mandag 17. juni 2013


Italy, 1973

Directed by Renato Polselli

Eva Spadaro, Brad Euston, Mirella Rossi, Ivana Giordan, Isarco Ravaioli, Max Dorian

In the long and glorious history of Italian genre cinema there are many examples of films that have faded into obscurity and remain difficult to locate – at least in decent quality versions. Some are harder to get hold of than others, though, and one film that has taken on an almost mythical holy grail status among collectors is Renato Polselli’s delirious horror-thriller Mania from 1973. The film was released theatrically in August 1974 but received very limited distribution before quickly vanishing. It was never released on VHS in Italy or anywhere else in the world and has never shown up on Italian television, either. Even Renato Polselli himself stated that he did not own a copy of the film. Every now and then collectors have claimed to have obtained a hitherto unheard of VHS release or a screener tape of the film but in the end these claims are always revealed to be nothing but tall tales. Eventually, Mania came to be considered a lost film – one which was unlikely to ever resurface.

A scene from Mania depicting the madness of its female lead but also an apt illustration of the tremendous frustration experienced by collectors who have desperately tried to track down the film

In 2007, however, a new glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon. A 35mm print was unearthed in the archives of the Cineteca Nazionale, who retain copies of all Italian film passed by the censorship board. On 2 May 2007 this print was screened – for the first time in more than 30 years – at the Trevi Cinema as part of a retrospective on the career of Polselli, who unfortunately passed away in 2006. Some talk started to fly that DVD company NoShame was planning on releasing this long-lost film, and it finally seemed as though Mania was due for rediscovery. But, alas, it was not to be. NoShame went out of business quickly afterwards and there has been no more word on a possible release. In fact, Mania has not been shown again since the special screening in May 2007 and it remains as obscure and impossible to see as it was before. The only consolation is the fact that an absolutely wild theatrical trailer has been made available and can be watched on YouTube:

And so we wait – hoping and praying that one day we’ll be able to see this legendary piece of Italian cult cinema. But while we wait, it is possible to learn more about Mania by looking at its fascinating trailer, reading descriptions of the film and, last but certainly not least, by examining the rare photo-novel version of the film printed in the magazine Cinesex Mese in November 1973. Obviously, it’s not the same as actually watching the film but for the time being it remains the best option, and it allows one to at least form somewhat of an impression of what the film itself will be like. I am now going to take a closer look at the film and its plot – aided by plenty of scans from the photo-novel and screenshots from the trailer – so read on if you want to know more about this mythical film but do be warned that this coverage includes several spoilers.

The mania of the title refers to the condition suffered by its protagonist Lisa (Eva Spadaro), an attractive blonde woman with nymphomaniac tendencies, who is haunted by disturbing visions of her late husband. Lisa’s psychiatrist, Professor Lous (Polselli regular Max Dorian), tries to convince her that her fears are irrational and encourages her to confront her demons by returning to the villa where her husband died three years ago.

Eva Spadaro, in her only film appearance, stars as Lisa

The circumstances behind the death of Lisa’s husband are soon revealed to us when Lisa relates the tragic story to her current boyfriend Lailo (Isarco Ravaioli, another Polselli regular). We learn that Lisa’s husband was professor Brecht (Brad Euston), a renowned scientist involved in strange researches on electronics and corpses. Flashbacks show Brecht as completely engulfed by his research, and the neglected Lisa reacts by taking up a steamy affair with her husband’s twin brother Germano (also Euston). Their treachery is eventually discovered, however, when Brecht catches them carelessly having sex on the terrace.

Lisa reveals her past to her lover, Lailo

Brad Euston is Lisa’s husband, Professor Brecht

Lisa getting it on with her brother-in-law

Instead of reacting, Brecht isolates himself further – devoting all of his time to his research until one night a terrible fire breaks out in his laboratory. Germano rushes to save his brother but is caught in the harrowing flames. Meanwhile, Lisa witnesses the whole incident from behind a shut iron gate leading into the laboratory. In her state of shock and terror she stands immobilized – neglecting to open the gate to rescue her husband and lover from the fiery inferno. This will prove to have dire consequences for all of the parties: professor Brecht is horribly burnt to a bloody crisp; Germano miraculously survives but both of his hands and parts of his face are disfigured by the flames and his legs are paralyzed; and Brecht’s beautiful lab assistant Erina (Polselli favorite Mirella Rossi), who stood behind the gate with Lisa and watched, is so traumatized that she loses the ability to speak.

The fiery inferno in Professor Brecht’s laboratory

Lisa is frozen with fear at the sight of the fire

Frequent Polselli actress Mirella Rossi is Professor Brecht’s assistant, Erina, who is struck dumb by the shock of witnessing the gruesome fire

Lisa has not set foot in the villa since that tragic night three years ago but decides to follow her psychiatrist’s advice and confront her past. Her terrifying visions of her dead husband still persist, however. In her room she discovers old love letters from Brecht – letters she remembers having destroyed years ago. And then the charred zombie-like corpse of Professor Brecht appears before Lisa and menaces her before suddenly vanishing. Of course, it’s all part of Lisa’s imagination. Or is it...?

Lisa is attacked by her husband’s monstruous corpse

Erina – still mute from the shock – and the now bitter, disfigured and wheelchair bound Germano are still living in the villa and the latter is not particularly happy to have Lisa back. Lisa acts dismissively towards him but Germano grabs hold of her and tries to force her to kiss his badly disfigured hands.

Germano attacks Lisa

However, they are interrupted by the arrival of Katia (Ivana Giordan), Lisa’s faithful maid whom she has summoned to keep her company. It quickly transpires that the two women have an intimate relationship, and they soon embark upon a round of lesbian lovemaking in Lisa’s bedroom. They are secretly observed by Erina, who is turned on by the spectacle and starts undressing and touching herself. She doesn’t leave it at that, though, but actually grabs hold of a bottle and starts pleasuring herself.

Ivana Giordan is Katia, the lesbian maid

Lisa and Katia get down to business

Keeping up the tradition from Revelations of a Psychiatrist in a World of Perverse Sex and Oscenità, Mirella Rossi delivers yet another uninhibited performance for Polselli

In the end, Erina’s moans of pleasure are heard by the two other women, and the furious Katia gets into a chick fight with her. Erina is thrown out from the room and gets surprised by the demented Germano, who grabs her face with some kind of medieval-looking torture instrument and starts accosting her – forcefully masturbating the poor girl with his grotesque, disfigured hands.

Germano uses his vicious torture device on poor Erina

Erina is accosted by Germano

Meanwhile, Lisa’s visions of her late husband continue and at one point his deformed corpse is dropped from the roof – hanging by a noose. Things go from bad to worse when Lisa decides to explore the attic and someone or something throws a net over her – trapping her while a pack of deadly vipers attack the hysterical woman.

Lisa is trapped in a net and attacked by snakes but, clearly, eels were used for the scene

Fortunately, Erina comes to Lisa’s aide and frees her from the net. Lisa is so grateful that she decides to repay Erina by giving her some lesbian love – forgetting all about poor Katia. The jealous Katia instead heads out to the garden and gets it on with Germano on top of his wheelchair.

Katia and Germano have some fun in the wheelchair

However, Katia and Germano’s lovemaking is observed by Lisa, who begins to grow suspicious. She finds that the two of them look too intimate to have never met before and she furiously confronts Katia. A frightened Katia confesses that she and Germano have been working together all along – orchestrating letters, phone calls and apparitions of Brecht in order to drive Lisa mad. But it looks as if their plan might have worked a bit too well as Lisa has now gone completely bonkers, and in a fit of fury she gorily slashes Katia’s throat with a broken bottle.

Katia gets her comeuppance

Determined to find out once and for all if her husband really is dead, Lisa gets Erina to take her to the crypt, where she breaks open Professor Brecht’s tomb and finds his maggot-infested skeletal remains. But just then, the ghostly figure of Brecht’s charred corpse enters the crypt and menacingly approaches Lisa while asking her why she didn’t open the iron gate and save him from the fire.

Erina and Lisa enter the crypt...

... and unveil the tomb of Professor Brecht

The professor’s ghostly figure

It is then that the truth is finally revealed: it was not Brecht but Germano who burned to death in the fire and whose corpse rests in the tomb. Brecht is still very much alive – having assumed his dead brother’s identity and faking paralysis and disfigurement. He has never forgiven his wife for her infidelity and at last it is time for the final phase of the mad scientist’s revenge...

The maniacal Professor Brecht reveals himself to be still alive

Erina and Lisa are tortured by the deranged professor

I think I’ll stop there and not give the entire film away. It must be said, though, that the big reveal that it wasn’t Professor Brecht but his twin brother who died in the fire does not come as much of a surprise at all. But then again the plot – which is partly similar to the Polselli-scripted erotic thriller Giochi erotici di una famiglia per bene (made in 1971 but released in 1975) – is not really what makes Mania interesting anyway. It is first and foremost its style, atmosphere and all-around craziness that makes it stand out. As evidenced by the trailer, the film boasts an awesome acid rock soundtrack, classic 1970s style shock zooms, bizarre and hallucinatory imagery and delirious hysteria. Brad Euston as the maniacal Professor Brecht and Eva Spadaro as the unbalanced Lisa both put on a delightful, no holds barred display of hysterical, eye-rolling camp histrionics that is right up there with Mickey Hargitay and Rita Calderoni’s work in Delirium (1972), Polselli’s probably best known film.

Eva Spadaro and Brad Euston both go all out in their performances

Another vital part of the film is its strong emphasis on graphic displays of lesbianism, masturbation and sexual sadism – or at least it was as the film was originally conceived. Reports have indicated that the print held by the Cineteca Nazionale shown in May 2007 is a cut version shorn of graphic sex scenes. The reason why the photo-novel is much more graphic is because the photo-novel publishers usually received copies of the films before they were sent to the censor board and any cuts were imposed, and thus a lot of the photo-novels printed in the likes of Cinesex and Cinestop feature graphic scenes that are missing from the release version of the films. The Mania photo-novel strongly emphasizes the sexual content and these sequences are far more detailed than the non-sexual scenes. A lot of space is devoted to Lisa and her lesbian encounters with both Katia and Erina, but also to Brecht’s sadistic molestation of Erina. However, the pièce de résistance is no doubt Erina’s bottle masturbation while spying on Lisa and Katia, which the photo-novel devotes no less than 10 full pages to. But because the Cineteca Nazionale print is believed to be the only surviving print of the film, the steamier scenes cut from this version are probably lost forever.

This lesbian interlude between Erina and Lisa is just one of many steamy scenes from the film which are now probably lost forever

Interestingly, it appears as though the photo-novel’s strong focus on sexual scenes has led to the omission of several other sequences as the theatrical trailer features numerous bits and pieces that are missing outright in the photo-novel. One of the most notable examples of this is a scene in which poor Erina is tortured by being run over with a wheelchair.

Erina is tortured with a wheelchair

The scene where Professor Brecht’s charred remains hanging from a noose are dropped from the floor is also missing entirely from the photo-novel, as is the scene where Katia and Erina are frightened by the ghostly see-through figure of the laughing Brecht, a bizarre sequence featuring a rampant phantom car with no driver, as well as several other bits.

Two scenes missing from the photo-novel version

There is also some confusion regarding the role of Lisa’s boyfriend, Lailo, played by Isarco Ravaioli, a familiar face to Polselli fans having first acted for the director in his gothic horror film The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960). Plot summaries of Mania describe Lailo as being one of Professor Brecht’s research assistant but he is not depicted as such in the photo-novel. On the contrary he is shown to be unaware of Lisa’s past – hence her recounting her traumatic past to him in flashbacks. In the photo-novel, Lailo disappears at this point and does not resurface until near the end when he shows up at the villa with Lisa’s psychiatrist. He appears to figure more prominently in the actual film, however, and the trailer includes a scene where Lisa sneaks up on Lailo and knocks him down by bashing him over the back of the head with a heavy candelabra.

Isarco Ravaioli as Lailo

Yet another scene missing from the photo-novel

One wonders what Mania as it was originally intended by Polselli looked like, but sadly, we’ll probably never know the answer to this as Polselli’s original version of the film is presumably lost forever. Still, it would be fantastic to just see this fabled film in any shape or form, so here’s hoping that the censor’s approved print held by the Cineteca Nazionale will be made available soon. It’s about time now!

© 2013 Johan Melle

Ingen kommentarer: