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?

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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.


Midnight Ripper (1986)

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Also Known As: The Midnight Killer, You'll Die at Midnight, Morirai a mezzanotte
Directed By: Lamberto Bava (as John Old Jr.)
Starring: Valeria D'Obici, Leonardo Treviglio, Paolo Malco, Lara Wendel, Marcello Modugno
Release Date: 1986
Country of Origin: Italy

Note: This review contains spoilers

When police officer Nicola Levi spots his wife Sara out shopping he decides to pay her an unexpected visit and follows her into a nearby lingerie shop. As Sara goes to try on a pair of black panties, Nicola spies on her as she undresses but his titillation soon turns to horror when he sees a mystery man join in on the fun. Devastated by his wive's infidelity, Nicola quickly leaves, returning home to drown his sorrows in whisky and violent films. When Sara finally arrives home, Nicola struggles to contain his rage as he questions Sara on her infidelities. After an explosive argument that culminates in Nicola attempting to drown his wife after she stabs him with a ice pick, he leaves their marital home in a furious rage. Infuriated, Sara attempts to calm herself down by taking a shower but half way through her steamy session, she is stabbed to death by a mysterious gloved assailant brandishing the ice pick she had used moments prior. 

Sensing he has gone too far, Nicola seeks out the help of his criminal psychologist friend, Anna Berardi. Meanwhile, Sara's body has been discovered after a nosey neighbour phones the police about the couple's argument and Nicola's subsequent suspicious behaviour. Inspector Terzi (Paolo Malco) and his assistant inspector have been brought in to investigate the case and Terzi's assistant immediately suspects Nicola has committed the crime to get his hands on his wive's riches however Terzi is not wholly convinced. Contacting criminologist Anna, the two work together to deduce who the killer really is as the evidence begins to mount against Nicola. Anna's hypothesis is that the crimes are being committed by a killer known as the Midnight Ripper who terrorised the city a decade prior. The only problem with Anna's theory is that the ripper perished in a fire at the sanitarium he was committed to eight years ago. Anna must convince Inspector Terzi that the Ripper is still at large with the help of her criminology students, who include Terzi's daughter, Carol. As the murder spree continues, Inspector Terzi urges his daughter and her friends to leave the city and take refuge at an out of season seaside hotel but has Terzi inadvertently put the girls in the killer's sights? Who will survive in the final showdown of the Midnight Ripper?

Although not as critically celebrated as his famous father, Lamberto Bava was perhaps one of the most successful directors of gialli in the 1980s bar his mentor, Dario Argento. Whereas other directors struggled to match the success of the thrillers of the 1970s, Lamberto Bava successfully crafted several horror films over the course of the decade before he too succumbed to the changing landscape of the Italian film industry in the closing decade of the 20th century. Midnight Ripper is perhaps one of Lamberto Bava's lesser known horror films, finding itself in the shadow of the director's more accomplished earlier works. Lamberto Bava's atmospheric Southern set cinematic debut, Macabre (1980) was heralded as a triumphant entry into the world of Italian horror garnering the praise of his horror stalwart father, Mario Bava. Following up on the success of his debut film, Bava created his own take on the popular Italian giallo with 1983's A Blade in the Dark - a creatively claustrophobic low budget giallo lovingly inspired by the genre's definitive film of the 1980s, Dario Argento's Tenebrae (1982). After his foray into the giallo, Bava struck out into different territory and devised Demons with Dario Argento, a gloriously eighties gonzo horror film literally dripping with horror excess. Demons turned out to be such a phenomenal success that Bava and Argento quickly followed it up with Demons 2 but before embarking on the sequel to Demons with his mentor, Bava once again tried his hand at the giallo directing Midnight Ripper for Reteitalia and Dania Film, a made for television thriller.

The film's story was conceived by legendary Italian screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti whose credits include classic period gialli such as The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971), Shock (1977) and The Psychic (1977) as well as some of the most lauded examples of the genre from the 1980s such as The New York Ripper (1982) and A Blade in the Dark (1983). Sacchetti and Bava co wrote the screenplay for Midnight Ripper after their successful partnership on A Blade in the Dark. I'd argue that their screenplay for Midnight Ripper is far less cohesive and well constructed than their work on A Blade in the Dark, primarily due to some of the problematic elements in the film's storyline and the explanation for the killer's motivations which I'll discuss more in detail later on in this article. Fortunately, despite some issues surrounding character motivations, the film's narrative is fairly successful operating in the narrative conventions of the genre. The film's storyline of an inspector and a civilian teaming up to solve a crime has all the markings of a classic period giallo and is sure to appeal to gialli fans who prefer their later period films to adhere to the formulaic conventions of the traditional gialli of the sixties and seventies. Like in those definitive films , Dardano recognises the  equal importance of stylish kills and comedic moments and these two facets of the giallo are balanced rather nicely throughout the film. The stylish set pieces are well paced and although some of the explanatory segments of the film feel laboured, there's enough in the film's script to keep the audience engaged with the film's story. 

The film features an impressive cast with its standout performance coming from Italian cinema legend, Paolo Malco (The House by the Cemetery, The New York Ripper) as pipe smoking Commissioner Terzi. The character of Terzi was envisioned as a homage to Commissioner Maigret; a French literary character conceived by Georges Simenon famed for his trusty pipe and Terzi plays the role with aplomb and some much needed humour in his police station scenes. Valeria D'Obici (Killer Cop, Escape from the Bronx) competently plays criminologist Anna Berardi but is marred by her character's lack of back story and Lara Wendel of Tenebrae fame takes the film's other prominent role as Carol, Terzi's defiant daughter. The cast is rounded out with Carol's university friends, a sullen Nicola and his unfaithful wife, Terzi's assistant inspector and a few nameless female victims as is par the course with Italian thrillers. Lamberto Bava also makes a small blink or you'll miss it appearance in the film as the police crime scene photographer. Unlike many other gialli from the period, Midnight Ripper has fairly well written characters that you're inclined to root for as well as a likeable and charismatic leading man in Paolo Malco. The character of Carol on paper feels very two dimensional but Lara Wendel manages to elevate the role to something beyond a slasher stereotype and her tenacity to survive is palpable. For a genre of film that's often deemed as sleazy and misogynistic, it's always nice to see characters like Carol and her friends who act like typical university students and are depicted as such as opposed to the scantily clad sex kittens that are often a feature in these sorts of thrillers from the 1980s. Although characters such as Nicola are poorly developed and arguably under utilised, on the whole, Midnight Ripper's characters are fairly memorable and more importantly likeable possessing adequate characterisation for a giallo of this period.

The horror elements of the giallo are undoubtedly a key part of the genre however, as many Italian thriller fans will know, an intrinsic part of many gialli is their penchant for inserting comic relief alongside the blood letting. Midnight Ripper is no exception and follows the blueprint of Argento's Deep Red in deriving humour from its policeman character. Throughout the film, Inspector Terzi battles against police bureaucracy bemoaning the red tape and incessant filling out of forms that prevents him from completing simple tasks like obtaining a chair for his office. Not only does this add a nice bit of humour to the film as we watch Terzi desperately trying to locate his pipe in amongst the madness of a station move but, it also perhaps touches upon the pervasive bureaucracy in Italy during the 1980s. This offers a real contrast to the 1970s poliziotteschi approach of the police's "screw procedure, fuck the consequences type attitude". In Midnight Ripper, the police's incompetence stems from a system that focuses on sprawling multi-layered bureaucracy as opposed to grass roots police work. Inspector Terzi is seen as the voice of reason and intelligence in a sea of ineffectualness. Inspector Terzi is a rationalist as opposed to Anna who has more of an open minded attitude when it comes to the mysterious case of Franco Tribbo - again some of the film's humour is based in this conflict between two intellects, one who is a pragmatist and the other who believes in the resurrection of a dead killer much to the chagrin and humour of Terzi. Sometimes humour falls flat in the giallo but one of the film's greatest asset is how effectively the comedic elements are played by Paolo Malco.

Moving along at a steady pace, the film contains some memorable set pieces that are sure to satisfy fans of the giallo. The murder stagings are well shot and set in memorable locales and always feel like a nice pay off to the events leading to them. Although not as gory as A Blade in the Dark or as stylish, the bloodletting in Midnight Ripper still feels satisfying and the creativity of the set pieces somewhat makes up for the rather subdued violence. I'd put the violence in Midnight Ripper on par with other eighties offerings such as Nothing Underneath (1985) in terms of graphicness. The film's first murder is easily its most graphic in its bloody homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Despite the lack of overt violence, Midnight Ripper's murders have a fairly sexual connotation which elevates the film's nastiness quota and the scene that takes place in a shop changing room out of hours is fairly uncomfortable viewing although manages to avoid feeling too exploitative in context of the film's narrative. The film's climax is also mostly absent of violence but is chocked full of suspense thanks to the film's inventive camera work and use of space.

Arguably the use of space and the staging of the film's climax at an out of season hotel is Midnight Ripper at its most successful. The film's last half hour is particularly effective and really heightens the overall feeling of suspense that the film successfully builds towards. Feeling the tiniest bit reminiscent of The Shining's Overlook hotel, the characters move between stark industrial kitchens and brightly lit function rooms and hallways as they navigate the danger lurking around the hotel. In many ways, the film's final scenes feel more akin to a stalk and slash horror than your typical giallo but by no means is this to the detriment of the film and its climax. The film culminates in a great twist in its final scenes leading you to believe a certain outcome before cleverly revealing the true culprit. Admittedly the film's ending is a little far fetched and in this respect it seems to, again, resemble the slasher movie more than the giallo with it's dramatic scooby doc style unmasking but it's effectively filmed despite some issues with how the twist works logistically. 

Midnight Ripper is at times rather flat but the set pieces usually exhibit some inventive camera work. Bava's camera is constantly prowling between gaps in stairs, down through cracks in a wooden table and roaming through interesting locales in POV shots. There's some great claustrophobic close up shots as well as some nicely angled shots that heighten the film's feeling of suspense as we're never sure what's being obscured from fame; the scene shot in the museum is particularly effective at delivering a feeling of paranoia and imminent danger. Shot for TV and on a fairly small budget, Midnight Ripper was never going to look like a glossy thriller but despite the limitations of shooting a film for a television network, it still manages to look fairly stylish. 

One of Midnight Ripper's greatest assets is its setting with the film's action taking place in the beautiful historic town of Ascoli Piceno. It's a nice change of pace to see a film that takes place in a small town as opposed to one of Italy's sprawling metropolis'. The beachside views from Anna's apartment to the out of season coastal hotel that the students opt to stay in creates a vivid landscape and Bava's decision to shoot the majority of kill scenes in daylight really enhances the locations. One would imagine that Bava's decision to shoot an overwhelming potion of the film in daylight, despite the film's midnight title, feels like a clear homage to the brightly lit murders of Tenebrae.

Dario Argento's influence is apparent in Lamberto Bava's work with Midnight Ripper acting as a continuation of A Blade in the Dark's series of homages to the Italian maestro of horror. As one of Argento's proteges (alongside Michele Soavi) one could argue that Argento has had more of a direct influence on Lamberto Bava than his own father and this is certainly reflected throughout Midnight Ripper. One of the most notable nods to Dario Argento is a scene lifted from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) where an eyewitness to a crime mistakes the assailant for the victim. This is revealed in the final scene by Inspector Terzi who realises that the previous events witnessed by the police officer did not happen in the way he perceived them to, partially due to how one would read a violent struggle between a man and a woman as a distant onlooker. Like with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and the mirror/painting scene in Deep Red, this revelation makes the viewer want to revisit the scene in order to see what really happened as opposed to the way one would initially read the scene. Although not nearly as effective as Bird in adopting this technique, Bava's nod to Argento's seminal giallo is still an effective trick that creates a sort of "ah ha" moment for the viewer. It's a real shame that the ham fisted approach to Anna's motivation hampers the impact of her reveal as the killer as this would make the aforementioned scene far more effective on repeat viewings.

A further, not so subtle, nod is made to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in a suspenseful scene that takes place in a museum full of stuffed birds. In this case, Bava uses your knowledge of Argento's film to subvert your expectations. As the audience thinks the killer is about to strike in the deserted museum, a cleaning lady is revealed to be the only other person in the building much to Carol's relief. IDeep Red is also referenced when Nicola attempts to drown his wife in the kitchen sink, strongly resembling the famous bath scene from Argento's 1975 seminal giallo.

Allusions to Argento's Tenebrae are also made in the casting of Lara Wendel who played victim Maria in Argento's film (thankfully she survives this time around) as well as a nod to the film's famous death sequence in which Ania Pieroni's Elsa has the pages of Peter Neal's paperback stuffed in her mouth - in the case of Midnight Ripper the pages are substituted with several pairs of lace panties. Bava rounds out his homages to Tenebrae by recruiting long time Argento collaborator, Claudio Simonetti as the film's composer. Simonetti's score is thoroughly enjoyable with its mixture of classical strings and synthesised melody. The film's main theme is extremely catchy and conveys the overall mood of the film rather nicely. Occasionally Midnight Ripper's score feels a little uninspired but it mostly mirrors the action in the film effectively and the heart beats utilised in the suspenseful scenes are nicely done although perhaps fairly unoriginal. Although it has slight similarities with Tenebrae's soundtrack in terms of the heavy use of synths, it still feels substantially different so those hoping for Simonetti to deliver a soundtrack on par with Tenebrae will be disappointed.

Again, another comparison to Tenebrae is the effective way production design is utilised as visual shorthand for the film's setting and characters. The killer's identity is alluded to through costuming with a yellow jumper, socks and a blouse serving as visual clues to the true perpetrator of the crimes. Yellow is used to punctuate the film's set design and we see the colour used repeatedly via wallpaper, curtains, staircase and an assortment of decorative objects. When yellow is used in the set design it is mostly contrasted against whites in a similar fashion to how Argento used red and white in Tenebrae.  As well as acting as a visual clue to who the murderer is, the colour also acts as a self referential nod to the film's genre. In one scene one of Carol's friends reads a giallo titled "Blood" in another visual nod to the genre (consequentially the book's artwork was taken from the Italian artwork for the Coen Brothers Blood Simple). The scene in which Monica reads the book proceeds a dream sequence which works as an omen as well as a play on Monica reading a horror thriller before bed. Small details such as this make for a satisfying watch and feel like a display of Bava's own sense of creativity.

What can sometimes feel problematic in the film, and an accusation I would also direct at Bava's previous offering, A Blade in the Dark, is that Midnight Ripper feels like a compilation of earlier gialli. The film feels very much like a love letter to the cinema of Argento and as such, it's hard to discern Bava's own style and voice from his master's. In my opinion, Midnight Ripper would be a much better film if Bava had stepped outside of his role as Argento's protege and tried his hand at something new like Soavi successfully managed to do during the late eighties and early nineties. That's not to say that Midnight Ripper is a bad film, far from it, the film works well as a 1980s giallo despite feeling somewhat derivative. Bava's ability to construct successful set pieces leads to many memorable moments including a fight between the killer and criminology student, Monica, who wields an electric hand mixer in a desperate attempt to take down the killer. However, despite moments of brilliance, Sacchetti's script is hampered by clunky dialogue and poor explanations and character motivations that detract from the overall story. The film would really have benefited from a revised script that sought to address the issues surrounding the killer's motivations. Macabre and A Blade in the Dark have the clear edge when it comes to creativity and cohesiveness in Bava's oeuvre.

The motivation behind Anna's killing spree is revealed to be a result of her repressed trauma of rape at the hands of Franco Tribbo. Unfortunately, Sacchetti's script doesn't explore the reason as to why Anna's trauma reemerged in such a violent fashion unlike Tenebrae, where Peter Neal's suppressed murderous desires were stirred upon hearing of a killer lifting his murders straight out of the pages of Neal's latest novel. Anna's revelation as the murderer makes little sense in relation to the explanation Inspector Terzi gives us at the end of the film. It would have been far more satisfying if another individual imitating the crimes of Tribbo was behind the initial murder a la Tenebrae. This would have stirred Anna's murderous rage and would have paved the way for the rest of the killings in the film. Alternatively, the character of Nicola could have been utilised in a better fashion. Anna running into him could have set off murderous feelings due to some sort of unsavoury sexual encounter between the two in the past that reignites memories of her rape. The film certainly alludes to some sort of sexual/romantic angle to their relationship but sadly, this is never explored. My biggest complaint about the film is the slap dash way in which this major plot point is handled as it makes little sense as to why Anna has chosen to start killing. What's also perhaps strange about Anna's motivation is that Terzi goes on to explain that Anna targeted individuals close to him as part of a game - she was proving that she could outsmart Terzi who she viewed as a worthy intellectual challenger. The explanations for Anna's crimes are at odds with each other - is she a calculated killer who murders to taunt and play games with Terzi or is she a deeply damaged woman who has tried to gain back control of a tragic past event?

On a second watch of the film, it is evident that Sacchetti's script does allude to Anna's rape (just not as to why her trauma from the event has resurfaced). In one scene, where Anna dressed as Franco, threatens a shop assistant with a knife, she says "You like being watched by other men! You like it, right? You wear such things to provoke men! You know what they think!" whilst forcing the woman to undress and wear a bra that Anna has taken off a shop mannequin. This scene has an overly sexual tone to it and reading it in a rape context, it appears that Anna is trying to claim back power by forcing another individual into a situation that she found herself in many years ago. The comments about men liking women in provocative clothing may suggest that Anna feels some sort of sexual shame or blame for what Franco did to her. One could also argue that when Franco raped Anna, part of him stayed with her and became part of her persona. In fact, Nicola foreshadows this idea when he says to Anna that it's like she has a double personality. Interestingly this idea would go on to be explored in Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) when protagonist Anna Manni takes on the personality and physical attributes of her rapist, Alfredo.

A sexual element to the crimes

It's debatable as to whether the shower murder has a sexual tone to it and the majority of the other murders seem more violent than sexual despite the aforementioned changing room scene however,, there is one exception in the murder of criminology student, Monica. After Monica attempts to fight Anna off with an electric mixer she is stabbed to death and her body is moved away from the kitchen. Laying Monica's body on the floor, Anna then proceeds to penetrate Monica's vagina with the whisks of the mixer. This act, in my opinion, is further proof of Anna's sexual trauma and if the rest of the murders had been conducted in a similar way, would have made far more sense in relation to the explanation we are given for the crimes. Interestingly, this murder scene is reminiscent of Slumber Party Massacre (1982) and Body Double (1984) where victims are penetrated with electric drills. Lamberto Bava was clearly inspired by De Palma's interpretation of the giallo in Body Double and Dressed to Kill (1980) as is evidenced in the aforementioned whisk scene however, Bava also makes a reference to Body Double in Midnight Ripper in the final chase sequence between Anna and Carol which takes place on a beach with striped beach huts evoking an iconic scene from the film. In Bava's previous film, A Blade in the Dark, the killer's reveal is very similar to the reveal in Dressed to Kill. De Palma was clearly inspired by the Italian giallo so it's fascinating to watch a director like Bava take inspiration from those who contextualised the gialli of the golden age.

Another problematic issue with the ending is that earlier on in the film we see Franco Tribbo in Anna's mirror. The ending establishes that Anna was the killer all along, using a mask of Franco Tribbo to conceal her true identity. However, re-examining the film knowing that Anna is the killer, one of the more glaring issues is that Anna sees the reflection of Franco Tribbo (or someone wearing a mask of him) in her mirror and is suitably frightened. This is why one might immediately discount her as the killer. Again, this may lead the viewer to conclude that Anna was suffering from some sort of psychosis as a result of her trauma but Sachetti's script fails to identify this so we are left trying to figure out the true nature of Anna's condition. As mentioned above, if the film had two killers this scene would have made a lot more sense as we could attribute this version of Tribbo to Nicola. Unfortunately, we are left trying to figure out if Anna was aware that she was taking on Tribbo's persona and as such, we the audience aren't entirely sure how sympathetic we should be to her character as we are not entirely convinced of the reasoning behind her crimes.

Whilst Bava's 1983 giallo, A Blade in the Dark is often cited as one of the best examples of a 1980s giallo, his follow up thriller, Midnight Ripper is often forgotten. The lack of release on DVD/Blu Ray in English speaking territories has somewhat contributed to the film's forgotten status as well as its reputation as a lacklustre 1980s TV thriller; one that Bava was supposedly so disappointed in that he released it under the directorial pseudonym John Old Jr (although this is far more likely to be a homage to his father who used John Boy as his own pseudonym). Whereas Midnight Ripper undoubtedly fails to match the successes of Bava's other gialli of the decade (A Blade in the Dark and 1987's Delirium) it's still, in my opinion, a solid example of a 1980s Italian thriller. Unlike the vast majority of gialli from this period, Midnight Ripper is fairly conventional echoing the established tropes of the genre. The film does stray somewhat into the confides of the slasher film as it nears its conclusion but this is symptomatic of many Italian thrillers of the 1980s. Fundamentally, the Midnight Ripper holds up as a later period giallo transplanting the tried and tested formula of the 1970s into a mid 1980s setting to relative success. 

As a giallo slasher hybrid the film works fairly successfully and has many of the stalk and slash aspects that fans of the genre will appreciate. Connoisseurs of gialli will appreciate the references to the classic period of the genre, in particular the references to the work of Dario Argento, but may find the formulaic plot and slightly clumsy reveal problematic. Never the less, I'd thoroughly recommend Midnight Ripper to fans of eighties gialli and Lamberto Bava's more recognised work.

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Designer Spotlight: Nanda Vigo

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Nanda Vigo is arguably one of the most prolific Italian designers of the post war period. Known for her exceptional use of light and colour, Vigo was on the forefront of 1960s and 1970s design working with such esteemed names as Gio Ponti whilst simultaneously forging a successful name for herself and her Milanese studio. Vigo has worked across a number of artistic disciplines including architecture, interior design, sculpture and furniture design and continues to work and exhibit to the present day dividing her time between Milan and East Africa. Vigo's work challenges perception fully embracing the avant garde and our assumptions of what design is and can be. Vigo's unique approach to design was a natural fit in the 1970s for the Italian genre film in which directors showcased the very best in Italian design through interiors and fashions. Vigo's monochromatic interiors are perhaps some of the most memorable in Italian genre cinema and although Italian film fans may be unfamiliar with her name, they're such to recognise her striking interiors that have been prominently featured in key films of the giallo and poliziotteschi.

During her prolific interior design period Vigo designed six monochromatic interiors; Zero House (1959-1962), Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia (1965-1968), Casa Remo Brindisi Museum (1967-1971), Casa Blu (1967-1972), Casa Gialla (1970) and Casa Nera (1970). This series of interiors embraced a pop art sensibility that seamlessly integrated art, architecture and the interior. Vigo's interiors were showcased in seminal Italian design magazine, Domus and quickly became key examples of Italian interior design of the period. The visceral nature of her designs were a natural fit for the big screen and three of her key interiors; Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia, Casa Blu and Casa Gialla were featured in Italian genre cinema of the time. In this article I'm going to examine these interiors in relation to the films they feature in and shine a light on why Vigo's interiors were so integral to the distinct visual look of Italian genre cinema of the early to mid 1970s.

In 2016, I contributed an essay to Arrow Video's Killer Dames release which contained Emilio P. Miraglia's Gothic gialli; The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave (1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972). My essay examined the production design in Miraglia's films and the various ways in which production designer Lorenzo Baraldi conveyed key themes and ideas through costuming and interiors. In particular, I touched upon an interior featured in the final scenes of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave which takes place at a Northern Italian residence known as Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia (The Beetle Under the Leaf named due to the building's beetle like shape). Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia was conceived in 1964 by renowned Italian architect, Gio Ponti. Ponti designed the house for art collector, Giobatta Meneguzzo and entrusted the interior design to Nanda Vigo, a artist/designer involved in the radical art scene of the 1960s. Ponti agreed to work on Meneguzzo's house plans for free providing that he invested in the house's experimental design, resulting in a mesmerising array of art and innovative design features that make Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia one of the great Italian interiors of the latter half of the twentieth century. It's wonderful, innovative design made the residence an ideal film location and in 1971, three years after its completion, Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia was chosen as a filming location for Emilio P. Miraglia's The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave predominantly takes place at an English country house (despite the exteriors clear Italian location - they were shot at Villa Da Porto Colleoni in Thiene, Vicenza) and as such; the interiors have an old fashioned, Gothic sensibility that's more in line with the settings of Antonio Margheriti's work than Dario Argento's. Miraglia's two forays in the giallo genre have earned his films the reputation of Gothic Gialli primarily due to their distinctive Gothic elements that are perhaps considered at odds with the genre's fascination with modernity. Although there's certainly an early 1970s element to the film, it's decidedly far more muted than your typical giallo with the more contemporary elements of design taking a back seat to the classical paintings and ornate stone work of Lord Alan Cunningham's castle. The Gothic nature of the film is played up in the film's storyline with Lord Alan torturing beautiful women in his dungeon filled with strange torture devices that appear to be relics from a bygone age. For the majority of the film's running time, the action takes place inside Lord Cunningham's castle until the film's final scenes at Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia. The thoroughly modern interior of Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia is a vast contrast to the dark, Gothic design of Lord Cunningham's castle emphasising the tonal shift of the film's climax. It also makes for an effective murder scene with its shiny white surfaces acting as the perfect contrast against the bright red blood of the film's victims.  

Vigo's interiors are famed for their use of artwork and demonstrate how art and interiors can work symbiotically to create a vivid, stylised cohesive environment in the avant-garde style. There are many artworks on display throughout Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia by renowned artists of the period, many of whom are affiliated with the post-war Zero group movement. Enrico Castellani's Superficie Bianca (1963) was specifically created for the house and features prominently alongside his mentor Lucio Fontana's Teatrina (1965). Other artwork includes the Édouard Manet inspired Déjeuner sur l’herbs by Alain Jacquet (1964) as well as work by Julio Le Parc, Agostina Bonalumi and Turi Simeti and other artists affiliated with the pop art movement. The majority of the art featured in Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia has a 3D quality to it playing with perception, texture and material to create a living, breathing artistic space.

Miraglia certainly revels in the house's elaborate interior with inventive camerawork that showcases the design intricacies of Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia's interior from its art to its faux grey fur spiral staircase to its mirrored wall panels that emphasise the fractured identity of the film's characters. In one scene Marina Malfatti's Gladys and Erika Blanc's Susie lounge across a chrome and fur chair and sofa before meeting their untimely deaths showcasing Vigo's revolutionary furniture design whilst simultaneously acting as a beautiful late sixties background to an intense death scene. Miraglia and Baraldi clearly understood the importance of interior design in creating a cohesive cinematic look and the attention to detail in regards to how costume design mirrors interior design is admirable - Gladys' peach dress with ribboned arms matches the aforementioned fractured mirrored panels she stands in front of and her dress and Susie's yellow maxi perfectly reflect the select colours on display through the house's interior. Miraglia and Baraldi understood the aesthetical expression of an artist manifested in a physical space and were able to utilise this in cinematic terms.

It's a refreshing change to talk about a poliziotteschi on this blog and Umberto Lenzi's Gang War in Milan (1973) is a fantastic example of what the genre has to offer. Without digressing too much from this blog post's remit, it's often difficult for me to discuss poliziotteschi from a design point of view as they're less likely to celebrate/depict the ostentatious jet setter lifestyle that's typically associated with the giallo. That's not to say that the poliziotteschi is without its share of glamorous interiors - the homes of wealthy victims, hip nightclubs and the dwellings of flushed criminal masterminds and drug barons inevitably make for palatial homes. However, I'd argue that these films are far more concerned with depicting the political and social upheaval of Italy during the Years of Lead which tends to involve a far more realistic portrayal of the criminal underbelly of Italian cities. Inevitably, you'll see far more abandoned warehouses, run down hideouts and sparse government buildings in the poliziotteschi than in your typical giallo. However, as previously mentioned, it's imperative to show ostentatious wealth in the genre in order to highlight Italian economic and class disparity as well as to underline the affluent lifestyle afforded to those that pursue the dangerous lifestyle that criminality offers for the select few. This affluent lifestyle of criminality is beautifully depicted in Gang War in Milan through the criminal bases of the two warring criminal factions at the centre of the film. One of the most memorable interiors from the film and arguably the poliziotteschi is the base of kingpin pimp, Tito; a mesmerising apartment in a monochromatic palette of cobalt blue. This interior is another one of Vigo's works and is known as Casa Blu following a tradition of naming her interiors after the colour they're inspired by. Casa Blu, located in the film's setting of Milan, was designed by Vigo between 1967 and 1972. Following on from my lengthy discussion of the interiors on display in Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia you can see the same design sensibility applied to Casa Blu; the synergy between interior, art and architecture runs throughout the space with Vigo's signature approach to the esoteric elements of design on display.

Casa Blu underlines the differences between the warring drug factions at the centre of the film. Philippe Leroy's Roger Daverty is a French drug baron who exhibits a thoroughly French sensibility; he appears traditional and refined compared to Italian pimp, Tito who is very much the stylish hot headed Italian. Roger Daverty aka Il Capitane resides in a palatial Italian residence filled with classical oil paintings, ornate wooden furniture and floor to ceiling length windows that flood the apartment with light. In comparison, Tito's Milanese apartment is covered in strange modern art, avant-garde furniture and appears almost windowless. This vast contrast between the two men presented by visual indicators such as fashion and interior design are evidence of their vast differences from their mode operatus to their national identity and character traits. Vigo's extravagantly stylish interior exaggerates the stereotypical idea of the Italian that Tito embodies in the film.

Like Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia, Casa Blu plays with perception. The apartment's mirrored ceiling reflects the surrounding art around the room making the main space appear much larger than it is, once again amplifying visual and tactile perception through art. Vigo's incredible use of light is on display in Casa Blu; its effect is heightened as it refracts around the apartment's glossy surfaces. The low level lighting appears to be amplified by the reflective nature of the room. Mirrored shimmering tiles and artwork that appears to shift and change contribute to the changing space made up of a variety of textures that make for such a fascinating space. 

Unfortunately, there's a real lack of information available on Casa Blu although I do believe the original interior no longer exists. The art and furniture from the interior has inevitably been divided up and it's difficult to identity individual pieces. However, it's evident that the majority of the artwork from the apartment is from artists from the pop art movement as is the case with Vigo's other interiors from this time period. Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia's art was on a much larger scale than the art presented in Casa Blu but as always, the pieces featured on the apartment's walls and glossy surfaces contribute to the cohesive look of the interior as a whole and make the apartment appear to be part home, part gallery. Umberto Lenzi and his production crew were clearly enamoured by the look of Vigo's interior and showcase it throughout the film. The character of Il Capitane is introduced in one of Vigo's incredible wooden curved back chairs, whereas other characters lounge on the apartment's deep blue plush sofa which could be rearranged in various combinations. In one scene Tito sits at a glass desk in a yellow and black lined silk bathrobe which perfectly mirrors the colour palette and lines of the painting directly behind him. Characters interact with the artwork surrounding them and are always framed by the psychedelic art that adorns every wall and surface. By using Casa Blu as a filming location, Lenzi's film is injected with a sense of style that reflects the character of Tito and his gang as well as presenting the affluent, designer lifestyle that crime can afford - a stark contrast to the squalor that the prostitutes they work with are confined to. Casa blu also featured in the Edwige Fenech film, Anna quel particolare piacere (Carnimeo, 1973).

In the criminally underrated, The Killer Must Kill Again (1975), another of Vigo's interiors is present; this time prominently featured. Vigo's aptly named La Casa Gialla was used as the marital home of Giorgio and Norma Mainardi; a wealthy couple living in palatial surroundings but suffering from marital woes due to Giorgio's philandering ways. Greedy adulterer Giorgio, unsatisfied with his shrill wife, hires a contract killer to murder her in order to get his hands on her riches. Inevitably, things don't quite go to plan when a pair of teens take a joyride in the killer's car with Norma's body in the trunk. Giorgio must subdue the police as the killer attempts to retrieve the body before its discovered by the joy riders. The film's premise is fairly straight forward and deviates from the typical giallo blueprint but it works fairly well as a thriller on its own terms. Due to the fairly low budget of the film, The Killer Must Kill Again could easily feel cheap and uninspired but Luigi Cozzi's choice to shoot at La Casa Gialla was an inspired choice elevating the film stylistically above other gialli of the mid 1970s.

La Casa Gialla was designed by Vigo in 1970 and was one of the final interiors in her monochromatic series alongside Casa Nera which sadly, to my knowledge, was never featured as a filming location. La Casa Gialla feels in many ways like the opposite of the aforementioned Casa Blu acting at opposing ends of the colour spectrum. The decision to give the apartment a yellow monochromatic colour palette was at the request of the client, a Southern Italian who wanted to be reminded of home. Unlike Casa Nera which, at the request of the client, was dark with subdued atmospheric lighting, Casa Gialla celebrated light and the warmer climbs of Southern Italy with its warm bright lighting and shiny reflective surfaces. The expressive nature of the colour yellow and Vigo's astute lighting choices makes Casa Gialla feel like an experimental yet highly polished space. It amplifies the perceptions of those that inhabit it making it the perfect space for a giallo that features a flushed, educated married woman.

The decision to film at La Casa Gialla is a wonderfully astute choice, referencing the genre's literary origins and association with the colour yellow. The colour yellow plays a prominent role in the film and is utilised in several scenes outside La Casa Gialla linking back nicely to Norma and Giorgio's marital home; the colour is used in ice rink seats, initials on a lighter, the police station's walls, the clothes of Giorgio's friends, the nighttime exterior lighting and the seaside villa's furnishing. You'll find that many later period gialli utilise the colour yellow to reference the genre's literary roots as well as to provide a clue to the culprit's identity, for example Midnight Ripper, but The Killer Must Kill Again is perhaps one of the first gialli to feature this self aware visual clue to the Italian thriller's origins before it became more commonplace in later period thrillers. 

Outside of Casa Gialla's obvious connection to the giallo itself, it fundamentally highlights Norma's wealth and her gauche approach to money. Norma wants to fill her home with the finest art and furniture and to be a showcase for her avant-garde taste but she is oblivious to her husband's misery who feels locked inside her gilded cage desperate to break out and use her money for his own nefarious desires. Like Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia and Casa Blu, the apartment is filled with pop art from vivid paintings in a yellow and blue colour scheme to strange sculptures in polished metal. The  apartment features some eye catching furniture including a striking perspex desk and chair that feel somewhat reminiscent of Shiro Kuramata's work in the 1970s as well as yellow and blue oversized couches covered in teddy bear like fabric. 

Despite the film's somewhat limited budget, Luigi Cozzi injects a real sense of glamour and Italian style into his film via the use of Casa Gialla as a filming location but alongside highlighting the Mainardi's extravagant lifestyle, the apartment acts as a visual focus for a film that would otherwise be fairly aesthetically dull. Furthermore, Casa Gialla acts as the perfect contrast to the films's final scenes that take place at a dilapidated seaside villa. Arguably Casa Gialla is a fantasy style apartment where theatrical events take place bordering on the comical but the film's brutal finale and unrelenting rape scene feels hyper real acting as a stark contrast to the fantastical setting of Casa Gialla at the film's beginning. By contrasting Casa Gialla with the seaside villa, Cozzi bookends his film subverting your expectations by turning a comical, fantastical thriller into something dark and throughly unpleasant. 

The Killer Must Kill Again is arguably best known for its elaborate yellow interior and Casa Gialla demonstrates that with the right setting, a giallo can be given a much needed bolster stylistically which can set it apart from similar films in the genre. Although La Casa Gialla is not as effectively used as Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, it still anchors the film's visuals and serves as a centrepiece to the film's production design.

What is perhaps so inspiring and enjoyable about Vigo's work is the sense of theatre and participation that she brings to her creations, they are truly living, breathing works of art that capture the imagination of those that view them even from the screen. Vigo's interiors are undoubtedly not for everyone with many viewing them as excessive and set like but in my opinion, the radical playfulness of her work is what truly brings an immense amount of joy to those that view it. As an avid watcher of Italian genre cinema, I can recall with great fondness the first time I saw Vigo's interiors, La Casa Gialla in particular left me spellbound and has probably elevated The Killer Must Kill Again considerably in my mind. Vigo's place in the Italian cinematic landscape has been truly earned and it's important to recognise her contribution to the films she gave visual life to through her art. Alongside her obvious mark on the design world in relation to Italian cinema, it's also perhaps important to realise how Vigo's designs and her contemporaries impacted on later period Italian design as I'll go on to briefly discuss now.

I've recently discussed the use of postmodern design in the Italian horrors and thrillers of the 1980s and how many genre fans take issue with this supposedly radical design departure from the gialli of the sixties and seventies. Granted, postmodern design can sometimes feel at odds with the aesthetic of the gialli of the prior decade. However, despite their initially jarring differences, you'll find that there's a lot of similarities between the two design movements. Many designers and architects who were prominent in the 1960s and 1970s went on to shape the Italian design landscape of the eighties as part of the New Italian Design movement that included the Memphis Milano design collective. Vigo herself would go on to reject the monochromatic colour palettes of her earlier work, embracing a more colourful aesthetic that was indicative of the new Italian design scene of the eighties and her work during this period arguably has more in common with the likes of the Memphis Milano collective than the work of her early 1970s contemporaries. In many ways the later style of Italian design was a reinterpretation of the pop art aesthetics of Vigo and her ilk; fusing an avant grade experimental sensibility with images of popular culture and consumerism, utilising block monochromatic colours and pattern and unconventional forms. Although Vigo's interiors of the 1980s did not feature in Italian genre cinema (at least to my knowledge), you can look at her work from the decade such as Abitazione privata a Verona (1988-1989) to see the parallels between her work from the period and key interiors of 1980s Italian genre cinema like Obsession: A Taste for Fear (1988) and Too Beautiful to Die (1988).Vigo's progressive style extended far beyond the interiors she was initially famed for and the continuation of her work up until present day demonstrates her talent as a taste maker and artistic visionary.

Abitazione privata a Verona (1988-1989)

Vigo's incredible interiors demonstrate that set and production design are an integral component in the giallo and Italian genre cinema's aesthetic appeal and legacy. Whilst we tend to praise the fantastic cinematography, set pieces and fashions of the Italian genre film, it's also important to acknowledge and praise the contribution of set design and interiors to the unique, visually arresting look of these films. Nanda Vigo and her contemporaries perfectly encapsulate this cinematic period of Italian design, demonstrating why the giallo is deserving of its reputation as the most stylish subgenre of horror and thriller cinema.

I'd like to dedicate this post to three very generous readers who have enabled me to produce content such as this due to their kind donations. This has allowed me to buy research materials that have enabled me to write posts such as this as well as future posts that might not have been possible to write before due to a lack of materials. My upmost gratitude goes to Danica, Peter and Wayne I can not thank you enough for supporting me through your donations and I hope you've enjoyed this piece!

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Design & Italian Horror: Fair Game (1988)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Fair Game (also known as Mamba) is a 1988 Italian horror-thriller film directed by Mario Orfini  starring Trudie Styler and Gregg Henry. It's a typical example of an Italian horror film from this period - it's fairly low budget and feels not to dissimilar to the televisual thrillers of the era. As par the course in Italian genre cinema, it features a fairly well known American actor (Gregg Henry of Body Double fame) but as always, savings to the production have been made elsewhere i.e. the small cast and limited locales. The premise of the film is fairly straightforward, Artist Eva (Trudie Styler) has separated from her clever but unhinged video game designer husband Gene, (Gregg Henry)  Enraged by his wife's actions, Gene seeks out an exotic animal dealer and procures a deadly mamba  (pumped full of hormones!!!) to enact revenge on his wife. Utilising technology from his job as a video game designer, Gene puts a tracker on both his wife and the snake and watches the ensuing game of cat and mouse through a computer simulation. The majority of the film's action hinges on Eva trying to evade the deadly snake in her labyrinthian apartment as Gene watches on from nearby.

Fair Game is a fairly lacklustre affair. Even in terms of Italian creature features from this period it's pretty bad and worse still, it makes for a pretty tedious watch. For a film categorised as a horror, there's little in the way of terror in the film's hour and 21 minute run time. The film's suspense is built around the threat of imminent danger to Eva but as the film's cast consists of three characters we know that our protagonist isn't going to come to any real harm which deadens any sense of danger - even the film's climax feels achingly predictable. There's a few "menacing" shots of the mamba snaking round Eva's apartment and Trudie Styler acting suitably histrionic but this does little to ramp up any sort of suspense/danger. Despite the film's many flaws there is one saving grace to Fair Game and thats the film's production design by Academy Award winning Italian art director, Ferdinando Scarfiotti. 

Scarfiotti's Magritte influenced Toys (1992)

Fair Game's sets were designed by renowned Italian art director, Ferdinando Scarfiotti. Scarfiotti is perhaps best known for his work on the 1987 Bertolucci film The Last Emperor (1987) for which he received an Academy Award for Best Art Design. Scarfiotti also served as the production designer for Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky (1990) and The Conformist (1970) as well as acting as a supervising set designer for Last Tango in Paris (1972). Outside of his work with Bertolucci, Scarfiotti acted as visual consultant for seminal eighties films such as Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983) and Paul Schrader's American Gigolo (1980) and Cat People (1982). I'd argue that Scarfiotti's most identifiable work as a production designer is the 1992 Robin Williams film Toys. Heavily influenced by the work of surrealist artist, René Magritte, Scarfiotti combined elements of the artist's paintings with components of artistic movements such as Futurism and Modernism filtering them through a late eighties/early nineties postmodern aesthetic that included references to Ettore Sottsass's Memphis Milano collective. The Last Emperor may be responsible for Scarfiotti's Oscar but Toys is the film that cemented his reputation as a titan of production design. Scarfiotti's mark on cinema and art design is undeniable, he was a true visionary who had an incredible ability to create distinctive cinematic worlds with an eye for detail unrivalled by many of his contemporaries. Although Fair Game is not the best example of Scarfiotti's work (hampered by a smaller budget and limited premise) it's still a showcase of the art director's approach to set design and his interpretation of 1980s styles of the time. In honour of Scarfiotti's work, I'm going to examine some of the set design on display in Fair Game and how the film represents key trends of the era. 

As the majority of the Fair Game's action is contained to Eva's home, set design is integral in maintaining visual interest and variation. The architectural design of the apartment is the film's focal point and much of Fair Game's narrative hinges on Eva moving through the various spaces in her apartment in an attempt to evade the mamba. The apartment must act as a maze as well as a place of visual interest and the intricacies of Scarfiotti's design allows for the audience to discover new areas of the apartment that initially appear hidden. In order to achieve this, Scarfiotti breaks up a large almost warehouse like space with various partitions and architectural features. Considering the film's simplistic narrative this is particularly clever as Scafiotti's design creates various different spaces for Eva to explore, progressing the film's plot as she slowly moves through her labyrinthian home. The lack of obstructions i.e. doors makes for a more believable premise - Eva can't shut herself off from the creature, essentially finding herself trapped in a large open space. The strange architectural and interior design features create places for Eva to hide and for the mamba to lurk. I particularly like the wooden and steel rafters that the mamba slithers along creating danger from above. 

There's plenty of architectural and interior design elements that cement Fair Game as an example of late 1980s design in film. One of my favourite qualities of postmodern design is its playful nature and humorous and referential self awareness. Postmodernism typically associated with the late 1980s to early 1990s is often regarded as having a fake quality - it's almost set like and artificial in nature. You can attribute this to the simplification of classical design elements and the way in which they're combined with the simplicities of modernist principles. There's something almost jarring about classical elements of architecture simplified and replicated in more modern materials and styles i.e. the very fake looking marble columns. A particular example of postmodernist design in Fair Game is the kitchen partition consisting of a grid design that is typical of the works of postmodernists like Aldo Rossi (see the San Cataldo cemetery for reference) and the works of Maltese architect, Richard England. England in particular would construct buildings that would consist of different structures, often fusing classical elements like an ornate pediment with modernist qualities like functional square windows. You can see this idea on an interior design level above; a grid like screen contains the apartment's kitchen whereas on the other side of the room, two neoclassical columns stand for ornamental purposes, industrial rafters combine these two elements together and draw the eye from one end of the warehouse to the other. The screen cap above perhaps best represents the production design of the film as it shows the almost funhouse like quality of Eva's apartment. It's easy to see how the design of the apartment would lend itself to the cat and mouse game played between Eva and the mamba whilst showcasing some of the more overt elements of late 1980s interior design. 

Scarfiotti continues this funhouse element to production design in Eva's apartment with his use of side stepped stairs in contrasting colours. The exposed staircase evokes M C Escher's Relativity - a structure that seemingly leads nowhere. The screen grab above makes it look like the stairs continue on to the ceiling as opposed to a room or landing. This strange Escher like quality is emphasised by the platform at the top of the stairs that hangs over Eva's bed, a feature that has no real purpose other than to highlight the apartment's funhouse like feel. Further on in the film's narrative, it's revealed that these stairs lead to Eva's bathroom but as this is not obvious from the set design it creates a sort of spatial discrepancy. Things to do not appear as they seem in Eva's home - initially her apartment looks to be an open space but features like columns and screens hide and obscure areas or make them appear different from various angles. Again, Scarfiotti conceals and reveals through set design. Another scene shows Eva climbing two sets of ladders in order to reach the apartment's rafters again this creates a jarring feel to the film as we've been previously shown a staircase that reaches up to one level and is significantly smaller. Examining Scarfiotti's other work on a larger scale like Toys, this seems deliberate, he likes to play with perception and scale in order to create surreal worlds that feel at odds with reality. 

Interior design wise, Scarfiotti's work on Fair Game is partly reflective of a prominent design trend in the 1980s known as Southwestern. Southwestern design was heavily influenced by Native American, colonial Spanish and Texmex styles and influences. Typical design motifs that are associated with the style are Navajo/Ikat textile patterns (as evidenced in the couch throw in the picture above), tromp d'oil scenes of Southwestern locales, mixed wood architectural features, tiling, Native American artwork and the use of colours such as peach, apricot, red, orange, green and turquoise. Several of these design elements are apparent in Scarfiotti's design but the kitschiness of the design movement is paired back by combining it with elements of other 1980s design styles such as Memphis Milano. What's perhaps interesting about this choice of design style is that it echoes the film's opening scenes in the Mojave desert and emphasises the exotic nature of the creature at the heart of the film. It also feels fitting for a film that takes place in LA - perfectly melding west coast desert style with California cool. Unusually the film's set features a set of stairs leading to what appears to be a garden but is in actual fact a high walled courtyard full of oversized greenery. Again, this plays with your perception of the building's layout but it also frames the living area with a jungle like exterior again, evoking the exotic nature of the mamba's indigenous home. Of course, overblown greenery is another trend of 1980s design and typically utilised in Southwestern design schemes with an emphasis on bringing the outside in i.e. southern tromp d'oils, cattle motifs, horseshoes etc. Another film that embodies this Southwestern aesthetic is Donald Cammell's Arizona set White of the Eye (1987) which exhibits some of these interior design qualities although perhaps in a more overt fashion due to its desert setting. 

Fair Game's poster features Trudie Styler cowering on a black and white checkerboard floor. The checkerboard flooring is an inspired design choice and works particularly well with the Fair Game title as opposed to Mamba. I like how Scarfiotti and the film's poster art play up the game like element with a floor resembling a chess board. Obvious perhaps, but it works at driving home the film's central premise and Gene's job as a video game designer. It's unfortunate that nowadays black and white checkerboard floors have a certain connotation, every film that features one seems to be automatically tied to the masons, the illuminati and all of these dubious cultural conspiracy websites. There's so many examples of checkerboard floors in films from this period and although some would argue there's something sinister afoot, I'm more inclined to believe it's purely due to a design trend of the era. Look at the artwork of someone like Japanese artist, Yukio Kitta and you'll see this motif reflected time and time again. In fact, two films I associate with 1980s/1990s postmodern design sensibilities both have this design feature in them - Domino (1988) and Scissors (1991). There's also several examples of this sort of flooring peppered throughout television series, Miami Vice. The checkerboard floor is perhaps more reflective of 80s deco but as I mentioned above, different design elements of the era downplay the potential kitschiness/theme like nature of Southwestern design. The sleek marble checkerboard flooring contrasts nicely against Eva's  canary yellow table set and Ikat runner. Note the brightly coloured sculptures dotted around the table and kitchen which reflect Eva's postmodern sculptures. 

As previously mentioned, much of Fair Game's suspense and tension arises from Eva navigating her labyrinthian apartment as she attempts to evade a hormonal, aggressive mamba. Eva is trapped inside her apartment and this is humorously alluded to through the film's production design. In one scene, Eva covers her kitchen floor in flour before jumping on top of her fridge out of the mamba's way. As she cowers on the fridge, we see Eva framed by a large mint green window positioned at a slanted angle. Again the film's funhouse like feel is accentuated by an off kilter childish architectural feature. The windowpane looks out onto the apartment's brick exterior wall - a silly visual nod to Eva's imprisonment in her own home. Another sly wink to the audience in a typically postmodern way.
What's nice visually about this scene is that set design and costume design have worked in tandem  -the mint green window frame perfectly mirrors Eva's sweatshirt. 

Alongside the film's interior design there's some interesting furniture/design pieces on display. Eva's television cabinet is clearly influenced by Memphis Milano design with its triangular and circular lacquered shapes and use of the primary colour yellow echoing the playful nature of the design movement. Eva's desk lamp is also somewhat influenced by Memphis Milano design baring similarities to Robert Sonneman for George Kovacs desk lamp that paid homage to Ettore Sotsass and co. It's reminiscent of the work of collective member, Andrea Branzi with its use of the material lucite and its aqua tinged translucent light. The desk lamp also has elements of another eighties design style - 1980s deco which is reflected in its curved shape and column with stacked base. Finally, Eva's kettle feels somewhat postmodern in design - typically I associate postmodern appliances with Michael Grave for Alessi's conical kettle but there's several examples of unusual forms of kettle from this period. The squashed nature of the appliance with its industrial spout has a passing resemblance to Richard Sapper's 1982 9091 kettle for Alessi. The handle is evocative of a kettle bell which feels in keeping with the humorous, pun like nature of postmodernism. 

This blog entry perhaps suggests that Fair Game's production design is passe and a relic of an era that has long since passed but I'd personally argue that the film's art direction has similarities with interior design trends that we're seeing in 2017. Eighties postmodernism is slowly but surely gaining reappraisal and is now reaching a new level of appreciation with audiences. The resurgence of Memphis designs such as the Bacterio print, the listing of notorious British PoMo buildings like no1 Poultry and a tumblr fascination with "ugly house" design has stoked the fires for a full blown revival of design from this period. The contrasting colour palette and colour blocking in Eva's house wouldn't look out of place in the homes of hip twenty-somethings (see the millennial pink wall in the screen grab above contrasted with a cobalt blue steel rivet door and white walls and ceilings). Unusual forms like the appliances and fixtures above are becoming more common place - perhaps a reaction against stiff minimalism and Southwestern design pieces sit in Urban Outfitters alongside 80s marble and hexagonal jewellery boxes and Memphis notebooks. Truly, we are entering a PoMo, 1980s revival and Scarfiotti's production design is a perfect throwback to where some of these trends originated from.

Fair Game is by no means a great film but for those with an interest in Ferdinando Scarfiotti's career and approach to visual design it's well worth a watch. Fair Game is a surprisingly good example of Italian design of this era and dare I say reflective of some of the trends that have influenced interior design in 2017.

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