Pardon me for opening on what will sound like a splurge of smug self-congratulation, but… as a lifelong film enthusiast with a master’s degree in cult film and television, and almost a decade’s experience publishing horror reviews online, some part of me will occasionally feel I warrant being classed as a genre expert of some description. However, then a Blu-ray release like this will come along one to remind me of just how ignorant I remain in so many areas. Giallo has always been one region of the cult/horror realm that has always felt somewhat alien to me; while I’ve liked some of those I’ve seen, and can appreciate why the genre resonates with so many viewers, for whatever reason I’ve never quite been able to connect with them in that same way. Still, among the giallos (gialli? See, I don’t even know the correct pluralism) that I’ve most enjoyed was the fabulously titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, from director Sergio Martino, with a striking supporting turn from Edwige Fenech. As such, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look at Shameless’s new edition of All the Colours of the Dark, an earlier collaboration between the actress and the director.
Well, let’s be forthright; it wasn’t so much Fenech’s performance in Your Vice, as it was Fenech herself that I was most struck by. In case you’re unfamiliar with the actress, as I was myself at the time, she’s a Mediterranean beauty to rival Jess Franco’s muse Soledad Miranda with a similar openness to regularly disrobing on camera, and every bit as likely to send writers with a sexual preference for women into flights of pseudo-lyrical abandon. Given she made that strong an impression from a supporting role in Your Vice (the film Martino made immediately after this one, if I’ve read correctly), I was certainly eager to see how she would command the screen in a leading role. All this having been considered, when I tell you she makes for a compelling lead in All the Colours of the Dark, am I necessarily celebrating her acting ability, or simply the fact that I find her very nice to look at? Without a doubt, Fenech’s sex appeal plays a key role in keeping the film compelling, and no doubt it can only help if the viewer finds the central protagonist attractive; but it would be unfair to imply that there’s nothing more to All the Colours of the Dark than that.
Fenech is Jane, a young Londoner (yes, the Italian production is set and shot in the English capital) who is suffering from recurring nightmares rooted both in the recent loss of her unborn child, and the murder of her mother in early childhood. Her boyfriend Richard (George Hilton) feels the best way to deal with it is by taking vitamins (early 70s, what can you say), whilst her sister Barbara (Susan Scott) tries setting her up with a psychiatrist. Neither approach seems to be working, however, as Jane’s night terrors are bleeding through into possible psychotic episodes in her waking life, repeatedly encountering a man from her dreams on the streets – and he seems hellbent on killing her. Then, Jane meets her new neighbour Mary (Marina Malfatti), who proposes a rather more unique way of dealing with her issues; inducting her into a local sect of devil worshippers.
As should be clear from that attempt at a snappy synopsis, All the Colours of the Dark is – like so much Italian genre fare – an odd stew of elements lifted from other movies: it’s part Rosemary’s Baby (Martino himself acknowledges this influence in a new interview on the disc), part late 60s/early 70s witchcraft movie, part classic blade-flashing giallo proto-slasher. Anyway you look at it, it’s uncharacteristically stylish and forward-facing for a film made in the UK at the time. Contrast it with, say, Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972, and it seems far more in tune with the era, with a looser, more experimental feel to a lot of the camerawork, editing, and colourful lighting. It’s also got a terrific trippy score from the prolific Italian composer Bruno Nicolai, which plays a major role in enhancing the mood.
This, I think, is the key problem I’ve always had with giallo, and Italian horror overall; when you get right down to it, they’re first and foremost mood pieces, designed to draw the audience in with a hypnotic audio-visual display, with character and story generally coming pretty low on the filmmakers’ list of priorities. Of course, I also realise that while this may put off those of us more accustomed to conventional screen storytelling, the appeal of the genre hinges on those very same qualities. Ultimately, does it really matter whether a film makes any kind of logical sense when it’s handsomely designed, sports a groovy soundtrack, and has a smoking hot lead actress? If, as many have argued over the years, the real reason for a horror movie is to provoke a primal emotional response, then All the Colours of the Dark gets the job as good as any – particularly given that, once answers arrive, they don’t prove especially satisfying.
Shameless are of course one of the leading lights in fan-friendly editions of cult material, frequently providing an education for the likes of me, and this one is as good as any. The film itself looks great, and as mentioned earlier we have a nice interview with Sergio Martino. Other than this we have a fan/academic commentary from Diabolique’s Kat Ellinger, and giallo-esque short film Doors from director Michele De Angelis.
All the Colours of the Dark is available now on limited edition Blu-ray, from Shameless.