Sunday, December 3, 2017

Efialtis (1961)

... aka: Εφιάλτης
... aka: Nightmare

Directed by:
Erricos Andreou

Anna Margo (Voula Harilaou) awakens to the phone ringing. A threatening woman on the other end of the line tells her that her name is Evi Linardou, that she knows her and that she's in possession of a magic mirror that enables her to see her at that very moment. She also knows Anna recently inherited a large sum of money from her father and mentions some kind of accident where she suffered a head injury. She promises that one day she'll be famous. Not knowing who this mad woman is, Anna hangs up on her. To make matters even stranger, the operator Anna talks to afterward denies ever connecting that phone call to her hotel room. Anna hires private eye / lawyer Tonis Karzis (Michalis Nikolinakos), who had previous dealings with her father, to get to the bottom of things but the story is so peculiar even he has his doubts about the validity of Anna's troubles.

We learn that Anna is estranged from her mother (Athena Michaelidou), who resents her so much for receiving most of the inheritance that she kicked her out of the house. Anna also claims to have heard male and female voices in the corridor; the latter similar to the one who called her. Money has also been turning up missing even though she hasn't left her room. Anna does remember one strange thing the caller told her on the phone: that she'll be famous and her likeness will be hanging in museums all around the world one day. Anna puts two and two together and has Tonis look into the art community in the area as she suspects her stalker is a model or at least a wanna-be model.

Tonis gets to work and first visits painter Babis Fokas (Stavros Xenidis). There, he's told that Evi did two days work for him as a nude model but had such ordinary features he couldn't use her any more. While Tonis is questioning him, Evi gets him in hot water by going to his wife and telling her the two have been having an affair. Tonis next visits a shady photographer named Valentino (Zannino) and discovers Evi had recently been in his studio, though he lies about it. Next up, a visit to Anna's miserable mother, who's living in an old dark house with her equally glum and secretive son, Alexandros (Thanasis Mylonas). It turns out that Alexandros has recently been divorced from a woman named Evi and also works at Valentino's photography studio, where some unsavory things have been going on.

As we soon learn, the head injury Anna suffered has given her partial amnesia. She was actually a childhood friend of Evi's. Evi was the popular, beautiful, always-smiling one all the guys liked. Anna was the meek, introverted one no one paid attention to. Anna's jealousy eventually prompted her to cut off all contact with Evi. Following her divorce from Alexandros and discovery that Anna has inherited a fortune, Evi has seemingly now turned into the jealous one and will stop at nothing to get her hands on Anna's money. Tonis ends up on a wild goose chase throughout the city trying to locate Evi, where a visit with one character leads to a visit with someone else. He also questions Evi's nightclub owner uncle (Dimitris Nikolaidis), her supposed best friend / roommate and others in trying to piece together the puzzle. He begins to suspect Evi suffers from split personality disorder and, all the while, a series of scissor murders are occurring.

Comparisons between this and Hitchcock psychological thrillers have been made and I suppose that's somewhat apt. This is like second tier Hitchcock where it's certainly good... just not that good. The Freudian psychological components haven't aged so well since they've been used countless times since, making this all rather predictable as a result. Still, that's not really this movie's fault per se and criticizing it on such grounds would be akin to criticizing Psycho for familiarity caused by all of the later films that copied it. And the fact this is strong enough in most other areas to compensate.

This marks the directorial debut of Andreou, who also wrote and produced and would go to win major Greek film awards. His script turns out to be one of the best aspects of the film thanks to strong dialogue, decent characterizations and a sense of humor. Some perverse subject matter in here too, but it's handled with a lot of restraint and subtlety. There are two instances of female nudity, including a bizarre nightclub act where a topless blonde sits in a smoking cauldron while black voodoo priests dance around her (!) Performances are solid, with a strong lead actress in a showy role, a hero who is assured and level-headed but manages to avoid coming off unlikable and nice work from most of the supporting cast, particularly the actress playing the mother. Depi Martini, who represented Greece in the 1955 Miss Europe pageant, also has a small but important role.

This psychological drama / mystery also really comes through is in its visual style and photography, with lots of wonderfully shadowy black-and-white lighting designs that noir fans will immediately take to. How the final scene is lit and staged is particularly impressive. All of that only makes me wish I could have found a better quality print of this to watch.

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