Saturday, September 20, 2008

NUDE FOE SATAN (1973) d. Luigi Batzella

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

While European Horror Cinema has always been a rare gem of unique and compelling properties, it reached its gloriously gaudy pinnacle of exotic excess in the 1970s and the epicenter of alluring and absurd film-making was Italy. Colliding with titanic power in the movies of that time and place were the forces of surrealistic imagery, eroticism, bizarre plots, cutting edge music, glamorous actresses and old-world architecture, making for films that had a look and a feel that was singular and never to be truly equaled since. NUDE FOR SATAN is a perfect example of that era’s striking and delightfully sleazy Euro-horror, and while it may not live up to the promise of the exploitation-inspired title, it does deliver in all the categories that count.

NUDE FOR SATAN is the story of Dr. William Benson, whose VW Bug careens off the road on a dark and stormy night while he is out on a call to see a sick patient. Just as he is emerging from his damaged vehicle, another car crashes nearby, carrying a lovely young woman named Susan Smith. William seeks help for Susan at a nearby castle, but as he does so he sets in motion a series of events that catapults both he and Susan into an alternate reality peopled by dark and frightening alter-egos of each other along with other more terrifying and enticing persons. William and Susan are forced to battle against the sensual chains that try to bind them to this Otherworld, even as they strain to understand its nature and to free themselves from its intoxicating charms.

NUDE FOR SATAN is a visual feast for those who are looking for such a repast. Combining incredibly lavish settings and stylish d├ęcor with daring and superbly executed camera work, the eye is provided with much to satisfy its hunger for appealing and provocative imagery. In addition to well composed wide shots, fascinatingly arranged close ups and a wide array of dizzying angles and space-warping hand held sequences, all of which aid in creating a supremely avant-garde mood to this film, there are shots utilizing multiple images, soft focus, diverse filters and a wide variety of tinted gels that are used to produce a color scheme that can only be described as voluptuous. The visual intensity and creativity of this motion picture is consistently and thoroughly a pleasure to bask in. Add to that the curvaceous and fair-skinned exquisiteness of Rita Calderoni and her ethereal sexuality, interior and exterior scenery that is just as sensuous as Miss Calderoni’s clothed and unclothed splendor and NUDE FOR SATAN, despite its crass title, is every bit as attractive as any other Italian Cinema I’ve ever viewed, with the possible exception of the best works of Mario Bava or Dario Argento. In addition to the sublimity of the visual loveliness, Luigi Batzella knows full well that photography that is morose and miserable must be added to create contrast, and to generate such juxtaposition there is blood on occasion, a creepy but badly constructed spider and web, as well as horrifically ugly men’s faces shot in close up and with a mix of lenses like the “fish-eye” to produce some thoroughly repulsive images. To cap it all off, NUDE FOR SATAN is presented in all its wide-screen glory and a brilliantly crisp transfer that allows the film lover to partake in each and every dynamic moment, like a diner at a twelve-course meal sampling a carousel of never-ending fare. The eye-catching nature of NUDE FOR SATAN is a visual cornucopia that helps to make up for some of the weaknesses of this film.

From the standpoint of a story, NUDE FOR SATAN is a convoluted, often incomprehensible, certainly illogical and occasionally sluggish plot that tries hard to be as impressionistic as possible. The idea of the story isn’t to create a cohesive and linear series of ideas, but rather it centers upon a central theme of two people crossing the border of past and present, life and death, reality and fantasy and then wrestling with their understanding of the rules of time and space having been twisted. NUDE FOR SATAN’S story is sensually indulgent, haphazard, slightly silly and at the same time somewhat self-important, but that is what adds to the charm of this film. One minute you are treated to inscrutably philosophical dialogue or even a monologue, while the next minute the story dumps you unceremoniously into a scene of debauchery. All throughout the story of NUDE FOR SATAN is a musical score that is as inventive as the camera work. For some people like me, this is a boon for the experimental feel of the score and the use of singular instruments or small ensembles of eclectic pairings are another manner in which layers of atmosphere are draped over this film. To add to this already heady mixture is a cast that is superbly utilized. Despite the atrocious dubbing of the Italian language track, Rita Calderoni (Susan/Evelyn) and Stelio Candelli (William/Peter) are perfect choices for their roles. Each is able to affect exactly the appearance of the persona they are asked to portray, whether it is the confused, frightened, modern William and Susan or the dissolute, unearthly and sinister Peter and Evelyn. James Harris plays the part of one of the most interesting Devils you’ll ever meet. While not as powerful or as corrupt as the average Satan, he is unstable, decadent, effete and courtly. The rest of the cast is used most efficiently as either delightful or distasteful window dressing for scenes where the painter’s palate is asked to render another impressionistic image.

NUDE FOR SATAN has a small and somewhat unimpressive extras menu. There is a tiny stills gallery (both in size and number of stills), the theatrical trailer and a set of four Redemption Films trailers. Much of this cast and crew is still alive and their thoughts and impressions regarding NUDE FOR SATAN would have made for some excellent interviews, commentaries and/or documentary fodder. Just as Severin Films and No Shame Films made names for themselves with their fabulous extras on their Italian exploitation cinema DVDs, it would have been just as enjoyable had Redemption gone the extra mile to create a batch of extras that was just as good or better.

As the years roll on and the 1970s disappear further into the mists of time, much as the 1920s and 1930s have done, many impressions and recollections of that interesting time will be lost. Preserving a fascinating jewel like NUDE FOR SATAN helps the avid movie lover to maintain their connection to the motion picture past so that we don’t allow ourselves to be swept away with the tide of vile and putrid modern film that exists for no reason other than taking up space and excreting waste. NUDE FOR SATAN isn’t award-winning film in and of itself, but there is a lot to like about this flick and if you go into it looking for certain desires to be fulfilled, you won’t be disappointed.

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