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.


  1. Well you sold this one to me. I for one have a soft (ahem) spot for the softcore 80s sexy sleaze element, blame my furtive childhood watchings of late night trash like 11 Days, 11 Nights and Wild Orchid! Match this up with murder and an actual star of Prisoner Cell Block H my other childhood love and I think I will definitely be giving this a look. Thanks for the recommendation and fab in depth review.

  2. Hello,
    Here's a better transfer it looks like. Pan and scan but proper aspect ratio.
    Cheers, keep up the good work!

  3. (and by proper aspect ratio I mean it's not stretched to a false "widescreen". Just less info on the sides - imdb lists 2.35:1. And something has gone wonky with the color on that first link!


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