Some people's names just roll off your tongue. Umberto Lenzi. Ummm-berrrr-to. Ummmmm-berrrrr-to Lennnn-zi. How could you not do well with a name like that? Well, whether his success was dependent on his exquisite name or not (I guess it probably wasn't), this Chopping Mall post kicks off the first of an Umberto Lenzi two-parter. Hurrah for 60s and 70s Italian cinema!
I've already looked at one Lenzi film here, Nightmare City, which, whilst it might not be the pinnacle of zombie films, certainly has some decent and very memorable scenes. So from Nightmare City, let me drag you back in time a while... we are in early 1970s Italy and an English & Danish couple are funding their hippy bohemian lifestyle by selling smutty photos in public squares and streets.
Oasis of Fear (my favourite of the many titles) is an inconsequential but fun little film. Ingrid and Dick's porn-peddling business goes, rather predictably awry and they find themselves, after a run in with the polizia, on the run towards the border in their unfortunately distinctive car (Seriously: if you're doing something illegal, would you operate from a yellow sportscar with stencilled flowers? No, neither would I). After a series of still-more unfortunate encounters, the pair find themselves without petrol, money or food, sneaking into the house of a rather glamorous and apparently lonely woman for some sustenance.
Predictably, seeing as the couple are clinging very tightly to the sixties, their evening turns into a rather pleasant mix of food, drink and sleazy encounters. Also predictably, things don't look quite so rosy in the morning.
The main of the film takes place in and around this house, as Dick and Ingrid find themselves slowly uncovering the truth of Barbara Slater's life and, through a series of escalating mistakes, drag themselves ever deeper into a mess that was not of their making. Whilst Oasis of Fear is not particularly violent, fast-paced or exciting, there is a decent and continual build of suspense throughout: you may well find yourself shouting "No, don't do that" at the screen as the lead couple make yet more mistakes, but they thankfully rarely cross the line that separates "tragic mistake" from "irritating stupidity".
I don't really want to read much further into this film, as to do so would rob it of its tension, so I'll come to a close more or less here. It's worth mentioning that Irene Papas is a fabulous actress - playing the lonely Barbara Slater - and the film's success in many ways hinges upon her. I don't think it's giving too much away either to add that half the enjoyment of this film rests in their being no conventionally 'good' characters. Much like the Spaghetti Western, this film seems to echo American cinema but removes the tired good-bad opposition from it, instead creating a world full of unpleasant, self-motivated villains, yet all the while never quite alienating the audience.
(And yes, I wrote all that without mentioning the word Giallo. Whilst it might technically fit into the giallo genre, it just doesn't feel giallo-enough for me to consider it as one)
Coming soon: Deep River Savages / The Man from Deep River / Il paese del sesso selvaggio
My copy of this came from Shameless Entertainment's lovingly restored copy, blending some Italian (and thankfully subtitled) scenes with the otherwise English dub. Definitely worth checking out. The screencaps here are not from my copy though.