Synopsis: Criminal psychologist Dr. Herbert Lyutak (Mickey Hargitay of Bloody Pit Of Horror and The Wild, Wild World Of Jayne Mansfield) is a deranged sex maniac who murders young women. His beautiful wife (the luscious Rita Calderoni of Nude For Satan and The Reincarnation Of Isabel) is tormented by visions of medieval torture and lesbian orgies. But as their madness grows more twisted, they will descend even deeper into a nightmare of dementia, depravity and most of all, Delirium!
You have never seen anything like Delirium. Written and directed by the notorious Renato Polselli (under the pseudonym Ralph Brown). This is the Italian version of the film, which features radically different subplots and ending from the U.S. version.
Delirio caldo 5.25
eyelights: the surreal dreamlike sequences. the expressionistic vibe. the ample nudity.
eyesores: the slightly abrupt and incoherent editing. the poor staging.
‘Delirio caldo’ is an Italian thriller that borders on the slasher genre. It is dubbed a psycho-sexual picture, whatever that means. It’s the story of a criminal psychologist who at once helps the police investigate murders, and also commits them himself. The film basically consists of a cat-and-mouse game between the police and this violent murderer.
I approached ‘Delirio caldo’ with some trepidation.
The description promised “sleazy sex and extreme violence”, and a review on the front of the DVD claimed that it was “wonderfully sick and perverted”. The thing is, there are two elements I abhor in a horror film: extreme gore (unless it’s meant to be comical), and gratuitous violence towards women (i.e. violence that doesn’t serve the plot, that exists for its own sake).
Based on what I was reading, I was getting the impression that ‘Delirio caldo’ might fall under both categories. So, although I’d seen it in stores a few times before, I had always passed it over, telling myself that there are better things for me to do than subject myself to something I find objectionable; I like to challenge myself, but not necessarily the limits of good taste.
However, I was pulled by one key aspect of this feature film: there are two radically different cuts of the picture on the DVD, with completely different subplots and endings – one for the International version and one for the U.S. version. That intrigued me. Not only am I curious to see the differences in approaches, but I found myself wanting to understand the purpose behind this decision.
So, basically, my inquisitive nature, my intellectual curiosity, eventually won out over my self-censorship.
I know nothing of writer-director Renato Polselli, and there is little out there to shed any light on who he is, how he’s regarded and what his intentions were with this particular picture – at least in the English language. ‘Delirio caldo’ comes off as a low calibre giallo, not unlike Dario Argento’s output, but without the clever cinematography and delightfully operatic score.
Having said that, I’m of the opinion that these are Argento’s strengths, without which he would merely be a hack – and even the best giallo is weak in its construction and plausibility department, so you can imagine what gialli of a lesser grade is like. ‘Delirio caldo’ feels like a wannabe, an exploitative thriller that serves up sex and violence for lack of imagination and/or out of disregard for storytelling.
It’s not to say that this picture is all sex and violence. Hardly. But these are the moments that it does best, which is indicative of what its focus was. For the rest, the picture haphazardly sets up the plot and then barrels onward paying no mind to coherence, becoming more and more disjointed as it moves forward. By the end, I wasn’t really sure why I was missing bits, but I kept getting lost.
Part of the problem might have the subtitling, which at best seemed ineptly done; the dialogues were often ridiculous (this may be partly due to the original script, as I highly doubt that Polselli is a fantastic screenwriter). But most of the issue lies in the editing, which was so choppy that it reminded me of a modern music video – but without the vision and/or skill.
Ironically enough, it feels as though the editing was done with a bludgeon, not with the exactitude of a sharp blade. This problem doesn’t even lie within the scenes themselves, which are sometimes a jumbled mess of disparate frames, but within the film, too, in that sequences don’t always seem to fit together. If there is a picture that isn’t flowy, this is it.
Obviously, the issue may also lie in the fact that two entirely different cuts were conceived. I have yet to watch the American cut (and I will… soon),, but I’ve read that there are substantial differences between the two, as though two different films were being made at once. It’s quite conceivable that this “double duty” eventually hampered the coherence of the final product.
Having said this, there is an appealing quality to ‘Delirio caldo’, and it’s its slightly expressionistic side. Whereas the film fails to latch on to reality from a plot or staging perspective, the picture goes for a visual style and structure that is more emotional than cerebral. This may test the patience of the more intellectually-minded, but I totally enjoyed the stylistic nature of the picture.
However, I had a difficult time with the all-too-frequent lapses in logic that took place throughout. For instance, it seemed clear to me that the psychologist should have been caught right from the start – the fact that he was last seen with the victim should be a pretty convincing argument to have him followed and have his DNA taken. In short order, he would have been found guilty of at least that murder.
I have a hard time believing that, just because he works with the police, all officers turned off their suspicions in the face of such damning evidence. And just because there were other murders and other potential suspects (albeit tenuous ones at best), should hardly have muddied the waters. We are privy to his acts of violence from the onset, so the film would have to toss very convincing red herrings for us to buy into it.
But perhaps the picture is more about the psychological disintegration of the man, then about the evolution of the case. Perhaps that’s it. However, we are given very little understanding of what is motivating him aside from the possibility that he’s sexually frustrated by his impotence – which is a stretch and which also remains unexplained; we don’t see the long-term impact of this on his psyche.
The most compelling human drama afforded the picture is the relationship between the psychologist and his wife, who claims to love him so fully, so intensely, that she would do anything for him. We aren’t told the exactly extent of this devotion, but she finds incriminating evidence on him and doesn’t do anything about it; she is shocked by the revelation, but that’s about it.
There are plenty of insinuations that she is having an affair with the maid, however, so her devotion only goes so far. Between her intensely erotic fantasies, to which we are delightfully privy to, and the maid’s longing for her, it seems clear that something is going on – or is just about to. Even her “niece” seems to be part of the fantasy. And yet she remains faithful to her spouse.
The violence wasn’t nearly as extreme as I had expected it to be (mind you, compared to modern horror, hardly any 20th century film measures up). But it surely must have been quite horrific at the time. What bothered me the most was the sexual harassment that some of the women were subjected to. It’s not particularly shocking, and I’ve seen way worse, but it troubled me no less.
All this to say that ‘Delirio Caldo’ is no masterpiece, but it’s not all bad either. I would probably not recommend it to fans of more traditional thriller or horror films, as it has a European sensibility that is certainly an acquired taste. And even amongst giallo fans, I’d have to recommend caution: this isn’t nearly of Argento or Bava calibre. But fans of ’70s euroshock will likely savour this delirium.
Date of viewing: October 10, 2013