eyeGiven the title, year of release and poster art, one could be led to assume that this Italo-German production fits neatly into the giallo genre, but it actually borrows more liberally from pop-Freudian works like Marnie (1964) and the kinds of woman-in-peril films that starred Carroll Baker at the turn of the 60s/70s. Unfortunately, the wildly unbalanced script and unconvincing twists and turns overturn what promise is made by the truly excellent cinematography and score (by Roberto Nicolosi) – and a genuinely interesting cast featuring Adolfi Celi (Largo from Thunderball), Alida Galli, Horst Frank and, in an early role, Sybill Danning.

Jess Franco complains that Rosemary Dexter (here playing the film’s lead, Julie) was vetoed as star of his De Sade adaptation of Justine and Juliet (1969) and, on the basis of this film, she would have been a far more persuasive tortured innocent than Romina Power. As the story begins, she wakes from a nightmare where boyfriend Luca (Frank) is stabbed by a mystery assailant in some kind of darkened subterranean structure, which is fully exploited by DoP Giovanno Ciarlo (Divorce, Italian Style (1961)) for it’s geometric potential – Frank seeming to career wildly up and down Piranesi-like passageways which only lead him once again into clutches of his assassin. Visiting the institution where he works as a psychologist, she follows a series of clues which lead her to a seaside town and lecherous, ageing gangster Frank (Celi), who directs her to a beach-side villa where Gerda (Galli) leads a troupe of societal misfits, who seem at once both utterly unemployed and at each other’s throats. At first denying any knowledge of Luca, the guests begin to let slip his involvement in the group – as Julie’s investigations increasingly place her in peril.

The film does attempt to weave a multi-stranded plot which combines Julie’s search for Luca with the slow revelation that she is being used a pawn by Frank to regain the drug business which is being run by ex-partner Gerda and her crew from his former home. As Julie investigates and questions each member of the gang they reveal (through flashbacks and VOs, which strongly resemble porn film setups) that Luca was a manipulative asshole, voyeur and rapist – which questions Julie’s infatuation with him. The final reel reveal – once Frank has successfully ejected the gang from the house and sent them on a boat to Greece – that Julie is a former patient of Luca’s, that her obsession with him is only part of her psychosis and she in fact has killed him and then entered into guilt-fuelled amnesia, is sadly quite unconvincing. Quite why the film has insisted that she visited the villa, unseen by the gang members, and killed Luca there – and that the labyrinth from her dream is only the way her subconscious has retained this event – is baffling unless you take into account the popularity of this kind of sub-Freudian nonsense in genre cinema and pop culture at large in the period. The way in which Frank uncovers her guilt also relies on a painting which seems wholly copied from Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage(1970).

Along the way, there are a few loose thematic strands which would have had more potential had they been developed – such as the bizarre family angle, with Frank and Gerda acting as estranged and warring  surrogate father and mother to the group and the way that Julie arrives naked from the sea at the beach house and steals toyboy Louis from Gerda.

marianne.jpgSeveral reviews cite the bright daylight mise-en-scene as something unique in the giallo genre, but when you extract this film and place it more properly in the sub-genres noted above, this sun-kissed setting becomes more commonplace. Films such as Un Posto Ideale per Uccidere (Umberto Lenzi, 1971) or the aforementioned Baker vehicles take place in similar summery settings. The group of drug-addled misfits show up constantly in these films – you can even see how they might have ended up in the Baker-starring Bloodbath (1979), where a simply out-of-his-mind Dennis Hopper stumbles through a remote Spanish village where a retinue of desperate ex-pats cling on to the glories of the past while drugs, sex and indigenous frustration slowly build towards their demise. The influence of this largely continental mode of film-making can also be seen in Pete Walker’s vehicle for Susan George – Die Screaming Marianne(UK, 1971), which similarly combines the woman-in-peril genre, Freudian pseudo-babble and sweaty Mediterranean settings.

It looks great, however. The cast are interesting and Celi, Galli, Dexter and – perhaps, surprisingly – Danning, are all very good. The score by Nicolosi, however, is a revelation. Consistently subtle, despite occasional sweeps into all-out jazz-fusion discordance, it brilliantly underscores each scene – lifting the sometimes baffling plot twists out of the mundane into genuine frissons which the script struggles to deliver. Pick it it up on vinyl – only pick up this Code Red bluray if you’re a hard-core Italian thriller buff.

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