This 1970 giallo is the kind of film that the non-cultist will find impossible to take seriously. And yet in its art-house ambitions / pretensions – an opening quotation purportedly from Freud atop an abstract paint swirl type backdrop; a character named Pascal “like the philosopher”; black-and-white and still image flashbacks etc – this is precisely what the director and co-writer Sergio Bergonzelli would seem to want us to do.
We start off in medias res, as the aforementioned Pascal (Fernando Sancho) notices a seemingly unattended motorboat with which he might escape from the police pursuing him following his escape from jail. Curiously, however, a woman then sets the boat moving and, unaware of Pascal's presence, then proceeds to bury a body in a shallow grave on the grounds. The police arrive on the scene, fail to notice the body literally beneath their feet, recapture Pascal and leave.
Obligatory Freud reference
And the Devil whispered, but is it art?
Following this somewhat disorienting introduction the filmmakers settle down somewhat and establish the inhabitants of the house: Lucille (Eleonora Rossi Drago), her son, his friend / partner Falesse (Anna Maria Pierangeli) and a couple of pet vultures.
We also learn that Falesse suffers from a Marnie / Repulsion / Hands of the Ripper style sexual psychosis, apparently the legacy of her being raped by her father, as she soon claims two more victims.
A different kind of shower sequence; not supposed to be titillating
Attempts at visual style
A Lenzi regular in a typically sleazy role
But just when we think we are starting to get a handle on the proceedings, Pascal shows up again, making one wonder about the efficacy of his captors. He forces Lucille, Falesse and Colin to dig up the body and, confused when they unearth a dog instead – earlier strangled when it started digging around, prior to the dispatching of its master – shoots one of the vultures. (If nothing else, Sancho was a natural for this kind of role, inevitably making one think of the innumerable Mexican banditos he incarnated in Italian westerns.)
Then we get a flashback to a Nazi death camp, as the young Lucille witnesses her sisters and mother being sent to the gas chamber. This of course gives her the idea of dropping cyanide tablets into Pascal's bath, causing it to unleash a cloud of lethal gas that kills him instantly. (The delivery method, the cuckoo of a clock pushing the tablets into the bath is quite amusing, however, as are the previous remarks about whether or not a bath would prove fatal to the unhygenic looking Pascal.)
Then a man shows up purporting to be Falesse's father. He does not look anything like what Lucille remembers, though he explains this away on account of having had plastic surgery to confuse his enemies – there is a crime subplot here as well, and yet another conspiracy – and seem to know things that an impostor probably would not.
A moment of shock
It gets even more confusing as shock revelation is piled on shock revelation. Indeed, the film increasingly emerges as something like a parody of giallo style, with crash zooms, kaleidoscopic lens effects and some of the worst styles and special effects to (dis)grace the screen; thematics, with the recourse to the Freudian, slippage between analyst and detective, and fascination with fascism; and performance, the (apposite) histrionics from the female leads making the likes of Edwige Fenech seems almost restrained by comparison.