Written by: Lamberto Bava (screenplay), Teodoro Corrà (screenplay and story),Bruce Marti (screenplay), Domenico Paolella (story)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Joanna Pacula, Tomas Arana and François Montagut
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"Looks like you've got a real psycho..."
With a director named Bava and a title like Body Puzzle, there’s no way this movie could be anything but a giallo. Sure, the Bava in question is Lamberto (and not Mario) and it dropped in the early 90s, well after the glory days of both the giallo and Italian horror were well behind them, so chances are it’s only a tired retread of those better efforts, but there’s always something a little alluring about digging one of these up. And, for the most part, any assumptions you might make about Body Puzzle are pretty accurate--it’s pretty standard in that it keeps the worst part of the genre intact (the wildly loose, illogical plotting) while leaving behind the better aspects (garish style and elaborate murders), but it does manage a few surprises with its structure.
For starters, this one doesn’t begin with a masked assailant wearing a black glove; instead, we see the face of this psychopath pretty early, as we see him stalk and kill a couple of people in the opening sequence. He leaves the bodies behind, albeit with some missing pieces. Once the detective (Tomas Arana) arrives on the scene, he deduces that this is part of a killing spree where the murderer is colleting body parts for whatever reason--an astute observation if there ever was one, matched only by his buddy’s supposition that they’ve “got a real psycho on their hands” this time. Indeed they do, and their investigation leads them to a widow (Joanna Pacula) whose husband recently died in a motorcycle accident.
I was wondering just how exactly Body Puzzle was going to function after the opening sequence, which was an admittedly slick bit of mayhem. Given that we’d already seen the killer’s face, I thought this may have been yet another movie mis-identified as a giallo, as the only mystery left seemed to be the motivation. Even that isn’t that drawn out, particularly when we learn that Pacula’s husband once had a gay lover who might be insane; combine that with the faint echoes of May, and you can pretty well guess that this guy is trying to piece his dead lover back together. And that’s exactly what happens, with those suspicions being confirmed rather quickly. Even though that’s delightfully twisted, you’re left wondering just where this thing will go for the last half hour or so, and it doesn’t help that the whole thing feels like a made-for-television police procedural, from the clanky score to the mostly flat staging that must have been remnants of Bava’s stint in the TV arena.
But there is just enough here that keeps this an interesting puzzle; chief among them is the fact that the puzzle isn’t quite as neatly pieced together as you may think. This is one of those mysteries that’s so obvious that you can’t help but think something is amiss, so you keep that in the back of your mind (possibly out of sheer desperation) as you trudge through the proceedings. These are at least occasionally dotted with some fine absurd moments, many of them featuring spaghetti western great Gianni Garko, starring here as the cantankerous police chief who “kisses ass one day, and kicks it the next” and spends most of his time chewing out Arana. He doesn’t really do much else, not that he really needs to on account of being Gianni Garko. Arana himself is a typical detective in one of these things; despite having the charisma of a beer truck driver, he somehow seduces Pacula, and he’s not even all that subtle about it--at one point, he’s quite forward and tells her he hopes to replace her husband in her affections. It must work because their courtship inevitably ends up with them in the throes of passion on a staircase, accompanied by a swanky sax-driven score that tries to drown out the horrid awkwardness of it all.
Mostly, Body Puzzles feels exactly how you’d expect a giallo to feel long after they’d been diluted and diffused over a few decades; even when it tries to faintly echo the sexual sleaze and homoerotic perversity of the 70s classics, it falls flat and somehow feels even more prehistoric given the context. Even when it embraces the slashing, it’s a little dry; the opening murders are moody and stylish, but most of the deaths focus on the grisly aftermaths. A high point of the film’s first hour does include an absurd pool sequence that somehow remains completely bloodless, even when it results in a guy having his kidney forcibly removed. François Montagut at least plays a somewhat compelling murderer, one of those impossibly coiffed, prim guys that screams “sexual repression”; basically, he’d be the first person you’d suspect in a more traditional giallo. His murders are scored by the manic “Night at Bald Mountain,” which is one of the film’s more inspired flourishes that relays his frenzied psyche.
Just when you think you’ve got that psyche pinned down, Body Puzzle decides to finally get unhinged; while the last thirty minutes or so don’t completely redeem it (mostly because it never escapes its dowdy production values), we’re treated to some wild twists and even wilder murder sequences. The narrative eventually degenerates in the killer stalking more victims, one of whom is a schoolteacher; she gets paid a visit in the film’s most memorably bold scene that ends with her students getting quite the anatomy lesson. Bava and company aggressively embrace the ludicrous plot contrivances this genre became famous for--of course the police can’t help that poor teacher because the secretary at the front desk just happens to be part time and can’t tell them where her classroom is. That’s actually rather minor compared to the howler of an explanation for the main twist that turns the entire story on its head.
Because of this, Body Puzzle ultimately doesn’t really make a lick of sense. You might argue that all gialli suffer from this to a degree, and you might be right--you basically have to toss logic to the wind with these, but this one tests just how far you’re willing to toss it. You can give it a shot yourself with one of a few DVD releases; Image and Madacy’s discs are old and out of print, so go with Raro Video’s most recent release, which features a fine restoration; the movie itself isn’t all that impressive looking, but the transfer is clean and anamorphic, while the soundtrack is similarly solid. The only special feature is some impressive liner notes by Chris Alexander that illuminate both the film’s genesis and Bava’s own career. In the end, I suppose this one lived right up to expectations--it’s a lesser film by the lesser Bava, though it’s not all bad. An outrageous third act does not a great movie make, but it does make this one ludicrously watchable. Rent it!
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