Monday, August 26, 2019

"The Hate of a Woman Can Be Very Bad" - Delirium (1987) - Film #149

It is time to return to the Italian giallo film (aka jello film) with Lamberto Bava's nudity-filled classic Delirium (1987), aka The Photo of Gioia.

Even though the film was directed by the acknowledged master Lamberto Bava (refer to Graveyard Disturbance, also 1987), critics in your universe are bafflingly unreceptive to the charms of Delirium. Reviewer plan9-149-959814 (whose name flows beautifully off the tongue) writes, "Maybe it was titillating back the pre-internet 80s, but by today's standards it's nothing special whatsoever." Reviewer lightcaster1 writes (under the headline "Worst Bava film ever!!!!"), "It is as terrible as it could be." (Utter nonsense!) And reviewer VincentElgar writes blasphemously, "Things are not helped by a truly appalling synth-based score by Simon Bosworth and some ludicrous makeup effects."

Let us dive into the film in more detail...

The film begins in the tasteful Lamberto Bava style with stills from a nude photo shoot in a swimming pool with model Kim posing for an uninhibited photographer.

“Remember, you want to be possessed, Kim,” says Tony, the director of the shoot.

Observing the shoot are Gioia, a former model as well as Tony’s sister played by the fortuitously named Serena Grandi, and Evelyn, Gioia’s assistant/live-in housekeeper played by Daria Nicolodi—not to mention a wheelchair-bound young boy named Mark who watches through a telescope from inside the house. Instead of the nude shoot, however, he is watching Gioia through the telescope. He calls her on the telephone. “I just had to tell you how beautiful you are today,” he says flatteringly. “More than usual.”

Later at night, Gioia and Kim sit in Gioia’s house alone, helpfully explaining the backstory, which involves Gioia marrying a man named Carlo, definitely not for his money. “Maybe Carlo and I were too happy, and fate decided to teach us a lesson. I’ll never forget that day he was killed.” (She must have an excellent memory.) Like so many wealthy Italian men, Carlo was killed when a freak wind overturned his speedboat.

As Gioia tells the story, director Lamberto Bava frames her in front of a bust so that the white parts of the statue form angels’ wings behind her head, a subtle indication of her divine goodness.

Kim, the younger model, leaves as soon as the backstory has been established (and after she has joked about being excited if she were to meet a strange man on the street). Thus begins on of the most famous sequences of Delirium, as we see Kim from a stalker’s point of view, her face appearing surreally as a giant eyeball.

Despite her earlier joke, Kim is not thrilled to meet her stalker. She jumps over a fence back into Gioia’s property before she is unceremoniously stabbed with a massive pitchfork and thrown into Gioia’s pool.

(The astute viewer will notice the killer has blonde hair.)

Hearing neither Kim’s scream nor the loud splash in the pool not ten feet outside her window, Gioia answers a phone call from the wheelchair-bound voyeur Mark, who tells her Kim was just killed by a pitchfork. “If you wanted to frighten me, you have. Now let me get some sleep, please.”

“Well, shall I call the police or will you?” asks Mark.

“No, wait, let me go look first.”

“Listen, Gioia, you better not. You won’t like what you see there. Only a wild, crazed animal could kill someone like that.” (In Italy, of course, most of the animals wield pitchforks.) “You’d better stay in the house.”

She hangs up and follows Mark’s advice, not even glancing out one of the many, many, many windows looking out onto the pool. Instead, she searches for her assistant/live-in housekeeper Daria Nicolodi, who startles her by coming out of the kitchen. (The astute viewer will notice Ms. Nicolodi has blonde hair.) Ms. Nicolodi tells Gioia to go back to bed rather than looking out the window at the pool, but Gioia finally looks outside. It is now raining, but mysteriously there is no body in the pool.

The next day at the office of Pussycat, the semi-pornographic magazine Gioia runs, Gioia and Ms. Nicolodi trade witty repartee regarding a visitor to the office. “Why don’t you go into the other office to choose the pictures?” Gioia asks.

“Because it’s yours,” Ms. Nicolodi says, referring to the office.

“Well, in there I feel like a fish out of water.”

“Well, then put on your scuba gear. There’s a shark waiting for you.”


Flora, played by prolific French actress Capucine, is not a biological shark but a wealthy woman, and Gioia’s business rival, who wants to buy the semi-pornographic magazine. Gioia has no interest in selling. (The astute viewer will notice Flora has blonde hair.) Flora contributes some more backstory. “I was the one who got you started in modeling or you’d have turned into a cheap prostitute. You and your brother Tony didn’t know where your next meal was coming from in those days.”

Gioia is adamant about not selling, so Flora has no choice but to leave. Flora says, “When you’re poor again, and too fat to make out with men, call me.” Her final words to Gioia are: “I warn you, the hate of a woman can be very bad.”

Elsewhere, the killer takes a photo of Kim’s body in front of a large poster of Gioia. At Gioia’s house, Ms. Nicolodi finds a print of the photo that has been slipped under the door. “My God,” Gioia says.

As all gialli must, the film introduces the police detectives who are on the murder case. They inspect the fateful pitchfork.

The chief detective, Corsi, interview Gioia and Ms. Nicolodi. “All we know is the murderer was blonde,” says Corsi, helpfully adding, “But there are lots of blondes. Both men and women. And wigs besides.”

The discovery of Kim’s body in a trash can results in extra demand for Pussycat magazine, which causes an ethical conflict for Gioia. 

In an amusing sequence, Gioia tours a movie studio with her brother Tony, encountering spaceships, zombies, and barbarians.

On the lot, Gioia meets her old boyfriend Alex. They return to Gioia’s house and kiss by the pool, where Mark watches from his house, this time through a rifle sight instead of a telescope. He fantasizes about shooting Alex.

Later, newly hired model Sabrina tries to make love with Tony, but we find out he is impotent. Moments after he leaves her apartment, a man wearing a stylized bee leper’s outfit enters her place.

He watches her take a shower and dress, but he sees her with a bee’s head.

He quickly lets loose a shoebox full of real bees. Sabrina panics and runs through her apartment, nude. The killer breaks in and douses her head with honey. Then he poses her body grotesquely in front of Gioia’s poster and takes a photograph.

The photo of the murdered girl is sent to Gioia, who immediately joins Tony and Detective Corsi at the morgue, though we never find out how the body was discovered. Tony says, “I was probably the last one to see her alive.”

“The last one? No,” quips Corsi. “You’re forgetting her killer.” He also explains the killer doused her with essence of tuber rose, attracting the bees. “It’s certainly a devilish way to murder.”

Back at Gioia’s house, she and Ms. Nicolodi are frustrated. Echoing other gialli, Gioia says, “But there’s something else. There’s some detail I seem to have forgotten.” She remembers instantly: Only one person has the negative of the image on the poster of Gioia in the killer’s hideout—Roberto, the photographer. She doesn’t want to tell the police, however. “The police would suspect him at once. They’d slap him in jail right away. Two girls? Both were models. And he’s gay besides.”

Ms. Nicolodi adds, “He probably doesn’t have any alibis for either of those murders.”

“How would you know that?”

“I’m guessing.”

At night, Mark does something Jimmy Stewart probably would not have done in Rear Window: He wheels his wheelchair into Gioia’s bedroom and assaults her with a glow stick, moving it up her legs. She jumps out of bed, but is shocked to see Mark stand up and attack her. “Don’t force me to murder you!”

She wakes up. It was only a dream—albeit one that did not involve eyeball-faces or giant bee-heads.

The next day, Flora and her maid watch a videotape of Gioia’s one blue movie, in which she looks almost exactly like Seinfeld's Elaine Benes and is assaulted in a car by policemen.

In a tense sequence, Gioia brings flowers to the crypt where her dead husband Carlo is buried, only to find a photograph of her on an empty casket. She runs into Tony at the cemetery, while Mark is at the same cemetery bringing flowers to his dead girlfriend, whose car accident he caused. (As Mark wheels through the cemetery, Bava’s camera takes his point of view, leading to a shakiness that an insensitive viewer might describe as “spastic.”)

In a development that could be considered odd, Gioia decides with very little thought to sell her magazine to Flora and then make money by posing nude in a department store managed by Tony’s girlfriend. The result, unfortunately, is that Tony’s apparently murdered body glides up the escalator into Gioia’s arms.

A distorted voice comes over the department store PA system, addressing Gioia: “It’s your turn to die.”

Perhaps as a statement on consumerism or something else, the front of the department store is quite bland, while the back of the store where Gioia runs is stylized, saturated with red lights. Gioia escapes into a service elevator with a helpful axe, but after she finds Tony’s girlfriend’s murdered body, she runs out through the store and onto the street.

After Gioia returns home and rests, she gets a call from ex-boyfriend Alex, who tells her he is out of the country and won’t return to Rome until Monday. With subtle cleverness, Lamberto Bava shoots Alex across the street from the Colloseum, implying that he might just be lying about not being in Rome. (Alex is never seen again.)

Later, Detective Corsi breaks into the studio of the photographer Roberto (a studio adorned with a U.S. Confederate flag) and finds a poster of Gioia. He calls Gioia and tells her to stay away from Roberto. Coincidentally, Roberto is at Gioia’s house knocking on the door. Gloria runs through the house, regretting that every wall has a giant window or French door. She runs to the pool and Roberto chases her. She runs outside the property, where Roberto is killed by a well-timed passing motorist.

“I can’t understand any of this,” Gioia says to Ms. Nicolodi.

“Roberto obviously must have hated women,” Ms. Nicolodi explains, “And especially you, Gioia.”

After selling the magazine and receiving a nice check, Gioia returns home to find that Ms. Nicolodi has quit and taken all her belongings from the house. Alone in the house, Gioia is stalked by the killer, who reveals himself to be Tony in a blonde wig.

“I haven’t become a transvestite,” he tells her. “I’m not even very good at that.”

She asks him why he is killing people.

“You should know, Gioia. You’re the only one I’ve loved. I’ve always loved you, since we were kids.” He says he will never be free while Gioia is still alive. “But first,” he adds, “I want to see you naked one more time.”

He rips off her clothes and tells her to take off her underwear.

Tony, however, has forgotten about Mark next door (unlike the audience). Mark shoots Tony in the crotch, saving Gioia with a smile.

In the hospital, Gioia asks Detective Corsi, “Is my brother alive?”

“Yes, he’ll make it, though I’m afraid he’ll need a wheelchair the rest of his life.”

In the coda, a wheelchair rides through the halls of the hospital. Is it Mark or Tony? I won’t reveal the chilling (or perhaps not-so-chilling) secret.

It would be silly of me to defend a film by the great Lamberto Bava because its defense is the film itself. Delirium is an expertly crafted mystery with which only a cinema-hater could find fault. (It should be noted, however, that the film has a small number of faults, including the fact that most of the suspects/red herrings disappear with very little explanation near the end of the film.)

Of course, the most famous aspect of Delirium is its most visually appealing conceit--the killer's visions of his victims as monsters. Although the effect is only used twice, it significantly enhances the psychological depth of the film. You see, the first victim, Kim, is seen as a monster with an eyeball for a head because the killer believes beauty is only skin deep and beautiful women are only for looking at, hence the eyeball. I think. And the second victim, Samantha, is seen as a bee because...the killer wants to kill her with bees. Such depth and cinematic texture is, of course, a hallmark of the gialli of the great Lamberto Bava.

Delirium could be considered one of the high points of Bava's career, as it capped an extraordinary series of directorial efforts from Macabre (1980) to A Blade in the Dark (1983) to the Demons films (1985 and 1986). After Delirium, Mr. Bava would venture away from cinematic mayhem into televised mayhem. We must recognize Delirium as the last film in the first phase of Mr. Bava's career, and pay homage to it as a singular, highly entertaining effort that stands the test of time...and, of course, that demands attention from viewers' eyeballs around the world.