Thursday, November 15, 2012

In short: Spasmo (1974)

One suspects rich ne'er-do-well Christian Bauman (Robert Hoffmann) does expect a rather different night than the one he gets when he picks up Barbara (Suzy Kendall) while his supposed girlfriend is watching. What he gets is a gunman (Adolfo Lastretti) assaulting him in Barbara's bathroom while he's shaving off his beard (don't ask). Christian manages to shoot said gunman with his own gun, but then decides that going to the police would be much too complicated and goes on the run with Barbara.

Next up is breaking into an old tower that belongs to one of Barbara's friends, because what would be more logical? This is only the beginning of a rather bizarre time for Christian. Soon enough, he as well as the audience will have to question his own sanity, everyone else's sanity, and the probability of really dumb conspiracies. All while people die and someone leaves very creepy latex dolls picturing murdered women lying around everywhere.

Generally, director Umberto Lenzi's and my sensibilities are in complete opposition to each other; and that's when I just ignore how boring I find many of the man's films. Spasmo, however, is the sort of film to provoke me into rethinking a whole body of work thanks to the sheer power of its wrong-headed awesomeness.

The Italian giallo is often criticized for having ridiculously illogical, random and obtusely constructed plots (even I as a fan of the genre won't deny these criticisms completely), but in Spasmo's case, Lenzi and his four co-writers seem to have decided to pretend to treat that criticism as a rule, to see how far weird yet intense acting, a fantastic Morricone score that gets increasingly strange with the increasing strangeness of the film, and oodles of style can take a film whose narrative decisions are based on characters always doing the least probable thing, with a plot that makes less sense the more of it is explained. Turns out the place a film reaches this way is also known as "my heart", for how could I not love a film that consciously revels in being as insane as possible (because half of its characters are supposed to be insane, which really isn't much of a spoiler) without ever returning to the land of logic and boring normal plotting?

It can be dangerous for a film to be as weird for the sake of weirdness as Spasmo is, but this is an Italian film, and if there's one thing the country's genre films were good at (let's just ignore their usually fantastic aesthetics for the sake of argument here), it's being weird for the sake of weirdness in a natural and organic way, as if strangeness weren't something they strive for, but their natural state of being.

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