Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Vacanze per un massacro / Vacation for a Massacre

Convicted killer Gio Brezzi (Joe Dallesandro) escapes from prison and, having stolen a car and casually committed another murder, makes a beeline for the isolated farmhouse in the country where he cached the loot from a previous job. Asking a local, he learns that the place is used as a weekend home by some Romans – not what he wanted to hear considering it is late Friday afternoon. Climbing in through a window he discovers that the fireplace has been bricked over, necessitating a spot of digging to uncover the money. But with a car pulling up outside, there is hardly time to get a pickaxe, never mind excavate.

The sisters and vital supplies for the weekend, although the J&B box doesn't contain bottles of whiskey as it turns out

Inside the car are Sergio (Gianni Macchia), his wife Liliana (Patrizia Behn) and her younger sister Paola (Lorraine De Selle). Lurking outside and observing the trio, Gio learns that Sergio plans to go hunting the next morning, while Liliana will be going into town for supplies. Paola, meanwhile, is not happy that Sergio is going hunting, as she had only come along on the basis of having a chance to be with Sergio, with whom she is having an affair, while her sister was out of the away; as her sister and Sergio retire to their room and make love, Paola masturbates in frustration.

The next morning, with Sergio and Liliana having left, Gio sneaks up on the sunbathing Paola, knocks her out, takes her inside and starts digging up the fireplace.

Paola makes an unsuccessful bid for freedom

After awakening, Paola makes an attempt to escape, so Gio knocks her unconscious again. This time Gio wakes Paola and demands that she make him coffee. She does, and then proceeds flirts with him. If Paola's intention was to get Gio to lower his guard it doesn't seem to work, save to raise the tension and unease, insofar as his response is to tell her to start digging. She does and after a while stops, asserting that she is too tired to continue. She also confesses to being “all sweaty” and proceeds to flirt with him again.

Gio tries to make sense of Paola's signals

Decidedly uncomfortable no-means-yes sex ensues, with Paola telling Gio post-coitus that he's “a good lover” before making yet another escape attempt, again unsuccessful, which prompts Gio to tie up and gag her.

As does the audience

At this point Liliana returns and is promptly given the same treatment. Sergio arrives shortly afterwards and, also taken by surprise, fares little better, losing his shotgun to Gio in the process. Yet another unsuccessful escape attempt ensues, prompting Gio to let Liliana know that her husband and sister are having an affair...

It would be unfair to say anything more at this point except that Vacanze per un massacro / Vacation for a Massacre has a lot to recommend it.

Obviously the film is yet another of those sullo stesso filone Last House on the Left in which the boundaries between the ordinary bourgeois and the psychopath are progressively blurred.

Though it became increasingly difficult to put a new spin on such subject matter with the procession of Late Night Trains, La Settima Donna, Fight for Your Life, Hitch-Hike, House on the Edge of the Park and so forth, director and co-writer Fernando Di Leo, working from a story by spaghetti western specialist Mario Gariazzio / Roy Garrett, succeeds in stamping his own identity on the proceedings.

The first key to this is the way he uses Luis Enrique Bacalov and Osanna's music, the majority of which had previously seen service in Milan Calibre 9, to drive and comment upon the the action, most notably with an ironic lyrical quotation from Hamlet (“to sleep, to dream”) in the build up to the devastating final act.

The second is the sense of intelligence that pervades the film, as when the familiar device of having the radio broadcast be interrupted to announce the escaped killer in the vicinity is not done in the usual perfunctory and functional way, whereby someone switches on the radio and immediately hears the relevant information, instead being seamlessly and believably integrated: in the farmhouse Paola listens to the radio, an advert for Fernet Branca and then yet another pop song, before a visual cut to Liliana in the car heading into town establishes the temporal unity of the images, shortly after which the broadcast is interrupted.

Oh Bondage, Up Yours

The same thoughfulness is apparent in the handling of the always problematic seduction and sex scenes.

If it is difficult for Gio and the audience alike to unequivocally read the signals Paola is giving off in particular, this is surely the intention given her evident sexual frustrations, current predicament and the general way she has been established as someone who is paradoxically both unconscious of her body and supremely aware of its power, her nude displays thereby oscillating between documentary style anthropological factual display and exploitation film attraction.

Does Paola have sex with Gio because she wants to, because it affords the opportunity to escape, because she considers it a preferable alternative to an inevitable more forced rape, because of masochistic or nymphomaniac tendencies, as means of getting at Sergio, or some confused combination of all these?

Given the presence of De Selle, Di Leo's accomplishments fall into sharper relief when we contrast his film with Ruggero Deodato's House on the Edge of the Park, the comparison gaining further relevance from the way in which Deodato’s cannibal films exhibit that same kind of anthropological / exploitation combination.

Whereas character and situation in House on the Edge of the Park come across as heavily contrived, only making a vague retrospective sense in relation to the poorly integrated shock ending that unsatisfactorily explains why Annie Belle’s and De Selle’s characters have acted the way they did in going along with – or at least appearing to go along with – their attackers, here Paola and Liliana’s actions feel credible throughout.

The brave performances from De Selle and Patrizia Behn contribute immeasurably here, the former’s willingness to bare all in the name of art in marked contrast to the surprising reticence she displayed in Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox and, as such, perhaps further indicating the difference in accomplishment between Di Leo here and many of his peers.

Another classic Dallesandro expression

Though Dallesandro’s flesh isn’t on display to anything like the same extent as De Selle’s – a possible double standard, one has to admit – his characteristic non-acting proves curiously effective in relation to the whole, precisely because it renders Gio and his understandings of the developing situation that bit more difficult to read, allowing for a greater degree of sympathy for a character who could easily have been a two-dimensional cartoon monster.

Or, to put it another way, he’s more Ricky or Junior than Alex or Krug if we’re making comparisons with Last House on the Left and House on the Edge of the Park respectively.

As such, it’s perhaps Sergio who is the real villain of the piece on account of his duplicity and selfishness; a positioning that perhaps corresponds with the milieu presented in Di Leo’s films as a whole if we think of his frequent emphasis on the small time criminal as anti-hero in positive opposition to the faceless crime-as-routine business model.

While the low budget nature of the film is apparent in its rough-and-ready aesthetic, the small cast and one location set up, Di Leo again turns these limitations to his advantage, the interior sequences having an improvisatory, fly on the wall you are there rawness and the over-exposed exteriors conveying a sense of oppressiveness.

“Come away with me. Please come with me. Come on” are the final lines spoken. The question is who is asking who and what prompts them.

The film is available on DVD from Raro


Anonymous said...

Does that movie have Joe Dallesandro's full frontal nudity?

K H Brown said...

No. You don't get to see much of Dallesandro at all.