Monday, May 24, 2010
THE THIRD EYE (Italy, 1966)
IL TERZO OCCHIO
Production Company: Panda Societa per L’Industria Cinematographica
Released June 11, 1966
Directed by Mino Guerrini (as “James Warren”)
Screenplay by Piero Regnoli
Produced by Ermanno Donati and Luigi Carpentieri
Cinematography by Alessandro D’Eva
Music by Francesco De Masi
Editing by Ornella Michelli
Assistant Director Ruggero Deodato
Franco Nero is constantly on the verge of insanity as Mino, an heir to a wealthy estate. He is hemmed in by the overwhelming feminine forces in this life: his mother (Solbelli), his fiancée, Laura (Blanc) and his maid (Pascal). Each seeks to possess him, despite his obvious instability. And each seeks to remove the others in the process of possessing him. The maid, Marta, eventually wins this battle of wills by murdering both the mother and the fiancée. The loss of these two important figures in his life tips Mino into full-blown crazy as he embalms his dead fiancée’s body (he is an expert taxidermy hobbyist) and begins to randomly murder local floozies he is easily able to seduce. Of course Marta is there to enable this murderous grief as a means of weaseling her way into his life more officially, essentially blackmailing him into making him his bride. Her devious plan is then complicated by the untimely arrival of Laura’s sister Daniela (Blanc, again), a plot twist that doesn’t do Mino’s state of mind any favors. He sees Daniela as his once dead, now apparently living bride-to-be and intends to make her his for eternity. Marta attempts one last stab at his heart by attempting to kill her, only to become Mino’s final victim in his series of ritualized murders. This bloody act done, Mino abducts/elopes with Daniela to achieve his defiance of death, hurdling both of these doomed souls towards the film’s tragic conclusion.
This synopsis should ring familiar to fans of Joe D’Amato’s gore masterpiece BEYOND THE DARKNESS. In fact, that film is almost a scene for scene remake, despite the almost total lack of acknowledgement in literature devoted to the D’Amato version. BEYOND makes explicit that which is mostly implicit in THE THIRD EYE. Made in the mid-sixties, EYE skirts around the necropliliac assumptions as well as shying away from the viciousness of murder that is the D’Amato film’s stock in trade. Which is not to say there is not a pervasive sickness in the atmosphere of this film, like many 60s Italian gothics, which often seemed more like sex films in a horror drag. The movie actually has more in common with the giallo genre, with its lack of an overt supernatural element and its preoccupation with murderous intrigue. But the shadowy, monolithic mansion with its menagerie of looming taxidermied animal corpses and the crisp chiaroscuro photography lend a decidedly gothic feel to the production, sorting it out from the candy-coated proto-slasher antics of the later thriller trend. This odd genre-resistant strain marks THE THIRD EYE out as a unique film in the heyday of Italian popular cinema.
But why THE THIRD EYE? What does this title mean and what does it indicate about the themes of the film? At one point in the film, after murdering his second victim Mino says, cryptically, “It’s as though I suddenly had a third eye … it always stares in the same direction”. In most esoteric philosophical systems, both eastern and western, “the third eye” is a reference to metaphysical or spiritual sight, the ability to see beyond the mundane world of ordinary physical existence, or beyond life itself into the realms of death. Mino is preoccupied with overcoming the towering presence of death in his life, his taxidermy and murders are an alchemical attempt at defying and transmuting its omnipresence. He can see beyond death’s veil – “always … in the same direction” - and in doing so thinks that he can summon his beloved from the shadow world into the light, like a modern Orpheus. When his fiancée's twin sister appears, Mino obviously takes this as a victory over death’s finality. Her fate and his are then sealed.
Whether or not this represents the film-makers’ actual intention is unknown to me. Much of this production is shrouded in mystery. Despite its wonderful cinematic qualities and exploito delirium, THE THIRD EYE has remained unjustly obscure for many years. As far as I can tell it never played theatrically or on video in the English speaking world. Director Mino Guerrini (December 16, 1927 – January 10, 1990) has never reached any sort of level of cult acclaim. This is not surprising as he spent the majority of his career dishing out the kind of sexy historical comedies which followed in the successful wake of Pasolini’s THE DECAMERON, a genre which has not found a wide audience in the home video cults of the last two decades. He started out as a journalist and painter before embarking on a career in cinema as a screenwriter in the 50s and early 60s. His most famous credit in this capacity is as one of six who signed Mario Bava’s classic LA RAGGAZZA CHE SAPEVA TROPPO aka THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH or EVIL EYE, considered the first real ‘giallo’ film. As a director he made at least one other true cult classic, albeit, like THIRD EYE, a very obscure one, called DATE WITH A MURDER described to me by European Trash Cinema’s Craig Ledbetter as being like “a spy/giallo (film) directed by Giulio Questi”. Guerini seems to have been a film-maker of some talent. THE THIRD EYE’s best moments have a dreamy, feverish quality that makes wonderful use of the black and white gothic cinematography. He expertly balances the poetic and perverse elements, letting neither dominate to the detriment of the other. It’s a shame neither he nor his film are better known.
A name perhaps more familiar to fans of Italian horror cinema is screenwriter Piero Regnoli, who as a screenwriter had a career that lasted from the early 50s into the 1990s, seeing the Italian cinema from it glory days well into its long, sad decline. He was also a director is his own right, making his debut in 1960 with the first successful Italian horror film THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE. But even before that he wrote the first ever spaghetti chiller, Freda and Bava’s classic I VAMPIRI. Although his career encompassed every genre that wove in and out of public favor, his contributions to horror are his most memorable. In addition to the above films he also penned such cult faves as BURIAL GROUND, NIGHTMARE CITY, and Lucio Fulci’s ridiculous but underrated DEMONIA. His work here is perverse and esoteric, laying the proper foundation for THIRD EYE’s unusual and demented take on the horror genre.
Franco Nero gives a wonderful, typically intense performance as Mino. This film was made immediately after what would turn out to be his starmaking role in DJANGO. Though he looks a bit younger here than he does in Corbucci’s masterpiece, which may be one of the reasons why this film is often reported as being made somewhat earlier than it actually was. This may also be why it is sometimes erroneously reported to be Euro-trash diva Erica Blanc’s first major role. As this film was made and released in 1966, this cannot be. Blanc gives two performances here of course, with the first and more brief role being the juicier of the two. As Laura, Blanc gives hints of being just as scheming and self-serving as the murderous Marta. But the sister role is a little too pure and rosy, a perfunctory part written only to fulfill the characters’ destiny and the plot’s climax, and does not allow Blanc to show off her formidable chops. Nevertheless she is nothing less than a fiery and memorable presence throughout the film.
If ever there was a film deserving of being rediscovered by a wider audience, THIRD EYE is it. Accomplished, eerie, brutal, erotic and esoteric this mostly unknown Italian production is well deserving of a lavish digital home video presentation. The version I watched is a gray market composite “taken mainly from the German (anamorphic DVD) and re-dubbed (into) Italian and adding missing scenes from (an) Italian print” as stated by the builders of this DVD-R. The German DVD quality was great with only about four minutes from the Italian version suffering in the visual department. As far as I know this is the longest and most complete version ever available. But a proper, legal version published with the cooperation of all surviving cast and crew would be most welcome, even by those out there who may never have even heard of this gem. For them perhaps most of all.
Special Thanks to Keith Brown and his great Giallo Fever blog for use of the excellent screengrabs used in this review.