A few minutes into AUTOPSY (MACCHIE SOLARI), Armando Crispino’s splatteristic 1975 thriller about an outbreak of suicide/murder in the deadly heat of the Roman summer (a time when, Orson Welles observes in F FOR FAKE, an invading nation could conquer the city with a telephone call), my partner Fiona said she felt stoned.
She had said the same thing during Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (title courtesy of DeQuincey), and it wasn’t during the scenes of demented Technicolor mayhem or weirdly over-prolonged, non-specific “suspense”. It was during the dialogue scenes. The plotty stuff where the director sits back, kicks off his shoes and takes a siesta while the actors endeavour to wade through “exposition” of the nonsensical “non-Cartesian” storyline, or indulge in “characterisation” based around semi-suppressed Freudian childhood traumas, or just wonder, flatly, what the hell is going on.
(Jessica Harper in Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA)
It’s to do with the script, the acting, the often-poor synchronisation, and the dubbing itself. I wonder if this is just how Italians think films are supposed to be, since subtitling is virtually unknown in Italy and all foreign films are re-voiced. But I’ve always understood that the Italians are better at dubbing, so when they watch our films they shouldn’t have this weird, disconnected quality. The voices are always up-close and lacking in atmospheric qualities like reverberation, unless these have been artificially provided in a highly unreal manner. The vocal performances aren’t always terrible, but they’re seldom emotionally in synch with the visuals, sounding either more strained or more relaxed than the facial expressions they accompany. Usually more strained, especially when the voice artist is TRYING TO SOUND LIKE the person onscreen.
I’m not sure I can say this is effective, but it definitely has an effect. A stoned effect. It makes spaghetti westerns more funny, sometimes a good thing, and horror films more unconvincing and dreamlike, also often good. I wonder, looking at Argento’s more recent films, if he’s been trying to make actors seem badly dubbed even when they’re not.
Anyway, Fiona soon ducked out of AUTOPSY and went about her business, shooting the odd remark at the screen whenever she passed through the room. “I’m glad I’m not watching this anymore,” that kind of thing. And on the whole she was right. The film starts great, with Morricone’s distressed orgasm women freaking out on the soundtrack, as sunspots erupt in astro-vision, while on the Earth various parties are offing themselves in colourful fashions (I mean the methods of self-immolation, not the 70s dress style, though that’s colourful too). One man puts a plastic bag over his head and jumps in the Tiber. “Why does he need the bag if he’s drowning anyway?” asked Fiona.
“He doesn’t want water in his nose.”
And Fiona, who swims with her head RIGHT UP, had to accept this.
There was then some good creepy stuff as Mimsy Farmer, with bad Lady Di hair, gets overworked in the mortuary where she’s working on her Masters Degree in Murder-Disguised-As-Suicide, starts to have visions of corpses grinning at her. Then the corpses indulge in interracial sex (is it supposed to be more shocking because one corpse is black? I mean, they’re DEAD) which is just funny, and a sleazy morgue cosmetologist tries to pick up Mimsy (that NAME!) with a stroke-victim smirk and the line, “Brains leave me cold, bit if you’re interested in a little warm meat, doc, I’d be glad to oblige. Modestly speaking I’m well-endowed,” spoken as he seductively deposits a handful of brain matter on a table.
“That is the best chat-up line ever!” applauded Fiona.
That’s another thing about a lot of gialli (and especially this one), people say horrible things to each other all the time, and very often get away with it. These films come from another dimension (70s Italy) where sleaze and misogyny pass for polite conversation, and nobody bats an eyelid, or stabs an eyeball, at remarks that ought to cause rapid deployment of mace or electric stun baton.
I like a spot of giallo, but the combined effect of feeling simultaneously soiled and stoned is a bit like doing ‘shrooms in a flooded sewer…
“You Have Been Watching…”