SPASMO (1974) Blu-ray
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Scorpion Releasing

This "giallo" from the cult director Umberto Lenzi (CANNIBAL FEROX, NIGHTMARE CITY) starts with the young and handsome Christian (Austrian actor Robert Hoffman, GRAND SLAM), a plastics tycoon, strolling along the beach and discovering what seems to be a dead body. On closer inspection, it turns out to be a lovely young woman named Barbara (1960s British starlet Suzy Kendall, TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS) laying face down in the sand for no particular reason. Christian becomes fascinated with her, and despite some unsuspecting obstacles, begins an affair with her. After meeting this mysterious woman, Christian is confronted by a jealous wealthy playboy (Mario Erpichini, CRAZY JOE) with a yacht, and accidentally shoots a creepy-looking intruder (Adolfo Lastretti, FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE) who breaks into a motel bathroom to threaten him. Fearing what the authorities might think, Christian and Barbara flee the scene, but get caught up in a whirlwind of mystery and erratic people, and it turns out that the man he thought he murdered is still alive and on his trail. Is someone trying to frame Christian or trying to drive him to absolute insanity?

SPASMO is not your typical slice-and-dice or murder-by-numbers giallo, unlike Lenzi's extremity-drenched EYEBALL, made the same year. This one takes a unique approach to the storytelling, forming a number of twists and turns in its second half. Not graphic or gratuitous in the least (with hardly any nudity, only a brief flash from Monica Monet, unusual for a 1970s giallo), the film uses such fetish imagery as life-size female dolls hanging from trees to depict that there's something rotten in Denmark, but it still holds the viewer in suspense until the very end. The film may be slow and convoluted to some, but it's proof that Lenzi was trying to do something decidedly different with a genre that was quickly running out of steam by 1974. So if you get wrapped up in the plot, the twist ending is far from predictable, and the film is satisfying.

Hoffman (who also starred in the 1960s crime thriller A BLACK VEIL FOR LISA as well portraying the gang leader in the 1971 “Last House” precursor THE LONELY VIOLENT BEACH) is interesting and far from one dimensional, pretty much having to carry the film, and Kendall (fashionable in giallos like Dario Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and Sergio Martino’s TORSO) is a worthy terror queen in one of her final roles before disappearing from the cinema altogether. Italian character favorite Ivan Rassimov (THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER) play's Hoffman's grinning brother/business partner and plays a key role in the plot -- but I won't give away too much. Ennio Morricone composes a tense and quite spooky-sounding score, and the impressive widescreen cinematography is by Guglielmo Mancori (MANHATTAN BABY).

SPASMO was released in the U.S. for a limited period in 1976 and never issued on home video until Shriek Show/Media Blasters released it on DVD in 2003. George Romero was rumored to have directed some gory inserts specifically for the American release, but they don't show up here (nor were they on the previous DVD). Scorpion Releasing’s new Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p HD in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. You are given the option to watch the remastered transfer as is, or “unfixed” meaning before any digital filtering was conducted. There isn’t much difference, as there doesn’t look like there was any extreme digital noise reduction done anyway, with the “unfixed” version perhaps having slightly more grain. Either way, both options look great. The source element is in terrific shape, with the image being clean and sharply detailed. Colors are extremely vivid and fleshtones look correct with facial textures standing out, and black levels are deep. The mono DTS-HD Master Audio is optional in English (with Kendall’s actual voice) and Italian: both tracks were post-synced but it appears the majority of the actors are speaking their lines in English. Both tracks are balanced well, with dialogue sounding properly-pronounced and Morricone’s score sounding robust. The scratchiness that plagued the English audio track on the Shriek Show DVD is no longer an issue here. Optional English subtitles are included for the Italian language version.

Carried over from the Shriek Show DVD is a video interview with director Lenzi (13:13), who maintains that he started the crime/thriller genre in Italy with films like PARANOIA. Lenzi also states that SPASMO was originally intended as a project for the late Lucio Fulci, and gives his thoughts on the film in general, expressing how well he thinks it works on the big screen. Also included is the original international trailer (with a narrator continually whispering "Spasmo!"). (George R. Reis)