Monday 1 June 2015

The Washing Machine (Ruggero Deodato, 1993) DVD Review

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“A man, cut up into pieces, and stuffed in there like soiled linen.” Ruggero Deodato – a name synonymous with one film in particular: the utterly notorious Cannibal Holocaust – but what of some of the other highlights from his varied career? His name has also been attached to the likes of House on the Edge of the Park (a spin on The Last House on the Left) and Phantom of Death (Basil Exposition ages disgracefully) … but, like most Italian directors, he also lent his talents to the world of the giallo film. However, in the case of the curiously-titled The Washing Machine (aka Vortice Mortale), the sultry sex appeal of the 1970s had long gone and, in this case, been replaced by a post-Cold War hangover and pastel track suits...

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“What's happened to the people in this country? They used to respect our authority.” The Iron Curtain has fallen – political change has swept the nation – but to the people on the streets, change is wearily slow in taking effect. Times are tough, citizens must make ends meet however they can, and sometimes passions run high – extreme measures can be taken.

“Stop being so paranoid, Alexander, not all washing machines have cut-up corpses inside.” Vida (Katarzyna Figura) is a ribbon gymnastics tutor by day and a call girl by night, enthralled and enraged by her lover/pimp-apparent Yuri (Yorgo Voyagis) in equal measure, and tonight their date has ended badly. She suspects him of cheating (well, he isn't the most subtle of Casanova wannabes), but his greasy charms are too much – it's five minutes in and already Deodato is throwing his audience into a fevered fridge-side fondling … and if that wasn't enough, Vida's sister Ludmilla (Barbara Ricci) is playing the knicker-flashing, triangle-chiming (that's not a euphemism) voyeur!

“We could see her watching us, but this only made it more exciting.” That night however, Ludmilla wanders to the kitchen for a midnight snack only to find the washing machine playing up – just what could that crimson fluid spewing out be?! Much to her shock it's Yuri – hacked to pieces and stuffed into a spin cycle – but even more bizarre than that, when she awakes the following morning, there's no body to be found.

“Our sister is normal.” Inspector Alexander Stacev (Philippe Caroit) is the buff, blue-eyed copper on the case – but what case? There is no body, just a missing scumbag, and three saucy sisters pleading ignorance and innocence. Is Ludmilla a crazed alcoholic widow like Vida and Maria (Ilaria Borelli) claim her to be – as well as a self-professed clairvoyant? Whose version of events is true, is the bureaucratic incompetence of the police department a case of deliberate obfuscation, and how can Alexander possibly resist the lascivious advances of his three prime suspects? How indeed!

“Times are tough, seems like everyone has another job these days.” Drug runners, strip clubs, strangely hands-on lessons in culture for the blind, finger-eating felines, infidelity, impotence, jealousy, blackmail, suicide, and suppressed secrets – suffice it to say, The Washing Machine, written by Luigi Spagnol, boasts a convoluted plot. Touring through the historic grandeur and no-frills modernity alike of Budapest, the conflicting and ever-twisted – yet confoundedly intertwined – versions of events, as told by the sisters, becomes more and more of an obstruction to the viewer as things proceed.

“You never seen a pair of cymbals before?” Despite a handful of grisly splashes of gore – including a hatchet-mangled torso – Deodato's gaze, through Sergio (Cannibal Holocaust) D'Offizi's lense, is far more interested in the 'clothing optional' cast of gorgeous ladies. From a handcuffed stairwell romp to the literal tossing of a salad, the film steams from one boob-and-or-butt-baring bunk-up to another … and yet, as titillating as it is, there's a seam of curious comedy running throughout it all. Look no further than the scene where Maria silently has her way with Alexander in a sculpture museum surrounded by her blind students. Indeed, at times The Washing Machine can be downright bizarre: frustrated by Alexander's refusal to pay attention to her (an out-of-the-blue flash of lingerie at a public pool), she turns up at his flat crashing a pair of cymbals until he lets her in!

“I think I deserve better.” Shameless Screen Entertainment's 44th release finally provides a home to a relatively rare late-period giallo, but the audio/video presentation is a mixed bag at best. The picture quality is decent, but varied, regularly soft and murky, and occasionally rather scruffy (as seen in some 'warp' effects from the video era, or the close up of the severed fingers, for example). Print quality aside, the cinematography is – likewise – a mixed bag: night scenes are well lit, while a night club appears surprisingly flat. Sound wise, yep it's another mixed bag – the mono track is intermittently muffled when it comes to dialogue, and many of the sound effects exhibit an echo, however this seems to be deliberate. Many of the scenes take place in wide open spaces, or cavernous interiors, so the echo plays up a sense of the city being a cold and lifeless place.

“Be careful, it's very easy to fall in love with Maria.” Extras wise this release has little to offer beyond some production stills provided by Deodato, and the obligatory (but connoisseur-friendly) 'Shameless Trailer Gallery'. Where this release shines though, is in its packaging. Designed by Graham Humphreys, the film comes in a limited edition tin package made to look like – what else – a washing machine, complete with see-through window. It is, quite possibly, Shameless' best packaging to date. So, the A/V presentation leaves a fair bit to be desired, but there are few alternatives out there for this particular flick – this is as good as you'll get for the time being, but thanks to Shameless it's no longer a hard-to-find title.

“No! Don't shoot her! She's mine!” Featuring a bountiful supply of fetching femmes and a good range of location work, The Washing Machine focuses far more on sex than violence (there's more bared flesh than you can shake a handful of pre-washed delicates at). However, as an example of gialli, it's a middling effort where thrills are sorely lacking, style is inconsistent, and storytelling is overly complex. That said, in spite of its flaws, Deodato's film is still enjoyably weird – such as a scene in which a vigorous bit of cavorting results in death by iron … opinions will vary, but Ruggero certainly had it in for domestic appliances!

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