CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Sergio Martino

FEATURING: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov, Nieves Navarro, Dominique Boschero, Carla Mancini

PLOT: Jane, a young lady haunted by her mother’s murder and her own traumatic miscarriage, seeks solace but ends up being sucked into a local Satanic cult; her problems then worsen.

Still from All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While All the Colors of the Dark is a tasty ham of a thriller and peer to the top films in that genre, it doesn’t get any weirder than it has to be to tell its story—which is actually a straightforward story, right down to its dream sequences and some comparatively tame Satanic rituals. Other reviews of this movie confuse “psychedelic” with “using a diffraction camera filter for a couple scenes.” If anything, Colors apes Alfred Hitchcock at his most spartan. A great thriller, but we watch weirder Italian movies around here before our first Chianti of the day.

COMMENTS: Hi, I’m Giallo Man! I saw the Giallo Signal in the sky and got here as soon as I could. Gotta tell you, I am so heavy into the giallo, I mainline it off the nightstand. If one of those Twilight Zone episodes came along where a character gets to wish themselves into a movie forever, I’d probably pick a giallo. And what a choice plum we have here! All the Colors of the Dark comes with a keen pedigree, directed by Sergio Martino, whose name you may recognize from The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) or perhaps Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)(#WhatATitle). That latter movie also shares the lead actress Edwige Fenech, whom you might recognize from Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975). That’s before we get to garlic-bread-and-spaghetti western star George Hilton, a supporting cast which reads like a compilation of names from the best of Italian genre films, and filmed-in-England cinematography that could make the cover of an early Black Sabbath album. But best of all is the vintage year of 1972. The Exorcist came out in 1973, so that makes this one occult Euro-horror movie that’s guaranteed not to be a cheap Exorcist knockoff—because it wasn’t even released yet! It doesn’t even kiss much of the dirt that Rosemary’s Baby (1968) trod. I’m almost too excited to watch this.

After a lurid opening nightmare sequence with a blue-eyed stabbing killer in a beige trenchcoat—what, no black gloves?—we meet Jane, who has recently suffered a prematurely terminated pregnancy in a car crash. She lives in a London flat with her boyfriend Richard, who fusses over her while she is plagued by trauma from both this event and nightmares of her mother’s death when she was a child. Jane’s sister Barbara urges her to see a shrink, who is, you guessed it, not much help. The blue-eyed stabber from her nightmares stalks her every waking moment—but is she hallucinating? Jane, towing this head full of psychological baggage, meets her new neighbor, Mary, and the two become fast friends, while Richard and Barbara meet behind her back to argue about what’s best for her. Mary has a different recommendation for Jane: come participate in her coven’s Black Mass ritual, and all will be right as rain. Jane needs a few more scary run-ins with her phantom stalker before she’s convinced to give her friendly local Satanists a go.

Forsooth, what could possibly go wrong with that plan? Could the Gothic castle the coven meets at or the spooky music playing over its establishing shot bode ill? Granted, the circle of robed cult members silently stares bullets at Jane while the high priest sacrifices a live puppy at the altar without so much as a howdy-do, but does that make any of them the bad sort? Surely a gulp of puppy blood from the ritual goblet is just what the doctor ordered, and nothing gets you over a miscarriage like a nice, relaxing group rape. And when you wake up one morning with the cult’s evil eye insignia tattooed on you, isn’t it nice to feel welcomed? I should note, if you’re a big demonology fan, this movie actually disappoints here: for all the mileage it tries to wring out of the cult, we never find out what their beliefs are or what sect they practice. They can’t even be bothered with an ominous Latin chant; instead they silently two-step in place like they need to pee. They could just as easily have been an NSA spy ring or a beauty products multi-level marketing scheme, for all the actual occult effect they have. You could swear the only reason this cult business was tacked on was because a popular American horror movie had just come out…

Anyway, suffice it to say that Jane doesn’t find much reason to celebrate her new friends, and things get increasingly contrived from here on. Even though it looks like the story’s flying off the rails and loose plot threads are being discarded all over the place, fear not: no giallo film worth its prosciutto would (a) let a plot not make “sense” by the ending, or (b) fail to deliver anything less than a Kansas twister of wild-haired soap-opera swerves. No really, you’re supposed to be slapping your forehead throughout the third act; that’s part of the fun! Thankfully, Edwige Fenech carries the movie like a champ, with her wide, smoldering eyes darting fearfully from one paranoid development to the next. You don’t come to this kind of movie for a credible story. You come for an atmospheric thriller with cheerily cheesy suspense and the occasional peep at a shapely boob, which is delivered at intervals as regular as a waffle house waitress dropping by your table to refill your coffee cup.

All the Colors of the Dark (a title which makes no sense in the movie’s context, of course) is admittedly shopworn in its execution. It is chock full of tired thriller tropes like the car that magically won’t start because the stalker is creeping up on it, or the phone that sprouts a huge “out of order” sign jbecause a protagonist could have used it to call for help. And you will get sick of the movie stopping every ten minutes for the same mystery-man chase scene to play out (the camera zooms in to check—yep, it’s Blue Eyes again. Every. Single. Time.) But remember, this was 1972, when most of these cliches had only been around the block a few times. What the movie lacks in surprise it more than makes up for in delightful filming and style. It sports an on-point cast, dialog that gets down to business without any throat-clearing, a steady trotting pace, and all of it takes place in a maze of checkered floors, stately mansions, steel-cage elevator shafts, and colorful subway tunnels. When characters meet outdoors, the camera either nervously paces around them at a low level, as if expecting a hawk to swoop in on the attack, or else it glares down from a bird’s eye view as tiny European cars race into enclosed apartment courtyards, trapped like mice. The score is just enough to raise a hackle without having to be played on a Goblin-style loop all movie long. Any giallo fan will find this movie a joyful snuggle of atmospheric contentment, but weirdophiles likely won’t find room for this one on their Eurotrash to-watch list.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its surrealistic view of a young woman (the ravishing Edwige Fenech) who is distraught by black magic, an ever-present male threat, and the possibility of delusion, truly confounds its viewers, right up until its final frames.”–Tim Slamons. The Digital Bits (Blu-ray)

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