Oct 10, 2011

Spasmo (1974)
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Writers: Pino Boller, Massimo Franciosa, Luisa Montagnana and Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Robert Hoffman, Suzy Kendall and Ivan Rassimov

The Plot: After a young couple show up for a quick makeout session on the beach, they discover a corpse laying just a few yards down from their current destination. When they inspect the young woman lying face-down they discover that she isn’t really actually dead at all, but has only passed out. The two run into this strange and alluring woman once again at a boat-party later in the evening. It is here that Christian (Robert Hoffman) ditches his current girlfriend and tries to bed this mysterious blonde from the beach. When the two find a hotel room, a strange gentleman breaks in and quickly instigates a knife-fight with Christian. During the battle, Christian accidentally kills this stranger in self defense. Afterwards, Christian and his blonde lover flee due to fear, but they are soon picked up by Alex. Alex is a strange man who seems heavily involved in this nefarious plot, but gives no motivations or clues. Christian and his lover do not stick around long though and they are soon wrapped up in a broad conspiracy that will baffle both Christian and any potential audience member watching at home.

The Review
As I previously stated in our review for Eyeball, director Umberto Lenzi has not been very well known for his giallo titles. While the selection is fairly slim, he does have a number of very interesting gialli to his credit. Interesting doesn’t always equate to “great” films, however, but they are different enough that they warrant a considerable amount of discussion. Although he is best known for his work on Cannibal Ferox, Lenzi’s best reviewed titles would likely be in the realm of the polizia (Italian action films) genre. Second to these films, however, would probably be his foray into the giallo. Spasmo, the film we are discussing today, is often regarded as one of the most abstract and downright strange giallo films ever made. Listed right alongside Death Laid an Egg and The House With Laughing Windows, Spasmo is indeed an odd duck within the world of Agathy Christie ripoffs. However, this is neither a guarantee for or against the quality of the film. Spasmo is so obscenely weird that I have a hard time classifying just what Lenzi was looking to accomplish with the film. This confusing makes it somewhat difficult to judge whether or not he was actually successful in whatever it was that he was trying to attempt. If I trust my gut instinct though, I am going to go ahead and say that this is a rather entertaining misfire. Despite that label, for fans of Lenzi this is going to remain a must-see.

It isn’t that Spasmo is weird because of anything that is wholly apparent at first glance. The movie doesn’t pack a David Lynch-esque atmosphere that lets the audience know immediately that the movie doesn’t adapt to real-world logic. Instead, it slowly lets the weird stuff gently creep into the overall production. The film is rather simplistic in its narrative at first, but it soon becomes incredibly complicated because it doesn’t adhere to any normal rules of cinema. When we are first introduced to Robert Hoffman’s character, Christian, he has a pretty little girlfriend who he seems to share history with. Then, after a character offers her an Asprin and they walk offscreen, she is simply abandoned. Before the audience even realizes it Suzy Kendall immediately replaces this mystery woman who may have never even been given a name. As things become complicated, the character Christian never asks the logical questions that you would expect of him. When he is wrapped up in a killing after spending only a few hours of time with this new woman, he doesn’t even begin to ponder whether or not she is somehow involved. Despite the attempted killer actually mentioning the girl. The movie seems to move to its own beat and doesn’t bother trying to answer questions or dare provide any sort of explanation for any of the previous baffling moments. Through this denial of cinematic conventions, or narrative logic as it were, we enter into a very strange sort of dream logic. The film is incredibly linear and it is easy to chart in most regards, but everything remains so ambiguous that it still becomes impossible to keep up with character motivations.

The logical deficiencies spread out through every facet of the movie. We get to watch the character of Christian stumble throughout scene after scene of dead exposition that really holds no weight in terms of what is actually going on in the story, but as he does so we are given some very peculiar lines of dialogue, which turn out to be entertaining if nothing else. This aspect of the movie could very well lead it to being a slightly more beloved piece of b-cinema if the right audiences ever find it. Romantic lines such as “I was right. You’re a sweet, sweet whore” and “I have a big razor in my room. Big, sharp, and sexy” really tend to stand out amidst all of the insanity that this movie provides. Also, who could ever forget the classic “I’m not a strong woman, Christian” line that is used throughout the entire movie? This over the top b-movie fun is actually part of what makes the movie as entertaining as it is. If it weren’t for the puzzling bits that caused audiences to scratch their head, there would almost be no reason to actually watch the film. Truly, it is a movie that can only be described as being incoherent. Sure, I believe that I actually understand the majority of what happens throughout the film, but I can fully understand if the majority of viewers just give up on it at the halfway point. In many ways, it really isn’t worth all of the trouble.

Some credit should probably be given to the film for its attempts to do something different from the rest of the giallo titles out there. In fact, I have no doubt that there are many who would argue against even referring to this as a giallo. I, however, feel that due to its thriller nature and the time and era that it was made in, it certainly seems like a fair addition to the genre. The movie definitely does not operate in the same way that most of these films generally do, that is for sure. With Spasmo isn’t just that we don’t know who the killer is, but throughout the majority of the picture we aren’t even sure if there actually was a murder at all. This, along with some of the atmosphere (which there is a surprisingly high amount of, considering how much of the movie was shot in broad daylight) is what generally keeps the movie afloat.

The Conclusion
What else is there to really say about Spasmo? Utterly ridiculous is the best way to describe this odd turkey. I would recommend it to Lenzi or giallo film fans, but if you’re looking for something other than a very strange piece of Eurocult cinema… you might be disappointed. I give it a three out of five, but it almost dropped down to a two.