Sunday, 31 August 2008

Qualcosa striscia nel buio / Something is Creeping in the Dark / Something is Crawling in the Dark

We open on a dark, stormy night on an isolated road that is seeing an unusually high amount of traffic.

Feuding couple Sylvia and Donald Forrest (Lucia Bose and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) are en route to a party at her friend Helen's, prompting Donald to naturally assume that the two cars which race past them must be other guests.

Director Colucci constantly reverses the angles here, framing Sylvia and Donald in the eerie blue light that dominates much of the film

In fact they are occupied by Inspector Wright (Dino Fazio) and Detective Sam and their quarry, the psychopathic Spike (Farley Granger).

Farley Granger as a rather old juvenile delinquent

Spike reaches the bridge and discovers it has been washed away in the storm and is thus apprehended by Wright. He then starts to turn back towards town with his quarry, advising Sylvia and Donald to do likewise.

They encountering another car heading in the opposite direction, occupied by Dr Williams and his assistant Susan who, despite being on the way to perform a vital operation, nevertheless had time to stop and pick up Professor Lawrence after his car broke down.

With the road back flooded and the water level rising all around, attention turns to a mansion house on the hill nearby.

The old dark house, plus ca change

Once inside, Wright and Williams go to make their urgent telephone calls, only to discover that lines are also down.

Sylvia and Donald continue to argue, with Sylvia also proposing that the group all make the most of the night via an anonymous orgy.

Spike then proves himself to be more than your average psychopapthic killer by improvising an etude on the piano. This has a powerful effect on Sylvia as we segue into a slow-motion fantasy sequence situated in an as yet unidentified room; later on it will prove to be the guest bedroom Sylvia and Donald are allocated.

In the fantasy Spike strikes Sylvia, who then stabs him repeatedly as he grins, undoubtedly plenty of material for anyone wanting to interpret the characters' repressed desires through the lenses of psychoanalytic and / or feminist theories: is this what men are really like? what women are really like? what men really think about women? what women really think about men? what men think women are like?

Intriguingly, however, the ensuing exchange of dialogue again hints at something beyond all this, insofar as both Spike and Sylvia seem to have somehow shared this fantasy and, through it, something of their respective inner secrets and desires:

Sylvia: “Tell me, how does it feel to kill?”

Spike: “Do you think you could really understand? Tied to a thousand fears, a thousand prejudices, a thousand superstitions? No, you live a life full of vanity and compromise. You could be able to understand what it really means to free yourself from all the hypocrisy and stupidity of this decadent world. You couldn't understand that.”

“And why not?”

“Because you're swimming in it.”

As the night continues the irrational and magical side is further foregrounded as discussion next turns to the house's former owner, whose initially covered portrait dominates the room. Apparently Lady Sheila Marlowe died in mysterious circumstances a year ago, not long after being acquitted for the murder of her husband. The information that she was also an occultist and held regular séances prompts Sylvia to suggest trying to contact Lady Marlowe.

The only true mystery is that our lives are governed by dead people?

Needless to say this soon proves to have been a less than good idea given the circumstances...

This 1971 supernatural horror / thriller was one of only two films directed by Mario Colucci and the only one which he both wrote and directed; his other directorial credit is on the 1968 spaghetti western Vendetta per Vendetta, while his list of writing credits is surprisingly, encompassing a total of seven films in nine years.

With Something is Creeping in the Dark also being Colucci's final film credit, one wonders whether he died shortly afterwards; had invested most of his own money in the film in the hope of launching his career, or simply responded to the indifference that met its release by turning his attentions elsewhere.

Yet while the film may not be particularly outstanding or memorable is it not the exactly the worst example of its kind on any count.

Colucci uses all manner of techniques – including slow motion, freeze-frame, superimpositions, rapid-fire edits and subjective camera alongside the more usual zooms and extreme close-ups – and demonstrates a firm grasp of how to generate atmosphere and effect and of ways in which to tell a story visually.

At one point Colucci even turns the camera upside down

Technically the film is likewise accomplished, with production design and lighting dominated by cool blues and brilliant reds, while the presence of Lucia Bose, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Farley Granger in the cast imparts a degree of quality and name recognition there as well.

Angelo Francesco Lavagnino – who also makes his only on-screen appearance in the film, minus the Angelo, as the Professor – contributes a simple but effective series of cues, ranging from the percussive polyrhythmic mix of bongos and hi-hat overlaid by shock stabs that heighten the excitement of the opening car chase; through Spike's suitably lush and swooning piano piece, to the piano chords that accompany the séance and sound like they could well be emanating from the pits of hell itself.

The satisfactoriness of the script is more dependent on how generous one is willing to be. For example, we're told that Professor Lawrence was picked up by Dr Williams after his car broke down. Given that Williams were supposed to be racing to an emergency it seems unlikely that he should have stopped – unless this selfsame contrivance is read as another indicator that no-one present here as quite the control over their actions they think, albeit in terms of the supernatural rather than the unconscious.

What this in turn clues us into is that, to the extent it is an example of the European fantastique, the film should theoretically be working via a cinematic rather than a narrative logic. The question here is whether this is successfully and consistently conveyed. While the aforementioned dream sequence certainly works in fantastique / cinematic terms, the mundane nature of the conflict between the police and Spike doesn't, with the filmmakers also failing to make the most of the rational detective type figures encountering a supernatural mystery angle or the Terror Express / Assault on Precinct 13 one of the two coming together against a mutual foe.

Beyond this, it's perhaps also that, for all the technique, the film also feels curiously old fashioned compared to Bava's Five Dolls for an August Moon, as another group of unpleasant characters stranded in an isolated location thriller, and Freda's Tragic Ceremony, as another occult themed horror-thriller. Colucci's direction lacks the sense of irony and self-parody we get in Bava's film, while his set of characters and séance are that bit less hip and happening than their counterparts in Freda's.

The one other area where the film is modern, namely its avoidance of an obvious protagonist with whom we can identify – Sylvia or Donald?, Spike or Inspector Wright? – also hurts it, because we're not given sufficient information to approach them the other way, that they aren't supposed to be rounded flesh and blood characters with whom we might identify as much as the pieces in some cosmic game.

One final point of note is that Something is Creeping in the Dark contains one of the more memorable credits within the Italian horror and thriller cinema, that of Lorenda Nusciak. Appearing as Lady Sheila Marlowe, the actress has a role recalling Gene Tierney's debut in Laura, in that she too only appears on screen in a still photograph. Nice work if you can get it?


slizwiz said...

Where did you obtain a copy of this film? I have a cut version with all violence and nudity trimmed out. I would very much like to see this film with these scenes restored.

K H Brown said...

I got it in a trade.

Cinemageddon has an AVI for download, though I don't know what it looks like.

Horrorflix also has it. Again I haven't seen their version, but it's from a Japanese VHS in English with Japanese subs if that helps.

slizwiz said...

Thanks for the lead. Hopefully, I will finally be able to see the whole dang film.

Richard of DM said...

Hey, I finally found the version I was looking for! I grabbed the AVI with the Japanese subs and it runs 5 minutes longer than the bootleg I purchased from Something Weird (they didn't advertise that they were selling the cut version so I'm not too bitter about it). Keep hope alive!

Richard of DM said...

Hello again. I tried my hand at reviewing this one as well.