Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spasmo (1974)

I adore the giallo genre. Italian thrillers that are usually as high on substance as they are on style and sex. They are fine examples of a perfect marriage of class and sleaze. Food stamps meeting Donald Trump if you will. They are fine film making while appealing to those who want nothing more than to see teen campers killed by a guy in a hockey mask. Of course not every title is this great, or even worth watching, but as a whole, I simply love them. It is a treat to get to see one for the first time as good Umberto Lenzi's SPASMO.

Christian (Robert Hoffman) is main stock hold and part heir to a plastics empire headed by his brother Fritz (Ivan Rassimov) which was left to them by their late father. He also seems to have his entire world turning upside down and becoming a sort of "bizarro" version of itself. The people in his life seem familiar but he can't put a finger on who they are. Their intentions may or may not be true and he can't figure out why. As everything starts to unravel he finds out that nobody is quite who they say they are, and their intentions certainly don't have his best interest at hand.

It can be quite hard to sum up a gialli and not give anything away, SPASMO makes it just a bit more difficult than usual. The true treasure here is in the story. Director Umberto Lenzi (Man From Deep River, Nightmare City) refrains from using the genre staples of a black gloved killer, relying heavily on gore and sex and goes straight for the psychological. And while I'll never complain about the black gloved killer, his choices are spot on. The story will mess with your mind as much as it does for our protagonist. The giallo genre is built heavily on the reveal of the killer and motive and SPASMO has a few reveals, each making the story better and better. It is a prime example of how less can be more.

Movies are a funny thing in the sense that even if you can't find a true flaw in a movie you may not love it simply because it just didn't sit right with you for whatever reason. For me SPASMO straddles the bottom tier of grade A gialli and the top tier of grade B. Maybe I just love the black gloved, highly exploitative examples that made the genre famous. Whatever the reason is I wouldn't say SPASMO is something you have to see to bust in to the genre, but it isn't far behind. In an interview Lenzi has said that for American markets George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead) was hired to film gory scenes to better fit the genre, I don't see it aiding the film in any way. While I have no doubt of Romero's abilities to film a great scene (especially during his early days) I think SPASMO is as good as it possibly could be. It would be interesting to see the added scenes though, just to compare. In the same interview Lenzi clearly expresses his disdain towards Romero for that specific reason and claims he would never shoot additional scenes for another director's film if a production company came to him to do it. I'm not one to say either way. However he would add that he started the Italian thriller genre we have come to call "giallo" which I would love to have a conversation with him about. I respect him as a film maker, and I'm shamelessly a big fan of his work, but until someone proves otherwise the two Italian maestros Mario Bava and Dario Argento are responsible for starting and making famous the genre respectively. That said Lenzi certainly added some very worthy chapters to the story of the giallo which clings to life to this day and no one can refute that.


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