Sex and violence, beauty and madness, shoulder pads and pitchforks being stuck in eyeball-faced models. All signs point to Italy in the ‘80s, and Lamberto Bava’s Delirium (1987) fits the bill with murder, mystery, and bee-faced models. What, you think eyeballs get all the fun?
Delirium was released by Medusa Distribuzione in its homeland in April under its original title, Le Foto Di Gioia, and stars Serena Grandi (Antropophagus) as Gioia, the owner of a men’s magazine called Pussycat. When her models start turning up dead, she must figure out who is killing everyone around her, and if she’s the final target. A perfectly normal thriller for the time, yes?
Hold tight, pardner. First, this is a giallo, which means we’re going to need a few things: As many red herrings as possible (check); gratuitous nudity (double check); and a completely nonsensical resolution ((three checks, please). Now, one could say that many of these same attributes are to be found in the Hollywood factory thriller, with the notable exception of that darn resolution; story must be given its due, and everyone can leave the theatre knowing full well who did what to whom.
Not in this world. No, Delirium comes bursting into the room like Inspector Clouseau proclaiming “I suspect no one, and I suspect EVERYONE”, before crashing down a staircase, or impaling himself on a Peloton. (Call me, Blake Edwards’ estate; I have ideas.) Even Pieces has a logical reason for their killings, for chrissakes. The point is, there is none; specifically none that one could hang any possible train of rational thought on, or at the very least, keep the colored string to a minimum on the evidence board. Part of the joy of giallo is in the glorious confusion.
A series of glossy seminudes of Gioia plaster the screen as the credits roll and the saxophone screeches; so far, this could forecast any normal Skinemax production that would become huge in the next decade. That is, until our cast starts speaking. And no, I don’t mean the dubbing - by this point it’s the lowest hanging fruit and is much more in line with technical limits, as opposed to creative choices. (And dubbing is tough; I’ve seen actors that couldn’t even dub themselves well.) In typical Italian style, we’re introduced to a majority of the cast in the first scene; and what better way than a decadent poolside photoshoot, highlighting the snow covered veneer of the fashion world.
There’s Evelyn (Daria Nicolodi - Deep Red), the managing editor; Tony (Vanni Corbellini - The Belly of an Architect), Gioia’s brother who also works at the mag; Roberto (David Brandon - StageFright), photographer extraordinaire; Alex (George Eastman - Absurd), Gioia’s actor boyfriend; and some of the ladies who will become grist for the mill, as it were. Oh, and Mark (Karl Zinny - Demons), Gioia’s wheelchair bound neighbour, fulfilling the James Stewart role with binoculars, a telescope, a leering psychosis, and surprisingly, Gioia’s phone number. A handy number to have, as Mark and his telescope witness our first murder by the pool, done with a pitchfork. (Those who had the candlestick in the conservatory, you’re out.) With the police involved now, Gioia also has to contend with a bitter rival, Flora (Capucine - Fellini’s Satyricon), out to steal the magazine from her with some scandalous blackmail.
As you can see, Delirium is going for a cross between a giallo and Dynasty; or it’s just a giallo in Spelling clothing, which is shorthand for the wheelers and dealers and money makers and vamps and shoulder padded cokehounds. Either way, the decade of excess fit hand in glove with horror. And I don’t just mean the wardrobe.
By this point, Lamberto Bava had finally broken through big with Demons (1985), and the film does have the same air of confidence about it, if not the overt outrageousness. And yet, he manages to interject a few moments that up the weird quotient; two of the victims are seen to have insect heads by the killer at the time of their respective expiries. It fits for one death, the other no, and is never explained why; it does give Jr. a chance to pull out the filters and pay homage to Bava Sr. though, which is always welcome. I’m always down with the random weirdness.
With good Lamberto, energy is key; Delirium ping pongs from one suspect to another victim and back until the killer stops in the final showdown with Gioia to offer up their “reasoning”, which boils down to icky and horny and isn’t that enough? The Italians have always seen sex and horror as one ecstatic orgasm (at least that’s how I see them seeing it); intertwining beauty with blood, sweat with fear, and farm implements with a cigarette smoking oculus.
Hunter S. Thompson famously said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” There’s no reason why Lamberto Bava shouldn’t get his bonafides, apart from his father’s legacy; Delirium poses and struts, stops to do a few lines, and peacocks down the runway. (If they got to make a film like this, I get to mix a couple of metaphors.) As long as Lamberto keeps strutting, I’ll keep throwing flowers.
Delirium is available on Blu-ray from Code Red.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971)