Wednesday, September 14, 2011

La porta sul buio: Testimone oculare (1973) [filmed in 1971] (TV)

... aka: Dario Argento's Door Into Darkness: Eyewitness
... aka: Door Into Darkness: Eyewitness
... aka: Eyewitness
... aka: Testimone oculare

Directed by:
Dario Argento
Roberto Pariante

Impressed with the box office success of his horror-thrillers THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969) and CAT O' NINE TAILS (1970), RAI (the only television channel in Italy at the time) brought director Dario Argento on board to host, produce, sometimes write or direct and generally oversee the horror / suspense tales on their proposed series La porta sul buio ("Door Into Darkness"). I've seen conflicting stories about whether or not the ratings for the series were any good, but I'm doubtful they were through the roof or this probably would have lasted more than four episodes. Argento brought along some of his colleagues to help with the series, including Luigi Cozzi (an assistant and writer on Four Flies), Mario Foglietti (who wrote the story for Four Flies) and Roberto Pariante (the assistant director on all three of Argento's earliest genre films), each of whom directed an episode, along with Argento himself. All of the tales are reasonably budgeted, run about an hour in length and contain equal parts mystery and terror. Each (regardless of the director) also has that distinctive Argento stamp on it when it comes to the presentation, camerawork and score.

Roberta Leoni (Marilù Tolo) is driving down a barren stretch of country road late at night when a woman jumps out in front of her car. She doesn't hit the girl but upon examining the body, Roberta notices the woman has been shot in the back... and whoever did it is creeping out of the bushes with a gun. Roberta manages to get away and runs to a nearby tavern. The police show up to interview Roberta and take her back to the scene of the crime. There, it's explained to her that they've found no body, no blood and no evidence of any crime having been committed. The best Inspector Rocchi (Glauco Onorato) can do is check missing persons records until he's able to get some concrete evidence. Roberta's husband Guido (Riccardo Salvino) is also skeptical of his wife's story. The two go out to celebrate their anniversary, and return home only to find that an intruder has broken in but not actually stolen anything. While Roberta is out shopping the next day, someone attempts to kill her by pushing her in front of a truck. She's also been receiving phone calls where the caller hangs up right after she answers. Despite Roberta's nail-biting, chain-smoking, neurotic behavior, Inspector Rocchi comes to the conclusion that she's not crazy and promises to help her, but there's not much he can actually do.

While her husband is out and Roberta is all alone in their isolated home, she receives yet another threatening phone call. The voice on the other end tells her, "You've gone too far... Now I'm coming over to kill you!" Before she even has a chance to phone the police, the killer cuts her phone line. Thankfully, Guido returns home just in the nick of time. He comes up with a plan to hide his car to trick the killer into thinking Roberta is all alone, then when the killer's about to strike, he'll emerge from the darkness and shoot them. But things don't end up going quite as planned. At least for Roberta.

For the most part, this is a well-made and well-acted thriller. There's some suspense and decent camerawork, including good use of POV shots and one Argento-esque one sitting behind a tea cup on a tray as it approaches Roberta. Though the sole director credit for Testimone oculare goes to Pariante, apparently Argento directed most of this episode himself, sans credit. It was written by Argento and Luigi Cozzi, who unfortunately throw a wet blanket over the proceedings at the very end with a predictable twist ending that everyone except the leading lady can probably see coming from about the twenty-minute mark.

All four "Door Into Darkness" episodes (Argento's The Tram, Cozzi's THE NEIGHBOR and Foglietti's THE DOLL and this one) have been released to DVD on a 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 (who claims in his interview that Argento had to step and reshoot most of this segment because he was unhappy with what Pariante had done). Sadly, the original film elements of all four episodes are missing, forcing them to use the lesser-quality RAI TV video masters.


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