Saturday 30 March 2024

Orgasmo (AKA Paranoia, 1969)

OK, first things first. In 1969 Umberto Lenzi made a movie called Paranoia. The Italian distributors changed the title to Orgasmo, a less appropriate but at the time more commercial title. In 1970 Lenzi made another movie called Paranoia, a movie that is also known as A Quiet Place To Kill. In order to minimise confusion I think it’s advisable to call his 1969 movie Orgasmo and his 1970 movie A Quiet Place To Kill. That way we know which movies we’re talking about. So I will refer to the movie that is the subject of this review as Orgasmo.

There’s another matter that needs to be cleared up. Severin’s Blu-Ray release includes two different cuts of the movie. The first is the Director’s Cut. This is in fact the original cut. This is the movie that Lenzi made. The second cut is the X-Rated U.S. cut. Don’t get excited by this - this version is in fact less raunchy than the Director’s Cut. This is a hacked-up shortened version of the film that eliminates Lenzi’s ending, which has the effect of totally ruining the movie. Don’t waste your time on this version. Watch the Director’s Cut.

Orgasmo is generally considered to be a giallo. In fact there were two distinct phases or waves of the giallo genre. The first wave lasted from around 1967 to 1970 with one or two later outliers. The second wave began with Dario Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage in 1970. These two phases are so radically different that it’s important to be clear that they are totally separate and distinctive sub-genres, with their own conventions. The second wave giallos are visually flamboyant blood-drenched thrillers usually involving lots of murders and black-gloved serial killers. The first wave are stylish erotic thrillers, with often only one or at the most two murders. The first wave giallos are characterised by an atmosphere of jet-set decadence and glamour.

Both sub-genres have much to recommend them. Most people prefer the post-Argento second wave giallos. Personally I much prefer the first wave giallos which have much more interesting plots and characters and an emphasis on eroticism that is both more subtle and more genuinely perverse than the second wave.

The first wave giallos are often dismissed by fans who are disappointed that they differ so radically from the post-Argento giallo.

Umberto Lenzi made four films starring Carroll Baker and these films are superb examples of the first wave giallo.

Orgasmo begins with a very very rich widow named Kathryn (Carroll Baker). She meets a hunky young American named Peter (Lou Castel). She allows lust to cloud her judgment and begins an affair with him although there are some red flags she should have noticed.

Kathryn is a little unstable and a little too fond of a drink.

Peter’s sister Eva (Colette Descombes) turns up. Kathryn finds it fun hanging with these two exciting sexy youngsters. They are much younger than Kathryn and this seems to be what she finds most seductive about them. She’s in her mid-30s and she’s starting to become aware that her youth has slipped away from her.

She finds it hard to keep up with them but Eva keeps feeding her pills which helps.

Kathryn thinks she understands the situation and she thinks she’s in control of it. She starts to wonder about this when she catches Peter and Eva in bed together. It’s OK, they can explain everything. Kathryn is deeply shocked.

The truth is that Kathryn is more old-fashioned than she thought she was. She enjoys playing at decadence and playing at being a bad girl but for her it’s just a game and she gets frightened when it starts to get real.

And she is now in a situation which makes her very frightened and confused. She drinks more and takes more pills. She starts to lose touch with reality just a little.

It builds to a very twisted conclusion (assuming you’re watching the Director’s Cut). It’s a great gut-punch ending.

This movie was a triumphant comeback for Carroll Baker after a nightmarish period in Hollywood. It’s a difficult demanding complex rôle and she handles it with ease. A great actress at the top of her game.

There’s very little violence but what violence there is is genuinely shocking not because it’s graphic but because it’s emotionally wrenching and it makes us deeply uncomfortable. Lenzi doesn’t need to throw buckets of blood at us in order to get our attention.

There’s some nudity and very little sex but again Lenzi knows how to create an atmosphere of dangerous unhealthy eroticism, and he knows how to do it subtly. And there’s a wonderfully decadent atmosphere.

Lenzi really found himself as a director with this film. Orgasmo is very very stylish.

Whatever you think of its status as a giallo Orgasmo is a superb erotic thriller. Very highly recommended.

Severin’s Blu-Ray release offers a lovely transfer. There are two audio commentaries.

I’ve also reviewed the second of the Lenzi-Baker collaborations, the wonderful So Sweet...So Perverse (1969).

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