Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Eyeball (aka Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro)

Eyeball Basher

Eyeball (aka Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro) 1975
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
The Camden Collection Region 0

Warning: Ever so slight spoilers in
this one... but the killer isn’t named.

Eyeball is a movie I’ve been trying to track down for a while, both because I really like the Italian Giallo as a cinematic genre and also because it has a typical “Bruno Nicolai does giallo” score, which was issued on Digitmovies CD a while back. It’s a little different in setting from the normal environment that becomes the killing ground for this kind of movie (as you’ll see below) but it’s not untypical of the genre and doesn’t feel that different to any of the other movies made in this style at the time.

I’m not really the biggest fan of Umberto Lenzi’s entries in the giallo cycle, I’d be the first to admit that, but at the same time he tends to manage to hit all the right points when he styles these films... almost as if he’s assembling a recipe for “giallo soup” from the raw ingredients: gloved killer - check (red instead of black in this one), gory murders - check, unhinged raison d’etre for the killings - check, more suspects than you can shake a stick at - check, bottle of J&B whisky for product placement - check.

This one, as I said, is a little different from most in that it follows a holiday touring group around Spain, as the members of the tour get bumped off one by one and, amazingly, it takes for this to happen three times before the police inspector assigned to the case decides to confiscate everybody’s passports so they can’t do a runner. This is a typical plot device for early murder mystery books and movies such as Charlie Chan Carries On, for instance, but it’s not something I remember seeing done in the more stylistic palette of the Italian Giallo before... and I’ve seen quite a few of these things now.

And what about that policeman, eh? At the start of the movie you find out that... yeah you guessed it didn’t you... this guy has only one more week left until retirement. Woohoo! Much glee and jumping up and down at that particular cliché in my household... and I was the only one in the house at the time! Well... apart from the dog but he doesn’t find movie clichés as excitingly foolish as me.

Okay, so this one is not directed with as much relish as a lot of gialli, I would say, although there are still some vibrant colour schemes and the odd few shots where the cinematographer has really gone for it and done something a little more Bergmanesque with people placement or explored some interesting spatial relationships with people and objects in perspective. These are exactly the kind of touches which make the giallo genre something I like to watch on a regular basis and there’s just enough of these little moments in this film to keep me interested throughout although, having said that, this one’s not exactly one of my favourites.

There are some stand out moments, however, like a murder in a ghost train sequence which is edited in such a way that it takes you out of the run of the mill of some of the rest of the movie and has a more “in your face” kind of vibe to it. And the murders are all themed around the motif of the victims having their left eye stabbed out and collected by the killer... which honestly sounds a lot more fun than it actually is when presented within the context of the movie... all the way through this one I was wondering what someone like Sergio Martino or Aldo Lado might have done with the same material to lift it slightly.

Still, having said that, I was still as baffled as I usually am while watching gialli... I had no idea until the end of the movie who the killer was. My main suspect was a woman who I’d cleverly realised was a photographer who holds her camera up to her eye. Therefore, I figured, this was a connection to only taking a single eye from the victims when murdering them. I was feeling all very clever with myself and patting myself on the back with this reasoning when the film suddenly did what almost every other giallo film does to me at some point... my chief suspect suddenly gets murdered in front of me and becomes the next victim. Doh!

Having said that, the fact that it turns out that the deranged killer is taking the eyeballs away and making use of them in his/her own hollow left eye socket (you’d never suspect that one of the characters has a false eye, by the way) is a real corker in the motivation stakes and something which is to be applauded... although again, without giving away the identity of the killer here, the final reveal does seem to be paying a little too much homage to the early work of Dario Argento in it’s make up. Just like Lenzi wanted to check another box in his selection of raw materials from which to try to create “the perfect giallo”.

Eyeball, I would say to you, is far from that perfect giallo, but it does give it a hell of a good go in trying to harness the best of the resources that ring true to giallo fans and, as I mentioned earlier, it does have one of Bruno Nicolai’s typical scores for this kind of movie to keep you company while you watch it... although I do find this one to be a little more repetitive than most of his “swinging seventies scores” to be honest with you. Ultimately this is not a great movie and if you’re new to giallo in general then I’d urge you to stay away from this one until you become a little more acquainted with the general tropes and fingerprints that help define the genre. On the other hand, if you’re already a fan of this particular species of colourful (in more ways than one) movie making then you’ll certainly want to give this one a watch... it’s by no means a terrible movie and you might well appreciate this one a lot more than I.

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