... aka: Dämonia (Demonia)
... aka: Enigma do Pesadelo (Nightmare Puzzle)
... aka: Internado diabólico (Devilish Boarding School)
... aka: L'énigme (The Enigma)
Despite having worked in a variety of different genres (comedy, drama, spaghetti western, giallo, even musicals) starting as far back as the late 50s, it wouldn't be until decades later that Fulci became a more internationally-recognized name. The turning point was ZOMBI 2 (1979), which rode the coattails of, and was falsely marketed as, a sequel to Romero's hugely successful DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). Utilizing tag lines like “If you loved 'Dawn of the Dead,' you'll just eat up 'Zombie'!” the film became a hit itself. Then came the big VHS boom of the 80s, which enabled Fulci to continue crafting his new “Godfather of Gore” image with a series of gruesome supernatural flicks that were low on logic but high on bloodshed. Genre magazines like Fangoria began singing his praises and many genre fans responded by literally gobbling up his gory offerings in the early days of home video, making films like City of the Living Dead (1980; originally titled The Gates of Hell here in America), THE BEYOND (1981; first released here as 7 Doors of Death), THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) and THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) hot rentals. For a short while, Fulci was duking it out with Dario Argento for the title of “Most Popular Italian Horror Director,” but his reign didn't last too much longer.
While Argento continued to make popular and highly-respected films throughout the 80s and early 90s, Fulci's career took a nose-dive shortly after 1982. For a change of pace, he went to Mexico and made the barbarian fantasy CONQUEST (1983), which ended up becoming a huge flop. He then decided to cash in on the whole Flashdance craze and made a glossy musical giallo / slasher called MURDER ROCK (1984), but it was so tame that many of his fans outright rejected it, a fate that also befell his attempts at sci-fi (1984's New Barbarians) and erotica (1986's The Devil's Honey). The problem wasn't so much that all of these films were necessarily bad (some were, some weren't) but that Fulci stopped catering directly to the gore-hounds who made him a name in the first place. Not helping matters any, Fulci grew ill with hepatitis C, cirrhosis and diabetes in the mid-80s and had to be hospitalized on numerous occasions. His budgets eventually shrank, most of his films didn't get released outside of Europe and he was often relegated to forgettable TV productions. By the early 90s, all the man had left were nostalgic fans of his early 80s work.
Soon after Fulci passed away in 1996 came the DVD revolution, which not only saw re-issues of the director's most famous films that were released in America but also gave many their first look at what he made both prior to and after his “gore” period that wasn't. This ended up proving nothing that wasn't already suspected: His 60s and 70s work was the strongest, while his mid to late 80s work was his weakest. Aenigma was a film from that weak period and never saw the light of day here in the U.S. until the 2001 DVD release from Image as part of their “EuroShock Collection.”
Set at “St. Mary's College” in Boston, but actually filmed in Sarajevo, this is a weak, lifeless outsider's supernatural revenge tale in the Carrie mold. Shy and unpopular student Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic), daughter of the school's mentally retarded maid, is set up on a date with “handsome hunk of beefcake” Fred Vernon (Riccardo Acerbi). That turns out to be nothing but a prank and, as she tries to flee from her laughing peers, she's struck down by a car and put into a coma. Soon after, new student Eva Gordon (Lara Naszinski) arrives at the school for troublesome girls after a “mild nervous breakdown.” Eva is not your usual central figure in one of these things. She's kind of a bitch and extremely slutty, telling her new roommate Jennifer (Ulli Reinthaler) that she'll go for “anything in pants” and that “for me a successful year means making out with as many gorgeous boys as possible!” After only being there a few days, Eva is already trying to get into arrogant fitness instructor Fred's pants. Unfortunately for her, he's killed when his own reflection breaks out of a mirror and strangles him to death.
Don't you just hate falling head over meels...
Though in a coma, Kathy is somehow able to strike out and kill those involved in her accident and she's also managed to somehow possess Eva. Each death is done in a way where it came be written off as a heart attack, accident or suicide. Meanwhile, at the hospital, neurologist Dr. Robert Anderson (Jared Martin) and his nurse Peggy start realizing Kathy is having violent brain wave patterns that coincide with each death at the school. Dr. Anderson doesn't think too much of it and instead decides to start sleeping with Eva until she's kicked out of school for her violent episodes. While Eva convalesces at a “deluxe rest home,” the doctor immediately starts seeing Eva's former roommate, which really seems to tick off the restless spirit.
Fulci (left) in a one scene uncredited cameo as a police inspector.
It's hard to get much enjoyment out of this one considering it's sterile, mostly dull and ineptly rips off pretty much everything in sight, from Carrie (1976) to the inferior Carrie rip-off JENNIFER (1978) to the Aussie flick Patrick (1978) to Argento's Phenomena (1985). The English dubbing is very poor, the dialogue is embarrassingly bad, most of the characters are extremely unlikable (having a rude, foul-mouthed spoiled brat and a middle-aged doctor “hero” sleeping around with teen girls as our central figures probably wasn't the best way to go) and the murder sequences are done with little to no verve by a director whose chief claim to fame is supposedly his gruesome, elaborate death scenes. There are also plenty of unanswered questions in the flimsy premise, the (only sporadic) possession of the Eva character, the (only sporadic) possession of the mother character and how Kathy can make other characters have hallucinations and such, but I don't even really want to get started on all that. This is simply a tired idea bereft of imagination that's poorly done.
Fans of the Fulci's early 80s period will also notice a distinct lack of gore. While there are a sufficient amount of deaths overall, most of them are done with little to no blood. Victims are knocked out of windows, strangled and crushed but usually die off-screen. There's a decapitation, but we only see the head, and a sex nightmare that's poorly done but at least gets the hot leading lady out of her clothes. During one scene, Kathy turns an art exhibit into a museum of horrors with blood-dripping paintings, a snake, a talking head and a moving statue. The only memorable bit is a girl getting covered and smothered by a bunch of snails, which works better than it sounds. Posters of Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise and Yoda (!) can be seen on walls to prove to us this is America and not Eastern Europe and the über corny theme song “Head Over Heels” by Douglas Meakin is heard several times.
The Brazilian VHS erroneously credits Caitlin O'Heaney and Susan Kendall as the stars...
... and so does the Spanish one...
... and the German, along with Walter Brandi this time.
I found numerous Fulci interviews online and they all skip right over this particular film, even the more comprehensive ones. I did however find interviews (which can be read in full RIGHT HERE) with stars Martin and Naszinski. Martin describes the director as being “Less boisterous, less long term energy; he was watching his diet and probably also his behavior, and he seemed a little more distant or withdrawn. He still had that hedgehog personality and when he shouted it was very easy to hear him.” Naszinski (the niece of Klaus Kinski who now uses the name Lara Lamberti professionally) said the set was full of jealousy and tension and described the director as being “lonely and bitter” but added she had no problem working with him. Both actors seem to allude to the fact that Fulci didn't have his heart in this one. It shows.