Silvio Amadio, 1972
Starring: Farley Granger, Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri
A new secretary arrives at the home of famed writer Richard Stuart, who is holed up with his kinky wife, Eleanora, on a lavish estate somewhere near Venice. Greta, the lovely blonde new hire, is a replacement for Sally, his former lovely blonde secretary, who mysteriously disappeared a few months earlier. What Richard and Eleanora don’t realize is that Greta and Sally were lovers and Greta is there to investigate what she believes is Sally’s murder. She soon gets swept in Richard and Eleanora’s perverse, hedonistic lifestyle, and the couple begins playing some very complicated mind games with her.
The film’s tagline – “An explosion of sexual frenzy!” – is not quite accurate, but there is plenty of steamy content in Amuck, Silvio Amadio’s penultimate giallo film and certainly his masterpiece. The Italian title, which translated to In Search of Pleasure – a title that’s far more honest about the proceedings – was inexplicably changed to Amuck. Richard and Eleanora, the film’s antagonists, appear to be on an epic search for pleasure and embrace every form of hedonism they can, thanks to Richard’s success as a writer. They engage in a semi-nude party, with the implication that it will result in an orgy, drug use, drinking, swinging, and even shoot their own sex tapes.
The two leading ladies are giallo regulars Barbara Bouchet (Don’t Torture a Duckling) and – perhaps the sexiest woman in giallo history – Rosalba Neri (The French Sex Murders). Not only do these two women give solid performances, but they’re not afraid to take their clothes off and have a very long, slow motion sex scene together that happens before the film’s 15-minute mark. While both women appeared in The French Sex Murders together, they are on top of their collective game (and a few other things) in Amuck. In general, the film doesn’t skimp on nudity and there are several beautifully shot sex scenes, including a flashback sequence showing Greta and Sally kissing naked under a waterfall (no, I didn’t make that up).
Bouchet and Neri are partnered with Strangers on a Train’s Farley Granger, who was fresh off of So Sweet, So Dead (1972) and is possibly at his best here as a truly manipulative bastard. Granger – who I always found to be oddly sexless – appears briefly in one sex scene, but is the ring leader of the increasingly confusing, bizarre events. He and Eleanora play a series of mind games with Greta that are partly fueled by seduction and there is certainly an alluring sadomasochistic bent to the film. It’s easy to get the sense that Richard and Eleanora’s relationship is consummated through these twisted games, as their relationship seems oddly platonic.
This strangely melancholic film has plenty of eerie moments, including flashbacks, potential hallucinations, and the constant entanglement of fiction and reality. The script’s finest element is its use of narrative and story to further the above themes. Greta works as a secretary, transcribing Richard’s latest novel, which turns out to be a mystery/horror tale about a young woman who has taken the job her missing friend once held. He seems to be shaping Greta’s fate as her weaves what is essentially her tale and her active imagination fleshes out the bits of Sally’s story that he does tell her. There is also a bit of a Gothic influence, such as a scene where a storm that knocks the lights out and another where Eleanora’s faints, has some sort of seizure, and begins channeling Sally’s ghost. Nonplussed, Richard explains that she sometimes has psychic episodes (!). Greta’s nighttime wanderings around the old mansion – where she is of course clad in a see-through negligée – feel like an improvement on Umberto Lenzi’s exploration of this theme in earlier films like Orgasmo, So Sweet… So Perverse, A Quiet Place to Kill, and An Ideal Place to Kill.
There is not much blood, gore, or violence, but it is used very effectively. The horror and suspense are primarily a psychological, as Richard and Eleanora’s games are a total mindfuck for Greta, who is refreshingly not as innocent as she’s first made out to be. Keep an eye out for Umberto Raho (The Bird With The Crystal Plumage) as the supremely creepy butler, who is responsible for some of the film’s sense of unease. As far as the violence goes, this is maybe the only giallo film where duck hunting plays a surprisingly serious role. Though it seems ridiculous, this idea is actually easy to swallow as soon as Rosalba Neri confidently begins handling a shotgun – which is oddly rather sexy – it’s easy to believe that she a crack-shot and could convincingly pose a threat to the clueless Greta.
Amuck comes highly recommended and is one of the more sadly under-rated efforts. It’s a fantastic blend of sexual intrigue, competent murder mystery, and giallo film that has nary a wasted moment. Amuck deserves its own fancy-pants special edition release, but instead, there’s only a basic DVD available for now. Hopefully it will get picked up on Blu-ray sometime this year.