Is it that first surreptitious glance across the room, eyes meeting over swirls of cigarette smoke and strains of Wagner thumping in your ears? Is it those first furtive, fleshy fumblings in the alley behind the bar, all hands and lips and straps with complicated fasteners? Or does it come later, reclining comfortably on the couch in a shared apartment, sharing a bottle of wine and your last cigarette as you wait patiently for the next episode of Cupcake Wars to roll?
It's a mystery, parishioners.
But even though I can't say exactly when or how it happens, I know that love is real. I know because I've found it, a love that asks for nothing and gives everything. I've found it in
Riccardo Ghione's 1973 hippie-abducting, mad science-spouting, blood-bottling, ultra-groovy mad movie bonanza, The Red-Stained Lawn (Il Prato Macchiato di Rosso).
Let me tell you a little something about that girl o'mine.
|Really. I insist.|
Meanwhile, in Piacenza, good Samaritan and Daniel Craig-lookalike Alfiero (Claudio Biava) travels every highway and byway in his BOSS powder-blue sports car, searching for walkabouts who look as though they might fancy a lift. He has no trouble, as the northern Italian town is apparently crawling with automotively challenged individuals of every stripe. Within moments he's picked up a flower-selling Gypsy (Barbara Marzano), a Drunken Tramp (Lucio Dalla), a modestly priced Hooker (Dominique Boschero), and young hippie couple Max and "Max's Companion" (George Willing and a stunningly afro'd Daniela Caroli). Being the accomodating sort, he invites each passenger to come back to his sister's palatial estate, to drink their wine, eat their food, and set a spell. All for free! Now just what kind of paranoid, ungrateful monster would turn down an offer like that?
At the mansion, the guests are introduced to the lady of the house, Nina Genovese (Marina Malfatti), and her eccentric, science-enthusiast husband, Antonio (Enzo Tarascio). Through a series of rapid-fire and not-at-all suspicious questions, Nina quickly determines that none of her visitors have any friends, family, or employers who will be looking for them, nor have they informed any outside parties as to their current whereabouts. Which simplifies things, of course--I mean, you wouldn't want to set the table for eight and then have a dozen show up, would you? Particularly if any of the extras were police. Not that they would be, for any reason. Hey, did you check out our freaky robot statue in the corner over there?
|"Pericolo, Guglielmo Robinson!"|
The Hooker, meanwhile, splays herself languidly on every available piece of furniture, regaling the group with unashamed tales of tricks gone by. The Gypsy steals a few unguarded knick-knacks, as is the custom of her people, and Max and his Hot Mama drape their bedroom with scarves and burn some incense before lighting up a truly monstrous spliff. The Genovese Estate is thus a hedonistic oasis, a sort of "Pleasure Island" where everyone does what he wants and there's never any price to be paid. Or...IS THERE?!?!*
*Nota bene: there is.
|He never takes "no" for an answer.|
The only guest who keeps his wits about him is, paradoxically, the Drunken Tramp, who eventually confronts the master of the house with his suspicions. Turns out, Antonio Genovese is more than just an eccentric benefactor to the Italian unwashed--he's a MAD SCIENTIST! And it has to be said, one of the most fabulous mad scientists in cinematic history. Don't believe me? Just take a look at this selection of dominant, scientific neckwear:
|"To do: buy more wine..."|
|"No no, I'm sorry...but you may not touch the cravat."|
|"What? Have I got something on my face?"|
|"This one's actually a Steinkirk, only tied like a cravat. See the difference?"|
|It takes a lot to draw the attention away from his wife's boobs, but I think Antonio has nailed it.|
If that's not a man who's getting ready to take over the world, then I've never seen one.
So yes, there's evil-doings afoot in the mansion, and as the guest list grows smaller and smaller, Max & Co. grow more and more troubled. Actually, scratch that--they're not troubled at all! The Gypsy's disappearance merits barely a nod, and when even his best friend the Tramp vanishes, all Max can deduce is that the Genoveses are kinky voyeurs who like to watch smelly hippies getting it on. Though to be fair, it's clear that the hosts are more than a little freaky-deaky. Leaving aside Nina Genovese's more-than-fraternal closeness with Alfiero and her show-stopping psychedelic outfits (which are AMAZING--in fact the flick is worth seeing for the fashions alone), there's still the little matter of the doctor's...shall we say, interesting architectural choices.
|"And this, my fwiends, is the Wumpus Womb!"|
|"Still, it beats diggin' ditches."|
Eventually the trio drop to the floor, their bodies shutting down due to sheer grooviness overload. Meanwhile the UNESCO agent is tracking down the source of those suspicious bottles, and no points for guessing where the trail leads. Sub-meanwhile, Dr. Genovese and Nina are arguing over the relative values of science and business, which ends with Nina filling the doctor's Super Robot full of lead...well, more lead. Max and AfroGirl FINALLY get suspicious and decide to investigate the basement, where they find a freezer full of dead, naked, bloodless bodies in a genuinely chilling scene. (What I did there--you see it?) The purpose of Antonio's robot is finally revealed, as is the reason behind the whole operation; the Hooker succumbs to the dictates of the Robot's silly but deadly prime directive, and the Hippies are next on the slab. Will UNESCO reach them in time, or will they be riding out in the next delivery truck, in 750 milliliter-increments?
The acting is all pretty good for a picture of this sort--Dalla steals the show as the comical Tramp, and both Malfatti and Tarascio as the dueling Genoveses are a delight--the missus with her Ice Queen gorgeousness and ruthless amorality, and the doctor with his kooky visionary ramblings and stunning neckties. (Both actors worked together a couple of years earlier in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, a movie I really want to revisit now.) The rest of the cast is serviceable, and despite a few rather endearing flubs (equipment shadows in the shot, blinking "corpses," the director's pant-leg cameo in the Mirror Room sequence), the film is rather expertly and beautifully shot--the colors and compositions are often quite stunning, a testament to Ghione's eye.
|♫ And I think to myself...what a wonderful world! ♪|
In short, for fans of the weird, this is a little-known treasure. 2.75 thumbs.
A few more images from The Red-Stained Lawn (1973):
|Anal Sex: Not For Everyone|
|"Now...where did I put that last bottle of wine?"|
|Sure it is.|
|"Please, just try to relax."|