DECEMBER 29, 2011
Coming home the other night to four gialli from RaroVideo was a wonderful surprise; I had only given them my address the day before and wasn't even sure if they accepted my request for review discs. Naturally, I zeroed in on Body Puzzle, which was directed by Lamberto Bava (but wasn't one of his TV movies) and had a plot that sounded like Pieces - the title is pretty self explanatory in that respect. The only thing that concerned me: it was made in 1992? Isn't that a bit too late in the period for a giallo?
Well, maybe. But as it turns out, it's actually a pretty good - if somewhat too Americanized - entry in the genre, and is sadly one of the last Italian horror movies of note before their film production industry abandoned the genre all together in favor of comedies and family films a few years later. And it would be over a decade before Bava directed a theatrical feature again, so at least he went "out" on a relative high note before retreating back to TV.
As with Argento's Trauma, it's a bit more accessible and mainstream than his other gialli (Macabre, Blade In The Dark); in fact it's pretty much the least convoluted and incoherent one I've seen. For starters, there's no mystery to the killer's identity - we see him kill a guy pretty early on and he only wears a mask when he's around the heroine (Joanna Pacula), who he seems attached to but doesn't want to harm. At around the one hour mark we learn his motive, which again is rather easy to understand (and kind of cool). The obligatory "huh?" moments come at the very end, when we find out that he THINKS he's another character, plus some nonsense involving the cops looking at the wrong person in a photograph. It's one of those subplots that probably makes a lot more sense on paper than on-screen, and it seems like if the cops could be bothered to match a face to a name of a dead guy that they wouldn't have had so many problems, but oh well.
But without the need for red herrings, we're allowed a more straightforward narrative, as the supporting characters (including Giovanni Lombardo Radice!) don't act suspicious and killer-ish for no reason - they help our hero cop, make their presence known, and move on. It's actually closer to procedural than giallo at times, which again makes it feel a bit more American than Italian. Hell, the male lead isn't even a chauvinist asshole! Pacula makes him dinner and they make love, but it's all very respectable. If this movie was from 1975 he would have smacked her around for some reason, or had another girl on the side at least.
The kill scenes are decent; there aren't too many but apart from an oddly bloodless kill in a pool (impressive otherwise), they're sufficiently blood-soaked and varied - the pool, a candy store, a bathroom... not the usual locales, at any rate. But the best comes near the end, when a teacher is killed in front of her class - the hook being that they're all blind children, so they have no idea what is happening, and instead just laugh along to the story that is playing on a tape (see, if she could just READ to them instead of being lazy, the kids might have been alerted. Let that be a lesson to you). And the dog (a lovable St. Bernard) lives, so that's another check in the "pro" column for this movie.
The script is a bit clunky at times, however. We're given not one but TWO hilariously on-the-nose bits of foreshadowing regarding the dumb waiter in Pacula's house, just in case we weren't clued in enough the first time that it might be used later in a scare scene. They also let the killer interact with her much too early in the narrative, which informs us that he doesn't mean her any harm - this is something that should have been a surprise reveal at the end of the second act. As a result, we're only afraid for the cop (Tomas Arana), which is kind of weak. Also, though this might have been a post production decision, the killer's "theme song" ("Night On Bald Mountain") is way overused anyway, but it's overused in the film itself as well - it's a groaner the FIRST time you hear it, let alone the tenth or so. At least it's not "Moonlight Sonata", but still - an original composition would have been preferable.
The disc has no extras, though it comes with a nice booklet (remember those?) featuring an essay on the film/Bava and Giallo in general from Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, as well as a mini bio on Bava. I should also note that the back of the DVD claims this remastered version (which looks terrific and is uncut at just under 100 minutes) has "new and improved subtitles", which would be nice if the disc wasn't in English with no alternate audio track or any subtitle options at all. But I assume this is just a mistake on the DVD case designer - many of the actors (including the two leads) are clearly speaking English anyway, so if it was an Italian track THAT would be the dubbed one. The other discs I got from Raro include interviews and such, and the design on the packaging is very Criterion-esque - these are pretty nice discs to add to your collection, in other words. Hopefully they continue to acquire more of the less-heralded gialli that haven't already been released on DVD a half dozen times.
What say you?