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"He nailed her to the floor and then he cut her into little pieces."
Though the plot harks back to Pete Walker's The Flesh and Blood Show (1972), Deliria is an enjoyably perverse thriller released at a time when Italian horror was seriously in the doldrums. From its disarming opening sequence (in which the murder of a prostitute by an owl-masked killer is revealed to be rehearsals for a new rock-ballet) through to the unbearably tense finale in which sole survivor Alicia, trapped beneath the stage, frantically searches for a vital key that will unlock the theatre doors, Deliria is pure class, let down only by a silly twist ending, which makes clumsy use of Dario Argento's old standby of the vital clue missed at the time but remembered later.
The battle of wits between deranged serial killer Wallace and his intended last victim Alicia is expertly staged, Alicia using all available means to evade capture and certain death. One heart-stopping moment has her hiding in the shower in plain sight of a dying actress, unable to help as Wallace returns to finish the woman off. Later, trapped beneath the stage as Wallace acts out his perverse, unfathomable fantasies (he arranges his victims carefully in their macabre display before stuffing their mouths with feathers), Alicia attempts to free the key lodged between the boards of the stage, unable to tell whether Wallace, sitting immobile among his tableaux, is asleep behind his owl mask.
Soavi, a former actor (he turns up here in a small role as a cop who thinks he looks like James Dean!) with only a couple of rock promos and the documentary World of Horror - Il meglio di Dario Argento (1985) to his director's credit, performs remarkably here, clearly influenced by Argento, yet demonstrating a powerful, discernable style of his own. Claustrophobic interiors, rain-lashed exteriors and curious camera set-ups create a moody ambience perfectly underscored by Simon Boswell's haunting synthesiser score (later re-used in another Filmirage production, La casa 3: Ghosthouse (1988)).
Unusually for an Italian horror film, some attempt is made to elevate the characters above the usual level of under-developed cannon-fodder. Peter's maniacal obsessiveness, Brett's effete campness and the plucky resourcefulness of Alicia go some way towards making these people more interesting than the usual cast of giallo butcher's victims.
Soavi and Montefiore make witty use of the way that art often seeks to imitate life to the point where the two become indistinguishable. This aspect of an unusually subtle, multi-layered script is perhaps best illustrated in the opening sequence and in the harrowing moment when Peter urges the owl-masked Brett on in his staged 'murder' of a young actress ("Go on, kill her, kill her!") only to realise to his horror that the man behind the mask is actually Wallace and that the killing is for real. To make matters even more unbearable, the dying actress is the only one who knows the location of the missing key... Such masterstrokes of deception and cinematic sleight of hand are common throughout Deliria, reaching their most gruesome when a pregnant actress is being pulled through the floor by her boyfriend to escape Wallace's clutches, only for her to suddenly and unexpectedly emerge through the hole, her torso neatly severed in two.
Soavi pokes fun at several deserving causes, chiefly pretensious theatrical types, money-obsessed businessmen, the giallo conventions that the film is clearly built on and even at his friend and mentor Dario Argento. It is from Argento that Soavi and Montefiore borrow the explicit analogy drawn between creativity and mass murder - Wallace 'uses' his victims as props in the creation of his own twisted production in much the same way as Peter Neal re-enacts his literary fantasies through murder in Tenebre (1982). Argento himself borrowed freely from Deliria for his subsequent Opera (1988), again employing a theatrical setting and an intense British director with high pretensions and few scruples - that double twist ending bears a distinct similarity to Deliria's closure too.
Montefiore shows a lot more wit and intelligence here than he did when he wrote the screenplay for the abysmal Antropophagous (1980) for Deliria's producer Massaccesi. Touches such as the naming of the villain, financier Ferrari's cringing attempt to buy Wallace off with a case full of money when cornered by the madman, and the 'killing' of an owl-masked figure that turns out to be Brett's corpse (the inversion of Wallace's on-stage impersonation of the doomed actor) hint at a bleak but incisive humour notably absent from Antropophagous.
At a time when Italian horror was stagnating under the weight of too
many cut-rate gialli and uninspired zombie retreads, Deliria
was a welcome reminder that Italian horror could still produce
uncompromising and appealing work alongside all the dross. Soavi
continued to create better-than-average horror thrillers (La
setta (1991), La
chiesa (1989), Dellamorte
dellamore (1994) et al), all of them interesting in their
own way and it's tragic that his career was cut short in the mid-90s
only to be revived for Italian television in the early 00s.
Last Updated: 1 January, 2009
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