Thursday, May 28, 2015


Sergio Martino, 1972
Starring: George Hilton, Edwige Fenech, Ivan Rassimov, Susan Scott

Jane lives with her boyfriend Richard in London, where she is recovering from a recent car crash. In the accident, she miscarried and lost the baby they were expecting together, which has triggered intense anxiety, paranoia, and dreams of her mother’s murder at the hands of a blue-eyed man, which occurred when she was a little girl. Richard tries to push vitamins and other pills on her, while her sister, Jane, thinks she should go to a psychiatrist. She finds accidental refuge with her mysterious neighbor, who suggests that Jane could find relief through an occult ceremony. She attends a Satanic ritual, which launches her into a paranoid hell with seemingly no escape.

Sergio Martino’s third giallo film combines elements of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby with themes found in his previous films, namely a tormented female protagonist who is haunted by past trauma and unfulfilled sexual desires, and is stalked by a mystery man. Many of his regular actors return to reprise roles similar to those in The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh: Edwige Fenech  (Five Dolls for an August Moon) is the damsel-in-distress who may be losing her mind, George Hilton (My Dear Killer) is her ambiguous boyfriend, and Ivan Rassimov (Planet of the Vampires) is the blue-eyed man menacing her dreams and waking hours. Giallo regulars George Rigaud (Knife of Ice, Horror Express), Nieves Navarro (billed here as Susan Scott, Death Walks at Midnight), and Marina Malfatti (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave) all have strong side performances.

This Italian-Spanish coproduction is also known as Day of the Maniac and They’re Coming to Get You! Like The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, it is full of dreams, fantasies, and memories that confusingly intersect in the mind of a potentially mental ill woman driven, at the least, to the verge of a nervous breakdown. The film does not use its occult material nearly as successfully as Rosemary’s Baby (come on — I love Sergio Martino, but few directors are the equal of Roman Polanski), and the cult is actually the source of some unintentional humor. The black mass scenes are excellent, though an animal sacrifice and Jane’s gang rape seem so unreal — and over the top -- that they just don’t have the weight of far more subtle moments in Rosemary’s Baby.

Not to jump back on the subject of Polanski, but there are a number of sequences that channel not just Rosemary’s Baby, but also Repulsion, as it becomes an obvious possibility that Jane’s psychosis and the man stalking her may just be in her head. One of All the Colors of the Dark’s finest moments is actually a series of scenes where it seems that Ivan Rassimov’s blue-eyed killer is really just a manifestation of Jane’s terror, guilt, and sexual repression. Martino delivers some great chase scenes through Jane’s apartment, but Rassimov’s character also represents some of the film’s most frustrating elements, namely its inability to resolve any of these individually strong threads.

More mean-spirited than it is overtly violent, All the Colors of the Dark has a fantastic sense of style (unfortunate some of it is style over substance) and Martino’s familiar sense of repellant sexuality is present — in spades. Like screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi’s earlier Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, the sense of dreamlike menace is incredibly effective, as is the constantly growing paranoia and feeling that the female protagonist is at risk from the predatory male and female characters that surround her. This lack of female freedom is a theme throughout Gastaldi and even Martino’s works and it’s interesting how Fenech would play out different variations of this in her giallo career. I think All the Colors of the Dark could have become a true classic if it wasn’t afraid to pursue a truly bleak ending where Jane’s fears — and fantasies — of losing control reach spectacularly violent heights, as in a film like New York Ripper or Short Night of the Glass Dolls.

Despite some overt copying from Rosemary’s Baby, this is perhaps Martino’s most ambitious film alongside his followup effort, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. It’s worth seeing for its wonderful black mass scenes, some over-the-top moments, and a great score from Bruno Nicolai enhances run-of-the-mill suspense scenes where Jane is walking alone through town or waiting on a subway platform, elevating things from the predictable to the menacing. It’s available as on out-of-print DVD from Shriek Show, though hopefully this and the other four Martino giallo films — The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, and Torso — will make their way to a special edition Blu-ray box set sometime soon.

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