Director: Ferruccio Casapinta
Twilight Time DVD

Quite silly and very tame Italian giallo that's likely to produce far more chuckles than shivers. And no: there's no Satan or doll to be found here. Twilight Time has unearthed, on Blu-ray, LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA (THE DOLL OF SATAN), the 1969 old dark castle thriller from one-shot writer/(non)director Ferruccio Casapinta, and starring Erna Schurer, Aurora Batista, Roland Carey, Lucia Bomez, Manlio Salvatori, Ettore Ribotta, and Domenico Ravenna. Mixing equal parts of Roger Corman's AIP gothic terrors, Agatha Christie's drawing room murder mysteries...and Hanna-Barbera's SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU! — with just the teeniest, tiniest bit of nudity Italian-style thrown in as an afterthought — LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA won't scare you or turn you on in the slightest. But it may just crack you up...if you don't bail by the halfway point.

The Italian countryside, 1969. Beautiful blonde orphan Elizabeth Ball Janon (Erna Schurer, LE SALAMANDRE, DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS SPECIAL SECTION) has returned to her native Italy, having been schooled in England since she was 10 years old. Accompanying her is her stalwart fiancé, journalist Jack Seaton (Roland Carey, THE GIANTS OF THESSALY, REVOLT OF THE BARBARIANS), as well as totally superfluous friends and future dinner guests Gerard (Giorgio Gennari, DANGER: DIABOLIK) and Blanche (either "Beverly Fuller" or Teresa Ronchi). The reason for Elizabeth's return? Her uncle has died, and there is to be a reading of the will at his fabulous, crumbling Italian castle. Meeting Elizabeth and Jack at the door is dark, sexy librarian-type Carol (Lucia Bomez, DJANGO THE BASTARD, RINGO, IT'S MASSACRE TIME), secretary to Elizabeth's uncle. Carol is intent on Elizabeth honoring her uncle's final wishes: unload the castle. However, her uncle's lawyer, Mr. Shinton (Domenico Ravenna, THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH, 008: OPERATION EXTERMINATE) adamantly rejects this notion: he states Elizabeth's uncle would never part with his beloved castle — a belief Elizabeth agrees with, since her uncle, who frequently wrote to her, never mentioned selling up. Meanwhile, pretty local artist Claudine (Aurora Batista) is snooping around the grounds, and bantering with ever-present neighbor, industrialist Paul Reynauld (Ettore Ribotta, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH), who also claims that Elizabeth's uncle wanted to sell the castle to him. Almost immediately there's trouble in the castle for poor Elizabeth, who starts having weird, hallucinogenic sex dreams about Jack in the guise of the castle's 500-year-old ghost — a former resident of the castle's catacomb torture chamber. Is someone drugging her? Why? And who is coming to foxy Carol's bedroom to make love to her? And what's going on in that secret lab down in the catacombs? And what's up with the caretaker's dog, barking at the catacomb entrance all the time?

According to the commentary track, as well as other sources, LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA was yet another "troubled" exploitation production — how many times have you read that? — which was not actually directed by the credited Ferruccio Casapinta (no one can find any other movies he worked on). The production's A.D. and their cinematographer, Francesco Attenni (DJANGO KILLS SOFTLY), cobbled together this derivative assembly of giallo, Gothic, and English drawing room mystery tropes because, according to a quote often attributed to Schurer, Casapinta was "an idiot who couldn't do anything." Co-written by Casapinta, Carlo M. Lori, Giorgio Cristallini (YOU'RE JINXED, FRIEND YOU'VE MET SACRAMENTO), and Alfredo Medori (FBI OPERATION YELLOW VIPER), it's problematic to assert any director could have wrestled a potent giallo from this unimaginative collection of surface elements and cues.

You know you're in trouble with LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA when one of its first shots is a spoiler that completely ruins the subsequent mystery plot. Now of course there's nothing wrong with recycling visual and thematic motifs and conventions in a straight-ahead genre movie — that's the whole point of a meat-and-potatoes genre effort, anyway. If we figure out early who the villains are in LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA, it's not the end of the world by a long shot (...although the first 30 seconds is pushing it). But at the barest minimum, those elements need to be put together with some coherence first, and then, if we're lucky, a sense of energy or fun might bump the movie up into an unapologetic entertainment. It's tough, however, to give LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA that benefit of the doubt. One can make the case, I suppose, for the movie's seemingly endless exposition scenes where characters talk and talk and talk in dining rooms and hallways and outdoors as a nod to Agatha Christie (a huge early influence on Italian giallos). However...Christie's dialogue passages built up her characters and their subsequent motivations, while giving early clues to their placement within the unfolding mystery; LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA's dialogue scenes merely — and often incoherently — pass the time, filling up the movie with these curiously dispassionate discourses that add very little to the movie's overall punch. While we're waiting for something to happen, the director(s) and editor jump cut all over the place (poor Gerard and Blanche are never even introduced — they just pop up at dinner), discombobulating us with a fractured spatial environment that creates almost no real suspense or sense of the mysterious.

To be sure, LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA's giallo conventions, on their own, can mildly pique our interest. A beautiful blonde orphan at the mercy of sinister forces in a dark, forbidding castle is as basic a stock movie situation as one can ask for, and despite the directorial stumbles, we're willing to see where her mystery will take us. We're further intrigued when mute Jeanette, Elizabeth's uncle's former secretary, is introduced, locked away in a dingy side bedroom, paralyzed in a wheelchair with only a doll for a friend, as well as when stern Carole is suddenly transformed every night into a sex kitten, lounging in bed with tousled hair and baby doll nightie, waiting for her mystery lover. Nothing saves a giallo like a healthy dose of eroticism, so when Elizabeth — drugged or perhaps not — starts having torrid sex fantasies about Jack-as-ghost Robin, writhing on her bed nude, LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA's stock starts to (ahem) rise. LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA's stand-out scene follows: Elizabeth is taken by a hooded executioner down to the castle's catacomb torture chamber, where she's strapped to a cross, her nightie ripped away, before she's whipped and almost branded by what look like satanic worshipers (hence the movie's title, one assumes). Any doubts about LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA's first two reels evaporates as we're finally given the giallo goods.

Unfortunately, that tantalizing scene proves to be a frustratingly one-off, and worse: totally misleading. We soon discover there are no satanic devil worshiping torturers in the castle, and Elizabeth's libido is never again so threatened (or stimulated). Indeed, the "torture" scene is indicative of LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA's whole jerk-my-chain mentality. Nothing is really done with the Jeanette character; Carol's mystery lover turns out to be not so mysterious after all (and why couldn't fairly hot Bomez strip down, too, for that matter?), and the movie's pace, which had at least built to an interesting crescendo with the "torture" scene, grinds to a halt as we're left sorting through one uninteresting red herring after another. For some reason, whomever was responsible for directing this decided we the audience really cared about the plot (instead of the giallo atmospherics), so more pointless exposition follows as we're subjected to more and more shots of people staring and talking at each other, a silly secret agent/uranium "McGuffin" subplot (how about that nuclear lab? One red beaker, one blue beaker and a chalk board), fistfights and even sword duels for god's sake, and a literal unmasking of the villain via impalement-by-vicious dog that only needs, "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!" on the soundtrack to summon up Scooby-Doo's patented giggle and a, "Rokey, Raggy!" You can certainly watch LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA as a catalog of giallo and Gothic motifs, and not exactly mind it; its weird combination of late 1960s period detail and almost total directorial incompetence is superficially amusing. You're likely to laugh a little at LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA...but one can't imagine that was the goal of the moviemakers.

The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen Blu-ray transfer for LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA looks, overall, quite good. Colors are vivid, contrast nicely balanced, image fine detail is at times impressive (occasional soft shots indicate, perhaps, a compromised original element), grain structure varies but is mostly fine (some of the darker scenes look a tad noisy). Not bad at all for such an obscure title. The 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio Italian track is unexceptional yet clean, with generally crisp dialogue. English subtitles are available. Extras include an isolated special effects and music track (in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) in case you want to hear mute people walking across gravel or clinking their forks against their dinner plates, or in case you didn't pay attention to that catchy title music the first time around...the one that sounds like an Italian TV commercial for feminine hygiene products (to be fair: some of composer Franco Potenza's cues are generically menacing).

There's also a commentary track from film historians David Del Valle and Derek Botelho. They both may know their trivia (according to del Valle, anything of worth is "charming")...but they don't seem to know anything about this movie specifically because they almost immediately dismiss it as crap and thus not worthy of in-depth discussion, only to move on to discuss other topics such as Italian giallos in general. The only real interest the track elicits is when Del Valle and Botelho get catty with each other whenever they disagree over some arcane point (invariably del Valle will make a point, with Botelho jumping in to contradict). A few times I didn't know what the hell they were talking about. Eventually they both give up with their own vamping before they start throwing out banalities like "viewers want to escape," and "I just love how she has all these DYNASTY-like gowns". Julie Kirgo's enthusiastic 8-page booklet quotes the boys quite often, but the upbeat, promoting tone of the piece cues you in that she saw the memo on marketing. (Paul Mavis)