Yellow Candles

I like the way Italian horror movies have multiple titles. BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is also SIX WOMEN FOR THE MURDERER, an original title less elegant than its replacement, although I do like how the final “R” is missing on my VHS. It works nicely if you say it with a strong scouse accent.

Riccardo Freda’s MURDER OBSESSION (1981) is also known as MURDER SYNDROME, THE WAILING and FOLLIA OMOCIDA and HOMICIDAL FOLLIES OF 1981, although I should admit that the it’s only known by the last title in my immediate household. This movie was Freda’s final completed job, and reprises a lot of the giallo oddness of TRAGIC CEREMONY (AKA, and I’m not kidding this time, ESTRATTO DAGLI ARCHIVO SEGRETI DELLA POLIZIA DI UNA CAPITALE EUROPA), combining incestuous oedipal desires, black magic, and heads been split in two in unconvincing but undeniably enthusiastic closeup. Lacking a Mario Bava for opticals or a Carlo Rambaldi for physical effects, Freda has to make-do with pretty shabby SFX, but make-do is what Freda does best. And to his credit, he uses the gore effects as abrupt punctuations of his languid, trippy mood, rather than lingering sadistically on them until you can literally see the joins, as would be the case in most Lucio Fulci movies.

Godard was right — it really isn’t blood, and it really is red.

After one of those already hackneyed openings when a lurid murder turns out to be a scene from a lurid murder movie, we plunge into lunacy as leading man Michael (Fiona: “He’s such a spoon!”) takes his girlfriend to meet mother (“I’ll say you’re my secretary,” he says, cheerily and not at all strangely) at her spooky, electrically-challenged mansion. Although he hasn’t visited mom for years, later he’ll be joined there for a meeting by his director, AD and co-star (exotic porn queen Laura Gemser, rejoicing in the character name “Beryl”) — as if this were a normal or even sane way to do business.

The plot trundles wonkily along, lurching from murder to murder, made appealing only by the sheer preponderance of WTF moments — if I had a clicker to count them, like David Bordwell, I would probably have notched up around one a minute. While the acting is mostly boringly competent (Gemser is neither better nor worse than anyone else), the dialogue is feverishly stupifying, helped by the fact that it occasionally switches randomly to Italian, since the original release was a cut version and the missing, undubbed scenes have now been added back in.

“You were declared not responsible and shut up in an institution far away from here. Then you became a famous actor.”

As with THE HORRIBLE SECRET OF DR HICHCOCK (sic), there’s much running around musty corridors with candelabra full of yellow candles, some characters turn up with monstrously deformed faces for no discernible reason, and change back to normal in an equally unexplained way, there’s surprisingly frank taboo sexual perversion (necrophilia in HICHCOCK, incest here) and a miasma of Catholic angst overhangs everything.

The plot is derailed utterly by a lengthy dream sequence narrated by the heroine to her spoon boyfriend, which he then has no opinion about, and which turns out not to be a dream after all… or was it? And then we get a series of alternate explanations of who’s behind the killings and why, one of which is recounted by a corpse (via a recording made earlier), which makes the whole thing seem like a giallo RASHOMON — or SLASHOMON, if you will.

Freda produces some startling and beautiful images, and succeeded in convincing me by the end that none of this would have been improved by better characterisation, dialogue, or a plot that made sense. His best effects often happen right at the point you expect the film to fall apart, and as in TRAGIC CEREMONY he goes handheld for the Satanic rituals in a way that vividly suggests complete loss of control

“Do you think a lot of filmmakers have issues with women?” ~ MST3K

13 Responses to “Yellow Candles”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dcairns, The Daily Notebook. The Daily Notebook said: RT @dcairns Italian horror peculiarity — […]

  2. The phenomenon of Italian alternative titles relates not only to the horror tradition, but also the Spaghetti Western and ‘sword and sandals’ Peplum genres. Largely this was to do with the films playing for international markets & the desire to disguise their Italian-ness (see your previous post about Mr Smokecocks!)

    As Peter Bondanella points out (sorry to keep referring back to him!) the greatest of all directors for wordy titles was Spaghetti Regia Giuliano Carnimeo (aka ‘Anthony Ascott’), whose magnificently verbose oeuvre reads like an explosion at an exploitation factory. You can view his filmography here:

  3. Strewth! Verbosity, thy name is Carnimeo! I think I like “Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana will Pay!” and “Why are those Strange Drops of Blood on the Body of Jennifer?” best.

    I’ve actually seen that one as “The Case of (the) Bloody Iris,” but I can’t remember anything about it.

  4. hahaha, Slashomon

    DIE and Low
    DEAD Beard
    Drunken DEVIL
    The DEAD Sleep Well
    Throne of BLOOD… wait…

  5. Rhapsody in an August Moon
    The Lower Deaths
    I Die in Fear
    Stray Rabid Dog

    The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail sounds like a pretty nifty giallo!

  6. david wingrove Says:

    The most poetic giallo titles of all are THE SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS and THE BUTTERFLY WITH BLOOD-STAINED WINGS. In the first case, anyway, the film itself actually lives up to it!

    My favourite one, though (and no, I’ve never actually seen the film) is YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND I ALONE HAVE THE KEY. Try that line in the pub one night and see if you get lucky.

    I’ve only seen a blurry and much hacked-about VHS copy of MURDER OBSESSION but long to see it in its proper and pristine state.

  7. Seven Samurai in the Cat’s Eye
    Akira Kurosawa’s Screams

    I heartily recommend YOUR VICE HAS AN OVERLONG TITLE AND I CAN’T BE BOTHERED TO MEMORISE IT – it’s one of the most coherent Sergio Martino films I’ve seen. A strong central performance by Anita Strindberg, I recall. And any giallo with Luigi Pistilli has to be worth a look…

    I first read about THE WAILING in a book called “La Dolce Morte”.

  8. Oh and Aldo Lado’s SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS is indeed a top-drawer near-giallo. Watch in conjunction with Francesco Barilli’s THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK for your full paranoia fix.

  9. David W, remind me to supply you with Murder Obsession and Your Vice… I’m positively ulcerating to see Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, myself.

    The other Lado movies I’ve seen don’t match up to Glass Dolls, and The Night Train Murders is just vile. But I’ll always like him just because his surname is an anagram of his first name. And vice versa.

  10. david wingrove Says:

    WHO SAW HER DIE? is another good Aldo Lado film. Made in 1972, it was an ‘influence’ (let’s be polite) on Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW, which copies whole scenes more or less verbatim.

  11. Anita Strindberg (the Margit Carstensen of the giallo?) is in WHO SAW HER DIE? as Lazenby’s wife, but she isn’t given as much of a chance to shine there, sadly.

    Strip Nude for Yojimbo

  12. I found Ercoli’s FORIBIDDEN PHOTOS to be a little underwhelming – worth seeing for the fashions though. His DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT is great fun – perhaps the closest that a real giallo has come to slapstick (I haven’t yet seen Corbucci’s GIALLO NAPOLETANO or Benigni’s IL MOSTRO).

  13. Yeah, I was just reading about Death Walks at Midnight, it sounds weird.

    The Seven Samurai on Grey Velvet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: