The Devil in the Brain 1972 Italy
Directed by Sergio Sollima
The Camden Collection DVD Region 0
I’m not sure if one can consider The Devil In The Brain to be a bona fide giallo or not. It doesn’t have “too” many of the more obvious signature traits of the genre which I identified in a previous article (black gloved killers, high body count etc) but it does have the full atmosphere of a typical giallo and is very much a murder mystery so I’m going to throw caution to the winds and classify it as such myself (even though everyone else has already made that decision ;-).
Everyone’s favourite spaceman Kier Dullea (David Bowman in 2001/2010) stars as Oscar, a man returned to his hometown because of Sandra, the woman he loves. However, said woman has been having some difficulties... in that she believes her young son is responsible for the murder of her husband and has blanked all her old friends and acquaintances from her mind... basically regressing mentally to the state of a ten year old girl.
The film focuses on the mystery of the murder of her husband as Oscar and his doctor friend, with the help of Sandra’s protective mother, attempt to bring Sandra back to her normal self. And of course, since this is a giallo, the only way to do that is to invite danger and intrigue to their door. Sandra is played by the beautiful Stefania Sandrelli who film fiends may remember from The Conformist and The Black Belly of the Tarantula.
The film is very competently directed by Sergio Sollima who I know from his two great spaghetti westerns The Big Gundown and its sequel Run, Man, Run. There are some small references to the western genre in the posters on the son's bedroom walls and in his cowboy hat, perhaps this is a nod to Sollima’s work in that genre.
There are some beautiful shot compositions as one would expect both from this particular director and from this particular genre of movie. He especially favours the kind of shot where one character’s head fills one third of the extreme left or right of a shot while another character is framed almost full bodied in perspective in the remaining part of the screen. I love this kind of shot so no complaints from me... it’s like these compositions were shot to “be” the lobby cards for the movie (in fact, I’d like to see some lobby cards for this movie because I personally wouldn’t have been able to resist choosing these particular shots).
The score on this movie is by the incomparable legend who is Ennio Morricone (looks like another purchase for me then if I can track this comparatively scarce album down) and it seems to favour the use of slow melody for this film rather than my preferred “Morricone in giallo” mode of jazzy, atonal noodlings... but hey, I’m not complaining. Good Morricone is still good Morricone. There are some references to the same Beethoven track that Morricone used as a signature for one of the villains in Sollima’s The Big Gundown (the track from that movie was recently used right at the start, post-credits of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) and one wonders if this was a particular, favourite musical piece of the director.
I’m very pleased to say that this movie caught me out in respect of the actual identity of the killer. While I suspected that this person may have been the killer right at the start of the film, in typical giallo fashion, by the time I’d got halfway through I had a number of possible suspects and I discarded my earlier theory on the grounds of... well, it would be too stupid to have that person turn out to be the killer! But as it happens, that person did turn out to be the killer so... well done Mr. Sollima... it’s rarely that I get caught out on these kinds of things.
While The Devil in the Brain is a good, solid Italian thriller, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to any but the most rabid giallo fans... at least not until a better print and transfer show up. As it is though, if you’re into these kinds of movies as much as me... this is a curio you won’t want to miss out on.