Enigma Rosso (1978)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2018-04-19 19:47
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Enigma Rosso (1978)
Studio: Scorpion Releasing/Doppelganger Releasing
Release date: April 10th, 2018

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)



The movie:

Do you ever feel like the act of watching an especially scummy movie should land you on some kind of list? I mean, there are twisted movies and then there’s positively perverse ones like Enigma Rosso (aka Red Rings of Fear), a dispatch from the tail end of the giallo’s 70s glory days. By this point, it’s fair to say audiences had been subjected to a vile assortment of sleaze and violence, meaning any newcomers really had to swing for the fences, especially if they weren’t helmed by an established master like Argento or Fulci. This one does that and then some, all without broadcasting its perversion to the point of parody. Rather, Enigma Rosso is one of those quietly fucked up movies that slowly coaxes your jaw to the floor as its sordid tale of sex and murder unfolds.

In an image that conjures up memories of Twin Peaks’s infamous opening, a young girl’s corpse discovered wrapped in plastic. Police are confounded, though they have determined something penetrated her, mangling up the 16-year-old’s intestines. Inspector Johnny Di Salvo (Fabio Testi putting on his best John Saxon impersonation) is assigned to the case, and a further investigation by a medical reveals the girl was brutalized with a sex toy, the first of many warped discoveries that lead to an all-girls’ prep school. With the help of the victim’s much younger sister Emily (Fausta Avelli), Di Salvo uncovers a horrific plot involving a trio of students at the school, all of whom may also be targeted due their association with the murdered girl.

Much of the skeletal outline of Enigma Rosso feels like standard giallo fare, but director Alberto Negrin (in tandem with over a half-dozen credited screenwriters) plunges headlong into the deep end of the genre’s scum-ridden pool, exploring just about every possible greasy, grimy crevice this premise has to offer. Extended, uncomfortable peeks into the girls’ showers, a disconcerting affair between a student and a faculty member, a growing realization that the school is engaged with local politicians to orchestrate an elaborate conspiracy to victimize these young girls through a storefront (more shades of Twin Peaks!)—few sleazy stones are left unturned, allowing the film to be edge on by a genuine trash intrigue. While the body count is actually relatively low—only 4 other murders occur throughout the course of the film—Enigma Rosso feels no less urgent because this nonsense plot keeps turning up one bizarre development after another. Marbles as a possible murder weapon might only make sense in the cockeyed logic of a giallo, and you don’t even blink when it happens here.

Perhaps even stranger—and more impressive—is how Negrin doesn’t blink either. Where the slasher genre would quickly succumb to its trashiness with an abundance of ridiculous entries, the giallo movement was more resistant. No matter how goddamned wacky the plots sound, it’s rare to see a director to let the picture spiral out of control, and Enigma Rosso is no different. Even as it plumbs the scummiest depths and takes the wildest twists and turns, Negrin helms it with an almost unnerving artistry. Take the aforementioned marbles sequence: even it’s preceded by a tense sequence that follows the potential victim through the eerily vacant, moonlit school, with Riz Ortolani’s sparse but unnerving cues clattering in the background, building to a crescendo when the marbles are inexplicably unleashed.

It’s indicative of Negrin’s commitment to looking the part of a giallo: Enigma Rosso might be trash, but it’s elegant trash, full of prowling camerawork and striking imagery. Because it’s not just hasty and shoddily indulgent, the film grows to be genuinely disturbing, intertwining its sordid material with a sort of stylish, dreamlike vibe that finds its crescendo in a deliriously unhinged flashback sequence. We watch as one of the young students enters an unnervingly sterile abortion clinic, where her procedure is nightmarishly intercut with memories of the orgy that resulted in her unwanted pregnancy—and her classmate’s unspeakably awful death. Twin taboos merge into one insidious tableau of provocation, putting the film on the path towards a ridiculous climax that finds obvious stunt dummies plunging to their suicide as Inspector Di Salvo uncovers multiple culprits.

Nobody would consider these revelations to be among the most dramatic in giallo history: one is sort of calmly revealed during a conversation that turns into a twisted confessional, with Di Salvo passively listening to the entire sordid affair. Well, almost the entire affair, since this first culprit drops the bombshell that he couldn’t have attempted to murder one of the other targets, sending the inspector scrambling to foil another, much more incredible (and random) suspect in the act of attempted homicide. It’s at this point—right at the very end—that Enigma Rosso does embrace its own distinct strain of absurdity by revealing one of the more unlikely suspects in giallo history. Perhaps even more galling is Di Salvo’s reaction and the film’s resolution: again, it’s only something that feels logical within the paint-huffing confines of a giallo, so you find yourself just unconsciously nodding in approval as the credits begin to roll.

Enigma Rosso is that sort of quiet, casually bonkers giallo whose scattered weirdness often leaves you in a respectful daze. Europe offered up plenty of deranged trash during this decade, and this one earns its keep, what with its orgy of violence and a literal orgy—all with an elementary school girl assisting the detective tasked with unravelling it all. A vintage giallo has fulfilled its purpose if it leaves you with the feeling that it’s been dispatched from some mysterious dimension that may or may not be populated by actual human beings. As it unfolds, Enigma Rosso leaves this impression fairly well, stringing viewers along with ghastly sex crimes, a vehicular homicide, and a (literal) rollercoaster interrogation, all of which fulfill the second giallo requirement: you should always feel at least a little bit dirty after watching one of these exercises in weaponized voyeurism, and this one leaves you scrubbing grime and filth from your synapses days later.

The disc:

The latest bit of Eurotrash to arrive from Scorpion Releasing, Enigma Rosso recently made its Blu-ray debut, a release that’s further noteworthy because it’s also the first time it’s been made available with its original Italian language track. Some previous DVD releases (sporting either Trauma or Virgin Terror as the title) offered a shoddy, dubbed, full frame transfers that have been upgraded nicely here. While the restoration isn’t quite on the eye-popping level of Opera or The Sect, it’s a nice transfer all the same, especially considering the film’s previous, grungy treatment. This disc also doesn’t boast the extras found on Scorpion’s recent offerings, as a pair of trailers and a commentary from historian/critic Nathaniel Thompson serve as the sparse supplements.

I suppose the most hardcore aficionados might be left wanting more, but for most of us, this release suffices since it allows us to add another release to our Eurotrash ranks. Besides, the film itself doesn’t disappoint. Even decades later, even decades later, watching it has the effect of transforming your living room into a 42nd Street grindhouse, allowing you to feel like a total scumbag, just as the exploitation gods intended.
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