Crash Analysis: A WHISPER IN THE DARK (Italy, 1976)

Atmospheric – one of Italy’s best shot horrors

A boy has an imaginary brother

It’s odd to see a movie introduced by the director of photography, in this case, Claudio Cirillo, but for this master of the camera it is more than fitting. A WHISPER IN THE DARK, was his ninteenth feature as cinematographer, and he truly thrusted all of his knowledge for light, shadow, color and camera angle into this ambiguous dramatic horror.

Martino (Alessandro Poggi) is a young boy in a well to do mansion. And even though he seems to have the complete family package: mom, dad and two annoying sisters, he keeps a seat at the table for his imaginary brother, Luca. And when he announces Luca is upset and that consequences will be unleashed upon the family, his parents, nanny and staff soon realize Luca may actually be the real deal.

Marcello Aliprandi helmed the production, based on the script by Maria Terese Rienzi and Niccola Rienzi. With an expert hand, Aliprandi created continuous suspense by never letting the audience catch a breath. Though some may say the film drags and is a bore, it’s clear the Rienzi’s, and even Aliprandi, were drawing upon the Gothic tales of old. To enhance the pace and story, Cirillo delivers one of the best shot films of seventies.

Combined with the lush and subtle set and story, the actors deliver as a troupe of reserved characters facing the uncanny in a world where everything is but a snap of the fingers away – or the ringing of the bell. The children are well cared for, the parents have money, wear the latest fashions and can do as they please, yet, something is awry. Why does Martino need to create a brother? Except for his father, he is the only male, and a little brooding one at that, as if he’ll grow up to become the tormented singer of an emo band after denouncing his family and their wealth. But the story isn’t about him as much as it about his mother, Camilla, as portrayed by the breathtaking Nathalie Delon. She is the force out to discover if her son needs a psychiatrist or if a ghost needs to be exorcised from the premises. Like the audience, she is lost in the throes of trying to determine the truth. Yet, can she save her son, and her family, before she goes mad?

It is easy to make comparisons to Robert Wise’s brilliant THE HAUNTING (1963) where everything may not be as it seems – or that people are making something out of nothing due to some semblance of psychosis. And much like John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), where everything is an unresolved mystery to the characters as well as the audience, so is A WHISPER IN THE DARK.

The movie does, however, have several faults. The female characters are prone to playing the roles of apprehensive screamers. And the two little sisters are ear-piercing at such a high pitch, I’m surprised they didn’t conjure Mothra from the bowels of the Earth. Sadly, as with most Italian films, the audio track is once again laid over the film and doesn’t ring true on most occasions. Furthermore, Pino Donaggio’s music is over-bearing at times and adds melodrama when there shouldn’t be any such sensation.

Is Luca really present in the home, or are strange things happening due to sheer coincidence? Let the audience members judge and take their discussions to the nearest bar or eatery as they sort out the many contradictions. Regardless, this is not only one of the best Italian horrors, but the title is rock solid perfect.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: PSYCHOS IN LOVE (1987)

Enough tongue-in-cheekism to make you beg to be killed 

Two serial killing psychos fall in love. Surprise!

This ultra-low budget horror, shot on weekends, and mostly in director Gorman Bechard’s apartment, has the feel of a mid-70’s horror. After all, Carmen Capobianco’s score is horrendously abysmal (curse of the dreaded and ultra-whiney synthesizer), there are more close-ups in this than a hundred movies strung together, the acting is bad, the camera angles are stiff, the film quality is atrocious and the tongue-in-cheekiness grates one’s nerves. Worst still, the homage to Hitchcock’s shower scene in PSYCHO (1960) is embarrassing.

Yes, this is better than most of the low level horrors of Troma fare (sorry, Mr. Kaufman – though TROMEO AND JULIET (1996) still can’t be beat), but PSYCHOS IN LOVE falls short of the true cult classic for this Zucker and Zucker like ilk, STUDENT BODIES (1981). Yes, one must have a special love for films like these, and it’s usually those that prefer bad, low-brow comedy combined with some fun-laced gore.

Regardless, the movie does have its moments, especially when Joe (Carmen Capobianco) and Kate (Debi Thibeault of ASSAULT OF THE KILLER BIMBOS (1988) fame), indulge in their black-and-white commentaries.

And yes, it is supposed to be fun and over-the-top, but there’s nothing for the audience to walk away with except for a couple of one-liners that have been told one time to many. In fact, timing was the problem with this entire movie. Quite often, there seemed to be a delay before action ensued – almost as if the actor hesitated on purpose as if waiting for a queue to move. In that regard, Bechard should have let someone else edit because if the pace had kicked in a notch, this could have worked so much better.

Still, PSYCHOS has its cult appeal and the movie is worth watching for those who enjoy mindless, micro-budget nonsense. But I’m one and done.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: COLOUR FROM THE DARK (Italy, 2008)

Italian interpretation of HP Lovecraft

An Italian family in WWII has good things come their way – with a price

Yes, it’s a low budget horror, but it has some solid acting, especially in the riveting Debbie Rochon (as Lucia), some wonderful make-up effects, thanks to Mauro Fabriczky and some great atmosphere because of Zuccon’s sense of color and shadow.

It’s 1943, and in the Italian countryside, a poor family is trying to live a better life. Pietro (Michael Segal) is the good man working diligently to keep his wife, Lucia and her mute sister, Alice (Marysia Kay) happy. And things do get better once a power is unleashed from the bottom of their well. But all good things come with a price, don’t they?

In this tale of possession and demise, Lovecraft’s dystopian and hopeless tale is brought to life, complete with a blue tint at night time for extra gloominess. And even though the story is fairly solid, thanks to Ivo Gazzarrini’s adaptation, director Ivan Zuccon drags out one scene too many. Furthermore, he was also the cinematographer, and he left us with a bunch of stale, often straight on shots that did nothing to shake up the screen. And the latter led to one slow and dull looking feature, which is extremely sad since he had manipulated color so well.

But Rochon, Kay and Segal carried the movie and salvaged it from an even lower rating. At times, however, Segal seemed off his game, which can only be due to lack of direction. He didn’t seem comfortable having to carry a scene on his own, unlike Rochon and Kay.

And for those of you that are subtitle-phobic, never fear, all the actors spoke English. However, even though Lovecraft fans may think the filmmakers did the author proud, it doesn’t change the fact that this movie fell short and often appeared to be a stage play – or even a soap opera. But if you can get by this, you might just enjoy Zuccon’s work. As far as Lovecraftian adaptations go, I’ll take Combs and Crampton in 1986’s FROM BEYOND any day.

Even with its shortcomings, Zuccon and company won the Brown Jenkin Award for Best Feature at the 2009 HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon.

2.5 out of 5 stars