Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)


All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
(aka Tutti i Colori del Buio) 
Director: Sergio Martino

Jane has problems, to put it mildly. She's troubled by surreal dreams in which grotesque figures lie strapped to tables in the agony of unending and fruitless birth. They cavort in mimicry of childhood games. Some die violently at the hands of a killer with an icy blue stare. The images are ruining her ability to lead a normal life and to have a normal relationship with her husband. Every time the two try to have sex she's terrified by shocking visions of being stabbed to death with a knife. (Maybe not the most subtle metaphor.)


Birth. Sex. Death. These are the shackles that bind Jane, who's played by Edwige Fenech in her second collaboration with director (and brother-in-law) Sergio Martino. All the Colors of the Dark is the story of her attempt to liberate herself from the strictures of her stifling marriage and middle-class life. Of course, there are other more pressing issues for her to deal with, namely the mysterious man with the piercing blue eyes who seems to be following her (Ivan Rassimov).

Jane wants to solve her emotional problems by attending therapy, but can't convince her husband Richard (George Hilton). He thinks the sedatives he gives her are enough to dull her fears, and seems to like the idea of her lying in an incapacitated daze at home for most of the day. Bolstered by the encouragement of her sister Mary (Nieves Navarro), Jane resolves to see a therapist anyway, husband's wishes be damned. It seems to help her deal with the nightmares, all of which are symbolic representations of her traumatic childhood and recent miscarriage. Unfortunately, therapy can't help solve the problem of her stalker...

The male gaze.
Male control over Jane's body and destiny is the true enemy here, and for a while the stalker seems to be a supernatural manifestation of that. After all, who the hell could this guy be? She has no idea, and the film gives us nothing with which to figure it out. When he finally attacks her, she seems on the verge of a nervous collapse she's not convinced any amount of therapy can cure. The ever-helpful Mary offers a different suggestion that's a little more... unorthodox.

All the Colors of the Dark is often labeled as "The Italian Rosemary's Baby," almost certainly due to the second act of the film. Mary's suggestion is that Jane join an underground cult and take part in their violent sex-fueled rituals. "Drink this, and you will be free," their leader says, handing her a goblet filled with the blood of a freshly killed puppy. Free from what? He never states it explicitly, but freedom is what Jane longs for: freedom from the control of her husband, her therapist, the stalker. She's looking for autonomy, and what better way to exercise it than to engage in group sex with a bunch of drugged hippies?

A face you can trust.
If it sounds like this plot twist comes out of nowhere, well, it does. The intent may have been to capitalize on the success of Rosemary's Baby, and there are certainly similarities. The cult scenes are more lucid here though, and they're entered into willingly by Jane (at least initially) rather than forced upon her while she's unconscious. From her perspective, they're a way for Jane to liberate herself rather than fall further under the control of the men who would rule every aspect of her life. As you might expect, Martino shows no shame in allowing his camera to linger on Fenech's body at every chance, especially during her encounters with  the cult. Were this not exploitative genre fare at its heart, I'd say there's a bit of meta-commentary there, but that might be giving the film too much credit.

It'd be nice if the solution to Jane's problems were this simple, but her involvement in the cult doesn't deter her stalker, nor does it completely free her from the control of her husband. As she becomes increasingly familiar with the cult's rituals, she also begins to realize that she may have become indentured to a new master even more cruel than the last. Mary's motives for introducing Jane to the cult were anything but pure, and were a last act of desperation from someone who had sought control over herself but ended up surrendering her life to a system that ensured her exploitation and ultimate destruction.


Her marriage, the cult, the stalker - all overlap in the end. All are facets of a broader system that rules Jane's life. Perhaps afraid of committing to a truly bleak ending, the film becomes somewhat confused in the end, introducing a secondary motive for Mary's betrayal involving an inheritance and explaining away the supernatural aspects of the film with drugs. This is all delivered in the least elegant way possible, via massive talky infodumps. Counter to the underlying theme, the film offers a chance for her husband to redeem himself. He's proven to be well-intentioned all along, despite the drugs he fed Jane to keep her pacified. If taken at face value, these plot twists make the final words spoken by Jane seem oddly out of place: "I feel as if some strange force were controlling me. Oh darling, help me." Really, she's glimpsed the truth of the matter - even now, free from the cult, free from her manipulative sister, she's run right back into the arms of the force who was controlling her all along.

All the Colors of the Dark isn't a typical giallo, even though it's usually lumped in with the rest of the genre. While it shares some themes and visual cues with Rosemary's Baby, I think reducing it to a pastiche of that film doesn't do it justice. When Sergio Martino allows the film to fire on all cylinders there's a great synergy between the hallucinatory camerawork, the lurid plot twists, and Bruno Nicolai's bleak, yet occasionally upbeat score. Detractors of Italian horror sometimes complain about the lack of narrative logic in the genre, but I'd have preferred Martino drive this one off a cliff rather than ground everything with a big fat lump of exposition. As such, All the Colors of the Dark is definitely worth checking out for giallo fans, but falls a bit short of being a must-see.

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