Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971): or, I Dont Know Who Killed Me

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 18!

In the gorgeous, history-rich city of Prague, the body of American journalist Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel) is found discovered by a crow, and shortly thereafter by a lowly street sweeper. The corpse is taken to the city morgue for storage and autopsy--a bit too soon, as we learn via voice-over/internal monologue that Gregory is in fact alive, and fully conscious of what's happening to him! Paralyzed and on the verge of accidental vivisection, the hapless Yank searches his confused, fragmented memory to reconstruct the events of the previous few days. It all has something to do with his girlfriend Mira (Barbara Bach), whose sudden disappearance led Gregory to investigate a series of similar disappearances, the horrible truth behind which is of course the cause of his predicament. Can he remember it all and regain his motor functions before he's sliced and diced in the operating theater?

Though it's packaged and presented as a giallo, director Aldo Lado's Short Night of Glass Dolls displays few of the characteristics we normally associate with the cinematic subgenre. (Though in point of fact, the gialli novels from which the genre takes its name had much more varied plots than just the old stalk-and-slash.) Instead of a black-gloved killer practicing baroque psychosexual violence, here we get an almost Poe-like "buried alive" (or "put in the fridge drawer alive") tale, with a conscious man undergoing mental torture as he helplessly awaits his doom. We also get conspiracy theory and sociopolitical allegory, as it turns out the girls of Prague are (spoiler!) being preyed upon by a kinky sex-cult made up of the rich, powerful, and elderly, somehow draining the life essence of the young to extend their lives and enhance their power. One wonders if Stanley Kubrick was a fan of the film.

Typical of the better giallos, though, is Lado's emphasis on style over plot--the director and cinematographer Giuseppe Ruzzolini deliver some wonderful visuals--a sequence in which Gregory finds himself in a pitch-black room where a white vase of flowers seems to float eerily toward him is a great one, and several shots of quivering chandeliers are also quite beautiful. As for horror, the cult's rituals are stylish and eerie, and there's a rather shocking scene where Gregory hallucinates his girlfriend's corpse in his apartment refrigerator--perhaps a parallel to his own icebox accomodations.

Short Night of Glass Dolls moves rather slowly, but it's beautiful to look at and has some neat ideas. And if you're particularly horrified by the "don't bury me I'm not dead!" idea, you'll be on the edge of your seat as Gregory sweats out his impending autopsy. (Though the dubbing/voice acting kind of undercuts the tension imo.) Those looking for a stylish, out-of-the-ordinary giallo will not be disappointed. 2.25 thumbs.

"Well, I guess it's true what they say about post-mortem muscle contractions. Better get a mop, Johnston."


Richard of DM said...

This movie took several rewatches over the years before I got into it. Now I really dig it. Your alternate title, I Don't Know Who Killed Me, gave me serious LOLs.

JamiSings said...

But the whole "I'm not dead!" thing was done in The Twilight Zone, and he proved he was alive by crying.

Of course, Stephen King had his own version, but in that case the guy proved he was alive by getting an erection when the female doctor went to handle his penis before the autopsy.

Emily said...

You sassy tease! I saw the title and thought YES! Linsday Lohan's one-legged stripper dance is finally getting the MMMMMovies treatment only to, no she is not. Take that as a recommendation good sir...

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Emily--You may talk me into that one yet! ;)

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