Thursday, May 24, 2012

New on DVD: PLOT OF FEAR (1976)

(Italy, 1976)

Directed by Paolo Cavara.  Written by Bernardino Zapponi, Paolo Cavara, Enrico Oldoini.  Cast: Corinne Clery, Michele Placido, Eli Wallach, Tom Skerritt, John Steiner, Jacques Herlin, Quinto Parmeggiani, Eddy Fay, Sarah Ceccarini, Cecilia Polizzi, Claudio Zucchet, Greta Vajant, Mary Ruth League. (Unrated, 95 mins)

Raro USA has done a nice job with the restoration of this obscure late-period giallo from director Paolo Cavara, best known for 1971's Dario Argento-inspired BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA.  Long available in bootleg circles, PLOT OF FEAR (original Italian title: E TANTA PAURA) never made it to US theaters, nor did it ever turn up on home video, so this DVD marks the film's belated first official American release.  Scripted by Cavara, Enrico Oldoini, and DEEP RED co-writer and regular Fellini collaborator Bernardino Zapponi, PLOT OF FEAR gets off to a clunky, confusing start and veers wildly between giallo and poliziotteschi, with some liberal doses of trangressive softcore porn.  It's not a great film being rediscovered, but it's certainly an interesting artifact, not just for its rampant, cynical misanthropy (the rich are perverted and corrupt, men are petty and insecure, women are either vacuous models or dead hookers), but also for Eurotrash devotees, with its strange cast, terrible English dubbing (the original and better-preserved Italian audio track is also included), pervasive sleaze, and an infectiously catchy score by Daniele Patucchi, which is screaming to be covered by a present-day stoner rock band.

Opening scene.  Credits and kickass music start around 1:30 into the clip

Bad-tempered Inspector Lomenzo (Michele Placido) is dealing with several violent murders.  Heads have been bashed in, and bodies set ablaze.  One guy is even shot in the head while being interviewed on a talk show.  Pictures from a childrens book are left with the victims.  The victims are all wealthy and members of "Wildlife Friends," which imports wild animals caught on African safaris but is really a front for diamond smuggling and an underground sex club at Villa Hoffmann.  All of the murders are connected to the mysterious death of underage prostitute Rosa (Sarah Ceccarini) several years earlier at Villa Hoffmann, after a wild night that involved animated, surreal porn films, group sex, forced under-the-table fellatio, and an attempt to feed Rosa to a caged tiger.  Someone is out to avenge Rosa's death, and is brutally offing the rich, decadent perverts one by one.

One of the suspects is Rosa's pimp (Claudio Zucchet), who, in this scene, gets picked up for questioning and bolts from the police car, instigating a brief but amazing foot chase through what has to be the busiest intersection in Milan.  This brilliant bit looks as chaotic, awkward, and unchoreographed as a real pursuit would look (does that guy intend to tumble down the steps the way he does?), and I have serious doubts that the drivers of these cars knew that a movie was being shot.

Meanwhile, Lomenzo becomes romantically involved with Jeanne (Corinne Clery, fresh off the controversial, X-rated THE STORY OF O), a prostitute and part-time model who was also at Villa Hoffman the night of Rosa's death.  As the murders continue, Lomenzo is torn between his relationship with Jeanne and her possible connection to the murders, and he also finds himself tangling with Riccio (Eli Wallach), an eccentric, chocolate-addicted private investigator who seems to have all of Milan under surveillance, hired by the surviving deviants to find out who's trying to kill them.

John Steiner as Hoffmann
Placido is a fine actor, but he doesn't seem well cast here.  With its periodic delvings into polizia territory and with Lomenzo's ill temper, PLOT OF FEAR really could've benefitted from a Fabio Testi or especially a Maurizio Merli in the starring role. Placido just doesn't come off as intimidating enough.  Eurocult vet John Steiner also appears as the owner of Villa Hoffmann.  But the Strangest Casting Honors of PLOT OF FEAR (also known as TOO MUCH FEAR, and apparently released in Sweden, in what must set a new standard for "something lost in the translation," as BLOODY PEANUTS) go to visiting Americans Wallach and Tom Skerritt (yes, THAT Tom Skerritt), who has three brief scenes, wearing an entirely too-small leather jacket as Lomenzo's boss.  Neither Wallach nor Skerritt stuck around to dub their performances, so they aren't heard on the English track (Skerritt is dubbed by the ubiquitous Ted Rusoff).  For actors as recognizable as these two to be revoiced by others--especially with Wallach's gravelly tone--is more than slightly jarring.   Other English dubbing regulars heard throughout include Carolynn De Fonseca dubbing one of the Wildlife Friends, Pat Starke dubbing Clery, and Frank von Kuegelgen dubbing Steiner.  I'm not sure who's revoicing Placido and Wallach, but they sound very familiar.  Wallach actually has a sizable role, but given his brief screen time, I doubt Skerritt was on the set for more than a couple of days.  He had small roles in two other Italian projects around this time (the film LA MADAMA and the Italian TV miniseries ORIGINS OF THE MAFIA), so it's possible he knocked them all out in one trip and made a working vacation out of it.

"Buon giorno, Tom.  I'm Michele, nice to meet you.  Two quick questions:
why are you in this movie and exactly what is that you're wearing?"

"Italy?  All expenses paid?  Lots of naked women in
the movie?  And I don't even have to hang
around to dub myself?  Deal!"

Raro supplies plenty of extras, including a subtitled interview with Placido, who talks about the making of PLOT OF FEAR and shares warm memories of working with Wallach.   There's also interviews with co-writer Oldoini, as well as Pietro Cavara, son of the late director (Paolo Cavara died in 1982).  The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks great and has to be a significant upgrade from Raro's original, non-anamorphic Italian release some years back.  Raro USA's packaging mentions "new and improved English subtitles," but Wallach's character ("Pietro Riccio") is inexplicably referred to as "Peter Struwwel" in the English subtitles, even though "Riccio" is clearly audible on both audio tracks.  This was apparently an issue with the original Italian DVD release.  In lieu of the liner notes they used to provide, Raro USA gives us an appreciation of the film by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, in the form of a PDF file.   He can't explain BLOODY PEANUTS, either.

Original Italian poster

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