxiety. Fandoms of any kind can have toxic elements. I can honestly say that I just want to be able to write about film and offer my opinions - they aren't definitive. I can't tell you how many times I've deleted or abandoned a piece of writing I've been working on because I've got it into my head that I'll be mercilessly attacked online for it. It's probably quite an irrational fear but I've seen a lot of nastiness online and it just saddens me because all I've ever wanted to do is write whilst being nice and respectful to other people. Simplistic? Potentially. But I've got a lot going on in my life right now so why open myself up to hate and ridicule? Thus lies the reason why Hypnotic Crescendos was abandoned for so long. I need a thicker skin but sadly here we are.

Again, I won't go into my issues right now but one interesting thing that's come to light is that an element of my condition is somewhat of a heightened aesthetic awareness and it's most prevalent in those working within the creative industries. It's helpful but also a hindrance. Never the less, it's interesting that my passion and interest impedes me in other aspects of my life. But I have just started therapy after a long wait and I'm hoping to work through some of those issues. One of my goals for therapy, and a way of knowing I'm better, is writing for the blog so I'm tentatively opening the door to that just now. For anyone still reading, thank you for taking the time to listen. I'm sorry that the blog has languished for so long. It's of great sadness that so many pieces have never made it onto the site. Let's hope that changes.


Rose Elliot's Apartment Building in Inferno

Monday, 12 March 2018

In my blog post entitled "My Trip to Profondo Rosso and Rome" I detailed my experiences visiting some of the filming locations present in various Italian films; predominantly Dario Argento's Inferno (1980). In the post I talked about Rose Elliot's New York apartment building/the home of Mater Tenebrarum but at the time I wasn't wholly convinced of its real life location although I suspected that the original building was indeed in New York as it was proposed to be in the film. I have subsequently conducted further research on the building's real life origins as well as how it came to be in Inferno and wanted to share this information on my blog for those with an interest. Although there's plenty of English language information available about the house of Mater Suspiriorum in Suspiria (1977), there's little available about Mater Tenebrarum's house so I thought it would be good to shed some light on this mystery. 

Scouting for locations prior to the shooting of Inferno, Dario Argento had been inspired by a Gothic revival building in New York that he felt was perfect for Inferno and the film's aesthetic. Unfortunately, Argento was unable to film there due to building deterioration. It would have been too costly to carry out the extensive repair work that would have been required to get the building to an acceptable condition so the building's exterior was replicated on a soundstage at I.N.C.I.R de Paolis Studio on Via Tiburtino. Legendary Italian director and Godfather of giallo, Mario Bava, was enlisted during the film's production to provide various special effects. He was was responsible for creating visual effects that would make the scenes set in New York appear convincing. Bava achieved this by using a combination of matte paintings and model work and the skyscrapers that can be seen framing Rose's apartment building are in actual fact milk cartons wrapped in photographs which create the illusion of a New York setting. However, in actual fact, only one scene that supposedly takes place at Rose's apartment was filmed at the real life location in New York. This was in the scene where Rose mails a letter to her brother Mark; you can see Rose cross the road towards a blue American post box where she posts her letter before returning to her apartment. The rest of the scenes that take place outside the building's exterior were filmed on the soundstage in Rome and as you'd expect, Kazanian's shop was a fabrication for the film and this building does not exist next to the real life building in New York and was simply another set. Unlike the exterior building set for Suspiria which was used again in The Perfect Crime (1978), Inferno's building set was set ablaze for the climatic final scenes. 

The Fortune Academy
The real life inspiration behind Rose's apartment building is St. Walburga's Academy which is located at 630 Riverside Drive and 140th Street in New York. It was built in the Late Gothic Revival style by the architect John W. Kearney in 1911 and was completed two years later in 1913. St Walburga's was opened as a Roman Catholic school for girls that took on both day and boarding pupils and functioned as such till 1957 when the decision was made to close the academy and relocate it to Rye, New York. In the early sixties the building was sold by the city of New York after plans to turn it into a tuberculosis hospital fell through. It was used as a Yeshiva throughout the 1970s but was abandoned in 1980, falling into the hands of the city once again. The city sold the building to business man Samuel Silberberg who had plans to turn it into condominiums but decline in the real estate and stock markets during the subsequent decade halted Silberberg's plans and the building remained empty throughout the 1980s and the majority of the 1990s until it was sold in 1998 to the Fortune Society. The building is now known as the Fortune Academy and currently functions as a  a residential housing facility for formally incarcerated individuals who are now homeless. Despite the building's numerous owners and name changes it is still affectionately known to residents as "The Castle" known for it's remarkable and imposing gothic architectural style. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. 

The construction of Rose's apartment building at I.N.C.I.R de Paolis Studio was conceived by set designer and art director, Giuseppe Bassan who also served as production designer for Suspiria. Bassan's set is remarkably similar to the real life building it is modelled on and is so convincing that it has led to great confusion over to whether Rose's apartment building is real or not. Bassan's set painstakingly recreates key details and features of Kearney's building including the stone turrets and wooden doorway with pointed arch. However, the memorable lizard/snake like etchings on the stonework in Inferno's portrayal of the building are pure fiction but this perhaps cements the idea that the lizard/snake motifs in Inferno were deliberate, used as a visual signifier to depict the hellish goings on inside the building. 

Perhaps a coincidence, it is interesting that Argento modelled Mater Tenebrarum's residence on a building that was originally used as a boarding school for girls. The Suspiria connection feels glaringly obvious and I certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn that this was a decider in choosing the building as the home of Mater Tenebrarum perfectly linking it to the goings on in the first film of the Three Mothers trilogy. Perhaps fittingly, the residents of the Fortune Academy currently put on a yearly haunted house event over the Halloween period where they open the doors of their facility to entertain children in a spooky Halloween extravaganza. I wonder if the local residents are aware of the building's real life connection to the world of horror?

f you like what I do here at Hypnotic Crescendos and want to show a bit of support, you can always drop me a few pennies via my PayPal - Rachaelnisbet@yahoo.co.uk 

Profondo Mondo's Three Mothers Comic

Friday, 26 January 2018

The wonderfully talented David Read and Ash Loydon aka Profondo Mondo teamed up last year to create a mesmerising love letter to Dario Argento's seminal Three Mothers trilogy with their Three Mothers comic - a project devised to expand on the lore of Argento's epoch-making films in comic book form. With the comic now officially shipping from Cultzilla, I thought I'd do a small review to let Italian genre cinema fans know what to expect from this mysterious new project...

Partly influenced by Argento's Three Mothers trilogy and partly influenced by the trilogy's original source material, Thomas De Quincy's Confessions of an Opium Eater as well as Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness, Profondo Mondo's comic captures the lore of Argento's films whilst expanding on ideas present in Suspiria and Inferno to create a new tale set in the Three Mothers universe. Set in New York in 2007, it follows a mysterious woman who is seemingly connected to the events that occurred during Suspiria and Inferno as well as those prior to Suspiria as established in the Mother of Tears. Without wishing to spoil the comic, it nicely establishes its own unique story whilst referencing the rich lore of Argento's Three Mothers trilogy creating an engaging premise that sets the new Three Mothers story up nicely for follow up issues. Read and Loydon manage to create a real sense of suspense and mystery throughout the comic perfectly capturing the feel of the original films. On finishing the comic, I wanted to read more and my mind started racing with questions about the characters in the comic and how they tie in with the pre-existing Three Mothers universe. More importantly, it left me wanting to know more about where this new story would lead on its own terms out with the established Argento cannon. As an Argento fan that was left wanting with The Mother of Tears, it was nice to explore the possibilities of the Three Mothers universe and the untapped potential that lies within it. 

The new story devised by Loydon and Read is set across 23 pages of a softcover booklet and includes a 4 page scrapbook section filled with clever references to the Three Mothers trilogy. The comic's cover art is evocative of Suspiria and Inferno's art style as well as Varelli's The Three Mothers tome and beautifully fits the bill of what an Argento fan would expect to see in such a comic. An amalgamation of styles inside the comic perfectly captures the Three Mothers universe and there's a nice mix between Loydon's art style and Read's graphic design. Ash Loydon's art style really shines throughout the comic and I loved how he captured pre-existing characters as well as new protagonists. The look of the new characters in particular was a real joy as Loydon really managed to capture distinct memorable looks that felt fitting to the story.

The project is a testament to Loydon and Read's love for and knowledge of the Three Mothers trilogy. The comic is packed full of references to Argento's films which are sure to capture the imagination of fans of the Italian horror director. Eagle eyed Argento fans will be able to spot many references to the director's work outside of his Three Mothers trilogy throughout the various panels. After my initial read through, I went back through the comic scouting for more sly references so it certainly makes for a fun second read through after you've digested the initial story. I won't spoil the references for those without a copy but I will say I particularly enjoyed a visual reference to one of my favourite enigmatic Italian beauties as well as a text reference to certain actors. 

One of my favourite elements of the comic outside of the comic itself is the scrapbook section. This section of the comic really elevates the whole project and is sure to make this a special read for Argentophiles. The scrapbook section of the comic really captures the vivid world of Suspiria and Inferno with its many references to characters, items and locations. The inclusion of items like Suzy Banyon's airline ticket really demonstrate Profondo Mondo's love for and understanding of the Three Mothers trilogy and the amount of detail they wanted to pour into this project.

Priced at only 4.95 this is an absolute steal for cult horror and Italian genre cinema fans. You can purchase your copy now at Cultzilla alongside other cult film themed goodies. Please support this wonderful project and please let David and Ash know your thoughts, I'm sure they'd be delighted to hear your feedback! It would be wonderful to see this promising story continue through follow up comics so please support this worthwhile project and send your love to Profondo Mondo! You can find David and Ash on Twitter at the links below.


Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground