Synopsis: What begins as a simple giallo about greed and murder at a secluded bayside estate soon explodes into an odyssey of carnage that would single-handedly trigger the entire ‘body count’ genre. Claudine Auger (THUNDERBALL), Luigi Pistilli (THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY) and Laura Betti (HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON) star — along with nearly a dozen landmark gore effects — in Bava’s epic of cruelty that remains as reviled as it is acclaimed. But to brand this legendary shocker — best known under its alternate title TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE — as merely ‘The Granddaddy Of Slasher Films’ is to dismiss its impact as a nihilist tour-de-force that stands as one of the greatest movies in horror history.
eyelights: its convoluted plot. its shocking deaths. its ingenious effects. its creative camera work.
eyesores: its unidimensionality. its awkward ending.
“If you kill for killing’s sake, you become a monster.”
Have you ever looked at something and wondered how you could possibly have liked it before? This may apply to something you once felt nostalgic about. It could even apply to someone you were once in a relationship with. Gone is the thing that made you love in the first place.
The reverse is also possible: to look at something with a new set of eyes, wondering why it is that you had never seen it like this before. It could be because your tastes have evolved or changed over time. It could be that appreciation comes with time. But, suddenly, you love it.
For me, the same could be said of ‘Ecologia del delitto’, Mario Bava’s 1971 motion picture. When I first saw it a decade ago, I was bored with its simplistic slasher film quality. To me, it seemed like a far cry away from the caliber of the filmmaking that Bava did in his early days.
Now I feel differently.
‘Ecologia del delitto’ may not be grand cinema, but it’s a stunningly well-executed (pardon the pun) slasher film – and such an influential one, at that, that the first ‘Friday the 13th‘ films copied some of its scenes nearly shot-for-shot. For the genre, it’s a remarkable effort.
But it is simplistic. The plot revolves around the death of Countess and the subsequent plans for her estate: A lawyer goes to finalize papers. Her son tries to take ownership of the bay she owns. His daughter then tries to finalize the deal. Her illegitimate son also wants in.
People die over the matter. Horrible. Gruesome. Deaths.
Right from the onset, the violence is shocking: the wheelchair-bound Countess is wandering about her lavish beach house when -out of nowhere- a noose is wrapped around her neck and she is left to choke to death. When the killer is revealed, he is standing next to the kneeling body.
…which is held up slightly by the rope, just dangling there.
All of the deaths make an impression. ‘Ecologia del delitto’ is considered Bava’s most violent picture and rightly so: here he made a point of spotlighting the manners of death and the gore, finding ingenious ways of bringing them to… ahem.. life. Red paint aside, it looks credible.
I particularly liked that a group of youths who break into beach houses to party are killed right off the bat. Based on slasher film tropes, you initially think that they’re going to be the film’s protagonists, but they’re not. In fact, the picture changes protagonists constantly.
In some ways it’s erratic and nonsensical, but in others it’s kind of clever, because you never know who you’re supposed to root for – and who you should suspect. There are as many red herrings as there are protagonists – and the viewer is probably correct about each one of them.
…confusing though this may seem.
One might want to criticize the script, but the fact is that Bava worked hard to put it together: there were six people involved in its writing, if you can imagine that. There’s even a rumour that Federico Fellini was asked for advice. Sometimes achieving simplicity is difficult.
Bava was a master cobbler, however: the picture was made on such limited means that he had to be his own cinematographer, working out of a child’s wagon to move the camera, and he even found clever ways to create a forest on screen though the property hardly had trees.
The picture was highly controversial at the time given its level of violence, and had its fair share of problems finding distribution; it ended up being released and re-released under countless titles. But it has been reconsidered since, especially given how influential it became.
Personally, though I recognize the film’s unidimensionality, my only real issue with it now is that the ending doesn’t really jive: out of nowhere Renata and her spouse wrapped everything up, burning up the legal papers, are about to leave together – and, suddenly, are murdered.
…by their own offspring, who think they’re playing.
What… The… !@#$
Firstly, it seemed obvious to me that Renata had turned on her spouse, had set him up to die, so it didn’t make sense that they were suddenly together. But the idea that the kids are playing with a loaded shotgun, and decide to shoot their parents is really anticlimactic.
Or a joke.
It almost feels like this was shot (!) on the spot, after a previous ending proved unsatisfying. In fact, one of the writers has stated that this was not the ending of his original script. One gets the impression that there’s another ending that was left on the cutting room floor.
But, aside for this detail, ‘Ecologia del delitto’ is a strong entry in the horror genre. Granted, it’s merely a slasher movie, but it’s well done considering. And Mario Bava once again proved his skill by making great use of a minimal budget and few locations. He was a genius.
It’s too bad that he didn’t get to work on more prestigious projects.
Date of viewing: July 9, 2017