Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dissipated Spirits: A White Dress for Mariale (1972)

A White Dress for Mariale (Un bianco vestito per Marialé ) (Italy, 1972) (AKA "Spirits of Death")
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Ida Galli, Ivan Rassimov, Luigi Pistilli

Before directing the depressing 80s cult slasher flick and Video Nasty Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Romano Scavolini directed this barely discussed 70s giallo about trauma, murder and batshit insane masquerade parties.

As a child, Mariale saw her father turn a gun to himself after he murdered his wife and her lover after catching them canoodling under the sun. Now as an adult, Mariale is married to Paolo, a wealthy man who goes through many lengths to keep her drugged and stuck inside his ancient gothic pallazo, in an apparent attempt to cut her off from the world. But it appears that Mariale have successfully made contact without her husband's knowing, as her friends suddenly arrive one day in response to her invitation. Now with no other choice but to entertain these guests, Paolo lets in Mariale's former lover Massimo, a racist husband named Gustavo and his black wife Semy, and a polygamous trio, Joe, Sebastiano and Mercedes to his crumbling abode.

While Paolo gives a tour around the pallazo (both parts renovated and not-so-renovated), Mariale confides with Massimo about her rough living conditions under her husband and his brutish manservant, though it seems she's not that keen on bringing all of this up with the rest of her friends and it even looks like she's not all up there. The situation becomes further surreal when an indoor storm breaks in the pallazo's cavern-slash-basement and the gang's primal and hedonistic nature seemingly awakens as they all dress up in Renaissance clothing and partake in unrestrained lewdness.

By this point, A White Dress for Mariale cemented itself as a giallo of the more artsy and psychedelic kind as all sorts of strangeness and uneasiness break into one wild mess, this including a lengthy dance scene with a nearly naked Semy and a traumatized character being "calmed" down with homosexual sex. It's pretty confusing and a tad too bizarre for its own good, but it kinda works well in the sense that it introduced a feeling of uncertainty and tension to the film's final third, in which both the characters and plot gets back in track and transitions into a more standard murder mystery, or at least it tries to.

An issue I have with Dress is that not a lot of its characters are that likable. I understand that not all movies has to have relatable characters to work, but with most of the male casts here depicted a brutes and the women are often seen sexualizing themselves, it does make them a little of a chore to watch, albeit still pretty interesting for most times with their random antics, cheesy overacting and uber-sexual kookiness. Since I find it hard to feel for most of our thespians, (save Giallo heavy hitters Ida Galli, Ivan Rassimov and Luigi Pistilli as Mariale, Massimo and Paolo respectively, the only characters I can enjoy without looking at them oddly) it leaves many of the killings at the latter act feel empty despite being adequate enough with its blood work, a point that doesn't help the somewhat predictable twist reveal introduced in the end.

What really works in Dress would be the surreal gothic touches and eeriness it sets throughout the film. The plot may have taken a toll from the wildly bizzare nature of the narrative (or putting it more bluntly, the middle act which felt more like an overly long fever dream of political incorrectness) but it does make this giallo stand out a bit above straight-faced Italian mysteries, even more given how effectively lasting the tone it sets, as well as some of the artsy visuals tend to work in favor of the direction's psuedo-supernatural aftertaste.

Not exactly a fine giallo in terms of grounded mysteries or plot development, but A White Dress for Mariale is definitely an entertainingly trippy one. I would say those who are new to gialli movies should save this one for a later time as its insanely wild nature can be overwhelming, but veteran Italian thriller fans can certainly find a thing or two to enjoy from this giallo.

1 male shot
1 female shot dead
1 male shot
1 male brained to death with a hammer
1 male stabbed with a dagger
1 female repeatedly beaten with a staff, drowned
1 male mauled apart by dogs
1 female murdered offcamera
1 male slashed to death with razor
1 female shot with a shotgun
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 male shot with a shotgun
Total: 12

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