spasmo | umberto lenzi | pino boller | massimo franciosa | luisa montagnana | robert hoffmann | suzy kendall | ivan rassimov | giallo | mystery | thriller | italy | adolfo lastretti | franco silva | mario erpichini | maria pia conte | Ennio Morricone
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Writer: Pino Boller, Massimo Franciosa, Umberto Lenzi and Luisa Montagnana
Starring: Robert Hoffmann, Suzy Kendall and Ivan Rassimov
This was a film that I never heard of until I got into podcasts. It came up as a giallo film from Umberto Lenzi, but to be honest I didn’t know a lot about it. This did go on my list of films that I needed to check out to round out as a horror film fan though. I moved it up when Duncan over at the TPUTS Collective made this as an entry into the Where to Begin With Series for giallos. The synopsis is Christian (Robert Hoffman) and his girlfriend take a walk on a deserted beach when they discover a woman’s body lying. She turns out to be alive and this encounter leads down a wild path of murder and insanity.
I did doctor that synopsis a bit as I felt the one on the Internet Movie Database was getting a bit wordy. For this movie we start with a young couple on a motorcycle. They’re looking for a place to fool around and they come up to someone in a car. The guy asks for a light before they go off by an old, rundown building. Inside of the ruined structure, they find hanging sex doll of sorts that is in lingerie. The car then speeds off. We then get to see a room full of these types of dolls.
We then shift to another couple as they park their car. The man is Christian and with him is Xenia (Maria Pia Conte). He is telling her about a place him and his brother used to go. As they approach the beach, they find someone laying face down in the sand. They rush over to find it is Barbara (Suzy Kendall). She’s not entirely sure what happened, but she seems okay. Xenia goes off to get some booze to help her feel better and when Christian goes to help, Barbara speeds away in her car. She does leave a thermos behind with ‘Tucania’ written on it.
This belongs to a yacht that is owned by Alex (Mario Erpichini). He’s having a party in which Barbara is there. Christian and Xenia show up as well. They get drinks and Christian is left with Barbara. We get a transition to the two of them alone in a car and her inviting him to her motel room, only if he shaves his beard.
Things take a turn here though. While he’s shaving and she is getting comfortable, a man comes in trying to kill both of them. Much later we learn his name is Tatum (Adolfo Lastretti). The two men get into a scuffle which leaves Tatum shot and dead on the floor, Christian with the gun in his hand. When he tells Barbara, she doesn’t want him to call his brother or the police, but for them to flee. They’re stopped though when Alex shows up. It is at his yacht that Christian goes back to the motel room to get his necklace. Tatum is gone though, along with the gun.
This takes him on a journey to figure out what is going on and who is behind hiring Tatum. It leads down a dark path and figuring out who keeps leaving these odd sex dolls that are hung as well as stabbed randomly in the woods. Or is this all in the head of Christian?
Now that’s where I’m going to leave my recap as I think that gives the jist of the story without going into spoilers. Where I want to take this first is that I’m not overly familiar with the director/co-writer Umberto Lenzi. I’ve seen it looks like 3 of films, one of which I grew up on with Nightmare City. I’ve also seen Cannibal Ferox and Black Demons at the time of writing this where I like the first film for nostalgia and the other two are just alright. This would be the first giallo film from him I’ve seen.
I have to say that I was intrigued from the beginning, but it does move quite fast. Early on it was a bit confusing, but I’d say after like 15 minutes I settled in and I really like the mystery we’re playing with here. Christian is kind of a tool if I’m going to be honest though. I think he’s seeing Xenia, but there’s something about Barbara that causes him to seek her out and want to be with her. I mean I get it though, I think Kendall is quite attractive myself. What I like though is that he thinks he kills Tatum, but the movie does a great job at making you question if he did or not. Even more so when he’s introduced to Malcolm (Guido Alberti), who thinks this is all in his head.
When we get to the halfway point is when things start to get real weird and we see that there legit could be a plot against Christian and Barbara. I’ll say again that for me, when it comes to this subgenre, if I can guess the ending and who the killer is, I usually mark it down. I do have to admit, I wasn’t able to do that here, but this movie is also a cheat in my opinion. It is one of those things there’s a character we learn very little about who plays a major role in everything. I do like the explanation that the title actually plays into a diagnosis as well.
The last thing with the story I wanted to cover before moving on was this stuff with the sex dolls that are just left randomly. We get a couple of them that were found by people, but for the most part, they’re just staged. I did find it interesting to see this was something that Lenzi included in and I actually love the reveal along with the implications of them as well.
Shifting this over next to probably the best part aside from the mystery would be the acting. I do think that Hoffman does really well as the lead here. He’s kind of a sleazy guy in my opinion, but I’ll let that slide for the era. I like seeing the change that comes over his character. Kendall is really good as the female lead in my opinion. I just find her attractive and I think her acting is solid. Rassimov is fine as Fritz, but he really only in the latter half. Lastretti, Erphichini, Conte, Alberti and the rest rounded this out for what was needed as well.
Something that does surprise me though is the lack of effects. I did read there’s a version of this where they cut out the murders and it makes sense. They could legit be cut out of the movie and it doesn’t overly effect anything. It plays well with the mystery as it makes you question if a person is dead or again, is it in the mind of Christian. I do think the blood we get looks fine and the cinematography is well done also.
That takes me to the last aspect of the movie, which when I saw Ennio Morricone’s name as doing the music, I knew it was going to be good. He didn’t disappoint either. I think the score probably is up there with one of my favorites now and I do really want to seek it out. There’s just something about these giallo scores that I love.
Now with that said, this is an interesting little giallo film. It doesn’t play in the traditional sense like I’m used to. We really don’t get a black glove killer and most of the deaths are done off screen. There is a killer with sexual depravity and a bit of sleaze. We don’t really get any nudity from what I remember though. I thought the acting was really good though. The mystery hooked me pretty early on, but I will admit I did lose interest a bit later in the movie and I do think one of the reveals is a cheat as well. The score is amazing and the lack of effects is a bit of letdown. Regardless though, I do think this is still good movie though and one of my new favorites from Lenzi at this time.
My Rating: 8 out of 10