Malocchio (1975) - The Fine Art of Tactical Retreat
Dec. 4th, 2012
08:13 am - Malocchio (1975)
aka Evil Eye
Playboy Peter Crane (Jorge Rivero) goes through some heavy times. Dreams where a bunch of butt-naked evil hippies (is that a penis dangling in semi-slow motion?) make googly eyes at him and make funny noises. The dreams disturb Peter's wild(ish) lifestyle, but things become really disturbing when he meets up with a woman named Yvonne (Lone Fleming) who tells him she had a dream in which her dead husband warned her that a man named Peter Crane was going to kill her. Which would be reason enough to either seek psychiatric help or avoid people called Peter Crane in the future, but obviously not for her. Yvonne is quite different - the next night, she meets Peter again, and even follows him to his villa.
But the making out session first turns into a manifestation of poltergeist phenomena, and then sees slick Peter suddenly turn into a glowering strangler. The next morning, Peter remembers nothing of what he's (probably) done. Somebody seems to have taken care of the dead body too. This is the first in a series of murders Peter may or may not commit under some sort of occult influence. There will be more poltergeisting, an old family friend who may have an agenda of his own (Richard Conte), a frightfully attractive female psychiatrist with dubious ethics (Pilar Velázquez), a blackmailing factotum (Eduardo Fajardo), and a lot of oddness (and I don't just mean a couple brushing each other's teeth in the shower though that scene would be odd enough for most). From time to time, the film pops in to the investigation of the murders as made by Inspector Ranieri (Old Wooden-Face Anthony Steffen) whose attempts to make sense of anything that happens in the movie are bound to fail.
Despite beginning like a giallo with slight supernatural elements, Mario Siciliano's Malocchio soon enough turns out to be one of these really weird pieces of continental European horror movies from the 70s that pride themselves in making as little sense as possible. Sure, one could, if one wanted, read a lot of what's going on as metaphor, squint at some of the film's backstory, add up what one imagines (audience hallucinations are always a possible effect in these movies), and arrive at some sort of explanation of everything that's going on here that may even be the explanation the screenwriters thought of (if indeed they were in the thinking business). However, I don't think that effort would be as worthwhile as just taking the film's oddness at face value.
The narrative is as jumpy and illogical as you'd expect in a case like this, with nobody's actions making much sense, motivations that seem made up on the spot, and only the loosest idea of dramatic tension. The film's climax does indeed seem wilfully un-climactic, and the filmmakers decision to do the ouroboros thing in the end gives the impression they just ran out of napkins to write on rather than leaving the audience with the shock of finding the main character trapped in a never-ending nightmare.
Of course, as you'd also expect in a film like this, that insistence on only making the vaguest sense, on leaving every scene dipped in a haze of the unreal is also Malocchio's greatest strength. This is, after all, a movie whose protagonist can't tell dreams from reality and truth from lies - why should it be any different for the audience?
If there's one problem I had with the film, it's that Siciliano's direction is not quite strange enough for the strangeness of the material. His direction is not bad - especially in the evil hippie demon dreams and assorted scenes - but he's often coasting a bit on the wonderful mugging and eye-rolling of his actors and the oddness of the script without adding quite enough oddness all his own.
But in the end Malocchio is confusing and dream-like enough to satisfy me, even if I've experienced films that were even more confusing and dream-like than it is.