I often ponder about how different my horror watching habits would be without the influence of Italian pulp cinema in the form of gialli. Oftentimes much more sophisticated than your average slasher; these days I will pick an intricate giallo plot over a by-the-numbers killfest nine times out of ten. But I can't stray from my roots too far as I always prefer the Plumage style giallo with a gloved killer and slasher style motive over more mystery themed offerings. It's not a knock on films like Perversion Story by any means, but rather the fact that I prefer my horror films to be as heavy handed on the scare elements as possible. Umberto Lenzi's Spasmo is one such giallo that is high on crime and low on blood, which puts all that much more pressure on the plot. But the question is, does it have kick?
After a tense and gripping opening, a man named Christian (Robert Hoffmann) stumbles upon a corpse on the beach. As he approaches, it's apparent that his mind was just playing tricks on him, as the lovely, tanned, blue-eyed beauty (Suzy Kendall) is very much alive. She's offered a drink but mysteriously disappears. Smitten, Christian tracks her down on a yacht and coerces her into running off with him. They arrive at a motel and just as things are about to get good, a man with a gun breaks in. Christian fends him off and snatches the gun, pulling the trigger and dropping the man. After admitting to his lady what he had just done, the two decide to get out of dodge. Unfortunately for Christian, he forgets his gold chain at the scene of the crime and must return to cover up his tracks. To his amazement, the man he shot has vanished; all that remains is a small puddle of blood on the bathroom floor. From here the plot gets thicker than blood with Christian on the run from assailants and enemies pretending to be friends. Or is it friends pretending to be enemies. None of the above?
Spasmo is a typical giallo in that it oftentimes doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but makes up for it with an infinite amount of red herrings and an end twist that is interesting from a fan's perspective. Without divulging too much, it shares a lot in common with a more recent horror film and you will without a doubt recognize the similarity when you see it. Unlike that film, Spasmo goes on to twist a little more. Fans of pulp surely will be on the edge of their seat with this one, but the horror fan in us will leave unsatisfied despite it being a fast moving, engaging picture. Do not go into this one expecting much nudity or blood (no matter what the cover art boasts); you will leave disappointed in that regard.
On the upside, the plot is dense with turns and potential killers, victims and plots that are more apt to appeal to the viewer as a psychological study as well as its mystery aspects. Sex is used and there is a hint of misogyny, but it comes nowhere near the amount that one is used to. Director Umberto Lenzi never set out to be too exploitative of the stereotypes and he must be commended for bringing pure ideas to the table instead of merely leaning on what sells. One scene in particular is as good as any giallo I've seen; right off the bat the camera points from behind a shady man in a car's shoulder. His fingers tap the top of the seat as he awaits some victims to mosey on down the road to lover's lane. And just when you think you're going to see some bloodshed, Lenzi introduces you to a device that play a key role to the plot, the use of female plastic mannequins to make you question your hypothesis' and the actions of everyone in the film.
If that isn't enough to pique your interest, then the Ennio Morricone score will as it compliments the film perfectly and adds a new element to each and every scene to which it is present. Lenzi doesn't go all out with the cinematography, but the film is still pleasing on the eyes with blue skies and water, bright moons and lots of focus on the leading actors' blue eyes. Character wise, there are some lapses in judgment - big ones, but ultimately when the credits roll, you're still left to draw many of your own conclusions. In other words you can watch this one again instantly!
Shriek Show's DVD is certainly adequate with an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer that shows off colors pretty well but is a tad grainy. The audio is clear sans a few pops, but there is nothing fancy to listen to here. Special features include a trailer, brief press stills and a 13 minute interview with Umberto Lenzi where he gets into his goals pertaining to the film being more psychological than visceral and his reasons for that. Spasmo isn't the best giallo out there, but no one is expecting it to be. For a hardcore fan, the obscurity of the title is probably worth reaching out for it alone. Still, the film needs not the crutches that some do; be it rarity or excessive murders and sleazy sex. Lenzi's film easily stands on its own legs. Buy it!