Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Il nido del ragno (1988)

... aka: Spider Labyrinth, The
... aka: Spider's Nest, The

Directed by:
Gianfranco Giagni

Dallas college professor Alan Whitmore (Roland Wybenga), who specializes in "oriental languages" and has a recurring nightmare about being trapped in a room with a spider as a child, is given an important, top-secret mission by his superiors. He has been overseeing something called "The Intextus Project;" a study of religions across the globe, and now his backers want him to travel to Budapest to check in on Leo Roth, another professor working on the project who has disappeared. Upon arriving in Budapest, Alan meets up with a sexy female contact - Genevieve Weiss (Paola Rinaldi) - who begins showing him around. He locates the missing colleague, who has been feigning mental illness and hands Alan an ancient tablet the second his stern wife Sylvia (Margareta von Krauss) turns her back. Back at his hotel, he's introduced to the proprietess, Mrs. Kuhn (Stéphane Audran), who behaves rather strangely and puts him up in a room conveniently located directly across from where Genevieve lives. And Genevieve likes to stand around topless by an open window a lot.

It isn't long before people start dying, starting with Professor Roth, who's found hanging from a chandelier. When the police investigate, Mrs. Roth is nowhere to be found and Alan is informed that the victim wasn't even married. Maid Maria (Claudia Muzi), who tells Alan he better get out while the getting is good, is next up. There's also a strange, nameless man (played by William Berger) who's lives underneath the city and has been pulling our thick hero aside and telling him he better leave because he might be "sucked into the vortex." Needless to say, Alan doesn't listen, and eventually he discovers that nearly the entire district is involved in a weird religious cult that has something to do with spiders. To be precise, they worship a mutant baby who gives birth to spiders that crawl under the skin on your arm and possess you. Also working for the baby-mutant-messiah-thingy is some kind of hissing witch (also played by von Krauss) who viciously kills whoever theatens to expose the cult.

Clearly, the director has been inspired by the films of Italian horror masters Dario Argento and Mario Bava. It's well-scored, has good cinematography, decent acting (aside from the lead, who's handsome but a bit one-note) and the supernatural scenes are colorful and stylishly done. A scene of a nightgown-clad victim being stalked between sheets blowing in the wind while bold greens and blues flash will remind one instantly of Argento's SUSPIRIA (1977) and INFERNO (1980). A shot directly down a spiral staircase and the fact the witch tosses a small ball into a room before murdering her victims are direct visual nods to Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL! (1966). Hitchcock and Polanski are also liberally sampled in both premise (oblivious man begins to slowly realize that everyone he meets is basically conspiring against him and no one can be trusted) and execution. In fact, the film references so many others that it doesn't really take on an identity of its own until near the end. It does however deserve credit for a truly bizarre finale employing stop motion special effects.


Sadly, THE SPIDER LABYRINTH wasn't very well distributed in the United States and doesn't seem to have much of a following. I'm not aware of any legit U.S. VHS release and for years the best one could hope for was watching a bootleg copy (most of which were derived from the Japanese VHS release). In 2009, the film finally received a DVD release, though I can't vouch for its quality since I saw the video version.

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