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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

La porta sul buio: Il vicino di casa (1973) [filmed in 1971] (TV)

... aka: Dario Argento's Door Into Darkness: The Neighbor
... aka: Door Into Darkness: The Neighbor
... aka: Neighbor, The
... aka: Vicino di casa, Il

Directed by:
Luigi Cozzi

Because of the international box office success of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969), which garnered Hitchcock comparisons from some critics, and THE CAT O' NINE TAILS (1970), which did fairly well in Italy, RAI (Italy's only TV channel at the time) brought director Dario Argento on board to host, produce, sometimes write or direct and generally oversee the horror / suspense tales on the series La porta sul buio ("Door Into Darkness"). It's hard to say with any certainty what the ratings were like, but they apparently weren't impressive enough to extend the series beyond just four episodes. However, that may have more to do with the fact that the episodes were filmed in 1971 (while Argento was working on FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET) but not actually released until September 1973. Either way, this four-episode series, with episodes contributed by Luigi Cozzi (an assistant and writer on Four Flies), Mario Foglietti (who wrote the story for Four Flies), Roberto Pariante (the assistant director on both Bird and Four Flies) and Argento himself is worth checking out, especially for fans of 'The Italian Hitchcock' and giallo thrillers. They're all reasonably budgeted, run about an hour each, contain equal parts mystery and terror and (regardless of credited director) have Argento's distinctive stamp on them.

Surrounded by cameras, Argento himself opens Il vicino di casa ("The Neighbor") by introducing the series, claiming all of the episodes are "directed by different people, yet pervaded with a common atmosphere." He also explains the title "Door Into Darkness" is meant to allude to people's fear of the unknown. In a clever segue into the actual story, we then see Argento standing by a broken down car. He hitches a ride from a young, happily-married couple; Luca (Aldo Reggiani) and Stefania (Laura Belli), who drop him off where he needs to go and go about their way. The film then follows the couple. Excited about starting their new life, Luca (a monster-movie-loving writer for a kid's magazine) and Stefania (new mother to their infant son) have just rented the bottom portion of a beachfront duplex and arrive there at nightfall before any of their utilities have been turned on, deciding to just rough it for one night. Well actually, they don't have much of a choice since they get their car stuck in some mud. Luca has a battery-operated TV, so they settle down for a viewing of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN... little realizing their upstairs neighbor Alberto (Mimmo Palmara) has just murdered his wife.

Because of some water leaking in through their ceiling, Luca and Stefania head upstairs to inform their neighbors and end up discovering the corpse of the wife in the bathtub. After unsuccessfully trying to get their car out, and knowing their friend will be arriving with their furniture in the morning anyway, the couple decide to stick it out until then and just lock themselves inside their apartment and wait for dawn. Unexpected problems arise after Luca realizes he's left his lighter upstairs (oops!) and must venture up there to retrieve it...

Overall, a nicely-done little suspense tale. It was the first episode aired and, according to its director, was Argento's personal favorite of the lot. Hell, it might actually be the best thing Luigi Cozzi ever made; not so surprising when you realize this is the guy behind such films as the schlocky spaghetti space opera STAR CRASH (1979), the critically panned 1983 version of HERCULES with Lou Ferrigno and the extremely silly female-rock-band-goes-to-hell tale PAGANINI HORROR (1989). There's moody lighting, some interesting directorial touches, likable lead characters and a tall, creepy and enigmatic psycho (who eventually plots to bury his new neighbors alive!). As a added bonus, there's some elaborate camerawork. One unbroken shot begins inside a home, exits through the window, trails along the outside of the house to the beach and ends up at the protagonists car. There's also an interesting back-of-the-legs-while-walking shot from the point of view of someone being carried over the killer's shoulder and some images seen in negative.

All four "Door Into Darkness" episodes; Argento's THE TRAM, Pariente's EYEWITNESS, Foglietti's THE DOLL and this one, have been released to DVD on 2 disc sets from three different companies; Dragon Entertainment, Mya Communications and No Shame. The one I saw was from Dragon and includes German or English subtitles (which do not seem to cover all of the dialogue) and interviews with Argento and Cozzi. Sadly, the original film elements of all four episodes are missing, forcing them to use the lesser-quality RAI TV video masters. Since Dragon released only 3,000 copies of the box, it's been out of print for some time now.


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