Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Monster of the Opera – review

Director: Renato Polselli

Release date: 1964

Contains spoilers

We have looked at the works of Renato Polselli before. The 1960 film the Vampire and the Ballerina was an interesting piece that bridged between the styles of Gothic and sexploitation. Alternatively 1973’s Black Magic Rites was very much sexploitative, psychedelic and surreal but didn’t have anything that much resembled a story.

Il mostro dell'opera kind of straddles the gap between the two (as well as cementing an obsession with dance companies started in the earlier film). It perhaps has somewhat less of a story (or at least less of a developed story) than the Vampire and the Ballerina but it layers in a surreality that is still cohesive at this stage and, ultimately, rather fascinating.

Julia's terror
It begins with a woman, Julia (Barbara Howard), wearing the obligatory diaphanous nightdress and running through the confines of a theatre, clearly panicked. Laughter haunts the corridors and a man, Stefano, stalks her. Polselli uses wild angles to convey the dreamlike quality of the scene. Also in the theatre is Achille (Alberto Archetti) who calls (the currently unnamed) Stefano a monster. Julia reaches an invisible barrier and Achille finds himself on the other side from her.

Stefano showing fangs
Stefano menaces her with a rake (or pitchfork, but I suspect rake would be a better description). Given that he is our vampire it would seem an incongruous weapon but one that he seems most prone to use through the film. Julia roles away and finds herself outside. She flees as a carriage looks to run her down, her speed reminiscent of the keystone cops. Eventually she reaches a stream and collapses against a rock. Stefano catches her and goes to bite her…

Marco Mariani as Sandro
Julia wakes and screams, disturbing other dancers of the company she is prima donna for. She asks after director Sandro (Marco Mariani) but he is looking at the new theatre. She doesn’t know where that is but manages to phone him at the theatre anyway (this isn’t a plot hole, in my way of thinking, but shows how connected she is to the place). He doesn’t seem phased when he answers the phone to her. The caretaker is Achille and, when Sandro puts the receiver down, said custodian tries to talk him out of the theatre and shows him newspapers about leading ladies who have vanished. Sandro isn’t moved.

the company
Things then become more and more surreal. It appears that skeletons have invaded the theatre but it is the company making their entrance. Julia acts oddly throughout and seems to know Achille, though he claims they have never met. Cleaning of the stage is done to the Charleston and a coffin “prop” is found with a tailcoat in it. Exactly the same tailcoat as that worn by Stefano as he makes his entry.

the painting
We get some, all too short, backstory of Laura, a countess who had an affair with Stefano and then had him walled up alive when it seemed her husband might find out. Laura is, of course, reborn as Julia and Stefano became a vampire in order that he might get vengeance on her when reincarnated. Stefano has the power to take victims to some sort of vampire neverland where he has victims, now turned into vampires, chained to walls. He wants revenge, but also still loves Laura. His fate seems tied to a portrait of him.

the eyes have it
We get precious little lore than that already pointed out and the backstory could have stood for some development. That said there are some marvellous moments – one particular favourite was a St Vitus Dance moment, which Stefano seems to direct with his eyes, where the dancers cannot leave the stage because of invisible barriers and they cannot stop as the vampire will get the first one to stay still.

going for the neck
Like the earlier Vampire and the Ballerina the acting is not brilliant – but at least this film was in the original Italian with subtitles. However it was enthralling despite the aspects it lacked and Stefano looked pretty good with his fangs on show. Opera, incidentally, didn't come into this at all and thus the primary title seems to be a deliberate tie in with the Phantom of the Opera (and the story shares some broad brush stroke similarities).

All in all I think 5.5 out of 10 is fair.

The imdb page is here.

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