Monday, 25 December 2006

Paranoia / Orgasmo

After her tycoon husband dies in an accident Kathryn West (Carroll Baker) retreats to an isolated villa in the Italian countryside to avoid the paparazzi and take stock. Her tranquility is interrupted when a young playboy type by the name of Peter Donovan (Lou Castel) turns up at the villa and charms his way in. Soon Kathryn is infatuated and cannot be without the man, who then reappears with his sister Eva (Colette Descombes) and the clear intent of driving Kathryn to breaking point…

With a straightforward psychological thriller style plot that is lacking many of the more obvious tropes of the giallo – the bodycount stubbornly remains at zero until the final five minutes; the motivations of the villains reassuringly yet disappointingly banal – perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Umberto Lenzi's 1969 giallo is its convoluted history.

Originally known by the Italian language title Orgasmo (i.e. "Orgasm") the film was first given an X-certificate in the US for its amoral plot and some then-shocking full frontal nudity from Baker, who shares a steamy shower scene with Castel.

It was subsequently re-edited for an R-rating and television release, with a completely different ending. By this time, however, Lenzi and Baker had teamed up again for a not dissimilar tale of a menage a trois between a wealthy older woman and a younger couple, confusing titled Paranoia in the original Italian, which was then released as A Quiet Place to Kill in Anglophone territories.

All this makes it is difficult to fully evaluate the film from the version seen here.

Never the most stylish of filmmakers and at his most comfortable with straight-ahead action, it would seem that the writer-director managed to fashion a decent screenplay free from obvious plot holes and to draw the best from his leads.

In this regard Baker is especially impressive as she submits to the indignities of unflattering make-up, following her character's descent into drug and alcohol dependency, that many lesser, vainer actresses - I use the term deliberately, given the gender specific norms at play here - would likely have balked at.

Elsewhere, the normally reliable Piero Umiliani provides an unusually bland and unengaging score. This could also, however, be intentional, insofar as the same pop tune is utilised ad nauseum diegetically as part of Peter and Eva's scheme.

Thinking about Baker's role in films such as this, one wonders how familiar David Fincher was of the giallo when he cast her in The Game, featuring as it does a family plot not dissimilar to Lenzi's later Spasmo.

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