Color, 1976, 95m.
Directed by Paolo Cavara
Starring Corinne Cléry, Michele Placido, Tom Skerritt, Eli Wallach, John Steiner, Quinto Parmeggiani
Raro (DVD) (US R0 NTSC, Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The InnkeepersAfter co-directing a string of '60s mondo movies (including the infamous Mondo Cane) and an excellent fictionalized look at the genre with The Wild Eye, director Paolo Cavara took The Innkeepersan odd career detour in the '70s with two giallo offerings. First up was the cheesecake-laden Black Belly of the Tarantula in 1971, and five years later he followed it up with the far lesser-seen Plot of Fear. Despite its robust international cast, this thriller (mixed with some police investigation elements a la What Have They Done to Your Daughters?) got lost in the shuffle, barely playing outside its native country but looking far more interesting now as a quirky, stylish oddity worthy of rediscovery.

When a sadsack engaged in slapping sex games is strangled by his tranny dominatrix hooker (got your attention yet?), the Milan police force is intrigued by the presence of an illustration from a children's book by pro-ecological writer Hoffmann (Tenebrae's Steiner). Investigating Inspector Lomenzo (La Orca's Placido) soon realizes that a serial killer is at work when a similar clue turns up at a murder scene in an abandoned bus, and his hunt leads him to a sexy model neighbor, Jeanne (Story of O's Cléry), who's involved in a society with Hoffmann. More murders, kinky flashbacks involving a tiger, crazy fashion shoots, and other surprises make the case a lot more complicated than our hero could have imagined.

The InnkeepersWildly unpredictable, Plot of Fear boasts a couple of surprise American cameos from Tom Skerritt (as Lorenzo's police colleague) and Eli Wallach in a creepy big brother role amounting to a handful of brief but memorable scenes. For some reason neither of them supplied their own voices for the English dub, which just makes the experience even mThe Innkeepersore surreal. It's a dark, paranoid, herky-jerky tale with plenty of sordid elements but little actual gore, and the grumbling funk score by Daniele Patucchi (Wild Beasts) will either have you tapping your toes or scrambling for the mute button.

The first DVD of Plot of Fear appeared in Italy several years ago from Raro in a pretty lackluster non-anamorphic widescreen transfer with milky black levels and very pale colors. However, the merits of the film still shone through enough to earn it some attention at last from giallo fans, and its American video debut again under the Raro banner is a very welcome upgrade. It's a new HD transfer that easily surpasses its predecessor in every respect; colors are much richer, black levels are deeper, and the gritty filmic texture of the film is more finely rendered. As with the Italian disc, it features both the English and Italian versions with optional English subtitles (which translate the Italian dialogue and differ in minor but sometimes interesting ways). The Italian version is more satisfying overall as it reflects Placido's performance, and the American actors are dubbed and out of synch either way you watch it.

Unlike the Italian disc (which only featured a couple of minor text extras), the U.S. version heaps on three very welcome new video supplements. Now a very good director, the silver-haired Placido appears for a 17-minute interview in which he talks about "Italian film noir," the genesis of his career, imitating his director, and how Cavara inspired his choice to switch cinematic careers. Screenwriter Enrico Oldoini gets almost 13 minutes to discuss first meeting and working with co-writer Bernardino Zapponi (Deep Red), his thoughts on directing versus writing, combining comedy and suspense, and getting the chance to direct the film's bus bludgeoning when Cavara was unavailable. Cavara's son, Pietro, chimes in with a 13-minute discussion about his father's work including his proclivity for dark characters and subject matter, which films best expressed his father's filmic philosophy, the role of power in violence, and the ways the characters in this film continue themes found in earlier ones like The Wild Eye. All three videos are presented with very little editing, which results in a few unexpectedly funny moments like Placido suddenly being attacked by a stray hair in the air. A pdf booklet on the disc also features some liner notes by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, who offers his own appraisal of the film as an unorthodox example of golden age giallo thrills.

Reviewed on April 26, 2012.