Friday, March 16, 2012

PYRO (1964)

Fernando Hilbeck (pictured) walks through a crowd at a carnival and, in voiceover, spins a tortured metaphor about life as a Ferris wheel, and memory as a mirror, then a dagger, then the phantoms of memory turning to smoke, etc. In flashback, he relates the story of an acquaintance of his, an engineer (Barry Sullivan) who found inspiration in the shape (and metaphors) of the Ferris wheel for a generator he designed. He takes his family to Spain to oversee the project and falls in love with crazy Martha Hyer; they meet when he discovers her trying to set fire to her own house in order to claim insurance money. On the spot, he offers to buy the house, then they have sex. "Silence is my only weapon"; he replies, "Be careful—silence can be a dangerous weapon" (whatever that means). Eventually, Sullivan breaks things off, but the jealous Hyer sets fire to his house, killing his wife and daughter and leaving Sullivan horribly burned. He vows revenge against Hyer and soon has joined up with a traveling carnival, wearing a latex mask that hides his disfigurement and working as a Ferris wheel repairman. Hilbeck meets up with him and figures out who he is, and when Hyer re-enters the picture, a fiery climax is guaranteed.

This Spanish-made film presents itself as horror (it was released under various titles, including "The Thing Without a Face" and "A Cold Wind from Hell") but it's really a somewhat disjointed domestic revenge thriller, in the Fatal Attraction mold. Hyer and Hilbeck are fine; Sullivan, past his prime, always seems a bit fatigued—the younger Hilbeck might have been a better fit for the part. The purple dialogue is fun; in addition to the lines quoted above, we get a cop reporting on the search for the fugitive Hyer: "We can’t find her—Hell must have swallowed her up." It's an ultra-cheapie production (the print on the Troma DVD is not a pristine one; it might be more impressive if it were restored), but it has its moments. [DVD]

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