Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Joseph Tito's neo-Giallo, DEATH OF THE VIRGIN, is ham-fisted but campy fun

Bring back Giallo! Somebody must have been whispering these words (maybe shouting 'em) in the ear of semi-fledgling, Italian filmmaker Joseph Tito, because the fellow has pretty much done just that with his straight-to-video (here in the USA, at least) DEATH OF THE VIRGIN -- at the same time giving this storied, if overrated, "yellow" genre a decidedly 21st-century, torture-porn twist.

Mr. Tito, shown at left, takes his time getting to the gore, however. The first killing, if it is that, looks more like a disappearance and makes us think perhaps we're in the hands of someone a tad more subtle that were many of the earlier Giallo practitioners. No worries: We're soon neck-deep in blood, guts and what-have-you -- most of which has been done better by far. Though Tito does come up with a nice nightmare/fantasy of a birth (maybe a debow-ling?) that produces a mess of snakes.

Because the filmmaker acted as director, co-writer, co-producer and even essays one of the leading male roles in the ensemble (that of a horny little art critic named Mark, above), I think we can credit him with most of the praise/blame. The other culprit is co-writer/
producer/actor Silvio Oddi, who plays the inspector who's looking into all these killings. Together they're quite a team; they may not bring back Giallo, but they've served up a steaming hunk of horror movie "camp" in which most of the characters end up dead in various ghastly ways.

The story itself is said to be based on fact, but the only fact I could find comes in the opening credit that explains something about a young girl seeing the Virgin Mary back in the 15th century. Basing your story on that, then claiming that what transpires is thus true, I would call faintly, if not roundly, ridiculous.

The present-day tale involved a young girl, her friend and another young lady they meet at the bus station, who go off for a weekend at Caravaggio, a "resort" named after the famous artist (a piece of his work that figures in the film is shown above). Each woman has her own reason for attending, but one in particular -- a "sweet, young thing" named May (played by Natasha Allanone eye of whose is shown below) -- is seemingly given to bad nightmares and weird visions.

The resort staff, notes one charactwr, seems like something out of The Munsters, while the other guests are fairly stock (and played in stock manner): the gay couple; the overbearing, relgious-nut mother and her cowed, adult son. But the real reason for the existence of this movie, as we soon learn, is to revel in more and more bizarre ways to exterminate its characters. Granted this has always been a large part of the "charm" of giallo, but in the hands these filmmakers, there is little else into which to sink one's teeth.

The plot is rudimentary and the characterizations one-note. Things happen merely so that another killing can get underway. By the finale there has been so much bloodshed so fast that you may not quite be able to keep up with who is still alive or why. When, 67 minutes into this 103-minute romp, one character remarks, "Something is going on here!" feel free to guffaw.

Still, Tito, Oddi and their cinematographer Michele De Angelis do come up with some nice visuals now and then, combining color, darkness, religious motifs, nunsploitation and gore.  Death of the Virgin, from Indican Pictures, a so-so time-waster for fans of this sort of thing, made its DVD debut last month and is available now for purchase or rental (though Netflix doesn't seem to have it yet).

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