Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Il terzo occhio (1966)

... aka: Das Dritte Auge
... aka: Killer with a Third Eye, The
... aka: Third Eye, The

Directed by:
"James Warren" (Mino Guerrini)

I've seen this mentioned before as the "precursor" to, or the "inspiration behind," D'Amato's infamous bad taste gore fest Buio Omega (1979). Now that I've actually seen it, I can verify without a shadow of a doubt D'Amato's film flat out copies this one, almost scene-for-scene in many instances. The storyline, the characters, the plot complications and even many of the sickest ideas were snatched wholesale from this one. And if you want to get technical, since the writers of Il terzo occhio are not given their due in the Buio Omega credits*, D'Amato's film is actually more akin to being called a rip-off than a remake. But as fate would have it, the "remake" would go on to acquire a strong cult following over the years (one that's not completely undeserved), while the original has been forgotten and is nearly impossible to find. It was restored and released on DVD in Germany (an excellent print judging by the stills I've seen), but the only place to find an English-subtitled version for the longest time was Video Search of Miami. Sadly, their VHS version is a horribly murky, dark, washed out and barely viewable print that certainly didn't help this film's reputation any over the years.

Franco (credited as "Frank") Nero, clean-cut and extremely handsome here, stars as wealthy young count Mino Alberti, who lives in a huge, four-story white mansion with his horrible mother, Countess Alberti (played by Olga "Sunbeauty"/Solbelli, from Mill of the Stone Women), and the overworked, long-suffering family maid, Marta (Gioia Pascal, which is possibly a fake name since the credits have been Anglicized, though I don't recognize this actress). Mino's father died in a tragic accident a few years back and now he's at the mercy of dear old mom, who has a sick idea of what motherhood should entail. She's miserable, controlling and has a special peephole built into her wall where she can keep an eye on her son as he entertains female guests in his bedroom. Marta the maid, secretly pines for Mino and bitterly detests any woman striking her employer's fancy. Both women conspire to drive away Mino's beautiful fiancée Laura Campi ("Diana Sullivan" / Erika Blanc, in a blonde wig) by being unbelievably bitchy to her. When that doesn't work, they arrange for a little "accident" to occur by cutting the brake lines on Laura's car, which leads to a fatal crash over a rocky embankment into the ocean. Strangely, Laura's body is never recovered. After an altercation, the Countess fires Marta. Infuriated, Marta knocks the old crone down a flight of stairs (gouging out her eye in the process!), strangles her to death and makes it look like an accident.

Losing both his fiancée and mother in the same day, Mino returns home and starts to slowly lose his mind. Not quite right to begin with (his Norman Bates-like hobby is killing and stuffing birds in a specially built laboratory), Mino starts inviting women back to the mansion to kill. First up is "international dance star" Maria Margot (Marina Morgan), who strips down to pasties during her strip-tease in a smoky blues club. Mino lures her into his bed; the same bed where he keeps Laura's fresh corpse snugly tucked in (!), then strangles her. Marta sees it all and offers up a new arrangement. If Mino will marry her, she won't go to the cops when he gets that urge to murder and will help him dispose of the bodies. She even suggests they use hydrochloric acid so no traces are found. Mino then murders Loredanna, a prostitute, and presumably other women in the area over a long period of time. A year after the murders began, a surprise visitor shows up; Laura's younger, red-headed, nearly identical looking sister Daniela (also played by Blanc). Mino thinks Daniela is the second coming of Laura, showering her with attention and romantic candle-lit dinners. He also starts treating his former maid / "wife" like an insignificant slave again. Marta goes into a jealous rage and heads after Daniela with a butcher knife... Those familiar with D'Amato's film know this is pretty much where Buio Omega ends, but this one still has about twenty minutes left to go as Mino forces Daniela at gunpoint into his car for a road trip of terror en route to the beach.

From a technical standpoint, this is a fairly well-done film; direction, score, script and acting are all above average. There's plenty of suspense and some sudden bursts of violence to keep you awake. A real bird is even sliced open and gutted at one point. The subtext and implications are extremely perverse for 1966, which may be why it didn't receive a very glowing reception back in its day. Though there wasn't any full-on nudity in the version I saw, the film shows about as much flesh as possible for a mid-60s mainstream release. Nero goes a bit over-the-top at times, but he's still effective in his role. All three of the main actresses are excellent. I frequently see this film listed as a giallo, but I don't think it really qualifies as such. It's more of a psychological horror film with Gothic undercurrents, and has more in common with films like Psycho than any of the gialli I've seen. There are no black gloved killers running amok or mysteries to solve here, folks.

Right now I'm rating this 2 1/2 stars; holding back a little bit based on the subpar quality of the print I watched. I do have access to the German version of the film and will give it a spin as soon as I get the chance; which may boost my rating by a point.

I've noticed since that Buio Omega credits "Giacomo Guerrini" for the story. In the Third Eye credits, the co-writer / director is listed as "James Warren" (Mino Guerrini). So, it's likely that Giacomo Guerrini is either the full name or an alias for Mino Guerrini.


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