Monday 30 July 2007

The Spiral Staircase

Lacuna coil?

A small New England town is being menaced by a maniac. He has struck three times in a short space of time, the victim in each case being a woman with a physical “affliction.” Our and his focus thus turns to Helen Capel, mute since an incident in her childhood.

But with just about all the males in the village acting suspiciously and wearing the same attire of black raincoat, hat and gloves, there is hardly a shortage of suspects – even if the the most likely one seems to be Steve Warren, recently returned from Paris...

Sotto gli occhi dell'assassino

This 1946 thriller, directed by Robert Siodmak from the novel by Ethel Lina White, has often been cited as an influence on Argento and the giallo, most obviously Lenzi's Knife of Ice.

It is not difficult to see why.

The mirror also plays an important role here we do not realise at first that our point of view is shared with the killer as we watch Helen

The killer is motivated by the desire to eliminate physical imperfection, a motif that gialli such as Crimes of the Black Cat and The New York Ripper would take up but also invert. Like Delirium Photos of Gioia, he literally views his victims through the lens of his psychosis, with Helen at one point appearing without a mouth:

Four Flies on Grey Velvet comes to mind in the aetiology of the killer's motivation, as we learn that the he could not live up to his dominating father's demands to be a “real” man. The difference is that whereas the maniac in Argento's film is getting revenge on their father for this, our killer here is seeking the dead man's approval.

Someone is dressed to kill, but who?

The elements – darkness, wind, water, fire – play a significant role. Most of the action takes place on the dark, stormy night complete with flashes of lightning, thundercrashes and gusts of wind at appropriate moments, while we learn the origins of Helen's muteness stem from the childhood fire in which her parents died.

The gothic space of the cellar as prototype for Inferno?

As with Cat o' Nine Tails and Tenebrae, the killer is reduced to a close-up of an eye, which even at one point stares out from the closet in which he is hiding in a manner recalling a similar moment in Deep Red.

While the giallo killer type attire seems primarily about function, the black gloves are somewhat fetishised being donned by the killer before his climactic attack on Helen and treated to close-ups:

There is the motif of the “screaming point,” although here it has a positive / cathartic function in enabling speech – the talking cure? – rather than signalling the collapse of language and meaning, as in Tenebrae.

Pronto? Pronto?


Anonymous said...

Very interesting overview Keith. I have been meaning to watch this noir/giallo milestone for years. Is this a DVD release or is there a torrent available for this film?

Keep up the good work fella. This blog is top-notch.

K H Brown said...

I don't know about a torrent but the disc is on both R1 and R2 DVD - these screenshots are from the R2.

FilmWalrus said...

A great film. The first time I watched it I ate it up purely on as noir appreciation, but upon reflection almost every scene would fit comfortably into the giallo mode. There is at least as much Bava in there as Argento.