Synopsis: Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Erica Blanc star in Bava’s final gothic masterpiece, the hallucinatory tale of a remote village tormented by the specter of a dead little girl. Despite it’s threadbare budget, Bava creates an unprecedented world of baroque dread, mesmerizing disorientation and explosive color whose direct influence would be seen in films by Fellini, Scorsese, Argento, David Lynch and Guillermo Del Toro. More than 40 years later, it remains one of the most beautiful and unnerving horror experiences of all time.
Operazione paura 7.0
eyelights: Bava’s creative shots. its visual style. its eerie score. its atmosphere.
eyesores: its artificial-looking sets. its disjointed music editing.
“Calm down, girl. It won’t happen to you; the curse won’t touch you.”
I don’t remember my dreams. I know that I dream because I sometimes vaguely remember having had one but, even when I do, the recollection barely lasts minutes and then dissipates from memory never to return. Perhaps I should write them down when I have them, like some do, but I don’t.
Similarly, some movies just don’t make a lasting impression on you. Though ‘Operazione Paura’ is considered one of Mario Bava’s greatest films, maybe even a masterpiece, and has influenced countless filmmakers, including Martin Scorcese and Tim Burton, I can’t recall much from my viewings.
For me, it’s like waking from a dream.
The picture, which was released in 1966, is a classic Gothic tale of horror. Set in a remote Italian town, it follows Paul Eswai, a doctor who’s been called in by a village Inspector to perform the autopsy of a local woman. He soon discovers that the villagers will do anything to hinder his efforts.
And that they’re all terrified of a little girl.
A dead little girl.
‘Operazione Paura’ consists of Dr. Eswai and Inspector Kruger’s attempts at revealing the mystery behind the little girl’s reign of terror – with the help of Ruth, a local witch, and Monica, a nurse. But, as they inch closer and closer to the truth, they discover that their lives are in jeopardy.
The picture is not an especially scary one by today’s standards; it’s more atmospheric than shocking. The little girl is somewhat creepy, but it’s mostly due to the way that Bava stages the scenes. Though they’re utterly artificial (ex: stretching out her hand and planting it in a window?), it works.
I also looks artificial, with its sets and vibe very much akin to a Hammer Horror movie. That’s not to say that it’s not aesthetically pleasing, it most certainly is, it’s just that the audience can’t fool themselves
that what they’re watching is real life; there’s an inevitable layer of emotional remove.
The performances add to this remove in that many of them are on the heavy-handed side, with an over-emphasis of the characters’ reactions and emotions. Similarly, Carlo Rustichelli’s score is also slightly over-the-top, trying to manufacture fear where the scenes alone simply could not.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this kind of filmmaking when it’s done well. And Bava certainly knew how to make an impression, case-in-point his looped scene in which Eswai runs out of the ruins after hearing Monica scream, or with his creative camera work, like the POV shot from a swing.
What Bava succeeded in doing here was to create a mildly surrealistic ghost story, which, frankly, is quite a perfect form for this picture. Not only is the situation slightly discomfiting, toying with reality, but the presentation does that as well. He, in effect, has created a dream in cinematic form.
(Or is that a nightmare…?)
In that respect, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t have a strong response to the picture (which I can recall mostly from my movie-watching notes), because it leaves me with an abstract memory of it. With only traces lingering in my mind, it gives it an enigmatic quality that is somewhat compelling.
‘Operazione paura’ will never be my favourite Mario Bava picture; though I appreciate its aesthetics, I don’t find it gripping enough that I’ll ever feel compelled to watch it frequently. Still, it features a few striking moments and it simmers tension to some degree; it’s really quite good for the genre.
Considering how much of an influence that it’s been on other filmmakers, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t also partly responsible for some of the dream sequences in the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ series. The main difference here is that ‘Operazione paura’ feels like one long hazy dream to me.
I really wish that I could remember my dreams.
Date of viewing: June 22, 2017