Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Murder Obsession (1981)

Film grammar has developed and refined itself over more than a century to the point that it almost seems as if children today are born already knowing exactly how to “read” a film.  Of course, this isn’t true in a blanket fashion, but young viewers today are so sophisticated, their media so slick, it’s no wonder that more people want to be famous today than arguably at any other point in the history of man (feel free to debate this amongst yourselves).  Even “reality TV” is so over-produced, so manufactured, that there is, if not an erasure, certainly a large scale blurring of the lines between fiction and reality at work in our culture.  People no longer need to aspire to greatness.  No effort needs to be expended.  The only requisite now is for enough people to view a video clip of you doing something that makes the people with money decide you’re valuable to them (or worse, you can be a superstar simply by dint of birth).  Of course, vapidity and lack of actual talent has been with us since the world began, but I would argue that never before has it been quite so celebrated.

There seems (at least to my cynical eyes) to be a diminishment in the desire for individuality, a diminishment in the desire to interact with the real world in any meaningful (and actually physical) manner.  For as interconnected as we have become, we seem to be forfeiting the very skills which allowed us to get this far.  Perhaps this is us getting ready for “The Singularity,” when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence.  Perhaps this is someone else getting us ready for it?  Perhaps those of us who are older have already been surpassed by the younger generations and simply cannot comprehend what those “whippersnappers” see as simplicity itself.  Or perhaps they really are just degenerating, by and large (again, not a blanket statement; there are exceedingly few things that have no exceptions).  I’m no expert.  I claim no provenance or superior knowledge here.  But mark my words; this is something which deserves serious consideration.  It’s not just the old saw of an older generation saying how much better things were when they were kids as viewed through some nostalgic mist.  Ain’t it funny?  I started this introduction as a look at flashbacks and fractured time in cinema.  Oh well.  You got a screed instead.

Michael (Stefano Patrizi, possibly the blandest actor in recorded history) is an “edgy” thespian who takes his role as a murderer just a little too intensely on set.  Oh, he doesn’t actually kill co-star Beryl (Laura Gemser), but he does give her a right strangling.  Later and seemingly for no reason, Michael suddenly has the desire to return to the family manse and bring some of his filmmaking buddies as well as his secret girlfriend Deborah (Silvia Dionisio) along with him.  Reuniting with mother Glenda (Anita Strindberg) and creepy groundskeeper Oliver (John Richardson), Michael works through his troubled past while someone starts picking off the cast members.

Riccardo Freda’s Murder Obsession (aka Follia Omicida aka Murder Syndrome) deals in many ways with fantasy (in the forms of art, legends, and imagination) versus reality.  Michael’s father (also played by Patrizi) was a symphony conductor.  After viewing a portrait of said dad (which resembles an Andy Warhol styled Op-Art piece more than a traditional painting), the son hears his father’s voice accusing him from beyond the grave.  Director Hans (Henri Garcin) carries around his camera, calling it his “third eye.”  Beryl used to practice voodoo, and she feels that legends are important when you believe in them (i.e. Truth is constituted from an accepted artifice).  Hans tells Glenda that magic will “solve the mysteries of life.”  Interestingly, Glenda and Oliver represent a juxtaposition to their houseguests.  Whereas, Hans and company talk about magic and the occult in abstract philosophical terms (labeling their possessions or talents with expressions implying non-existent mystical properties), Glenda and Oliver practice what they preach and believe in it wholeheartedly.  This, then, explains why the others can only talk about the “magic” others possess.  

This extends to lies and deceptions, one of which is central to Michael’s self-discovery (naturally, this being a Horror/Giallo film).  You see, Michael believes that he killed his father when he was only a child.  The Oedipal manner in which he and his mother interact certainly makes this a possibility and even gives the film an intriguing undercurrent which it never pays off (but more on that later).  Yet, we know from the introduction of Michael’s memories and/or dreams that there has to either: One, be more to it that will be revealed later like puzzle pieces or two, a third act reveal that uncovers the falsity of these images (or a combination of both).  And there is, to be fair.  Deborah also gets an extended nightmare sequence (roughly ten minutes of screen time), and as you’re watching, it feels like filler (and filler which wears out its welcome, no less).  Well, it is filler, but it does make some sense by the film’s ending.  Unfortunately, the sense it makes doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

I’ll try to explain.  Murder Obsession is predominantly a confused mess of a film (in case you didn’t get that yet).  Points are brought up and things happen, but none of them appear to be leading anywhere in a narrative sense.  Further, if they are meant to lead somewhere, they are almost entirely undeveloped.  So, we get scenes like the one early on when Oliver astrally projects and his spirit goes for a walk around the house.  And that’s the first and last we see anything about this until the very end of the movie.  Of course, Michael’s not going to be the killer.  We know that from frame one.  We know that from reading the film’s synopsis.  So we get some of the reddest of red herrings to keep us guessing (Hans wears one black glove into the room after Beryl is attacked, Oliver is a disturbing-looking sleepwalker, Beryl asks Michael if he was really strangling her when they were filming, etcetera).  Everything is disconnected, so even when it’s all explained at the end, it doesn’t feel like a resolution.  It feels like an excuse.  Consequently, the entire film comes across like an exercise in cynicism.  They needed gory murders, so there are gory murders.  People are interested in the occult and mysticism, so there are offhanded references to the occult and mysticism.  There needs to be sex and nudity, so there’s a ton of sex and nudity (and probably more torn blouses/blouses falling open and off than I’ve ever seen in a film…probably).  There needs to be a shock ending, so there’s a contrived shock ending.  The film goes through damned near every single one of the motions it can possibly go through, but it’s all empty.  There is no care shown the story and an almost unbridled disdain shown toward the audience’s intelligence.  Even though I can’t say I outright hate this film, I can definitely say it won’t be on my Christmas card list anytime soon.      

MVT:  The supremely cheesy gore effects (credited to Angelo Mattei; possibly a relative of Bruno?) are fascinating in their primitiveness.  Even for a dirt-low budget Horror film, they’re bad, and they wouldn’t fool an animal.  But they are juicy and they are fun.

Make Or Break:  The clunky ending exposition will have you scratching your head and shouting at the screen at least as much as it actually clarifies any of the film’s plot points (or maybe will just have you scratching your head and shouting at the screen every time it tries to clarify a plot point; it’s all about perspective).  How that will leave you feeling when the credits roll depends on your tolerance level.  I admit mine is pretty low sometimes.  

Score:  4.75/10

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