This little known film is something of a missing link in the history of Italian post-Psycho and necrophile cinema, taking as it does elements from Freda’s Hichcock diptych earlier in the 1960s (both also being Panda productions) while itself providing the model for D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness a decade later.
Diana Sullivan is in fact Erica Blanc; the entire cast and crew hides behind sometimes unconvincing English credits, including the transliteration of Olga Solbelli as Olga Sunbeauty
The Freda connection sees the music box theme from The Ghost being reused, while the roles played by Erica Blanc, as sisters Laura and Daniella, could easily have been shoe-ins for Barbara Steele were it not for the fact that neither is possessed, undead or actually malevolent.
Instead the villain roles are filled by veteran Olga Solbelli, whose career extended back to the 1930s, and Gioia Pascal, in what was her only acting role, with murderous necrophile Mino, played by a young Franco Nero, a more (sym)pathetic figure by comparison.
Solbelli plays the elderly widowed Countess who will not allow her son to marry his beloved Laura, while Pascal plays the loyal family servant, Marta, who covets Mino for herself, along with what is left of the family’s admittedly diminished estate, as payment for her father's loyal service in decades past.
The mise-en-scene augments the dialogue, as a conspiracy is formed
To achieve her goals Marta cuts the brake cable on Laura’s car, causing the vehicle to roll off an embankment and into a lake, and murders the Countess, pushing her down the stairs.
This also marks the one way in which D’Amato’s film departs from its model: He makes housekeeper Iris something of a composite of Solbelli and Pascal’s characters and begins with his Mino, Frank, already orphaned through the deaths of his parents in a car accident. In so doing he also gives his film more of a supernatural horror aspect, by having Iris cause Frank’s beloved Anna to sicken and die through black magic.
The shock of the his mother’s and, more importantly, Laura’s deaths drives the already mentally troubled Mino over the edge. He takes Laura’s body and preserves it; unlike D’Amato’s film there’s no subplot of having to steal the body from its grave, nor lovingly detailed exploration of the taxidermical process itself, although Mino does earlier give a bird the Norman Bates treatment.
I'm a taxidermist; I hate parties
From this point on the two films follow pretty much the same path, with the key points being their necrophile’s compulsion to pick up women and make love to them while in the presence of his immortal / preserved beloved; his equal compulsion to then kill them; his relationship with his housekeeper / would-be lover, and the eventual arrival of his beloved’s double to bring the whole thing to a shocking denouement.
Gore-hounds will likely prefer D’Amato’s film to Mino Guerreri’s for the simple reasons that it’s more explicit and is in colour rather than black and white. Others may be more open to Il Terzo Occhio’s own achievements.
Blanc uses 'no chance' bubble-bath
As far as explicitness goes, it's actually quite extreme, with Marta at one point bringing down her heel on the injured Countess's face, along with plenty of shots of the various female cast members (the 68-year-old Solbelli excluded) in their underwear and diaphanous nightwear that wouldn't have been out of place in a fumetti neri of the time.
The Countess's fall
Nero is clearly a better, more subtle, actor than Buio Omega’s Kieran Canter, his performance all the more interesting for being in such contrast to his most famous role, Django, which he had essayed only the year before. The other leads likewise hold their own, with Blanc welcome as always and the Sobelli/Pascal one-two proving as memorable as Franco Stoppa.
Where the film really impresses, however, is Guerreri’s direction, with set-ups that make make good use of foreground and background space, mirrors-based framings, and natural dividing elements; elegant and complex camera movements (including mounting the camera inside a rolling car and tracking the Countess's fall down the stairs), along with expressionistic superimpositions (including an apparently Vertigo-inspired nightmare sequence) and off-balance compositions. Though otherwise something of a journeyman, whose credits comprising a predictable mix of filone product, he really hit the ball out of the park with this one.
Why use words when images will suffice?
The cinematography is also beautifully crisp, bringing out the quality of the production design, whilst the romantic score moves the film out of the realm of “necrophile soap opera” – as critic Kim Newman once described Buio Omega, with its cold, detached Goblin score – towards that of necrophile melodrama.
Visions in Mino's Third Eye
The film is presented as being a free adaptation of a story by Gilles de Rais. Whether or not this is true, it’s worth noting in closing that Buio Omega’s story is credited to one Giacomo Guerrini, whose paucity of credits makes it difficult to determine for sure whether he was Mino Guerrini’s brother and had perhaps also provided the story credited to de Rais, although this does seem possible or even plausible.