tirsdag 7. juli 2015

La morte scende leggera

Italy, 1972

Directed by Leopoldo Savona

Stelio Candelli, Patrizia Viotti, Veronika Korosec, Tom Felleghy, Fernando Cerulli, Antonio Anelli, Marcello Di Martire, Rossella Bergamonti, Franco Marletta, Lella Cattaneo

Leopoldo Savona was a bit of an oddball director whose career was made up mostly of low-budget spaghetti westerns, but he also made two attempts to tackle horror and thriller material – first with the stylish and underrated gothic horror film Byleth (1972) and then with the little-known giallo La morte scende leggera (translation: Death Descends Lightly).

The plot deals with shady drug trafficker Giorgio Darica (Stelio Candelli), who returns home from one of his “business trips” and finds his estranged wife Irina with her throat slashed. Fearing he’ll be the police’s number one suspect, Giorgio seeks help from Magrini (Fernando Cerulli), a corrupt magistrate he has dirty dealings with. Magrini and Giorgio’s shady lawyer Savara (Tom Felleghy) arrange for Giorgio to hide out in a temporarily abandoned hotel until they can set him up somewhere more permanently. Giorgio goes along with the plan but insists on bringing his mistress Liz (Patrizia Viotti) along to the hotel – against Savara’s wishes.


Giorgio seeks help from his big shot friends

At first, Giorgio and Liz seem to settle in well and enjoy spending their time relaxing, watching old porn loops on a projector, and having lots of sex, but it doesn’t take long before the confinements of the hotel causes boredom and paranoia to kick in. Liz starts questioning whether Giorgio has actually murdered his wife or not, and the two are soon at each other’s throats and arguing violently.

Sex and games at first...

...then boredom sets in...

...and finally hysteria

Things take a turn for the worse when it turns out that Giorgio and Liz are not alone at the hotel. In the middle of the night, Giorgio is awoken by strange sounds and heads downstairs, where he finds a middle-aged woman murdered – her throat slashed just like Giorgio’s wife. Suddenly, the hotel owner (Antonio Anelli) appears and matter-of-factly explains that the woman is his wife, whom he has just murdered because her jealousy was making his life unbearable. The strange hotel owner tells Giorgio that the two of them are in the same boat now and asks him to help dispose of the body – to which Giorgio reluctantly agrees, but the hotel owner’s bizarre behavior soon has him questioning his own sanity and whether or not what is happening is actually real.


Giorgio becomes an unwilling accomplice

Complicating matters further is the sudden arrival of the mysterious Adele (Veronika Korosec), who claims to be the hotel owner’s daughter, and who begins playing mind games with Giorgio and trying to seduce him. The increasingly distressed Giorgio is unable to tell whether Adele is real, or a figment of his imagination, or perhaps even a ghost. Has he gone mad? And is he the killer of his wife or not?

The mysterious Adele

Giorgio and Liz start to get freaked by all the strange going-ons

La morte scende leggera is another one of those little-seen gialli that has lapsed into obscurity and is currently circulating only through rips of an old Italian VHS with English fan subs slapped on top of it. Production of the film was originally announced in Variety back in June 1971 under the slightly longer title La morte scende leggera come un ragno (Death Descends Lightly Like a Spider), with spaghetti western star Robert Wood set to star alongside Patrizia Viotti. By the time it went into production, however, Wood had been replaced with Stelio Candelli. The film was eventually completed and approved by the Italian censorship board in August 1972 but for reasons unknown it did not hit Italian movie screens until two years later – making little impact at the box office and apparently never receiving an English dub. Interestingly, the blurb in Variety cites Aldo Marcovecchio – who had previously written The Night of the Damned (1971), which also starred Viotti, as well as Savona’s previous horror film Byleth (1972) – as the writer whereas the film’s opening titles credit the story to Luigi Russo and the screenplay to Russo and Leopoldo Savona, with no mention of any sort for Marcovecchio. It is still very much possible, however, that Marcovecchio had a hand in the script because the bizarre screenwriting traditions in Italy at the time meant that writers who contributed substantially to a film’s screenplay might end up receiving no credit at all while someone who had comparatively little to do with the finished script might end up receiving full credit for it.

As for the film itself, La morte scende leggera is another case of a rare giallo that has faded into obscurity for a reason. It starts out promisingly enough, with the seemingly abandoned hotel serving as a suitably sinister and claustrophobic setting for the action. But it doesn’t take long before the confinements of the hotel start to bore and frustrate the two main characters, and unfortunately, their boredom quickly rubs off on the viewers as Savona’s direction is languid and lacking in momentum. The ghostly twist is a welcome change of pace from the usual giallo routine, but Savona seems unsure about how to handle it, and the big climatic reveal is clumsily telegraphed early on. Still, the film isn’t necessarily all that bad – the real problem is rather that everything is so hopelessly indistinct. The cinematography by Luciano Trasatti is pretty slick, but for a giallo it is rather on the ordinary side. There’s none of the visual panache we’ve come to expect from these films, and likewise, there are no flashy or stylish murder set-pieces, or even the requisite kitschy fashion tastes – presumably a result of the visibly meager budget. Again, nothing is outright bad, but the execution is consistently half-assed.

There’s an unfortunate lack of extravagantly silly fashion and décor choices but, thankfully, Liz’s ghastly decorated bedroom is an exception

Thankfully, there are some notable exceptions to the mediocrity which are able to redeem the film somewhat – most notably the soundtrack by Lallo Gori and particularly the cool, guitar-driven song “Sunday in Neon Lights” – performed by Ghanaian prog rock singer Mack Sigis Porter – which plays over the opening titles and which is repeated at various times throughout the film. This song was not written for the film (it is instead taken from Porter’s 1972 album “Peace On You”), nor did composer Gori have nothing to with it, but according to Quarter Records’ CD release of the film’s soundtrack, Gori nevertheless “designed his orchestration to match the song and creates a memorable, haunting tapestry of madness, mod and psychadelia”. Gori’s compositions do indeed match the song very nicely and together they help set a nice atmosphere and mood for the film. You can listen to the song yourself here:

Another priceless highlight is the scene where Giorgio and Liz are in bed watching a sex loop on an 8mm projector that Giorgio has very conveniently brought with him. You can’t go on the run without one of those! Anyway, what’s interesting is that the footage being shown on the projector is actually a recycled sex scene from Savona’s previous horror film Byleth (1972) featuring the beautiful Marzia Damon. This scene even gets a little meta on us when Liz asks if the loop is Italian and Giorgio informs her that Italy is producing more of this stuff than Sweden and Denmark.

Nothing sets the mood like some good 8mm porn

It is also interesting to note how the film foreshadows Umberto Lenzi’s Spasmo (1974) in the way it questions the sanity of its protagonist, although ultimately the film’s troubled release story resulted in the Lenzi film being the first to hit movie screens. The hotel setting and ghostly apparitions means that the film also manages to foreshadow Stanley Kubrick’s iconic The Shining (1980), though only on paper as the two films couldn’t possibly be more different in execution. If anything, the atmosphere of La morte scende leggera, with its zero budget look and confined setting, most of all resembles a Jess Franco film.

Casting for the film is somewhat odd – headlined by spaghetti western bad guy Stelio Candelli in one of his relatively rare starring roles. Candelli’s hard face and intense gaze made him an unusual choice for leading roles and as such he is a nice fit to play a shady crook like Giorgio. He’s not a particularly sympathetic protagonist, but the film deliberately plays on this by keeping the viewers in the dark about whether or not Giorgo has murdered his wife. The opening scene simply shows him exiting his apartment building looking all wild-eyed, sweaty and nervous, but it is unclear whether his agitated state is due to having just committed a murder or simply because he has just found his wife dead and is nervous about becoming a suspect. It’s a nice approach, but it never quite succeeds – largely because Giorgio is not only a rather unsympathetic character, but also a boring one. Candelli is a good actor and does a decent job, but there’s only so much you can do with such a thinly drawn and underdeveloped character.

Guilty? Or just nervous?

Filling the part of the female lead is the dour-eyed Patrizia Viotti, who gives off a rather unlikable vibe throughout the film, although it’s difficult to tell whether this is intentional or not. She is as quick to disrobe here as she was in Filippo Walter Ratti’s sexy-gothic horror film The Night of the Damned (1971) but her acting rarely rises above passable except for a well-done freak-out scene where she gets into a violent confrontation with Candelli.

Patrizia Viotti

The most familiar name in the supporting cast is surely that of Hungarian-born character actor Tom Felleghy, one of the most frequently employed actors at Cinecittà, with appearances in more than 200 Italian productions (be it western, giallo, horror, peplum, crime, comedy, Eurospy etc) but usually in small roles limited to a scene or two. The role of Giorgio’s shady lawyer allows Felleghy to take on a more substantial part than usual for him, and it is nice to see him get a fair bit of screentime even if the role itself is hardly all that exciting.

Tom Felleghy

La morte scende leggera might be worth a watch, I guess, as it has a couple of interesting moments and a terrific soundtrack, but this is definitely a lower-tier giallo, so approach it with low expectations.

© 2015 Johan Melle

The cast:

Stelio Candelli as Giorgio Darica

Patrizia Viotti as Liz

Veronika Korosec as Adele

Tom Felleghy as Attorney Savara

Fernando Cerulli as Magistrate Magrini

Antonio Anelli as Hotel owner

Marcello Di Martire as Commissioner De Carmine

Rossella Bergamonti as Marisa

Franco Marletta as Malvestiti, the film director

Lella Cattaneo as Hotel owner’s wife

2 kommentarer:

Richard of DM sa...

Great review! I wasn't over the moon about this one upon first viewing. Maybe I need to give it another look.

Johan Melle sa...

Thanks for commenting. Yeah, as you can tell I wasn't overly impressed myself either. I like the soundtrack, the unusual cast and some interesting scenes here and there, but it's not too great overall. Savona's BYLETH is way better, I think.