‘A passionate tribute to the cinema of Fulci’? It’s words like these which act like bait to writers like us, so when this statement was attached to the press release of a new film, Sexual Labyrinth, my curiosity was piqued. That the press release also mentioned paying homage to Joe D’Amato (ah yes, he) and Luigi Atomico (no idea) only made me wonder more what the film could possibly have in store. Well, spoiler alert: this ‘vision of female sexuality’, again words used in the press release, has nothing whatsoever to do with Fulci that I can see, from his early sex comedies all the way through to his horrors. Nada. Joe D’Amato? Not an expert on his stuff, though I’ve seen a few D’Amato films, and I suppose the rough-shod human flesh on display throughout wouldn’t have looked too amiss in some of his work – though I’m not sure that this is particularly ambitious on the current filmmaker’s part, or complimentary on mine. I think the best thing to do here is to say a bit more about what is on offer.
Director Morgana Mayer doesn’t mention Pasolini in her list of influential directors, though so far as this short, first-time film resembles anything commercially reasonably well-known, Salo would seem to be something of a template, given that we have one central pair of characters – well, sort of, and then a sequence of sadomasochistic tableaux going on around this. The premise of the film is the obsessive attention of one lover for another, and we see something of a back story – a woman getting abducted mid-urination (how rude), having her head shaved, then being taken to a rather minimalist S&M dungeon in someone’s house, where she is confronted by the obsessive lover. Hey, the budget of this film was said to be around 8000 Euros; that won’t buy you all that many niche pieces of furniture (though, apparently, it will stretch to an endoscope camera.) One woman tells the other that they will be ‘made to fall in love’ with them, and from there it’s into largely-unrelated, and dare I say – gruelling – hook-ups, all falling broadly under the remit of S&M and all, eventually, coming back to the two characters mentioned earlier.
Honestly, it all has the feel of a group of friends who have known each other for simply years, on the local goth scene perhaps, getting together and making something which to their minds is artistic, and to others could very possibly be a little tough-going, and not aesthetically pleasing at all. I feel like the director was going for very choreographed sequences in places, and very graphic ones in others (see earlier mention of an endoscopy; there’s a fair amount of hardcore footage in here, folks) but simply shooting one of the actors reading an Annie Sprinkles book doesn’t quite join the dots together in a way which elevates this above seriously disjointed and rather pretentious porn.
Yes, there is some ambition here considering the zero budget, flitting from colour to black and white, from death metal to classical music, and a variety of camera work is on display (again, endoscopy) but none of these things are constructive without a solid central idea and something to say. To bring this back to Fulci, often his films were seriously disjointed but they were organically surreal, and this gives them that golden quality now. Sexual Labyrinth is, despite wrangling for shock value, rather flat and needless – a swarm of ideas which have been done before in a more sophisticated way. I am struggling to understand who the audience for this would be, really, but I think Fulci fans can safely rule themselves out. Guess I was had there. Oh well, if you feel you have space in your heart for this, it’s out next week.
Sexual Labyrinth will be released in Italy on 26th April 2017.