Lamberto Bava, 1987
Starring: Serena Grandi, Daria Nicolodi, David Brandon, George Eastman
After her wealthy husband’s death, Gioia, a former model and porn actress, has become the owner of his risqué men’s magazine, Pussycat. But someone begins stalking Gioia and murdering her models — and sending in images of the dead girls with Gioia’s old nude photos as backdrops. While this makes the magazine’s sales skyrocket, she realizes that she is the likely target and is surrounded by potential killers — a bitter rival who wants to buy the business, a sexually frustrated neighbor who torments her, her elusive old flame, and more. The police are little to no help, but Gioia is determined to stay alive.
Written by director Sergio Martino’s brother Luciano (a regular writer and producer on Sergio’s films), this was allegedly intended to be a project for director Dario Argento. Supposedly due to script concerns, Argento bowed out, but nominated Lamberto Bava for the job. Bava was fresh off the success of their film together, Demons, and while Delirium is not the masterpiece of ‘80s filmmaking than Demons is, it’s an entertaining exercise in sleazy Italian horror and is of one of the last films that can properly be called a giallo. There are plenty of stylish, over-the-top death scenes, lots of sex and naked women, and more potential suspects and red herrings than possibly any giallo to come before it.
From Mario Bava’s seminal Blood and Black Lace, giallo films have frequently been set in the fashion world. Films like The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and Strip Nude for Your Killer have capitalized on the more lurid aspects of the industry and Delirium is certainly of the same mold. Gioia (the large-bosomed Serena Grandi of Anthropophagus, The Great Beauty) spends most of her days by the pool in a bikini, drinking champagne with scantily-clad models — that alone would be enough for me to watch this movie. Gioia’s secret (sort of) is that she used to be in porn and there is even a few shots of her in a Nazi-themed sex film (!). And, my god, her outfits. Outside of it following the Playboy/Penthouse example for how to lead a perfect life, this is worth watching for the outrageous ‘80s fashions alone.
Unlike Bava’s A Blade in the Dark or Demons, the violence in Delirium is arguably more stylized than gory and the film’s most noteworthy, unusual element is that some of the murders occur from the killer’s perspective. He hallucinates — which is obvious from the Mario Bava-like colored lighting that suddenly appears — and one model is shown with a giant eyeball in place of her head, while another has an insect head. The killer actually murders one woman with (perfume! and) bees, like The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but cheesier. Bava isn’t completely successful with these surreal, hallucinatory elements and I can’t help but feel that he was also aiming for something along the lines of Suspiria or Inferno, and in this case he utterly fails. Regardless, these scenes makes for some good, cheesy fun.
The film is also awash with potential suspects, both male and female. It is intimated that the killer is a blonde woman and both Gioia’s Joan Crawford-like business rival (played with gleeful malice by Capucine of The Pink Panther and Satyricon a few years before her death) and her assistant (Italian horror queen Daria Nicolodi in a role similar to the one she played in Tenebre) have blonde tresses. George Eastman’s tall, dark, handsome, and menacing looks lend themselves well to the part of Gioia’s unreliable boyfriend. One minute, he is dressed up as a barbarian (for a fantasy film) and then is suddenly having sex with her in the bathtub in the next shot. Uncomfortably, her brother walks in and just stands there, staring at them, before eventually muttering, “I didn’t know you had company.” Vanni Corbellini (Drowning by Numbers, The Belly of an Architect) is great as her jealous, playboy brother, though he is frequently outdone by David Brandon (Stage Fright) as the gay photographer. The film implies that his homosexuality might mean that he hates women is therefore killing them.
Delirium is plenty ridiculous, but comes highly recommended. Though I was almost disappointed with the ending (which I won’t ruin for you here), because it borrows from another of Lamberto Bava’s films, it’s balls-to-the-wall insane enough to be very entertaining, despite how ridiculous it is. This will mostly be of interested to giallo fans, as it’s among the last gasp of the genre (with Argento's Opera and Soavi's Stage Fright) and is filled with fun elements, like a horror-themed photo shoot, scantily-clad models everywhere, Dario Nicolodi, and an effective department store sequence where the shit hits the fan and the film rushes, full tilt, through several murders. I’m a firm believer that every ‘80s horror film should have a scene in a mall and this one does not disappoint. It's also — perhaps oddly — an effective picture of ‘80s excess and would make an interesting contrast with something consciously about this period, like American Psycho. Pick it up on DVD.