Color, 1972, 101 mins. 48 secs. / 85 mins. 48 secs.
Directed by Renato Polselli
Starring Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
In 1972, director Renato Polselli catapulted from the already flamboyant director of Gothics like The Monster of the Opera and The Vampire and the Ballerina to full-fledged cinematic madman with fever dreams like Black Magic Rites and Delirium (originally released as Delirio caldo). Both films star Mickey Hargitay (the former Mr. Jayne Mansfield) and the fearless Rita Calderoni, but the similarities hardly end there; the films also share a predilection for rampant nudity, dream sequences slip-sliding into reality, and a refusal to play by the normal rules of narrative storytelling. While fans continue to debate which film is “better,” Delirium is a film which, once seen, cannot be forgotten.
Essentially Polselli’s response to the escalating giallo cycle begun in the mid-1960s, our story begins with doctor Herbert Lyutak (Hargitay) picking up a sweet young thing at a small bar while they hang around the jukebox. During their ride home, he chases her off into the woods and brutally murders her while splashing in a river. Back home he enjoys the company of his beautiful wife, Marcia (Calderoni), though his impotence keeps them from consummating their relationship. Nevertheless she stands by her man, even after she deduces that he’s the mad sex killer running across the countryside, and the plot quickly thickens as the police become involved. Then while Herbert is in custody, the murders continue… so who’s the new psycho in town?
While the storyline sounds hopelessly stupid on paper, Polselli keeps things percolating by injecting the film with plenty of perverse murders (including one bathtub scene involving a knife that would have the BBFC spitting nails). The final ten minutes are soap operatic trash at its finest, with an escalating series of hysterical encounters that would make Pedro Almodóvar proud. The groovy music score is also an asset, while Hargitay wanders through the film in a manner similar to his earlier, bare-chested turn in Bloody Pit of Horror. While Calderoni has some juicy material to work with, she doesn’t look quite as lustrous as her appearances in Isabelle or the notorious Nude for Satan; however, her performance is one of her best as she oscillates between misguided sympathy to full-fledged lunacy.
The distribution history of Delirium is a nightmare of complications, with variant editions floating around in Italy, America, and France. The first two are preserved on Anchor Bay’s DVD, with the longer European cut (containing optional English subtitles) offering a fine-looking presentation. Colors are bold and a delight to behold, while the print material itself is in excellent condition. The dramatically different U.S. cut was cobbled together from a moderately damaged 35mm print with segments from a Danish video release added to fill in the gaps (easily identified as the picture quality becomes smudgy, and the English dialogue features Danish subtitles). Aside from dropping nearly 20 minutes from the narrative, the second version also tacks on a wholly unnecessary opening and closing Vietnam sequence which was later aped in Jacob’s Ladder, of all things. Also included is a "Theory of Delirium" (14m23s) featurette including interviews with Polselli and Hargitay reminiscing about shooting the film on a fairly rushed schedule.
After years of unavailability, Delirium reared its head on home video again in 2023 from Vinegar Syndrome in a greatly improved presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K scan. Interestingly, this version comes from a French negative bearing the title Sexes en delire, running exactly the same time as the earlier DVD; this is not the shortened French home video release with a kinkier version of the bathtub murder. Everything here improves over what we had before by leaps and bounds including finer detail, better color balance (no more yellow tint), and more image info on the sides. The DTS-HD MA Italian 2.0 mono track is also excellent and features improved English subtitles. The doctored U.S. version is also here, pulled from the exact same file as the Anchor Bay DVD including Danish inserts; the "Theory of Delirium" featurette is also carried over. A new audio commentary by Eugenio Ercolani and Troy Howarth covers all the bases including some possibly apocryphal stories about Polselli's directorial methods, the varying versions of the film, Hargitay's Italian films, the project's unusual status during the single busiest year of giallo output, and much more. In "Gothic Polselli" (12m44s), screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi chats about his collaborations with the director starting on The Vampire and the Ballerina, his thoughts on genre categories (or lack thereof), a funny side story involving the Pope, and various wild tales from the set. In "The Polselli Clan" (36m52s), daughter Vanessa Polselli paints an affectionate portrait of her dad whose life was often indistinguishable from his dedication to cinema and filled with amusing stories, including a funny winery anecdote. "The Polselli Factor" (14m39s) features filmmaker and film historian Luca Rea looking back at his own encounters with Polselli, including approaching him about screening his films and how he reacted to some of the director's key works that were often elusive or mistreated on their home turf. (This appears to be from the same session conducted for the Rea piece on the Black Magic Rites disc, but the content here is different including more about Polselli's very early days.) Finally "Fear and Delirium in Cinecittà" (31m14s) is an extensive, previously unreleased interview with Hargitay (though it was briefly excerpted on the Black Magic Rites 2023 disc). It's a very valuable record of his career, starting with his initial signing with AIP for peplum films and going through his various adventures in L.A. and Europe as well as touching on his deep love for westerns. It also feels disorienting to hear Hargitay speaking with his real voice and natural Hungarian accent!
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
ANCHOR BAY (DVD)
Reviewed on September 10, 2023.