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, RenĂ© 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.

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 

My Italian Horror/Gialli Themed Wedding

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

I got married a year ago on Sunday so I thought it was only fitting to write a blog post about the design aspects of the day as the look of my wedding was heavily influenced by the production design in gialli and Italian horror cinema from the sixties and seventies. In particular, there was a strong aesthetical influence from Dario Argento's Suspiria alongside style cues from the likes of Mario Bava's Blood & Black Lace and Black Sabbath. I thought I'd share with you the thought processes behind various elements of the big day alongside images of how those ideas came together. Hopefully fans of the genre will appreciate the stylistic nods to the films we all so dearly love represented through traditional wedding fare.


So I guess the big question is why did I theme my wedding around Italian thrillers of the sixties and seventies? Gialli is obviously a major passion of mine that I wanted to incorporate into my day on some level, however, the choice of theme extended far beyond my love of old Italian thrillers. I'm heavily into design whether it be in fashion, film, interiors or architecture so getting the right feel to my wedding day aesthetically was really important. To me, the gialli of yore embodies a design sensibility that really resonates with my own tastes. It's a grandiose style that meshes modernist design with a classical Italian penchant for ornate elegance. Although cinematic offerings like The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh might have been a little too zany to incorporate into the overall look of the wedding, earlier gialli like Bava's Blood & Black Lace were the perfect inspiration for a day that needed to be classy but stylised. By choosing these films as the basis for my wedding's look, I was paying homage to the cinema I love but I was also choosing a style that resonated with my aesthetical leanings. Ultimately, a wedding isn't primarily for yourself so this look allowed me to express my interests, passions and style but in a way that other people could appreciate and enjoy on a surface level without necessarily understanding the references. I wanted people to attend my wedding and view it as something different to the usual Scottish weddings in country houses and hotels. Most of all I hoped that people would enjoy all the effort that went into creating those different elements - something that didn't seem worth it when everything had to be painstakingly designed and created.



The Venue

Funnily enough, Edinburgh isn't exactly a hotbed for Italian design and although it has its fair share of Gothic venues, I wanted something a little more ornate and on theme for my big day. After tearing my hair out for about a year trying to find a venue, it dawned on me that an old bar haunt of mine, The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh, was the perfect fit for a wedding heavily influenced by the elaborate production design of the Italian thriller. The Voodoo Rooms is a fantastic bar/restaurant located on the upper floor of an 19th century building tucked away behind Princes Street. The venue has some wonderful original features that give it a really distinctive feel and it features a lot of ornate detailing such as elaborate ceilings and cornices. It feels very theatrical as a setting with a heavy use of gold throughout its rooms - perfect for a wedding inspired by the production design of 1960s Bava films. I particularly love the arched windows that run along the outside of the bar which are uplit in red - very Argento.



Like anyone with a passion for Italian genre cinema, the beautiful lighting of Bava and Argento's work is something that feels so integral to one's appreciation of the aesthetics of these films. 
From the day I started planning, I knew coloured lighting was an integral element for the day. A bonus of The Voodoo Rooms is that it has a great lighting deck in its ballroom as well as twinkling lights embedded into the fabric walls. This spectacular lighting was key in achieving the Bavaesque look I was going for. Most weddings have very bright lighting/daylight for their wedding breakfast but the dark windowless ballroom illuminated with coloured lights, twinkling wall lights and candle light really achieved a dramatic, different look that was bang on theme.

The wedding meal and reception took place in the venue's ballroom which is a fantastic space - not only for the great lighting as mentioned above but also for its stage, ornate ceilings, draping and amazing DJ booth. Very little had to be done to the space; the chairs were gold so perfectly matched the theme and the tables were draped in black tablecloths echoing the black draping on the walls. The black and gold look of the room worked incredibly well with the gold table centrepieces which I go into detail about down below.



The Stationery

I knew that I wasn't going to find the sort of wedding stationery I was looking for online and a cursory glance on Etsy seemed to confirm this so I decided to get some designed. I talked to a few people who were ridiculously expensive before putting a call out on twitter for help. Luckily an amazing graphic designer called Jaci answered my call. I told her the kind of thing I was looking for and she got to work setting up a pinterest board in which I pinned a load of images that I liked from Italian genre cinema. Jaci gave me really good advice and told me to pin images that had shapes and motifs that I liked and would like included in the invites as well as potential typographies. You'll notice most of the ones that made it to the final board are from Suspiria but you'll also see Inferno, Five Dolls for an August Moon, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, The Frightened Woman, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears and Kubrick's 2001 (!!!) represented. After discussion about text, layout and other features, Jaci went away and designed 3 designs that matched the brief. I don't want to share Jaci's other designs here as they're obviously not my work to share but her original designs included a beautiful recreation of Suspiria's art nouveau doorways with the invite text inside the door. Ultimately, I rejected it due to the kaleidoscopic look feeling a little much for a wedding invite but they were really beautiful designs - sadly I felt that they weren't soft enough for the day so we went back to the drawing board. At this stage I had more of an idea of what I wanted and decided I wanted to use Pat's apartment lobby from Suspiria and her M C Escher walls as the major design elements for the wedding stationery. Jaci absolutely nailed this concept as you can see in the beautiful invites down below. Alongside wedding invites, Jaci designed RSVP cards, place cards, order of services and evening invites. 




                                   

Jaci's website can be found here.

The Tables

Contrary to what you might think, I was conscious of including my husband in the wedding planning and I thought it was important to have his personality and interests represented too. Originally, I wanted to have each table named after a different giallo director but as my husband is such a fan of cinema in general, it didn't seem fair to exclude his passions from the table planning. Instead, we decided that we'd name each table after a director we liked so although I managed to get a few gialli directors in there, there's also a fair few non Italian directors. We decided to name our tables after; Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Fritz Lang, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Francis Ford Coppola and Nicolas Windin Refn.


I bought nine golden baroque style frames to put the table names into. The look of the frames was important as they had to compliment the venue's setting as well as have that Italian film look. It's typical to see golden baroque style fixtures in the Italian films of the sixties and seventies so I took Bava's The Telephone segment from Black Sabbath and Blood & Black Lace as inspiration and looked for frames with a similar look to the ornamental bed frame and mirror from The Telephone as well as the picture frames from B&BL. I then tried to find artistic posters online to my liking that would fit a director's name. I looked for fonts that would fit each poster and inserted each director's name into the appropriate poster.

I worked with my florist on the the table centrepieces. I wanted the tables to be a real focal point of the room that mirrored the cinematic theme so we dressed the tables with various items such as gold candelabras and birdcages. The candelabras were a homage to Inferno and the birdcages were a reference to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.


Favours & Table Place Cards

People did suggest J&B bottles as favours but I felt this would have been a little obvious and wouldn't have fitted so well with the theming of the wedding. I got engaged in Canada and Montreal is one of our favourite places so we went for maple candies as favours - something my husband really appreciated when he was scoffing them all beforehand. I wanted the favour boxes to fit with the theme so we looked once again to Suspiria for inspiration. We made a template on cardboard in the wedding colours which when cut out and folded made a triangular box. The triangular favour box was supposed to resemble the giant triangular lift light in the foyer of Pat's apartment in Suspira. The table's place cards were a simplified version of the wedding stationery's design with the rhombus and circle design from Pat's foyer. My dad is talented at calligraphy so he conducted the pain staking task of writing each name in gold ornate lettering that mirrored the lift's gold curved shapes in the film.


Music

For the wedding breakfast I decided on a playlist filled with music from Italian soundtracks. I went for pieces that had a Bossa Nova, lounge music feel which really complimented the mood of the meal and the relaxed setting. I thought it would be best to stay away from the more bombastic, experimental and sinister pieces of genre music and go for tracks that felt for the most part, leisurely and fun. I can't tell you how much the music added to the atmosphere of the meal and it just felt very cool and chilled sitting eating a meal to the sounds of The Five Dolls for an August Moon soundtrack.

You can listen to my wedding breakfast soundtrack here on Spotify featuring music from Bruno Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani, Piero Umiliani and Riz Ortolani.


The Cake

Continuing on from the Suspiria production design themed wedding stationery, I decided upon a similar design for the cake. I took the invitations Jaci designed for me to local cake shop, Liggys and worked with the lovely staff on a design. We decided to repeat the M S Escher wallpaper from Suspiria on each cake tier and then added the circle and diamond pattern onto the edges of the cake tiers. My florist then finished off the look topping the cake with flowers from the centrepiece and my bouquet. For anyone that's interested, we had three cake flavours; lemon and poppyseed, chocolate and toffee. Note the art nouveau cake serving knife which again mirrors the art nouveau elements in Suspiria's production design.


Guestbook

I found an incredible French seller on Etsy who creates wedding guestbooks from antique French books. I settled on this cover as it feels very much in keeping with the wedding's theming evoking the feel of Suspiria with its red and gold art nouveau style cover. It's also a bit of an odd to the famous little red book in Blood & Black Lace. I also liked that the gold lines intersected in a familiar patten to the Three Mothers Varelli book in Argento's Inferno. As I'm Scottish, it felt fitting to have a cover that incorporates our country's national flower, the thistle, into its design. 



Flowers

Again, the flowers were inspired by Mario Bava's Blood & Black Lace. One of the most striking aspects of the film is the opening credits sequence which features the various actors posed with colourful blooms bathed in jewel lighting (see the picture in the venue section above for reference). Multicoloured blooms look fantastic in this scene but for a wedding with a colour scheme of coral red and dove grey, this colour palette for our flowers would have been a bit overwhelming especially held against dresses. Instead, working with my amazing florist (The Enchanted Florist) we decided on red, white and magenta flowers in various shades. I wanted to replicate the full bloom look of the Blood & Black Lace scene so my florist picked flowers in season that mirrored the hydrangeas and roses from the film. I also showed my florist other examples of flowers featured in gialli i.e. the flowers from Short Night of Glass Dolls, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and Death Walks on High Heels and we looked for flowers that mimicked these shapes. As you can see in the various pictures on this post, there's some really interesting floral shapes that really add to the theatrical vibe of the day. I can't praise the girls at The Enchanted Florist highly enough, a lot of the florists I looked at were traditional wedding florists and tended to offer arrangements that came straight out of wedding magazines and pinterest boards, which obviously there's a huge demand for, but what I love about the Enchanted Florist is that they were really into doing theatrical displays that were different and unique to the couple. In fact before my wedding, they did a Tim Burton themed wedding for another couple.



Bridesmaids Dresses

As evidenced in my blog, I've always loved the seventies style fashions featured throughout Italian genre films and I wanted to reflect this in my bridesmaids dresses. I didn't want to put my poor bridesmaids in something too outlandish so it was quite the task settling on dresses that matched the brief and matched up to what the girls felt comfortable wearing. I took inspiration from Suspiria once again and looked for dresses similar to the ones worn by the ballet school's students in the scene that takes place in the room with the blue iris. I noted that these dresses were typically maxi in length and featured fluttered sleeves and v-necks. I looked for dresses that matched this look but in the wedding's colours of coral and dove grey/blue. I settled on coral dresses from ASOS that we did minor alterations to. These dresses are similar in style to the lilac number Sara wears in the aforementioned scene. My sister as maid of honour was dressed in a dove grey/blue dress with embellishment on the bodice that mirrored some of the ornate detailing seen in these films. For shoes, I went with classic gold t-bar heels as worn by Suzy Banyon in Suspiria. 



Pat's dress second to right


Films

I originally had planned to continually project a piece I edited together featuring some of our favourite movies however, this proved to be difficult and I ran out of time which left me with an incomplete film. Instead, I opted for playing a couple of films and trailers that inspired the wedding's look to show guests the theme and to add a bit of Italian film magic to the wedding reception. The biggest problem was the violence so I had the joyous task of editing the violent content out of Blood & Black Lace, Suspiria and Inferno the day before the wedding. It wasn't too difficult but I forgot about the violence/nudity in the trailers so below you have the slightly hilarious image of my guests looking at the nudity in Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. The trailers I included were for; Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Le orme, Etoile, Red Rings of Fear, Short Night of Glass Dolls, The Heroin Busters, The Sweet Body of Deborah, Colt 38 Special Squad, Rome Armed to the Teeth and Suspicious Death of a Minor.



Photography

I'd like to thank Edinburgh photographer Loraine Ross for taking all of the wonderful photos I've used in this post. I really wanted all of the film elements photographed and Loraine did a fantastic job capturing the mood of the day and the individual elements. All images copyright to Loraine Ross.

I want to say a big thank you to all my wonderful wedding vendors. I know it's not the easiest of themes especially for a wedding but everyone involved in the big day really got on board with the concept and delivered some fantastic results. I was completely overwhelmed when I entered the venue at how well everything had come together and I really feel like I was successful in putting on a wedding that embodied that Italian genre cinema vibe but still felt classy and wedding appropriate. I'd also like to say a big huge thank you to all of my family and friends who attended. There was a lot of bullshit in the run up but the day was a huge success and the love and support that everyone showed me on the big day meant the world to me. I hope you all appreciated the look of the wedding and now understand a bit about the inspiration behind it!


The New York Ripper's "Missing" Scene

Sunday, 8 October 2017

In some copies of The New York Ripper (primarily the old Anchor Bay release as well as the French release) there's an interesting scene near the end of the film in which psychiatrist Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco) is shown standing on a New York street. Davis wears an expression that's almost a smirk which turns to a troubled look before he turns and walks down the street. As Dr Davis turns to walk away, there's a freeze frame lasting roughly 10 seconds before the film cuts to a scene of Peter's daughter crying all alone in her hospital bed. In this version of the film, Davis is the last character we see bar Peter's daughter suggesting there's some significance to the scene's inclusion and Davis' appearance at this point in the film.

However, Davis' costuming is at odds with his outfit in the scene immediately before it and the sequence certainly doesn't play out like a flashback scene. The scene's location is the same as an earlier sequence making it clear that this was filmed at the same time as the aforementioned scene in which Lieutenant Fred Williams and Dr Davies discuss the NY Ripper before Williams gets into a police car and drives off. It's evident that the scene of Davis' with freeze-frame was supposed to have happened at the point Williams drives off leaving Davis standing alone on the street but the reasons for its insertion at the end point in the film is one that has left genre fans baffled.

One could conclude that by inserting the scene at the end of the film, it would cast doubt in the mind of the viewer over the identity of the real culprit. However, the film wraps up its story fairly well and there's no need to cast aspersions over Davis character as the film's story concluded effectively. There would be no real point in including Peter's daughter at the end of the film if Davis was the true culprit. The scene is obviously not supposed to be in this part of the film and I wonder if whoever inserted the scene here did so in order to give the film an ambiguous ending as horror fans love an ending with a bit of a question mark. This is pure speculation on my part but I can't think of another reason as to why the scene would have been muddled up when it's so blatantly in the wrong place in the film's narrative.

The Freeze-frame

It's interesting that the scene was omitted from the film altogether in some releases of The New York Ripper as it alludes to Dr Davis' being involved in the killings. The Another World Entertainment and Blue Underground Blu-Ray releases contains this scene but inserted where it presumably was supposed to be - at the end of the scene in which Williams and Davis discuss the case on a New York street. Examining the scene in its correct place, it does hint at Davis' involvement in the killings and it certainly would help the viewer to draw their own conclusions especially in conjunction with some of Davis' other behaviour i.e. the gay porn magazine scene. To further confuse matters, there's speculation that the freeze-frame was never intended to be in the film and is in fact, a relic of when Italian films were shown in cinemas with a break for intermission - typically a film frame would freeze and fade to black before the lights went up. If you believe this is the reason behind the freeze-frame it makes the supposed red herring of Davis' guilt somewhat irrelevant as his expressions alone would make for a tenuous link to his role as killer. Never the less, it's always fun to speculate on seemingly innocuous scenes. If this scene was never muddled up in the first place I guess genre fans wouldn't have been discussing it so many years after the film's release.

I thought it would also be of interest to discuss another, rather bizarre scene at the film's end which takes place in the back of a police car. The scene is a tight mid shot of Fay Majors in the middle of the back seat of a police car with Dr. Davis and Lt. Williams crammed either side of her. What's always struck me about the scene is the strange behaviour expressed by Lieutenant Williams. His facial expression is one of distain as he glowers at victim, Fay. Williams continuously looks Fay up and down in much the same way one would look at someone they despise/are repulsed by. One could argue that this is down to Hedley's portrayal of a hard boiled New York lieutenant with a jaded attitude to the horrors of his work but in my eyes, the lack of empathy expressed by Williams towards Fay is very telling and feels emblematic of The New York Ripper's themes as whole, demonstrating the lack of compassion felt by its characters. In conjunction with the film's final scenes of Peter's daughter crying out alone followed by a shot of cars driving down a bleak and barren New York road punctuated by skyscrapers in the distance, it gives the film an incredibly nihilistic and bleak film almost comically enhanced by the punchy slap bass driven soundtrack that plays as the credits roll over the scene.


As I've touched upon in my previous piece on the film, Lieutenant Williams is far from your traditional cop. Typically, a character like Williams would be your archetypal hero - saving a victim heroically from the killer in the knick of time however, Williams reluctance earlier on in the film to save the prostitute tells us plenty about his character. I'd describe Williams as someone who is fairly self serving and masquerades somewhat under the veneer of his title as a lieutenant. Yes, Williams wants to catch the killer but does he really care about the killer's victims and saving Fay? Is Williams more concerned with his own ego than that of his victim's wellbeing? It's certainly debatable. Although the New York Ripper doesn't offer the most nuanced look at gender politics, I find it interesting that Williams seems to express such a distain for women. The ending scene with Williams certainly suggests that he feels anything but sympathy for Fay's ordeal which makes for a rather bleak ending. Despite the killer's intentions being revealed as something non sexual altogether, the film exposes the sexual deviancies and questionable behaviour of its characters in such a way that it's hard to feel any great sense of empathy towards any of them and this is perhaps what is most effective about the film - New York is very much a cesspit for the morally corrupt, there is no happy ending to the film.

I'm sure other fans of the film will have their own interpretations of the scene and I'm sure some will say it's Hedley's character's hardened attitude and no indication of ill will towards the character of Fay. Regardless, I certainly think it's a powerful ending and Davis' compassionate attitude towards Fay with comforting gestures certainly makes for a great contrast against Williams despondent behaviour. Let me know your own thoughts about the scene down in the comment box below.

Thanks to Michael MacKenzie for providing me with the scene in question and for sourcing information about the missing scene for me - very much appreciated!

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 



The Notturno Giorgio Armani Telephone & The Telephone & The Giallo

Thursday, 28 September 2017

For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of watching an Italian film is the endless display of period fashion, interior design and architecture. I've dabbled a little bit when it comes to writing about some of the distinctive pieces and designs on offer throughout these films but wanted to write this stand alone piece about an item that caught my eye that I recently discovered trawling the web. 

Embarrassingly, the item in question comes from Ruggero Deodato's 1988 phone based horror, Dial:Help. The reason it's embarrassing is due to my blog now having three posts on the film despite its lack of connection to the blog's focus, gialli, but also because it's renowned for being an awful example of Italian horror and an illustration of where the rot really started to set in in the Italian film industry. Despite all of that, my penchant for late Italian design really shines through in this film - no doubt the blog's number of entries on the film will be brought up to four when I inevitably examine the film's interior design and architecture but for now, let's focus on what I consider to be the stand out piece of design in the film.


Dial:Help's premise is simple. Jenny, a model from London, is trying to make it in the Italian fashion world but personal demons are interfering with her glamorous new life on the continent. Her Italian lover (an architect no less) has ceremoniously dumped Jenny. Inevitably heart broken, the only logical way to cure her heartache is to contact a lonely hearts telephone line. However, the operators mysteriously disappeared long ago and by phoning the lonely hearts line Jenny has unwittingly unleashed their souls. In a twist on the classic haunting trope, Jenny finds herself stalked by ghosts who wreck havoc via the medium of the telephone.

Like many films of the 1980s, Dial:Help has a predilection with rapidly changing technologies and although the film is mostly fluff, it is an example of a cinematic trend that mirrored the societal skepticism/distrust of an ever increasingly technological world which really magnified during the decade of excess and technological advancement. Dial:Help is not a seminal piece of horror social commentary (of course not!) but like many horror films of all eras, it does tap into very real societal fears even if it is executed horribly. Watching the film in present day, it feels hopelessly dated in a world where most people of my generation don't own a landline but the outdated technology (and how its utilised to produce inventive kills) is part of its charm. As phones are an intrinsic part of the film's storyline, the set dressers of Dial:Help prominently feature a variety of telephones that at the time, were cutting edge examples of technological design. One phone in particular that captured my imagination was the Giorgio Armani Notturno telephone which is shown in Jenny's PoMo apartment. The phone may be a source of horror for our protagonist but it's hard to be spooked by this spectacular piece of design that still feels contemporary in 2017.


The phone was produced by the Italian telephone company, Italtel in partnership with Giorgio Armani in the late 1980s. The telephone embodies late 1980s sleek, minimalist design perfectly fitting in with Dial:Help's black and white grid like interiors and use of sickly neon green and yellow. The phone is made of black lucite giving it a glossy appearance and is in a simple rectangular shape with the handset perfectly fitting into its thick base. A LED strip light runs down the centre of the phone's handset and when it rings, a fluorescent green light runs down the middle of the strip visually alerting the owner of an incoming telephone call. Sadly, there's very little information in regards to the year the phone went into production. A Notturno phone currently listed on Etsy shows a 1989 year stamp on the base of the phone but other sources cite the phone's production year as 1987/1988. I'm inclined to believe the phone first went into circulation earlier than 1989 as the film itself was produced in 1988 although it is feasible that the set dressers of Dial:Help had access to a prototype/model before it went to market).


Several other phones are featured prominently throughout the film from pay phones to cordless handsets with massive aerials. It's a fun time capsule of late eighties technological design which is sure to be a trip down memory lane for some. What's perhaps most interesting about the film is to consider the role of the telephone in Italian horror and the giallo. In many ways, the phone feels like an intrinsic part of the Italian horror. From the giallo's cinematic beginnings in Mario Bava's Blood & Black Lace (1964) we see emphasis placed on the image of a woman fearfully answering a telephone. In the example of Blood & Black Lace, Eva Bartok's character, Christina answering her crimson rotary red telephone with a simple "pronto" is synonymous with the genre and has been replicated several times over (see The Red Queen Kills 7 Times and The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh). Numerous examples of the classic rotary phone exist (likely to be in many cases, the Siemens S62 which was the most popular rotary phone in Italy during the 1960s-1980s) throughout the genre (usually in black, cream, green and blue; see Perversion Story, Strip Nude for Your Killer and Death Walks on High Heels for starters) but several other phones of note have appeared in key examples of the giallo. 


The unconventional giallo debut of Luciano Ercoli, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) 's iconic visual is of Ercoli's wife, Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott) strewn over a bed holding a strikingly futuristic blue telephone. The phone in question is an Ericofon (known as the cobra phone for its snake like shape) designed by Swedish telecommunication company, Ericsson. The phone was brought to market in the 1950s and is considered to be one of the landmark industrial designs of the latter half of the twentieth century for its revolutionary design and the incorporation of dial and handset into a single unit. The Ericofon is undoubtedly a seminal example of modernist design and for this reason, it fits perfectly with the late sixties/early seventies gialli which have elements of futuristic space age design (see the furniture in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and nightclub interior in The Case of the Bloody Iris).


Perhaps one of my favourite examples of phone design in a giallo and one the genre introduced me to is the Grillo. The Grillo was designed in 1965 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Siemens and was named as such due to its distinctive ring which sounded like a cricket chirping (grillo is the Italian word for cricket). The phone is notable for its clamshell like appearance and revolutionary receiver which activated once its flip mechanism was released. Due to this distinctive flip feature the grillo is considered to be a precursor to the mobile flip phone. The Grillo's revolutionary design led to it being featured in a number of gialli such as The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971) and Death Carries a Cane (1973). However, its most notable use is in Luigi Bazzoni's 1975 quasi giallo, Footprints on the Moon (1975). Footprints is an anomaly when it comes to Italian thrillers and design as it features stark, minimalist interiors in a predominantly white colour palette which means its very much at odds with the colourful, busy interiors associated with the genre. The film has nods to 1950s sci fi, psychiatry and urban sprawl and isolation and all of these elements are reflected in the film's set design - a future post examining this in further detail is currently in progress. The Grillo is the perfect technological accessory in Alice's clinical looking apartment complimenting her minimalist modernist Le Corbusier style furniture in chrome and leather. The phone is prominently featured in one shot which has led to many viewers questioning the origin of this strange looking phone.


Finally, to come full circle, another prominent piece of technological design on display in the giallo/Italian horror is the transparent telephone which can be seen in Dial:Help as well as 1970s fare such as Baba Yaga (1973) and The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974). The transparent (or clear phone) is mostly identical to other models of phones (i.e. the rotary phones mentioned above) with the notable difference being their transparent casing showing the inner workings of the phone. Typically the transparent phone is associated with the late eighties/nineties but examples existed back in the late sixties/seventies and the models on display in the aforementioned films are similar to the British GPO clear 746. Dial:Help featured a more modern example of this style of design incorporating a neon pink trim around the phone's casing.


I intended to focus on the Notturno phone and its prominent role in Dial:Help but I couldn't give up the opportunity to discuss some other notable examples of telephones in Italian horror. What are some of your favourite handsets from the world of Italian horror? Do you like the antique style golden rotary phones of So Sweet...So Dead (1969) or the cordless aerial phones of Delirium? Please leave a comment or drop me a tweet and let me know! If you've enjoyed this slightly different entry and want more posts of this ilk feedback is very much appreciated. One last thing, remember, the killer is on the phone!

Update

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Hello readers, it's been a while since I've last updated the blog so I've decided to write a bit of an update to explain where I'm at with my writing and why I've been absent from here and Twitter for a while now. I hope it explains why there's been a lack of new content and I really, really hope my loyal readers and followers understand why I've been absent from here. Sorry if I don't explain this very well but I thought I needed to give an explanation for the lull so you don't all think I've given up or can't be bothered anymore.

So where am I at? I've tweeted a few times about working on a few pieces for the blog and this is true. I've been managing to get some writing done here and there and I've been editing some old pieces that are near completion and sitting in my drafts. Currently, I have blogger drafts in the three figures so I can assure you that I've been true to my word and have been working on all of the things I've said I've been. However, at the moment I really feel like I'm losing sight of my passion which has made writing difficult. I don't want to go into my personal circumstances because, let's be honest, nobody really cares about that but what I will say is that I've been going through some personal troubles which means some days I'm unable to find the motivation to do anything. As pathetic as it sounds, even just managing to garner enough interest to watch a film feels like a personal achievement (and if we're going all confessional getting out of bed some days can be a daunting task). It's hard when your state of mind prevents you from really enjoying anything or being able to engage with the things you love and it's especially hard when you know you're capable but can't quite get there. I guess what I'm trying to get across is that I really want to be able to write about the films I love but my head space isn't always in a place where I can do that (I realise I sound like the biggest loser right now!) Writing makes me feel like I have something to contribute (even if it is overly analytical pieces on Italian horror) so when I can't get there it feels like I'm really failing!

I've been delighted to help other people in the community and it's great discussing films and other people's projects with them but I find it frustrating sometimes due to my inability to tackle my own work. Sometimes it's easier to shy away from the community because it's a reminder of my own failings and I start to put pressure on myself to complete something and I get myself all worked up about it which makes things worse. If I don't reply to you/message you back/engage with your content I'm really sorry. I feel terribly guilty about missing what other people are up to and please, if you do have something you want me to read message me! I promise I will get to it in the end.

My biggest issue in all facets of my life is having low self esteem and when I'm in a place like the one I'm at now I tend to become ultra self critical so when I do manage to write, I constantly delete good material because in my mind, everything I do is rubbish. I have an article on Midnight Ripper which is so close to being complete yet every sentence I now write gets thrown out by me for being shit. In reality it's probably not that bad! Obviously, I need to learn to be less self critical and I've been coming on a bit the last few weeks - a great support network of friends and family have helped me tackle this issue and a really rough time in my life and I'm starting to feel like I can write again (maybe!) A special thanks to my Twitter pal Signor Wardh for checking up on me and giving me some decent advice!

I've wanted to have a blog dedicated to gialli since I was 17 and I never could have imagined that I would have a readership and people that want to read my perspective. It blows me away and I want to emphasise how grateful I am to everyone that takes the time to read my work, reply to my questions on Twitter or retweet/favourite my photo sets. I should take stock of what I have achieved like contributing to Arrow's release on Phenomena - who would have thought I'd be included in a release of one of my favourite directors? I'm always going to be annoyed at my lack of self confidence and the things it prevents me from doing. I think a lot about all the articles, projects and podcasts I might have done with a bit of self love. However, as things stand, I'm just grateful that people still follow me and enjoy my content. I promise I'll get there but thank you for understanding  (I hope!) as to why I need a little time to work on my issues.

Rachael

Obsession: A Taste for Fear (1988)

Friday, 2 June 2017

Also Known As: Pathos - Segreta inquietudine
Directed By: Piccio Raffanini
Starring: Virginia Hey, Gerard Darmon, Gioia Scola
Release Date: 1988
Country of Origin: Italy


Note: This review contains spoilers

The first time I sat down to watch Obsession: A Taste for Fear, I was admittedly skeptical. I always approach gialli from the eighties with a certain amount of trepidation due to their lower budgets and shoddier feel however, there was something about Obsession: A Taste for Fear's (aka Pathos) poster that compelled me to give it a watch. With its artistic poses of bronze and blue naked bodies set against a background of eighties video monitors the film peaked my stylistic sensibilities and, thankfully, the stylised artwork for the film was indeed indicative of the film itself. Over the next hour and a half I embarked on a mesmerising albeit bonkers journey through the futuristic, gloriously eighties world of Obsession: A Taste for Fear and I can safely say that it's now fast becoming one of my go to watches when I want to watch a later period giallo.

Obsession: A Taste for Fear wastes no time in commanding your attention, opening with a punchy, sexually savage scene that has you on the edge of your seat before just as quickly revealing that the violent events on screen are in fact part of a staged photoshoot. The film then introduces us to the main protagonist of the film - Diane, a hard nosed Australian photographer who makes a living from shooting sordid erotic scenes. She is flanked by her talented video engineer Paul and gorgeous model/assistant/live in lover Valerie. Things are going well for the trio until Diane's ex-husband, pornographer Georges, gets in touch requesting her attendance at one of his famously debauched parties. Diane obliges and goes to Georges, despite her better judgement, setting off a chain of events that dramatically change her life.

Violent delights have violent ends
Pornographer Georges is desperate to secure funding for his latest project, a 250ft television installation that showcases his erotic film work, so he asks Diane to help him by seducing beer tycoon and wealthy businessman, Franz Kanneman. Georges agrees to hook Diane up with party reveller and bodybuilder, Teagen in exchange for her help but lingering feelings and sexual jealousy abound as Diane tries to help her ex-husband whilst balancing her work life alongside her sexual proclivities. Not long after bedding Teagan and casting her as the main model in her latest project, Diane is paid a visit by no nonsense cop Lieutenant Arnold informing her (and Teagan's girlfriend) that Teagan's body has been discovered in a dumpster. Arnold has been assigned the case and its up to him to find Teagan's killer. Shortly after Arnold's visit, Diane receives a disk containing a chilling video of her new lover's murder in an elaborate S&M themed snuff video reminiscent of her ex-husband's work. Lieutenant Arnold picks up on this and immediately suspects Georges as the killer but the only problem with his theory is that the video clearly shows the killer to be a red headed woman. As the body count starts to rise it's up to Lieutenant Arnold and Diane to work together to find out the killer's true identity before they strike again.

The only cinematic entry of director Piccio Raffanini, Pathos is a surprisingly well crafted, atmospheric film dripping with eighties style. The film's plot is fairly run of the mill in gialli terms and the killer should be fairly obvious to those familiar with the genre and its tropes but overall, the plot and the killer make sense which, when it comes to gialli, is a blessing. What's perhaps most interesting about the film is not the core plot itself but the various details that Raffanini peppers throughout the movie, in particular the way in which he creates the subtle futuristic setting. It's a shame that Raffanini didn't get a chance to make a follow up to Pathos because the film showed plenty of talent and creativity. Prior to directing Pathos, Raffanini was involved in directing advertisements which somewhat explains the overtly stylised, music video approach he takes in his self penned film.


As par the course with films from this decade, there's more sex and nudity than your average giallo. There's a strong bondage, S&M theme throughout the film with Diane and Georges' using these ideas in their art. At one point the characters visit a bondage club appropriately called The Agony and the Ecstasy which feels like a more watered down version of the fabulous S&M club featured in the video for Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Fans of violence will be no doubt disappointed by the film which is light on gore bar a few quick shots of slashing. The hyper sexualised futuristic world is admittedly compelling but feels a world away from the giallo of the early 1970s. Sex is very much the emphasis of this film which is a real shame because it would have been a far more effective and satisfying watch with more of an emphasis on stylised kills. Your appreciation of Obsession: A Taste for Fear will depend on your tolerance for eighties style softcore at the expense of more traditional thriller elements.

One of Obsession: A Taste for Fears drawbacks is its admittedly lacklustre main protagonists and I'd partly attribute the film's failings to Virginia Hey's role as Diane. Hey's character comes across as abrasive and morally scrupulous with little compassion towards the people around her. She has an air of unlikability that makes it hard to root for her character. Lt. Arnold is a dull male protagonist who doesn't appear to have any notable attributes. I get the impression that Raffanini was trying to make him into the sort of calm, collected, chiselled hero but it just doesn't work due to his complete lack of screen presence and personality. Luckily, the supporting cast make up somewhat for the failings of the leads. Gerard Darmon (Betty Blue, Diva) as ex-husband Georges resembles a sleazy cross between Al Pacino and George Hilton. Gioia Scola shines in her role as Valerie and Carlo Mucari as Paul (who is strangely not credited in the film) does a good job of balancing the role of devoted employee and deranged maniac. The film's use of cameos in Australian body builder Teagan Morrison and Kid Creole as a seedy bookmaker helps to flesh out the surreal world of Obsession by filling it with a cast of eclectic characters.

"Give me a trial print out later"

Obsession: A Taste for Fear reminds me of films like The Eyes of Laura Mars and The Neon Demon which touch upon the idea of art imitating life and vice versa. This leads to some interesting ideas about complicity and distance and the blurring of the lines between fiction and reality. In Obsession: A Taste for Fear we are often watching events unfold on a video monitor with the murders staged in a fanciful way resembling the work of Georges and Diane which makes us, the audience, question if the events on screen are really happening. When we discover the true identity of the killer, we understand that his knowledge of Georges and Diane's work has allowed him to manipulate events allowing him to create his own twisted artistic vision in order to impress the object of his affections. This makes the viewer question Paul's grip on reality and if his constant subjection to the pornographic, sadomasochistic nature of Diane and Georges' work has had some sort of psychological impact on his person. Pathos doesn't answer this question and it's more than likely that Raffanini uses pornography and erotica to titillate the viewer rather than to pose meaningful questions about its effects however, it's something to bare thinking about and this analysis fits quite nicely into the themes of the film.

Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980) was clearly a source of inspiration in Raffanini's offering due to the killer obscuring his true identity by dressing as the opposite sex. Watching through modern eyes the film feels a bit problematic in its approach to the character of Paul. His motivation for dressing as a woman is never fully explained and as such, feels like a cheap way of distracting the viewer from an obvious suspect. Unlike De Palma's controversial 1980 film, Pathos does little to explore Paul's character and the psychological reasoning behind his actions. Whether Paul dressed as a woman purely to evade capture or due to genuine gender dysphoria we'll never know but it does feel slightly exploitative in its use of a character adopting another gender identity.

The killer is revealed

If you look at reviews for Pathos and the majority of Italian thrillers made in the 1980s and 1990s you'll see the same phrase used time and time again "It looks like a made for TV movie". Although this is a valid observation for the majority of films made throughout this period, it's a blanket statement that often flat out disregards the cinematography of films from this time period. Yes, the majority of these films look worse than their sixties and seventies counterparts but they often have a great deal going for them and shouldn't be dismissed outright for having a slightly cheaper feel. It might come as a surprise to some to learn that Obsession: A Taste for Fear's cinematographer was Romano Albani who is best known for his work on Dario Argento's Inferno (1980) and Phenomena (1985). Albani's panache for stylish visuals is evident throughout Pathos and the film features some creative shots and compositions that elevate the film above cheap eighties fare. Raffanini's directing style coupled with Albani's artistry makes for a giallo like no other. It's a real shame that the bootleg copies of the film in circulation are of a fairly poor quality as the visuals would really shine through a cleaned up print and would perhaps lend the film to reassessment from hardened fans of the genre.

Choose your outfit

What perhaps fascinates me the most about the film is Pathos' obsession with new technologies. From video monitors to mobile phones to computerised outfit selectors (predating Heckerling's Clueless by 8 years), A Taste for Fear revels in its futuristic eighties setting. Initially I was under the impression that the events took place in the year the film was made, 1988, but after a car chase scene that culminates in Lt. Arnold shooting a laser gun I realised that Pathos is clearly meant to take place in the not so distant future. Surprisingly, this strange futuristic universe really works for the film and sets it apart from your standard eighties giallo. One of the film's strengths is its ability to immerse the viewer in the bizarre world the events take place in. Although the eighties technology may seem outdated to some, it holds a certain appeal in the present day where millennials are harking back to the era of VHS. With 1980s technology very much in de rigueur, Pathos is a fascinating look into an era of forgotten technology that aligns with modern sensibilities for the world prior to the new information age.

Car design enthusiasts may be intrigued by the car that Diane drives throughout the film. The car, known as the Machimoto was a prototype designed by famous Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro as part of Italdesign in 1986. The Machimoto could best be described as a cross between a car and a motorbike and could extend to seat up to 8 passengers. The use of Giugiaro's prototype fits the futuristic, technologically obsessed film perfectly feeling reminiscent of the futuristic car used in A Clockwork Orange, the Durango '95 aka the M-505 Adams Brothers Probe 16 which also perfectly encapsulated a time in the not so distant future.

The Machimoto (1986)

What struck me whilst I was watching Obsession: A Taste for Fear was its distinctive style which at times appears to fall into that sort of vapourwave aesthetic that has emerged within the last decade. In particular, the design of the apartments, studios and clubs which wouldn't feel out of place on a tumblr page dedicated to a particular subset of eighties design. Romanesque statues surrounded by postmodern decor cast in neon lighting and juxtaposed with 1980s technology really heightens this feel and it makes the film feel, dare I say it, positively contemporary at times. Undoubtedly, with the film's abundance of coloured gel lighting, it would be too easy (or perhaps lazy) to equate the film's purple, blue and red lights with the earlier work of Argento and Bava. Instead Pathos seems to take this influence and combine it with the excessive music video influenced style of the decade and turns it into something far removed from the likes of Blood and Black Lace and Suspiria.

Vapourwave, postmodern aesthetics

What's perhaps most interesting is that for all the comparisons made between the gialli of the classic period and the later gialli of the 1980s, it's the latter that seem to have more in common with the neo-gialli of today. With their overuse of lighting gels and neon, obsession with technology and reliance on popular music instead of composed film scores your average neo giallo feels more like the evolution of a film like Pathos than a tribute to the likes of Martino and Lenzi's work from the seventies. Perhaps those obsessed with the typical style of the neo giallo should check out Raffafini's sole cinematic entry as it at times feels like a blueprint for a more modern interpretation of the genre.


If, like me, you have a proclivity for interior design from the late eighties then you won't be disappointed with the film's set design. Walls made of glass cubes, triangular motifs and textiles comprised of geometric shapes punctuate the various scenes throughout the film. One particularly interesting piece of design in the film is the elaborate chair in Diane's apartment - an example of one of Alessandro Mendini's famous Proust armchairs from 1978, a landmark of postmodern design that would become highly influential in the 1980s. The interior design admittedly feels very much of its time viewed through modern eyes but its distinct look will be sure to resonate with fans of eighties design and cinema.

Alessandro Mendini's Proust chair (1978)

Now there are several reasons as to why the gialli of the 1980s are considered to be weak compared to their 1970s counterparts, one factor which is often cited is the move away from the extravagant fashions and set design to a more stripped back minimalistic style which culminated in the late eighties and early 1990s.  One of the most celebrated aspects of classic period gialli is the pop art approach to interior design and costuming. The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is a fantastic example of this sort of modernist design with its clashing colours in shades of greens, oranges and blues, abundance of patterns and tendency to use futuristic space inspired motifs. These designs are key examples of the stylistic tropes of the genre and are at odds with later period gialli. The period of the eighties that Obsession: A Taste for Fear was made in is often characterised by minimalist interiors ala Patrick Bateman's apartment in American Psycho. This style is very much evident in Pathos with the characters moving between sparse industrial loft style spaces echoing the hollow vacuous lives of the characters. This stark, postmodern design style is arguably the antithesis of what the giallo is to many and as such, is often regarded as a negative when it comes to later period gialli with Dario Argento's Tenebrae acting as the only notable exception. As stated above, your enjoyment of the film will really depend on your aesthetic sensibilities and patience for sex driven thrillers but for those with a mild interest in cinematic design there's plenty on offer throughout the film.


To digress slightly, films that I never thought would see the light of day on Blu-Ray seem to defy the odds and are picked up for release in glorious HD. This is fantastic for fans of Italian genre cinema but it also highlights an increasingly frustrating subset of the fandom. Time and time again I'm seeing fans of genre cinema dismiss titles that aren't available via a slick Blu-Ray presentation. Admittedly, I do get frustrated having to watch titles like Obsession: A Taste for Fear via poor quality presentations but I truly believe it's important to put your distaste for pan and scan VHS rips aside and embrace some of the more obscure titles that aren't available via official channels. Granted, Pathos isn't for everyone especially those with a distaste for the Italian thrillers of the 1980s but I for one, would rather watch this film in murky quality than not at all. I understand the argument that a low-grade image can somewhat spoil your enjoyment of a film but so long as you can make most of a film out I fail to see how it can radically alter your overall opinion of the film itself. Holding out for remastered HD releases that may never come seems a little sad when you could still be enjoying a great film albeit in poorer quality. Perhaps, I'm just all too aware of how difficult some of these films were to come by before Arrow, Shameless, 88 Films etc came to prominence and that's coming from a child of the 1990s. To paraphrase my Twitter friend Blazing Magnums, sometimes an nth generation copy has a certain appeal in a way that a HD version can't quite match.

For those with a fondness for gialli from the 1980s and the fashion models in peril trope of Italian horror cinema, Obsession: A Taste for Fear is sure to satisfy. Giallo purists may balk at this 1980s offering as it has far more in common with the erotic thrillers of the 1990s than the classic period of the genre, but for fans who are a little bit more open minded when it comes to Italian thrillers post the 1970s, Pathos offers a more modern take on the genre akin to the neo gialli of today. Those looking for an ultra violent thriller will be left disappointed but for fans of the genre that place style above slashings, Obsession is a satisfying albeit slightly baffling watch.


If you'd like to watch Obsession: A Taste for Fear the film is currently available to view on YouTube and can be found here.
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