Delirium (1972)

Back when I was posting regularly to PrisonFlicks I also had plans to build up a series of sister sites that would cover some other genres.  That never quite came to fruition, but I’ve always been interested in writing more broadly about other films in the exploitation genre. Now that I am taking another stab are writing about movies I’ve decided to expand my focus, which explains today’s detour into the Italian Giallo genre. There will be some other changes in how I post as well, mostly just simplifying the process — fewer images, no detailed list of actors, and mostly the reviews will be shorter with a lot less plot summary and more focus on commentary.

Anyway, I’ve never really focused much on Giallo pictures — honestly I though Giallo was a kind of ice cream. Not that I haven’t always been a fan of Italian movies. Some of the very best Eurosleaze came from Italy, and I’ve always been fascinated by Italian cannibal movies which, until the recent torture porn horror cycle, were some of the most repulsive things put on film.

But I digress. The problem with Giallo is essentially the same as the problem with most older movies, though magnified by the genre. In the pre-MTV era films were just slower paced, with fewer cuts, more dialogue, more room for extraneous characters. This didn’t necessarily make the movies better, or worse for that matter, just different. But it does create something of a structural problem for thrillers. You can have slow paced thrillers. Indeed many of the very best thrillers are slow, deliberate, character driven. But very few low budget thrillers are slow paced and effective because, well, the actors, directors, and screenwriters can’t pull it off. Giallo movies are often thrillers, often police procedurals, usually with heavy psychological overtones. They structurally require either narrative momentum or brilliant filmmaking to carry them, and given the low budgets and 1970s filmmaking style, they often come off as ponderous or boring.

I’d heard good things about Delirium, however, and on the whole wasn’t disappointed. The plot revolves around creepy Dr. Lyutak (Mickey Hargitay — yes, Jayne Mansfield’s hubby), a psychologist who apparently often consults with the police on local crimes. Right now, there is a serial killer on the loose, who has seven victims to his name, all young attractive women.

One of the curious things about this is that the story seems set in a relatively small town where even one murder, much less seven would probably freak everybody out. I mean I was a kid in New York during the Son of Sam murders and then in Washington when the DC sniper was on the loose, and even in large metropolitan areas people altered their behavior. But here, no one seems to notice. Pretty girls still accept rides from strangers, hang out in parks alone after dark, agreed to meetings behind the school at night.

Anyway, as become obvious almost right away, Dr. Lyutak has a screw loose. If his manic stare didn’t give it away, the way he gets all sweaty while leering at young women should seal the deal. And indeed, he picks up a girl at a bar by offering her ride and promptly drives her out to the countryside where he kills her in a stream.

Lyutak, it turns out, is impotent, and when he gets turned on by some pretty young thing, his arousal gets channeled into a murderous rage. He is in the parlance of students of serial killers a disorganized killer, impulsive and reckless. You’d think he’d be easily caught, particularly since the bartender at the bar goes to the police and tells them that Lyutak was leering at the victim and that they left together, a fact Lyutak admits — well, he admits to the leaving together, not the leering, or to the killing for that matter.

Then police do not particularly cover themselves in glory here. They accept at his word Lyutak’s claim to have dropped off the girl at a nightclub, despite the fact that no one saw her there. And they don’t search his home, where they would have found his bloody shirt. Instead, without a shred of evidence, they become convinced that the nightclub’s parking attendant had something to do with the murder.

Now, the attendant is a genuine weirdo, in the sense that rather than try to prove his innocence he seems more interested in taunting the cops with their incompetence. He evade police surveillance, skulks around in alleys and sewers, and generally behaves like the most suspicious MFer imaginable. This, of course, allows Lyutak to play on his personal connections with the police to divert attention from himself.

Then we have Lyutak’s wife, Marzia, played by the genuinely lovely Rita Calderoni. Just a stunning, stunning woman. She’s, um, also got a screw loose. Lyutak’s impotence isn’t helping matters, I guess, because Marzia is prone to lurid lesbian sex fantasies, some involving their maid, some involving more intricately staged medieval-themed,  bondage and chain orgies. In short, Marzia is a party.

Marzia is also desperately in love with Lyutak, for reasons which are essentially left to their viewer’s imagination. I mean, the guy is brusque, distant, often gallivanting around town picking up various girls in bars and elsewhere. And, you know, impotent.

Anyway, I won’t give away too much more. It turns out there are at least two killers on the loose, and the plot meanders through various inept efforts by the cops to trap the killer, even while the main characters’ mental states continue to deteriorate. This leads to a long, drawn out conclusion with lots of teeth gnashing and scenery chewing, and the introduction or yet another mentally unstable character before finally being resolved in an orgy of blood. Good times.

Despite the fact that none of the characters are particularly likable,  this is a fun movie. It moves along briskly. There are several gorgeous women, all of whom get naked at one point or another. The fight and murder scenes are laughable and silly, which is too bad because this detracts from the atmospherics. But you know, one could do a lot worse.

Not a great movie by any stretch, but certain;y a decent introduction to the genre, particular for folks who don’t want to wallow in the drawn out, quasi-hallucinogenic, efforts to depict incipient insanity.

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