“Sounds like you enjoy playing the victim.” The 1970s saw an explosion of 'giallo' films produced by Italian filmmakers after the success of Dario Argento's début film The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, a murder mystery that twisted sex and violence together in a bravura package of style and warped psychology. As the decade wore on the flood turned into a trickle, but the American slasher movie craze that came in the wake of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980) saw somewhat of a revival of blood-soaked mysteries in Italy with the likes of Tenebrae (1982) and A Blade In The Dark (1983). However, once again, the craze waned, but spurts of brilliance still emerged with Argento's Terror at the Opera (1987) – in which a bullet penetrates a peep hole to brain-splattering effect – or, in this case, Lamberto Bava's psycho-sexual mystery slasher Delirium (aka La Foto Di Gioia) – in which a woman with a big, veiny eyeball for a face gets skewered with a pitchfork … now that got you intrigued, didn't it?
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“It's like you're feeling pleasure you've never felt before.” Immediately thrusting the viewer into a steamy photo shoot, Bava wastes no time in establishing a scintillating tone that runs throughout the film where the female form is framed in fascination. Gloria (Serena Grandi, Anthropophagous) watches from the sidelines as her photographer Roberto and director/brother Tony (Vanni Corbellini) recreate an infamous photo set in which she originally starred before ascending to the position of editor-in-chief at the glamorous Pussycat fashion magazine. Also watching – through a roaming telescope, no less – is her creepy neighbour Mark (Karl Zinny), whose pervy phone call comes as no surprise to Gloria, who dismisses him with a wearisome familiarity. Suspect number one (of several) firmly established, then.
“Only a wild and crazed animal could kill someone like that.” Amidst the glossy dinner parties and padded pastel shoulders of 80s excess, however, Gloria's magazine is fighting for survival – but when their latest cover model Kim (Katrine Michelson) ends up dead, slain in Gloria's pool only to be spirited away before she can see anything, their sales go through the roof. But things go from bad to worse when a new photo set – featuring Kim's bedraggled body draped in front of the original incarnation of the photo shoot that starred Gloria – is delivered to Pussycat's offices. Then, as if matters couldn't get any worse, the same deadly fate comes for the magazine's next cover model. What does the killer want, why is that photo of Gloria so important, and when will they come for her?
“I'd say suffering has enhanced your beauty.” Towards the end of the 1980s the Italian film industry was beginning to enter some tough times that lead to minuscule budgets and tacky-looking productions, such as those that befell Lucio Fulci in his declining years with rough (but sporadically grisly) productions such as Touch of Death and A Cat In The Brain. However, Lamberto Bava's giallo/slasher hybrid shows no signs of such impending constraints as every frame utilises the sets and locations to their fullest, dousing them in bold splashes of red, white, and blue light courtesy of Gianlorenzo Battaglia's glamorous photography. Indeed, the world of fashion vigorously penetrates the film's sense of style, from the parade of beautiful models to the fetishistic operation of photographic equipment. Hell, in typically Italian style, Serena Grandi's wardrobe, make-up, and hairstyling receive prominent credits at both ends of the film.
“You'll never change, you'll be a villain until the day you die.” While Lamberto Bava can't quite conjure up the grandeur of Dario Argento's most elegant scenes of murder and mayhem (the stunning sequences of Suspiria, the painterly framing of Deep Red), he nonetheless achieves a high gloss sheen to proceedings, employing Mauro Bonanni's considered editing and Simon Boswell's bursts of killer rock 'n' roll riffs. Similarly, the plot doesn't attain the complex thrills of Ernesto Gastaldi's best work with Sergio Martino (e.g. All The Colours Of The Dark, or Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key). The film does offer up some delicious avenues for the story to move into, but the film often ditches intriguing possibilities – such as Flora watching a rare copy of an adult movie starring Gloria that few people know of. Likewise, the bizarre visions – Kim's eyeball face, Sabrina's bee head – charge in like a bull in a WTF shop only to evaporate completely. Still, even with such scatterbrained storytelling Delirium manages to maintain a decent sense of tension and mystery, and laces the plot with sordid ideas.
“I don't mind men, they never meant any more than a Kleenex, something to use and throw away.” Despite the frequent baring of the female form in lurid and leering detail (see Gloria's rain-soaked silk dressing gown, or monstrous Mummies pawing at supple models), Lamberto Bava (Blastfighter) makes a few intriguing – if jumbled – points on the balance of power between the genders. Gloria has risen to the very top seat of power at Pussycat magazine, for which she was formerly a glamour model – her controlling stake inherited after her husband sought to break a speedboat record in a needless pursuit of adrenaline. Her main rival, meanwhile, is another female editor-in-chief – Flora – who, much like Gloria, lives not with a man, but another woman. Evelyn (Daria Nicolodi, Deep Red) is Gloria's assistant, but Flora's apparent room-mate is also suggested to be her lover. Conversely, Mark – Gloria's neighbour – is confined to a wheelchair, although his condition seems to be entirely mental, while Tony – Gloria's brother – is impotent and, naturally for a giallo flick, Inspector Corsi (Lino Salemme) is entirely ineffective as a homicide detective. Even Latin lover/actor Alex (George Eastman, 2019: After The Fall Of New York), first seen between takes dressed up as some kind of roving barbarian, has his weaknesses despite his sexual prowess. Alex is a former flame of Gloria's, but the prospect of marriage and commitment scared him off, and he retreated to familiar philandering territory for an eternal cycle of man-child promiscuity and arrested development.
“I know everything and what I don't know I imagine.” The film (written by Gianfranco Clerici and Daniele Stroppa) also presents some very topsy-turvy ideas that are only half-explored. A rich theme of perversion runs throughout the film, from an undercurrent of incest to voyeurism to the inevitable clash of sex and violence, which plays out in potent detail via the phallic use of a gleaming knife and a 'money shot' of blood regurgitated upon exposed flesh after a bullet obliterates a male organ. However, the most confusing element of the film is Gloria's relationship with the misanthropic Mark. Despite his impotent rage and self-hatred leading to some rather troubling phone calls to Gloria, she merely swats him away as a pitiable figure. He may be cast as a fairly pathetic figure lurking amidst dozens of taxidermied hunting trophies (and wrought with guilt over a car crash that killed his girlfriend), but further developments between them raise some eyebrows. It seems as if Clerici and Stroppa are, among other things, exploring the idea that Gloria may be flirting with a more base and squalid sense of sexuality. However, this is just one of several plot threads that is never quite fully resolved, leaving the viewer somewhat lost as to what exactly the film trying to say. The message is all a bit muddled, but it does add a form of complexity to the shifting layers of the narrative. The script is not without ambition, at least, but it is lacking in clarity and focus.
“How does it feel to be surrounded by death?” 88 Films' 29th edition of The Italian Collection (a Blu-Ray & DVD combo pack) breathes new life into a hidden and modestly successful gem of giallo cinema, but the release itself leaves something to be desired. The picture quality is solid, managing to strike a decent balance between restoration and preservation of the original film grain, but the audio quality is lacking. This may be down to the source elements, but hissing “S” sounds and occasionally murky dialogue disappoint. Extras wise it's absolutely bare bones (not even a trailer), although there is a booklet on the career of Daria Nicolodi (shame about the teensy font size) and optional English subtitles.
“To commit crimes like that he must be paranoid – one can't guess what he's thinking.” Despite its loose handling of myriad themes and potent ideas, Delirium nonetheless keeps up appearances with strong performances, endless glamour (even a cemetery looks stunning), and Lamberto Bava's eye for detail within the frame. For instance, during a sequence set in a clothing store, Bava utilises lurking mannequins lurking, slashes of blood red light, and wall art that mirrors that picture of Gloria to satisfying effect that illustrates a command of the presentation despite an unfocused script. High on style, medium on violence, and raunchy from start-to-finish, Delirium may not be a classic giallo, but it's a solid effort of psycho-sexual mystery that sits comfortably in the mid-field of the genre where it provides a surprising amount of entertainment.
N.B. Screenshots are taken from the DVD copy of the film because I do not have a Blu-Ray drive from which to capture images.