Thursday, October 29, 2009

DELIRIUM (Delirio Caldo, 1972)

You know as soon as you see Mickey Hargitay eyeballing a young woman in a pub that he has bad intentions. Sure, he's all helpfulness as he offers her a lift to a nightclub, but he can't stop himself from trying to feel up inside her miniskirt. The outraged girl demands that he let her out, and he complies. Of course, then he follows her, despite her dropping her shoes for speed, to the bank of a rushing river, where our man seems confused over whether to rape, strangle or drown her. She still ends up dead, the latest victim of a sex maniac the police have been unable to track down, despite the best efforts of consulting criminal psychologist Herbert Lyutak. Well, they're probably not his really best efforts, since he's our killer.

Herb's got problems at home. He loves his wife and she loves him back, but he's been unable to perform his husbandly duties. It seems that he can't get aroused unless he's strangling somebody. Marzia Lyutak (Ria Calderoni) worries that hubby is holding something back and urges him to indulge any impulse he has, so long as he'll do it with her. It gets pretty hot for a while. Just the sight of the Lyutaks making out gets the maid to licking her shoulder and fondling her own breasts. But Herbert simply can't rise to the occasion unless he takes it, or her, by the neck. For all the Mrs. knows, this is just a game of erotic asphyxiation. She doesn't realize that this is a two-way street as far as pleasure goes, though she might not be coming back. But no: Herbert won't let himself do this to his beloved. He realizes he has gone too far. He must end his murderous career.

That should be simple enough. He can confess to his police pals, right? But they might not believe him if he tells them. He has to show them. So he calls them and explains that, thanks to his advanced "meteoropsychic" analysis, he can predict the time and location of the killer's next attack. The cops just need to stake the site out and set up a decoy to lure him. All is arranged as he wants, and on cue he arrives at the park and approaches the designated victim. But he can barely strike up a conversation with her when they hear a woman's scream. The killer has struck; a woman is dead. Lyutak's analysis was virtually perfect, the police admit, but the doctor himself is quite perplexed. After all, isn't he the killer?

Thus writer-director Renato Polselli drops us through the trapdoor into the utter wackness that is Delirio Caldo, one of the greatest love stories ever rendered on celluloid -- as long as you leave morality or sanity out of the equation. We're in the amour fou zone here with a lead couple each of whom looks to the other in vain as an anchor of normality in a turbulent sea of compulsions. Marzia, for instance, clings to Herbert while dreaming of lesbian romps with the maid and Marzia's own niece, Joaquine. The highlight of the film is a red-lit nightmare sequence in which Marzia envisions herself and Herbert writhing and shackled as Joaquine and the maid get it on on the floor. Joaquine frees Marzia while Herbert thrashes and grimaces as only Mickey Hargitay can, and the loyal wife descends for a female threesome, only to see the other girls laughing at her. Fighting these urges, Marzia will do anything to keep her husband, if you get my drift. But she isn't dreaming Joaquine's own urges, which make the niece just as determined to drive the couple apart. And all the while the bodies keep piling up. The dead ones, I mean.

Delirium is a film on the cheap. Our detectives operate out of a police headquarters which looks neither official or public and is pretty obviously somebody's house with a couple of guys dressed up as bobbies. And did I mention that this impoverished Italian film is supposed to be set in Britain? Polselli won't do anything so obvious as tell you this, but you can figure it out from the bobbies, the "TELEPHONE" booth one victim hides in, and the habit one comedy-relief murder suspect has of uttering an occasional English phrase.

This is Britain.

Polselli can't even be bothered with stock footage or anything that might slightly suspend your disbelief in the Englishness of it all. But he seems to have trouble with the basics of cheap cinema. In one scene, Hargitay is driving a car at night. You'd expect some kind of process shot to create the illusion of a moving background, but what you get looks for all the world like a pinwheel made of rocks that rotates counterclockwise rather than a scrolling image from right to left. At times the cheapness of Delirium is almost embarrassing, but at others it actually enhances the starkness of the situation. Hargitay's first murder scene is dark, clumsy and protracted, but the notion you get that it had to be an unpleasant experience for the actress playing the victim gives the scene a certain primitive power.

Let's face it, anyway. You don't need big or even plausible sets to convey Delirium. A film like this depends entirely on its actors, and that's where Mickey Hargitay comes in. Mariska's Dad earned his nutjob credentials for all time when he played Travis "Crimson Executioner" Anderson in Massimo Pupillo's Il boia scarlatta, better known in America as Bloody Pit of Horror. If anything, Hargitay is ever screwier here, where he has to play a conflicted antihero with a guilty conscience, than when he played that more famous narcissistic maniac. With his fevered expressions and his bad hair, he looks quite convincingly like someone at the end of his rope. For all I know, showing up in this project meant that he was at the end of his rope. I notice that he did only one more movie in Italy, again for Polselli (The Reincarnation of Isabel) before retiring. That's regrettable, though maybe not from his own standpoint, because he could have given many more crazy performances in the years that followed. But I guess that makes the few he actually did, like this one, more precious. His female colleagues aren't far behind, Calderoni keeping at a constant level of hysteria and Christa Barrymore as Joaquine exploding over the top late in the picture.

Rita Calderoni and Christa Barrymore play very rough in the last act of Delirium, but it leaves them very relaxed afterwards.

Objectively speaking, I'd probably have to call Delirium a bad movie, but it's bad in an entertaining way. As an exploitation film, it presses most of the right buttons, and I'd definitely recommend it to fans of female nudity and guileless overacting. At the very least, Delirium comes closer to truth in advertising than most movies do.

If there was an original trailer for Delirio Caldo it doesn't exist online, but GialloTrailers has uploaded an unofficial trailer featuring the movie music of Gianfranco Reverberi.


db said...

Micky Hargitay is the poor man's Klaus Kinski! Renato Polselli is the poor man's Werner Herzog! I think the fact that Polselli made a film titled Solo Dio mi fermerà, or Only God Can Stop Me, helps to make this tenuous comparison sound marginally reasonable. Or not. All I know is I love this movie as well as Isabel, and if anybody has a line on La verita secondo Satana (The Truth According to Satan) let me know.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I think I desperately need to see this now (and La verita secondo Satana, it seems). Truly good to know that Polselli's baffling Reincarnation of Isabel/Black Magic Rites wasn't an isolated case.

The Vicar of VHS said...

I thought I was about to watch this movie once, but turned out I had actually selected "Delirium: Photos of Gioia." Now I clearly need to rectify this. I was impressed with Mickey Hargitay's turn in "Lady Frankenstein," and have long meant to see more of his work. I have seen "Bloody Pit of Horror," but for some reason could never get into that one.

Thanks for this great write-up! And Happy Halloween!

Keith said...

I wouldn't mind seeing this. I enjoy bad movies if they are fun to watch. This sounds right up my alley.

Samuel Wilson said...

The box cover called Polselli "notorious," and now I guess I see why. I saw Reincarnation of Isabel years ago, but I may give it another look soon.

Vicar, Bloody Pit of Horror kind of leaves Hargitay twisting in the wind. He goes all out, but the film has a whole has a "pop art" quality (especially the silly music) that undermines the insanity. Delirium is arguably Hargitay's finest hour, apart from his honeymoon night with Miss Mansfield.

Stephen Grimes said...

LA VERITA'SECONDO SATANA,tripped out Polselli madness.A must-see.

db said...

I've been thinking a lot about this, and here's how I'd describe Delirium to someone who wasn't versed in this kinda trash: Take Basic Instinct, replace Michael Douglas with Arnold Schwartzenegger, have the Smothers Brothers direct and set the budget at about a thousand bucks, most of which is spent on bathtub pcp -- for the American version take the above and recut it with randomly selected scenes from Jacob's Ladder. I honestly believe the whole cheap/theatrical quality of the film is intentional, and Polselli is the sort of director who gets a memo from the studio reading "Make a movie with strangulation, nudity and paranoia" (or for Black Magic Rites, "the occult, nudity and psychedelia") and pretty much throws out everything that doesn't deliver on those key points. It's a tough row to hoe if you're used to movies with plot and characters and structure but for unhinged kicks he's one of the best.