... aka: Black Venice
... aka: Damned in Venice
... aka: Venetian Black
Damned (which was never officially released in America) joins the ranks of WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972), Don't Look Now (1973) and GIALLO IN VENICE (1979) as 70s genre pics taking advantage of Venice locations. Despite how scenic the city is, it's also apparently a very rainy and overcast city, which effectively influses all of the aforementioned films with an oppressive and dreary atmosphere. Young Mark (Renato Cestiè), a blind orphan, has been having scary visions / premonitions of a stoic man (Yorgo Voyagis) lurking around carrying a cane (with a retractable blade hidden inside) and a beautiful, mysterious woman (Olga Karlatos) who seems to be stalking him. Mark and his frustrated sister Christine (Rena Niehaus), who's dating struggling artist / tour guide Giorgio (Fabio Gamma), are currently in the custody of their grandmother (Bettina Milne), but when she dies in a freak accident in church involving a candle, they learn they have other relatives in Venice and travel there to meet them. Both their Aunt Madeleie (Karlatos again) and Uncle Martin (Tom Felleghy), who currently owe a run-down boarding house, behave strangely and are clearly hiding something from their niece and nephew. But what?
Mark's visions of phantoms soon escalate into visions of murder. He sees the strange man stab his aunt in the chest. She later dies of a heart attack. After their uncle hangs himself, Mark and Christine inherit the boarding house and she begins renovating it. Their first customer is Dan, the same man from Mark's visions. He wastes no time nuzzling up to Christine, but takes off before things can get too heated. Even though the two never actually have sex, the virginal Christine ends up pregnant anyway. A priest (José Quaglio) convinces her to keep the child, marry Giorgio and go on with their lives. Christine refuses to have sex with her new husband, but a slew of her new female friends who are suddenly always around are glad to offer up their services any time he's in the mood. Still, Mark's prophetic visions of death, which seem to always come true, prompts Giorgio to investigate the bizarre goings-on. He finda parallels to the strange events in the bible and begins to think the baby he's helping to raise may be the antiChrist.
Clearly this Italian production, originally released as Nero veneziano ("Venetian Black"), borrows much from American genre films like ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) and THE OMEN (1976), to name just a few sources. That said, it's well-made, has some effective scenes and deserve credit for adding a few new twists to the formula. One interesting touch is a well located in the basement, which is rumored to have healing waters that can cure the crippled or sick... or blind. When it's first opened, rats and snakes come crawling out. People Mark see being killed sometimes turn up later on living, but they may just be an illusion. Worms come out of the sink, wine tastes like blood and there's gore (a priest getting decapitated by a boat propellor, a maggot-infested dead dog, a nail hammered into a head...), nudity and lots of boat rides through the canals and funerals. Damned also boasts a great score from Pino Donaggio, which alternates elegant classical compositions with distorted and abrupt sounds.
It's not all great. The film has some pacing problems. It starts out rather slow, then tries to cram a lot in at the very end. The mid-section is also highly repetitive; annoyingly so at times. There are too many set-ups to mention that follow the same exact trajectory. Mark has a vision. No one believe him. Mark wanders off somewhere by himself. Sister (who is peculiarly awful to her poor brother throughout and doesn't seem to mind doing sexual things in the same room with him) later finds him and bitches that she's sick of having to chase him around all over the place. Mark's vision is disproved by a 'victim' turning up or something he claims to have seen not being there. Still, the premonition scenes themselves are adeptly handled by the director and cinematographer (Alfio Contini), who flood the room with bright light to signal each of Martin's visions / hallucinations as to avoid confusion.
Co-star Karlatos gets to play no less than five different enigmatic roles here. Aside from the aunt (in aged makeup) and the mysterious beauty Mark keeps seeing, she also plays the mother of a neighboring girl who may have been murdered (or may be a ghost), a nun who sits by the death bed (of one of her own characters!) and a midwife who helps to deliver Christine's baby aboard a boat. Also in the cast are a few familiar female faces for anyone who's seen their fair share of European exploitation movies. Some of the sister's female friends are played by Angela Covello (TORSO), Ely Galleani (Bava's Five Dolls for an August Moon) and Lorraine De Selle (from CANNIBAL FEROX and The House on the Edge of the Park), and several of them (along with the leading lady) provide some nudity.
As mentioned earlier, this film has failed to get a U.S. VHS or DVD release. Still, it was dubbed into English at some point. Versions available online and through bootleg outlets are often sourced from a European release of the film (a German release I believe). Some are in Italian with English subtitles (which is what I viewed) and others have the English audio track.