Monday, October 07, 2013


Stefano is brought to a small Italian village to restore a crumbling church painting of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, performed not with arrows piercing his body as is the norm but by two creepy figures who have stabbed the saint with large knives. The artist, Legnani, who was idolized by his two sisters, was obsessed with trying to capture the actual moment of death in art; forty years ago, he set himself on fire and disappeared into the woods, never to be seen again. Very soon, strange things begin happening: a friend of Stefano's is killed, a whore he takes up with (who is also a schoolteacher) vanishes, and his driver rants about a strange house with laughing windows (large pop-art smiles are painted on the shutters) where he claims many bodies are buried. As Stefano begins an affair with the replacement teacher, he also tries to piece everything together, soon realizing that Legnani painted his grotesque paintings from life, with his sisters procuring young men to serve as models. As the body count grows, it seems as if Legnani may still be alive and back in business. 

As an example of the giallo genre—Italian films which mix mystery, sex, gore, and intimations (at least) of the supernatural—this film pretty much has it all. It has been panned by hardcore giallo fans for not having enough sex or gore (though like many gialli, the plot sometimes borders on incoherence). The opening three minutes, which involve a bloody half-naked man strung up and being stabbed to death, are truly disturbing, though sadly the film never comes through on the promise of that beginning. The sex is very mild—in fact, in one scene, Stefano and the whore get in bed together fully clothed, and when we fade back in on them later, they’re still clothed and cuddling as though they never went any farther. PSYCHO and PEEPING TOM seem to have influenced the director, Pupi Avati, and though there is little graphic gore, there is a feel of decadence and decay throughout. Lino Cappolicchio (at left) is fine as the innocent Stefano who starts out as an outsider and becomes increasingly isolated.  Once you get past the very creepy opening, this basically becomes a psychological mystery with some characters and plotlines that go nowhere—the final reveal is particularly silly—but with a relatively satisfying if predictable ending. Overall, the idea behind the narrative is more interesting than the execution. [DVD]

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