Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Census Bloodbath: Slayboy

For the Scream 101 episode about this film, click here.

Year: 1987
Director: Lamberto Bava
Cast: Serena Grandi, Daria Nicolodi, Vanni Corbellini
Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes
MPAA Rating: UR

Italian horror in the late 1980’s was in a very strange place. The thrilling, erotic giallo genre had long since died down, but international markets were still demanding more and more slasher content. The two big Italian horror exports that year, despite sharing four crew members and almost a whole title, explored two polar opposite approaches. Those films were Deliria AKA StageFright: Aquarius and Delirium AKA Photos of Gloria. They shared a costume designer, composer Simon Boswell, star David Brandon, and writer/actor George Eastman, but they couldn’t be more different.

Michele Soavi’s StageFright resurrects the idiosyncratic visual style of Dario Argento and applies it to a delightfully gory romp through slasher excess, whereas Delirium: Photos of Gloria (our topic for today) takes a more self-reflective approach, wearing the faded patches of the giallo genre on its sleeve yet failing to find the energy to rise above being mildly intelligent softcore trash.

Nobody got out of the 80’s with their dignity intact.

Delirium assembled a robust team of the giallo old guard to bring its story to life. Legacy director Lamberto Bava (son of cinema legend Mario Bava) helmed a crew that included Don’t Torture a Duckling screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici, Five Women for the Killer editor Mauro Bonanni, and The Scorpion with Two Tails production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng. And that cast is a nonstop barrage of familiar faces, both old and new.

The story is simple enough. Gloria (Serena Grandi of Anthropophagus) is an ex-nudie model who now runs a men’s magazine. Unfortunately the women who pose for the cover start turning up dead, photographed in front of a massive blow-up of Gloria which was shot during an unpublished modeling session that very few people have access to. She and the useless Inspector Corsi (Lino Salemme of Lamberto Bava’s earlier Demons) must find out who the killer is before they turn their sights on her.

The suspect pool is rather large, as Gloria is surrounded with intimate friends and coworkers who have all been acting rather peculiar lately…. First there’s Flora (Capucine of the Pink Panther series), a matronly lesbian who wants to buy Gloria’s magazine out of revenge for her resisting the woman’s advances. The list goes on and on from there: Mark (Karl Zinny, also of Demons), her wheelchair-bound Peeping Tom neighbor; Gloria’s actor ex-lover Alex (George Eastman, the impossibly tall cannibal from Anthropophagus), who always seems to be conveniently out of town whenever the murders occur; the stand-offish photographer Roberto (the aforementioned David Brandon); her brother and partner in crime Tony (Vanni Corbellini of The Belly of an Architect); and her dutiful – almost too dutiful – assistant Evelyn (Argento collaborator/ex-wife Daria Nicolodi of Tenebrae, Deep Red, Suspiria, and so forth).

Shockingly, she actually survives this movie.

Even though the cast isn’t particularly small, it’s intimate. There are practically no other characters involved, and the interpersonal relationships between almost every combination of personalities are explored with some depth. This is a giallo with an exceptionally focused murder mystery plot (that’s a low bar, but still) because the people populating it are at least mildly interesting all across the board.

That’s just about the last unequivocally good thing I’ll be saying about Delirium, but let’s keep this positive train a–chuggin’ for another minute. Seeing how the film is such a blend of old and new, it really is an interesting reflection on the genre it more or less put out to pasture. Much like Dario Argento’s Tenebrae five years earlier, it’s as much a meditation on misogyny in the genre as it is a pristine example of it.

With the most phallic, penetrative imagery this side of Slumber Party Massacre’s giant power drill, Delirium is a 90-minute exercise in foregrounding the never-quite-subtle sexual symbolism evident in the slasher and giallo genres. If you don’t want spoilers (like anybody cares), skip until after the next image.

The killer here targets women as an outlet for his rage at his impotence, a theme that has never been explored more explicitly (except maybe in the chainsaw seduction scene of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2). When the killer finally confronts Gloria, he undresses her with his blade, sticking it in her mouth and rubbing it across her body until he’s literally shot in the dick and “ejaculates” blood all over her face. And every other death is so symbolically penetrative it’s almost obscene, especially the sequence where a nude young woman is stung to death by hundreds of bees.

Truly delightful.

The overtly misogynistic violence clashes against the film’s depiction of women who have sexual autonomy and hold high-powered jobs, manipulating the voyeuristic eye of the camera and the men holding it.

But mostly of course, this is all just an excuse to shove as many bare breasts into the frame as physically possible. It’s a shame such an intelligent, knowing visual theme has to be supported by a weak softcore plot and actors who perform like this is the very first rehearsal of a high school play. It also features a completely unnecessary and inexcusable rape scene, which tilts the balance too far over the edge into genuinely nasty exploitation.

Delirium: Photos of Gloria tries its best, but it’s a thin wisp of a film; a sad straggler from a genre that had more or less already been interred. If you’re going for a taste of 1987 Italy, StageFright bridges the gap between Italian giallo and American slasher with aplomb, whereas Delirium merely plummets to its demise.

Killer: [Tony (Vanni Corbellini)]
Final Girl: Gloria (Serena Grandi)
Best Kill: My fingernails never can survive a good bee sting death.
Sign of the Times: Oh, Simon Boswell. You really had a time and a place.

Scariest Moment: Gloria visits her husband’s grave and finds her photo attached to the next casket.
Weirdest Moment: From the killer’s perspective, one of his victims has a giant eyeball for a head.
Champion Dialogue: “I warn you, the hate of a woman can be very bad!”
Body Count: 4; shockingly low for this type of movie.
  1. Kim is pitchforked in the gut.
  2. Sabrina is stung to death by bees.
  3. Susan is killed offscreen.
  4. Roberto is hit by a car.
TL;DR: Delirium: Photos of Gloria tries very very hard to be artful and worthwhile, but flails behind abysmal acting and softcore plotting.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1076

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