Saturday, 13 September 2008

Midnight Blue

Three female athletes, Rita, Elena and Francesca, decide to spend the weekend at the luxurious beach-front house belonging to Francesca's mother. Their break from training is soon interrupted by three men, Bruno, Mario and Pierluigi. While certainly prone to the usual macho antics the men seem normal enough – sufficiently such, at least, for the men to be invited to stay at the beach house overnight, with all the attendant fumblings, and for the women to think nothing of Pierluigi's making a telephone to an unspecified associate.

Forgotten auteur #507?

The next morning things take a dramatic turn as, visiting town for provisions with Pierluigi in tow, Francesca notices the newspaper headline: three dangerous convicts, including a rapist and a murderer, have escaped from jail.

Gratuitous nudity

Natural lighting

All too obvious attempts at style

No prizes for guessing whom...

And no prizes, despite the misleading porno-sounding title, for identifying the chief inspiration behind this obscure 1979 thriller from the equally obscure Raimondo Del Balzo.

Yes, it is indeed yet another film sullo stesso filone Last House on the Left, following the well-trodden path of Late Night Trains, Terror Express, La Settima Donna and company; although the men's wait for their underworld contact also raises the intriguing possibility of a Cul de Sac / Waiting for Godot absurdist scenario, this predictably doesn't really materialise.

The most obvious departure from the usual formula is thus that the three women have the potential to offer more formidable opponents on account of their athletic training. Unfortunately the three actresses – none particularly famous or notable, with the most recognisable face being that of Dirce Funari in a supporting role as their coach, Silvia – fail to convince as athletes. As cheerleaders giving a us a “T” and an “A” yes, but as Olympic hopefuls no.

Then again, the three men are not the most convincingly desperate degenerates you'll have seen. Though at a pinch this could be part of Del Balzo's strategy, represent typical / respectable seeming bourgeois types as rapists and killers by way of making a feminist political point, I think it's probably more likely to be a reflection of the limited pool of talent he was working with and unsatisfactory writing.

In the latter regard one thing that stands out is why three escaped convicts would take time out to go for a swim and have one of their number go into town without bothering to disguise himself when he knows his face is likely to be plastered all across the front of the papers. Another, though this could be a reflection of the English dubbing voices, is that the film feels curiously devoid of place, being neither obviously an Italian product nor one that goes to any particular lengths to pass itself off as American and, as such, less able to make any kind of statement on “leaden years” Italy or post-Watergate / Vietnam War America.

While the exploitable content is enhanced by deeply cynical ending somewhat reminiscent of Di Leo's borderline filone entry To Be Twenty – an impressive film which does successfully relate to its specific time and place – in approach if not wider dramatic impact and significance, Del Balzo is less successful when he tries to inject a degree of style into the proceedings.

Frustrating the implied viewer's desires or just bad filmmaking?

Too often his use of handheld equates to shots that are inadequately lit or which don't quite manage to follow the action. Though these could again be taken as anti-exploitation elements in the manner of some of Jess Franco's works, in that you want a sex scene, I'll give you one but deliberately frustrate your expectations / desires way, it seems more likely to be a case of trying to cover up shortcomings elsewhere with a surfeit of style that only serves to make the film's deficiencies all the more evident.

An early shot of a building is also characteristic here, as in addition to using a crane shot in that 'because I could' manner Del Balzo also breaks out the distorting lens for no obvious reason.

In sum, a curio that can best be recommended to those who have seen its predecessors and feel the need to complete their viewing set.

[The film is available in English dubbed Greek subtitled VHS rip from Cinemageddon]

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