Color, 1981, 97m.
Directed by Riccardo Freda
Starring Stefano Patrizi, Anita Strindberg, John Richardson, Silvia Dionisio, Laura Gemser, Martine Brochard
Raro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Raro (Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)
After getting carried away during a strangulation scene on the set of his latest movie, actor Michael Stanford (Assault with a Deadly Weapon's Patrizi) decides to take a breather and return to his family estate with his girlfriend, Deborah (Terror Express' Dionisio). Of course, that's not quiet as nice as it sounds since he supposedly killed his father as a child, and his mother Glenda (Lizard in a Woman's Skin's Strindberg) is in less than robust shape. Others from the production show up as well (including one of his sexy costars, played by Black Emmanuelle herself, Laura Gemser) to scout from locations in the area, which leads to a string of intense nightmares involving bats and a giant spider, a gruesome murder by a lake, and lots of deadly secrets spilling out of the family closet.
The transition to increasingly graphic, sleazy horror films in the '70s resulted in some pretty wild efforts from the grand old masters of Italian gothics, as evidenced by such films as Mario Bava's Bay of Blood and Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse. One of the least prolific maestros in the genre was Riccardo Freda, an inventive filmmaker who helmed such films as The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, Caltiki the Immortal Monster, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, and the magnificent The Ghost. This one finds him mashing his ornate sensibilities with dashes of nasteir thrills like copious nudity from the female leads (especially Gemser) and gory flourishes like a surprising chainsaw attack. Most of it doesn't really make much sense (especially the ending, which competes with Macabre and City of the Living Dead for sheer incoherence), but the rich Euro-terror ambience and pounding electronic score (more on that below) carry it over most of the rough spots.
Most American horror fans familiar with this, Freda's last film, first encountered it via Wizard Video's VHS release in one of those great oversized boxes under the title Fear. This English-language version was trimmed down by five minutes from the Italian original, including the removal of some of that big fake spider and several snippets of dialogue. Various other VHS editions of varying lengths made the rounds as well including a UK version entitled The Wailing, while the initial English export version was entitled Murder Obsession (a translation of the Italian title, Follia omicida). The uncut version appeared in Italy from Raro Video in a better but still mediocre non-anamorphic transfer featuring the English and Italian audio, with Italian and English subs for the snippets of additional footage. All versions of this film credit the music to composer Franco Mannino along with his arrangements of some classical selections (including some well-placed Bach), but the Italian disc proved to be a revelation in a surprising way; that crazy pounding, electronic score familiar to English-language viewers doesn't seem to be Mannino's work at all. The Italian version has a completely different, piano-driven score that's obviously the actual work of the composer, who also worked on Death in Venice; the entire sound mix is much more sedate and classical in approach, right from the soft tolling bell and moody keyboards in the opening scene instead of those aggressive synths. Frankly the English track is a lot more fun, but it's amazing to compare the two and see the differences in how the film plays with these simple changes. Also included on this disc is a slightly extended snippet of the Gemser bathtub scene sourced from a dupey VHS tape (totally disposable since you can barely see anything anyway) along with an interview with special effects guru Sergio Stivaletti. This was one of his first films before he went on to glory working with Dario Argento, and he spends ten minutes talking about the genesis of his career all the way up to working on his big breakthrough three years later, Phenomena.
The film's American DVD debut also comes from Raro, and this 2011 release features a radically improved, fresh new anamorphic transfer that leaps ahead in every respect. Detail increases significantly, contrast levels are much more controlled and natural, and the shaking and occasional video noise from the first DVD are now gone. Contrary to the packaging, this disc contains only the English version with the Italian language subtitled restored scenes; since the film is sloppily dubbed out of synch either way, it's not much of an issue. However, owners of the Italian DVD may want to hang on to it for the full Italian track with the original music score. The Stivaletti interview is carried over here along with uncredited liner notes featuring comments about the film and standout scenes along with a Freda filmography, plus a particularly graphic image of Gemser from her most memorable scene in the film.