Color, 1976, 99m.
Directed by Eriprando Visconti
Starring Rena Niehaus, Michele Placido, Flavio Bucci, Bruno Corazzari, Gabriele Ferzetti
Camera Obscura (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), CineKult (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A pivotal film in the European blending of arthouse and exploitation, Italy's La Orca comes packed with undercurrents of social and political unease inside a shocking abduction story equal parts The Collector and The Candy Snatchers. Today it also remains significant as the most famous film directed by Eriprando Visconti, nephew of legendary filmmaker Luchino Visconti. A specialist in using extreme content to dissect bourgeois society, he followed this film with a very unconventional and perverse sequel (Oedipus Orca) and the graphic soap opera/whodunit A Spiral of Mist, neither of which have really received their due outside Italy.
When spoiled nothern rich girl Alice (Niehaus) is kidnapped by a trio of southern Italy wannabe criminals, she winds up confined in a sparse room in a remote house where they plot to retrieve the ransom. However, her well-to-do stepfather (The Psychic's Ferzetti) can't seem to cough up the money, leading to a protracted captivity which finds the ringleader, fisherman Michele (Placido), sexually drawn to his captive.
Several aspects make La Orca different from your average drive-in hostage movie (of which there were plenty between the Red Brigade era in Italy and the Patty Hearst sensation in America). The caliber of actors is much higher than expected, for one; while German model-turned-actress Niehaus was only beginning her career on film, she's ably supported by the excellent Placido, who went on to fame on Italian TV in La piovra (The Octopus) and became a notable director with films like Vallanzasca, released in English as Angel of Evil. One of the nastier kidnappers is played by Flavio Bucci, the blind pianist from Suspiria who had just appeared in Night Train Murders the previous year. That said, the film doesn't stint on the shock value where it counts, including one unforgettable centerpiece in which an unconscious Niehaus is explored by Placido in her bed that pushes the boundaries of mainstream imagery about as far as it will go.
Barely released seven years later in America in dubbed, edited form as Snatch (by a fledgling Miramax no less), La Orca has never been the most accessible film for English-speaking viewers to find. The Italian DVD looked adequate but had no English options, so that makes the deluxe edition from Camera Obscura the first authorized English-friendly release anywhere in the world. The image quality blows away the Italian release, too, and looks terrific even on large screen TVs. The 1.:1 framing looks accurate, and colors have a natural but rich appearance throughout. Definitely satisfying and about as good as this could look in standard def. The mono audio options include Italian or German (go with the former if you can), with optional English and German subtitles.
The film can also be played with a lengthy audio interview and discussion (in German with optional English subtitles) with Niehaus and Christian Kessler, a familiar name from previous Camera Obscura releases. They cover most of her Italian career, which began after a stint in Germany as a model for the likes of Marlboro, Playboy and David Hamilton. She didn't really speak much Italian at all, which made for a very interesting time shooting in Rome, including turning down a role in Pasolini's Salo. She talks at length about the personalities of her co-stars and swapping kinky gift trinkets with Visconti, but perhaps the best section comes near the end when she frankly recalls the making of the memorable and hugely underrated 1978 horror film Damned in Venice (Nero Venezzino). From a severe sinus infection to a horrible relationship with director Ugo Liberatore (whom she chased on the set with an iron rod at one point), the production was enough to give her a nervous breakdown and cause a temporary retirement from the screen.
The rest of the extras commence with the 23-minute video interview "A.K.A. Prandino," in which director Corrado Colombo discusses the life and films of the late second Visconti including his bourgeois background, depictions of Milan, and the strangeness of the resurgence of interest in his work. Next up, "Dissecting La Orca" has film historian Antonio Bruschini talking about the political value of the film and its pictorial accomplishments as well as the backgrounds of its cast members. Finally you get the German and Italian theatrical trailers, as well as a photo gallery. The insert booklet features liner notes in both English and German by Marcus Stiglegger, who explains some interesting facts about the book Horcynus Orca featured prominently in the film, Visconti's severe health issues, and the real-life backdrop against which the film was made. With this release, it's safe to say Camera Obscura's winning streak has continued unbroken.
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