Thursday, March 5, 2020

Delitto allo specchio (1964)

... aka: Crime in the Mirror
... aka: Death on the Fourposter
... aka: Les possédées du démon (The Demon Possessions)
... aka: Murder in the Mirror
... aka: Sexy Party

Directed by:
Jean Josipovici

Baron Ricky (Michel Lemoine) has arranged to have a SeXy PaRtY at his family's secluded castle and he's invited all of his swingin' Parisian pals to come along for a weekend of champagne, cigarettes, smoked salmon and, the fellas hope, hooking up with members of the opposite sex. Some of the guys are sort of dating some of the girls, but most everyone seems open to all of the possibilities. Well, except for the guy who seems mildly outraged: "But this isn't the orient! You can't just exchange girls!" Sure you can. This is a SeXy PaRtY after all. Upon arriving at the castle, the ill-defined cast park their cars in a garage, which is then locked. Their host shows them where the one key is and tells them not to misplace it so you just know the key is going to eventually turn up missing to trap them all there.

I usually like describing the characters in a little detail but seeing how this film doesn't bother doing that itself and much of the cast sort of blurs together into one big lump of nothingness, there's no reason to bother with it myself. The notables are the naive Nikki (Maria Pia Conte), who wears a big sweater instead of a sexy dress or one-piece romper like her gal pals so you know she's virtuous, is spending her first night away from home and has a crush on the older host. Instead of casting an old crone as the obligatory stern, cold and suspicious housekeeper, they've cast a hot blonde (Luisa Rivelli), who's also Ricky's lover and getting fed up with his playboy ways. The pervert castle caretaker Aldo (Giuseppe Fortis) is a peeping tom who spies on the girls changing in the bathroom through the keyhole. The glamorous and sexy Serena (Antonella Lualdi) is Ricky's ex-squeeze who's brought along a new musician friend named Anthony (John Drew Barrymore), who's brought a 45 of his new song called, you guessed it, SeXy PaRtY for the gang to dance to.

To spice up the evening, Serena proposes they all play a little party game called "The Shattering of Illusions." Each guest is to announce what's the most important thing in their life, while Serena tries to shatter that illusion. Charlie (Mario Valdemarin) wants to be with Lucianne (Vittoria Prada), an heiress set to inherit a fortune, but Serena manages to seduce him into almost kissing her in under a minute after whispering a sweet nothing (actually, a not-so-sweet something it turns out) into his ear. Gambling addict Paul (Joe Atlanta) is willing to "loan out" his girlfriend Kitty (José Greci) to his friend Georgie (Massimo Carocci) when he runs out of money during a game of dice. The point being that "The things that we take for granted can end at any moment...like life itself."

In addition to his music, Anthony also has been dabbling around with magic and the occult and has the ability to see into both the past and the future. During a séance he has horrible visions prophesying doom and warns the guests to get out of the castle while there's still time. However, everyone's having such a ball that no one heeds his warning. Not surprisingly, soon after that one of the ladies is found dead in her bed, presumably strangled to death with a scarf that belongs to none other than weirdo Aldo. Another of the women, Frankie (Gloria Milland), is found dead by Ricky, but her body disappears before he can retrieve the others. When he continues having visions of her corpse, he can't figure out whether he's seeing a ghost or going mad.

Of course there's a silly explanation behind the strange events that's revealed after we wade through the usual assortment of red herrings, intentional plot misdirection and Gothic horror intrigue like secret passageways and a hidden dungeon. The major issue here is that this is a far more interesting movie before the mystery / horror elements even come into play. The set-up, which takes up the entire first half of the film, is quite intriguing at times but the pay-off is pedestrian in the extreme. Once the first body is discovered, the dialogue becomes more vacuous, the characters become dumber and the pacing slows to a crawl. When the characters aren't moronically wandering around just asking to be killed, they're sitting around the castle's main room looking bored out of their minds. I could relate.

A lot of time is spent trying to make this about as sexy as a mainstream early 60s movie could be. Meaning, there's no nudity but a whole lot of bare back, bra, lingerie and leg action going on, plus a lot of sexual innuendo. They do kind of nail something darkly, subtly sensual with the dimly-lit castle setting and decadent characters, but even that aspect falls by the wayside in the second half. This would have been better had it not even become a genre film at all and dealt exclusively with the characters, their relationships and the assorted jealousies, neuroses, insecurities and mind games.

With a cast otherwise comprised entirely of French and Italian stars, you may find it odd that American actor Barrymore, son of the esteemed theater legend John Barrymore, is in this. Long story short, it's because he'd already burned too many bridges in Hollywood and was the subject of so much stateside tabloid scandal that he was tarnishing the family legacy. Prior to relocating, he'd been arrested for public intoxication, spousal abuse, delinquent alimony payments and a hit-and-run accident. Despite being given roles in major studio films right out of the gate that likely had more to do with his last name than his actual talent, Barrymore had a bad habit of refusing to show up on set and bailing out of various film, TV and theatrical productions, usually with no notice whatsoever.

Nepotism was pretty much all that was keeping him in the game by a certain point. After doing over a dozen movies in Europe (mostly in Italy) from 1960 to 1964, he returned to the U.S. to find his career prospects even more limited and continued getting into scrapes with the law, which included more arrests for automobile accidents and drug possession. The biggest impact he'd make on the entertainment industry was essentially donating sperm so that Drew Barrymore could be conceived. He's also the father of the less-successful John Blyth Barrymore, who he had with one of his other four wives. JBB went on to do a lot of ADR work and was a regular in some of Fred Olen Ray's direct-to-video movies like Inner Sanctum II (1994) and Hybrid (1997).

Often considered a very early example of the giallo genre, this was released the same exact year as Mario Bava's defining film BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. The cast also includes Alberto Cevenini (who also appeared in Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES) as Lou-Lou and Monique Vita (who ended up in hardcore pornography in the late 70s) as the ditsy Edie. An English-dubbed version played theatrically in both the U.S. (under the title Death on the Fourposter) and the UK (as Sexy Party). Sinister Cinema distributed this on DVD-R and VHS and a number of other bootleg sites also carry this title.

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