In the Devil's Garden (1971) and Spasmo (1974)
Both of these Suzy Kendall films almost qualify to be called proper giallos. In the Devil's Garden is a British mystery with a lot of the giallo tropes (black gloved killer, police investigations, sexual depravity, etc.), but it doesn't quite have the trademark Italian sleazy over-the-top mojo. Spasmo also utilizes the "whodunnit" plot device of the giallo film; however, as you'll see, it's so odd, I'm not really sure what genre to lump it in with. Let's just be on the safe side and call both of these films "mysteries" and be done with it.
So, sit back and enjoy Suzy Kendall Mystery Theater. Cheers.
In the Devil's Garden (1970)
It should be noted first off that the film was originally called Assault; however, with the popularity of occult films in the U.S., they renamed it to give it a more satanic flair for its 1971 American release. There is mention of the devil in the film, but it hardly can be put in the same box as The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby. The film, quite unfortunately, was famously doubled billed with The Devil's Nightmare (see movie poster at the top of the post). Theater goers expecting a double round of satansploitation were in for a disappointment.
|Lesley-Anne Down is victim #1|
The film is a thoroughly engrossing whodunit from the UK. The story revolves around a couple murder/rapes and we, the audience, are given a cast of suspects, each with his own degree of reasonable guilt. Admittedly, I guessed the true killer fairly early due to some highly suspicious behavior - but there were still moments of doubt. Kudos to the director for keeping me second guessing until the very end.
Suzy Kendall plays an art teacher at a school for girls. She becomes the center of the hunt for the killer when she becomes the lone eyewitness to one of the murders. She swears the man looks just like the devil - but surely Satan himself isn't behind this? Or could it just be the red glare from her brake lights...
It behooves me to mention that essentially every single female in this picture wears a miniskirt - which is always a good thing. However, the director obviously isn't as pervy as I or your average male moviegoer and refrains from leering. Indeed, despite the fact that the central female characters are decked in micro-minis throughout, we rarely get a good glimpse. It's
That being said, it definitely doesn't shy away from the horrific spectacle of the three assaults that take place in the film; while there's no nudity to speak of, it's no less hard to watch.
|Tony Beckley as the creepy groundskeeper|
So, we're introduced to the cast of suspects:
1. The head doctor at the psychiatric hospital (Anthony Ainley). He seems a little too interested in the case of the assaulted girls.
2. The porn addict groundskeeper (Tony Beckley) at the school for girls. He's married to the school's principal, and lives in a state of bitterness towards her. He also ogles the girls whenever he can.
3. Dr. Lomax (James Laurenson) is the lead male in the film. He befriends poor Suzy Kendall, and we'd like to think he has the best of intentions of helping her... but does he have ulterior motives?
4. There's also the police inspector (Frank Finlay), the incomprehensibly annoying journalist (Freddie Jones), and even the devil himself.
There's a particular scene with the creepy and overly-dour groundskeeper that should be of interest to Miniskirt Monday readers. You'll recall that we recently had a theme centering on ladders (MM#191). There's more than a fair share of films featuring miniskirted lasses climbing ladders, only to be ogled by a gentleman enjoying the view from below. This one ranks among the best.
One of the students is filing away books while the groundskeeper looks on with slobbering delight. We're to suspect that this drooling fiend (who has no business working at an all girls school) is capable of anything; so, there's a real element of tension.
When she requests some help as she reaches for a high shelf, the groundskeeper gets a perverse delight out of providing her some balance. God knows what would happen next, but the scene is interrupted by his wife, the principal. As I mentioned, he resents her deeply, and leaves in a mopey huff. Of course, she soon finds his stash of porn (and puts it on the fire).
The acting in this film is superb. But then, isn't anything with British accents automatically well acted? Suzy Kendall does a brilliant job portraying a quaint schoolteacher caught in the path of unspeakable evil.... but not the hapless victim as you might think. She is perhaps the bravest and most courageous character in the film. A refreshing bent on the damsel in distress trope. The film is based on a novel which I haven't read, but I assume that's really where the praise should go.
But then, the film never quite rises above being an entertaining mystery. Granted, it's a million times better than an episode of Murder She Wrote, but nowhere near approaching a Hitchcock film. It wants to be a giallo, with its mysterious black gloved killer stalking nubile young ladies. Yet, it lacks the flash and sleazy mojo of those Italian films. So, in the end, you're left with something not particularly remarkable, but no less a joy to watch. Gilligan recommends.
With a name like Spasmo, I couldn't help but give it a try. I expected it to be a lot campier than it was - turns out, it's actually a well-crafted, beautifully filmed psychological horror flick. Let's have a look...
The creepy and surreal tone is in full effect from the very beginning. A couple rolls up on a motorcycle to make out at a creepy abandoned Spanish Fort... and there's this body swaying in the background. (shudder)
The girl screams, but it turns out to be only a mannequin. Things definitely are starting off with a bang. Cut to the next scene...
Christian (Robert Hoffman) and his ladyfriend Xenia (Maria Pia Conte) are sightseeing at a beach. Christian starts telling an inappropriately morbid story about his dead dog, when Clorinda spots a body on the beach. Is it another mannequin?
She's real, and not dead.... it's a mysterious woman named Barbara played by Suzy Kendall. (Kendall was a popular British actress back in the day, and wife of Dudley Moore from 1968-1972).
It's a tad strange, this dead looking chick on a desolate beach... Xenia and Christian wonder WTF? Barbara provides no answers and hauls ass out of there in her tiny European car.
|Aboard the Yacht - Xenia (left), Barbara (right). The creepy guy in the middle is Alex, Barbara's boyfriend.|
For those following along, Christian looks like a young Jorah from Game of Thrones, Barbara the mom from 7th Heaven, and Xenia, Jen from The IT Crowd. Moving right along...
Barbara invites Christian back to her hotel, and he is only too eager to oblige. Her only request is that Christian shave off his beard. (insert the sound of a thousand screaming hipsters)
Christian shaves off his beard losing the Jorah look, now more of a Ewan McGregor or Richard Chamberlain, but I digress... an intruder arrives! There's a kerfuffle, Christian gets hold of the gun which accidentally fires, killing this ghoulish disco stranger.
With the help of creepy boyfriend Alex, they get the f-- out of there to have some drinks at Alex's posh yacht.
Christian goes back to the scene of the crime and finds the disco-ghoul no longer there. What the hell is going on? Perhaps he's still alive. Barbara recommends they stay in a friend's mansion.
The mansion turns out to be empty, and Christian suspects that this isn't the home of a friend. It seems like only yesterday he was telling Xenia about his dead dog, and now he's on the run with a strange woman in a strange house.
Barbara and Christian spend the next ten minutes creeping around the house. There's evidence that they're being watched, Christian finds some bloody garden clippers, and the lights go out. I suppose this is all meant to be really spooky; unfortunately, my mind tends to wander whenever characters start exploring haunted houses.
We're introduced to the tenants of this haunted house - Malcolm (Guido Alberti) and his daughter Clorinda (Monica Monet) - quite the looker.
So, anyway, this old Malcolm happens to be a homicide detective. Idiot Christian decides to confess to killing the disco-ghoul.... but it starts to sound like Christian is going insane instead. After all, was there even a body? The disco-ghoul could have been just a hallucination.
Let me pause a moment to say that this Spasmo is filmed beautifully. I could watch this on mute and still enjoy it. In fact, I might enjoy it more.
While Barbara is away, Clorinda comes to Christian's room... and, this being a 70s movie, they naturally make sweet, sweet love.
But Christian feels like he's met this girl before.... and Malcolm later tells him that he was present at his father's suicide. .
It's all getting rather confusing, but we're supposed to be confused like Christian, feeling slightly mad. In the wrong director's hands, this could feel like frustration and annoyance, but Umberto Lenzi does a great job of making us feel like we're going nuts right along with Christian.
The periodic flashes of horrific looking mannequins certainly add to the horror; it's like we're a part of a nightmare.
But get ready - here comes the payoff. Spoiler ahead. If you have any intention of watching this film, stop reading now.
We meet Christian's brother, Fritz (Ivan Rassimov). It seems this entire nightmare was his making. He hired Malcolm, Clorinda, and Barbara to drive him insane. Once Christian was put in the asylum, the family fortune would be his in its entirety.
Just look at this guy's face. Fritz is the perfect baddie.
There's been a slight hiccup. Christian had another run-in with the very much alive disco-ghoul. They believe Christian to be dead (but it's the reverse). No matter, Fritz is so damn evil, he just smirks at the death of his brother. In an asylum or dead, the same end is achieved.
Barbara is freaking horrified. Christian was supposed to just be committed, not die. She can't believe how nonchalant Fritz is about something so terrible.
Here comes another bombshell. Fritz says: "If you're in love with Christian, I can't help it. Only, let me assure you it's better this way."
"What do you mean?!?," shouts Barbara.
"Our dear Christian was SCHIZOID!"
Later, Fritz watches an old home movie, taking a good look at crazy-ass Christian as a kid. Little does he know, at this moment Christian is right behind him.
This is kind of a meta moment, isn't it? You're watching Retrospace, which is watching Spasm, watching Christian watching Fritz watch a home movie of Christian looking back at Fritz...
The two brothers confront each other. Fritz thinks their father's death wasn't a suicide - batshit-crazy Christian killed their father. Things are getting tense. Christian looks upon the film reel and notices that Clorinda is actually a nurse from when he was under psychiatric care at the hospital after his father's death and I suppose it dawns on him that this was all an elaborate ruse perpetrated by his shit brother. (Wouldn't Clorinda have aged though?... whatever. Best not to ask too many questions.)
Christian bolts the hell out of there.
Back at creepy boyfriend Alex's...
Barbara is having a breakdown. She should have never agreed to drive Christian crazy for money (ya think?). Fortunately, creepy Alex is there to console her. He's going to get some plane tickets, and they're going to get out of Dodge.
Christian appears and shocks the hell out of Barbara. But she's fallen for the comely psychopath, so her surprise soon turns to passion and they start making out on the bed.
Aaaaaaaaand he kills her.
Yep. Barb is dead. I'm not sure if this was purely out of revenge for being a part of Fritz's diabolical plot, or simply because Christian is a "schizoid".
At this point, we see some of Christian's flashbacks and learn that he's also killed Clorinda. And he's also killed.... Xenia! Remember her?
Good gracious - was this necessary, Christian? After all, she's barely been seen since the opening of the film. I guess she should have realized from his macabre dog story at the beach that she was dating a nutjob.
So, Christian is caught red handed after killing Barbs. And who finally puts an end to him? Of all people, it's Alex, Barbara's creepy boyfriend!
Christian crawls to the beach and dies right where he and Xenia found Barbara at the start of the film, which I think is kind of cool. The movie could have ended here, but we've got one more scene to go. This happens...
It would appear that Fritz has a screw loose himself... which makes you wonder if he was the crazy one all along. Maybe Christian was perfectly normal before his diabolical plot drove him insane? Who knows?
All in all, it's actually an amazing film that keeps you guessing, with twists and turns all along the way. It's beautifully filmed, well acted, and just disturbing enough to keep you uneasy. Gilligan recommends.