Delirium

DeliriumSynopsis: 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 U.S. version of the film, which features radically different subplots and ending from the Italian version.

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Delirium 4.5
eyelights: the surreal dreamlike sequences. the inadvertent laughs. the twist ending.
eyesores: the cheapness of the Vietnam sequences. the poor staging.

‘Delirium’ is the American cut of the picture ‘Delirio caldo‘. It features the same cast and crew and was filmed in tandem with its International forbear, but it was put together differently, with the scenes sometimes edited together in alternate ways, tacking on a different subplot and closing with a different outcome.

Why the filmmakers decided to do this is not entirely clear to me, but it was the main draw of the picture for me; as I mentioned in my blurb for ‘Delirio caldo’, a part of me really wanted to understand what the differences were, how substantial the differences were and why. Unfortunately, nothing shed any light on the motivation.

But it was well worth my time to watch this other cut, which is indeed very different.

Some of the changes are better, but many are not, which led to the picture being unintentionally funny. For starters, there are the dialogues, which were similar but sound cornier in English and which included a few instances of awkward exposition. This is a reason why I prefer watching foreign films with subtitles; dubs often don’t cut it.

What’s particularly weird and funny is that Mickey Hargitay, the lead actor (a body-builder turned actor), dubbed himself in English in such a way that he sounded super sedated. I don’t know what he was on during the sessions, but at first I thought that it was just some non-actor dubbing the part. I was stunned to find out it is the real deal. WTF.

The main change is the Vietnam subplot, which bookends the picture and doesn’t exist in the original film. Apparently this was Hargitay’s suggestion, after being asked by the director for ideas. It is extremely ineptly put together from a production and storytelling standpoint, adding even a cheesy voice-overed backgrounder on our protagonist.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

This Viietnam segment shows Herbert get wounded on his tour of duty and suggests that it’s trauma from that experience that is leading to his psychological breakdown now. It felt facile until we got to the end and discovered that the whole picture is actually merely a “last throes of death” delirium; the whole movie never actually happened.

I thought that it was a neat idea, even if it was done poorly.

(This conceit is at the heart of Adrian Lyne’s clever ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, of course, but I couldn’t say if the latter was at all influenced by this Italian oddity. There’s no indication to that effect.)

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

There’s also the matter of Herbert’s relationship with his spouse, Marcia, which is underplayed compared to ‘Delirio caldo’, where it was a much more significant part of the picture, providing extra tension. And there is absolutely no hint of the affair that she might be having with the maid in his absence. Here, Marcia becomes almost superfluous, a secondary character.

Another significant change is that we discover a very different murderer in this version. I don’t know that it was necessary, but it’s interesting that they chose to do this. The only problem is that the editing is poor enough that we can easily tell that the gloved hands are not those of this murderer. The least that they could have done was to shoot inserts to make it work. Alas.

The violence has also been toned down here. For instance the phone booth sequence has been shortened considerably, which is a mixed blessing: on the one hand, it’s less corny, but on the other it makes less sense. Also, the scene when our “hero” tortures his spouse has been edited to not show the device itself – which is much better, as it was ridiculous in the first place.

In a similar vein, other scenes were edited down, changing the tone completely. For instance, when the doctor finds a pair of gloves in his car and inexplicably tosses them out the window, this time no one picks them up. It still doesn’t make sense, but it was ridiculous to think that someone had been following him, saw him toss them out, and then found them in the dark.

Speaking of which, by editing the film differently, it made me pay attention to altogether other elements:

For instance, in the scene when the police woman is alone at home, I couldn’t figure out why she turned off the lights before answering the door. The problem is that the killer used a flashlight to blind her, something that wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t inexplicably shut the lights. Which leads one to wonder how the killer would have known anyway.

Also, there’s this scene when Herbert picks up this teenaged girl (after pretending to be a professor needing her help on some research), and decides to kill her. I don’t remember if it was different in the original version, but this time I wondered how he got ahead of her: one moment he’s in his car, and the next he’s attacking her. Um… so what happened in between?

Also, the sex scenes are slightly different. Not necessarily censored, just different: some were removed, some were fleshed out (haha… pun!), and there were fewer crotch shots. As well, the closing credits show pictures from the delirium scene, which is filled with gratuitous nudity, girl-on-girl action and bondage. Snicker, snicker… I guess the producers felt that an encore was of the order.

All this to say that ‘Delirium’ is a substantially different picture than ‘Delirio caldo’. From a film buff standpoint it’s a fascinating watch because one rarely finds such different takes on the same material by the same filmmakers. It happens, such as in ‘Aliens‘, but it’s nonetheless rare – especially in those days, when at best you’d find a film censored, not recreated completely.

Is it a better movie than it original cut? No. Hardly. But it’s enjoyable in its own way, in particular due to the laughs one might have at its expense. And it does have some intriguing touches. Mostly, it’s an intellectually satisfying exercise to watch and compare the two. It could prove interesting in film school – if not for this aspect, then at least to study what not to do when making a motion picture.

Story: 4.5
Acting: 4.0
Production: 4.5

Chills: 3.0
Gore: 3.0
Violence: 5.0

Date of viewing: October 12, 2013

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