Color, 1972, 102/85m. / Directed by Renato Polselli / Starring Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni / Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

In 1972, director Polselli catapulted from workmanlike director of gothics like The Vampire and the Ballerina to full-fledged cinematic madman with a pair of freakish, stream-of-consciousness Italian sleaze classics, The Reincarnation of Isabelle and Delirium (originally released as Delirio Caldo). Both films star Mickey Hargitay (the former Mr. Jayne Mansfield) and the stunning 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 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 Almodovar proud. The groovy music score is also an asset, while Hargitay wanders through the film in a manner similar to his earlier, barechested turn in Bloody Pit of Horror. While Calderoni has some juicy material to work with, she doesn't look 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 the finest-looking presentation of the film to date. Colours are bold and a delight to behold, while the print material itself is in excellent condition. The dramatically different US 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. The third version from France featured some alternate, borderline hardcore insert footage during the murder and sex scenes but has been omitted here; however, it's difficult to feel short-changed with the already stuffed package on hand. Also included is a 14-minute featurette, including interviews with Polselli and Hargitay reminiscing about shooting the film on a fairly rushed schedule.

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