(A.k.a. SPASM)

Christian (Robert Hoffmann) and his partner Xenia (Maria Pia Conte) stop by a picturesque beach to take some photographs. They spy what appears to be a female corpse washed up on the shore. Upon closer inspection, the lady is very much alive. Her name is Barbara (Suzy Kendall) and, after her initial confusion, she's grateful that the pair woke her up.

As the couple prepare refreshments to help fully revive Barbara, she sneaks hastily away. She does, however, leave behind a flask with a clue as to her whereabouts: it bears the name "Tucania" on it.

This happens to be the name of a yacht owned by wealthy businessman Alex (Mario Erpichini). Later that day, Christian and Xenia stumble upon the yacht and join its swinging party. Christian gets talking to Barbara there and, come the evening, they've gone back to her motel room for nookie. "You're a sweet, sweet whore" he shrewdly observes. Maybe so, but she still insists on him shaving off his perfectly groomed beard before any hanky panky. It seems that hipsters were despised as far back as 1974...

Their fun is cut short when hitman Tatum (Adolfo Lastretti) breaks in and attacks Christian in the bathroom. In the struggle, Christian kills his assailant. Upon learning of this, Barbara persuades him to go on the run with her instead of informing the authorities.

Following a brief altercation with lovestruck Alex and a return to the motel room which reveals Tatum’s corpse has vanished, Christian agrees to hotfoot it with the sexy blonde. She recommends they break into her friend's vacant house. "I don't like this place", Christian resists, "I don't know why but it bugs me" - before surveying the place and discovering that it's currently being inhabited by an array of caged birds, numerous stuffed animals adorning the walls ... and an odd couple, Malcolm (Guido Alberti) and Clorinda (Monica Monet).

This strange couple profess to have been at the motel too, where they insist there was no murder - and Christian's attacker was actually nothing more than a lifelike mannequin.

It sounds like a ridiculous claim, but ... someone keeps leaving provocatively positioned mannequins scattered around the local countryside (a hanged one here; a stabbed one there ...). Could it be that Christian is slowly going insane?

Or could he be an integral part of a far more intricate plot? And is Tatum really dead? Well, to reveal the answer to any of these questions here would be spoiling things...

A great cult cast (the wonderful Ivan Rassimov turns up later in a key role) combines with Umberto Lenzi's taut, controlled direction and Guglielmo Mancori's stunning widescreen cinematography to produce a film of hypnotic appeal. Ennio Morricone's romantic strains - a combination of acoustic strings and gentle female cooing - are simply the icing on an extremely attractive cake.

Light on explicit violence for a mid-70s giallo, SPASMO concerns itself more with psychological thriller shenanigans than excessive exploitation kicks. Perhaps in its original director's hands, a certain Lucio Fulci, it would've been a more brutal affair. As it stands, Lenzi - himself no stranger to stupendously violent cinema later in his career (NIGHTMARE CITY; CANNIBAL FEROX) - eases on the gore and concentrates on characterisation instead. The results are absorbing. SPASMO is an intriguing thriller with subtle clues littered throughout. Even once you gather what's going on, the beauty of it all is that the final act revels in getting the audience on side as tables are turned.

Another addition to 88 Films' ever-expanding Italian Collection, SPASMO comes to UK blu-ray in the guise of a 50gb disc. Interestingly, the film has been awarded with a 15 certificate rating from the BBFC.

The film has also been released on US blu-ray courtesy of Scorpion Releasing. I haven't seen their efforts to compare, but I imagine both transfers are struck from the same master and are therefore equal. What I can say is that the presentation here, on the 88 disc, is a marked improvement over the previous US DVD release from Shriek Show.

I mean, that was good for its time. But here, the film looks noticeably clearer and cleaner in full 1080p HD, with added clarity during darker scenes and a vibrant push to colours and depth during daytime sequences. Flesh-tones are natural, grain is healthily evident throughout and - despite an overall softness to proceedings that I imagine is a direct result of how the film was shot - detail is increased markedly. Blacks hold up extremely well throughout (though some night scenes remain extremely dark). The original 2.35:1 ratio is adhered to, and enhanced for 16x9 televisions.

Uncompressed mono audio is proffered in both English dubbed and Italian variants. Both provide good, clear and clean playbacks. The latter has the option of well-written and easy-to-read English subtitles. The actors appear to have been speaking in English for the most part, with clear voices dubbed over in post-production.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 8 chapters.

Bonus features are launched by an excellent 24-minute audience Q&A session with Lenzi, recorded at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films in September 2013 (the director's first UK festival appearance!). The audience get to ask how he got into the filmmaking industry, and coax thoughts from him on his more controversial movies. Lenzi speaks English with the help of a translator; for our benefit, there are easily legible English subtitles on hand.

The film's original trailer has always been good fun, and remains so here. "Spasmo ... spasmo ... spasmo ..." whispers the voiceover bloke as scenes from the film are deliberately edited together in misleading fashion over the course of 3 minutes. Brilliant.

We also get the alternate original Italian opening and closing titles to the film for completion.

In addition to these on-disc extras, this release comes furnished with double-sided cover artwork (the reverse being just as artistic and bonkers as the one used on the front), and an inlay artcard reproducing yet another attractive poster design for the film - with a selection of preview 88 Films blu-ray covers on its reverse (SS EXPERIMENT CAMP, HITCH-HIKE, MAN FROM DEEP RIVER etc).

SPASMO is an unusual, beguiling film that continues to entrance three decades after its initial release. It looks the best I've seen it on 88 Films' blu-ray, and has some very nice extra features attached.


Review by Stuart Willis

Released by 88 Films
Region B
Rated 15
Extras :
see main review