Delirium (Delirio Caldo) (1972)
(18) Running time: 102 minutes
Director: Renato Polselli
Writer: Renato Polselli
Starring: Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni, Raul Lovecchio
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
This is a review of the uncut European version.
Let me start this review by first telling you about a rather embarrassing error of judgement I made here. As I work my way through the films on the Video Nasty list, I came to a film called ‘Delirium’. I checked Amazon and ordered this one without even thinking. Well, the cover looked nasty enough, it has a reputation, and it features a man killing beautiful women. It has to be the right film? Well, it wasn’t, and it turns out the Delirium I am after, the one which made the Video Nasty list, was directed by Peter Maris, and is proving extremely difficult to track down. However, I can’t complain as I had never seen this film either, and I must admit I am glad I did, for believe it or not, Delirium (Delirio Caldo) is actually quite good.
Director Renato Polselli piles on the sleaze in this rather interesting Giallo which certainly gives fans of the genre everything they would have hoped for. Gorgeous girls, a black gloved killer, some dodgy dubbing (even of you watch the original language version), sex, violence, dodgy European music and a plot that works, but then goes completely off the rails as it heads to its baffling and confusing climax. However, while the ending may not make a whole lot of sense, there is a lot of fun to be had on the way.
The film’s opening scene sets the tone as some painfully crap European dance music is put on a juke box in a small bar, the culprit is an attractive girl in a short skirt with legs that seem to go on forever. A man is stood at the bar transfixed, unable to take his eyes off her, he must be the killer then? He approaches her, offers her a lift to meet her friends and then proceeds to stop the car in the country and give chase as she runs off. She is eventually murdered under a waterfall as her clothes rip off and the camera pans from the same two shots over and over again (I presume this was for effect, but it doesn’t work). The shots are of her screaming, and the man’s crazy killing face. A great start, and as they say, things can only get better, and they do. Turns out the man involved here is a local and well respected Dr with a suspicious wife who likes to go through his private stash. Since we just saw the Dr murder then it must be him right? Well, you can watch the film to make up your own mind, but he eventually helps the local police with their investigation into the serial killer which turns up a number of suspects, most memorably Willy the parking attendant.
Willy the parking attendant is accused of being the killer after some police shenanigans, but they can’t prove it so decide to follow him. A bizarre little man, he brings an awful lot of comedy to the film: like when he can’t get into the nightclub where he works, and when the bouncer opens the door and it hits him on the head. He reminded me of the caged, furry man from SS Hell Camp (The Beast in Heat) and he is a joy to watch. Probably his standout moment is a phone conversation where while he chats away to the police, a fly is buzzing around his face and he ducks and dives and attempts to kill the annoying pest while shouting “you damn thing you!”. I am positive this was intended to be funny, and if it wasn’t, then the director has pulled off a moment of comedy genius. It is hilarious!
Moving back to the main character, Dr Herbert Lyutak (Hargitay), and we see glimpses of a sort of Jekyll and Hyde character as he clearly has issues. He hates himself, and the film leads you into believing he has a sort of split personality, with his vicious side brought on by the sight of a gorgeous woman. Watch how he gets all hot under the collar as he gives his niece a lift home: in her tiny skirt and low cut top, the poor chap just can’t help himself and bellows to her to “GO AWAY!!!” It takes forever for the poor girl to get out of the car, and plenty of time for the director to film shot after shot of her legs and skirt. The indication this guy is actually scared of his possible alter ego is a nice touch, but we are also lead to believe that his wife also has issues as her jealousy takes over. However, her issues are even more strange, and lead to some of the films more nightmarish scenes.
His wife is very good looking, yet she has this problem of jealousy, and believes her husband just might be having an affair with the maid (also rather lovely). This leads the wife into meltdown and she begins having increasingly darker dreams of sex, perversion and violence. Her dreams consists of her husband chained up laughing while she, the maid and a blonde all wriggle around with each other naked, and perform plenty of lesbian clinches. It is beautiful yet disturbing to watch, and the entire dream sequence has that authentic Italian horror look, very dark, very colourful and very sinister with plenty of close-ups. The dreams get more intense as the film goes on, and the film cleverly leads you into believing the wife might also be the killer, but I shall not say where it leads from there.
We do learn that Dr Herbert has issues once he decides to write his wife a hilarious letter on their anniversary. The letter goes something like this: “Let’s separate” The conviction with which the voiceover is spoken makes the letter very funny, when I believe it was intended to be sad, but thankfully the comedy (intentional or not) makes it all the more effective. Turns out Dr Herbert is impotent, and believes he cannot give his wife what she wants, and instead we are lead to believe he takes out his frustrations on semi naked girls. Whether the killer is the husband or not, there is plenty of death, and while this film did not make the Video Nasty List, it is a complete mystery to me as to why it didn’t. There a far tamer films on the list, and while this is not the right Delirium from that era of panic, it fully deserved a place on the list.
Yes, there is very little bloodshed (most of the deaths are strangulation) but there is an awful lot of sexualised violence and murder. Pretty much every girl here is strangled, but it is the way the director chose to film the deaths that make it hugely satisfying for horror fans, and incredibly offensive to others. The girls are offer here are gorgeous, really really gorgeous. Each one is wearing a tiny skirt, low-cut top and high heels, and those looking for a bit of eye candy will not be disappointed. However, not content with the revealing outfits, the director chooses to have the clothes removed in often hilarious fashion. Each girl ends up topless as the killer lays her out in his signature position for the police to find, but it is usually during the attack that their tops get ripped off. However, there is a scene which cruelly shows the directors perverted intentions as a girl answers the door in her dressing gown, and this poor woman is beaten with a horse whip which causes the dressing gown to slowly, but surely, come off! To add insult to injury, as the killer continues to strike her she falls in the bath and gets very wet before meeting her maker. This should give you a good indication of exactly what Delirium is all about, and if this is your thing, you will love it. The director does not hide the fact he wants to show gorgeous girls in skimpy outfits being murdered, in fact he pretty much embraces it. Things do get pretty dark in places as a later scene involving the killer masturbating while horrifically violating a victim will shock, however the full depravity is watered down by our good friend Willy. Willy has followed the killer, and is on hand to spy through holes in the wall, and as ever, he is just too funny to watch, and you will find yourself both shocked and amused at the same time.
Delirium loves what it is, and makes absolutely no excuses for its sex and violence. This is pure sleaze of the highest order, and the production quality for a film which is so old is terrific. The film looks magnificent, and it is clear the director has a talent when it comes to not only filming his shots of over the top violence, but also filming the wonderful Italian setting, the use of close ups and often invasive camera work, and the way he films his main characters. Polselli uses some bizarre camera angles to good effect when he wants to add some intensity to a scene, and he knows when to pan back to get in as much as he can. The skill on offer here is perfect for those wonderful Giallo films, and the mystery unfolds here just as you would expect. As I have said before, the film does not make a whole lot of sense come the end, but sometimes they don’t need to. Just enjoy the ride, enjoy the madness and enjoy the lovely ladies on screen: this is a sleazy exploitation flick which has no issues about what it stands for. It knows its audience, and most certainly gives them what they want!