AKA NON AVER PAURA DELLA ZIA MARTA, DON’T BE AFRAID OF AUNT MARTHA
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 88 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
MAJOR SPOILERS IN LAST PARAGRAPH!
Little Richard Hamilton is traumatised when his mother jumps to her death from a window immediately after visiting his deranged Aunt Martha in an asylum. Thirty years later, Martha is released and invites the adult Richard and his wife and kids to her countryside house. Upon arrival, a creepy caretaker named Thomas lets them know that Martha will be along eventually, and advises them not to enter the cellar. Then prank phone calls begin to occur, Martha’s voice begins TO be heard – and unknown to Richard somebody has murdered Charles, his son by a previous marriage….
I made a mistake with this film. Intending to continue my Lucio Fulci review series, I cheaply purchased this fairly obscure effort in his filmography, only to realise that it was one of a number of films that Fulci was associated with but didn’t actually direct. I should have known this, seeing that I own a book on Fulci. I guess I’m just getting old. In 1989, Fulci was asked by Luigi Nannarini and Antonioni Lucidi his producers on The Touch Of Death and The Ghosts Of Sodom, to put his name to five films so that the first credit on screen and the most notable one on the poster would be ‘Lucio Fulci Presents’. Fulci, not in a very good place in his career at the time, could hardly say no, but nor did Nannarini and Lucidi seem to object when Fulci used footage from some of them to use in A Cat In The Brain. The Murder Secret was one of them, and by the way it contains one of the most shocking moments of gore used in A Cat In The Brain, a shot which really shows how far the Italians were willing to go with this kind of thing, not just in explicitness but in what kinds of characters could be killed off – which was every kind. Despite being a little disappointed when I found out that Fulci neither directed nor seems to have had any input into the film, and there not being much in the way of production information to tell you, I decided to review it anyway. I was in the mood for a low budget horror that would hopefully contain as many laughs as frights, even if the director unfortunately turned out not to be Andrea Bianchi, helmer of my favourite bad zombie movie of all time Burial Ground [aka Nights Of Terror], but a certain Mario Bianchi whom I’d never heard of – though interest picked up for me again when I found put that he was assistant director on two of Mario Bava’s movies, even though he seems to have made mainly porno movies, loads and loads of them, usually under psuedonyms, Nicholas Moore and Martin Wright being the most often used.
Well, judging by this particular film, Mario Bianchi may be a slightly better filmmaker than Andrea Bianchi, though that wouldn’t be difficult. He’s almost up there with Fulci in his clumsy last few years when he’d lost much of the skill and style he used to display, but most definitely a long way from the brilliance of Bava. The Murder Secret nonetheless will probably just about maintain interest for undemanding horror fans, even if a lot of this is because of the huge number of things that don’t make any sense in it. For its first two thirds it’s a leisurely affair concerned with mystery and suggestions of the supernatural, then it becomes a gory slasher before finishing up with one of the most baffling endings I’ve seen in a while, even going by Italian horror standards, and as I type I can’t work out if it’s a slightly failed attempt at being clever or just totally and utterly stupid. Also weird is the inclusion of Jessica Moore [real name Luciana Ottaviani] whose turns in the two Eleven Days, Eleven Nights films made her a fantasy object for many teenage boys of a certain time [I’m saying nothing]. She’s a twenty-year old playing a fifteen-year old. Now I know movies are full of adults playing teenagers, but this one has Moore act like a fifteen-year old yet also has her admire her bare chest in front of a mirror in full view of the camera not once but twice, while the camera zooms in on her bare bottom in a later moment! As a fourty-nine year old it felt a bit ‘off’ for me to be enjoying this sight in the way that I was – though obviously if I was fifteen again it wouldn’t have seemed wrong at all!
Anyway, let’s stop being sleazy and get on with the horror, this is a horror film after all. Quite a striking opening intercuts the Hamilton family’s car driving through the country with flashback shots of a woman possibly waking up for the first time in a white cell. She’s frightened and, when she realises that she can’t get out, lies on the wall and maybe has a fit. These bits aren’t remembrances of Richard, but the ones that follow certainly are, as a very young Richard is brought by his parents to see a sedated Aunt Martha in a bed in the asylum and hear the words, “I don’t see much hope for her full recovery” – and what kind of parents take their small child to see this anyway? But then again, mother isn’t quite right either, because she sends Richard out to get something before throwing herself from her bedroom window. The slightly slowed down nature of these scenes set a gloomy atmosphere as well as suggesting that maybe Bianchi does have some directorial style to offer, and there’s also some nice production design also what with all those strange paintings. Back in the present and the family narrowly escapes death as Richard, deep in thought, loses concentration and the car is nearly hit by a truck. With him in the car are wire Nora, daughter Georgia, and much younger son Maurice who can’t stop playing pranks, usually on his big sister. There’s also Charles who’s Richard’s son by his first marriage, but he’ll join everyone else at the house later. It’s a bit weird that Richard would bring his kids along to see his mad aunt on their first meeting, but then you’ve probably already realised that this is one of those films where nobody acts normally. Soon after this an intruder at night who sneaks around suspiciously with a rifle turns out to be Charles. Surely he could have acted less menacingly? But then we wouldn’t have had this excuse for some tension would we?
Martha isn’t there. Instead there’s Thomas the caretaker who says that “she had some last minute things to take care of”. However, she’ll be with them tomorrow apparently. That’s okay for now, Richard having some sexy time with Nora in a rather nice moment where he caresses her breasts with the words “some things I’ve neglected”. However, the phone keeps ringing and when Richard answers it nobody’s there. Georgie hears a voice, possibly or Martha, calling her name. The culprit seems to be the irritating little tyke that’s Maurice, but we have suspicions otherwise. Loud banging turns out to be just a door having opened, and Martha’s date of birth appearing on Georgia’s mirror, then being rubbed off [though not very well] seems like something a human has done, but what do we make of Maurice finding the TV on static and seeming to communicate with something using one of his hands? Well, I’ll say right now that one shouldn’t make anything if it, because it’s not followed through at all! Instead, it just seems that Bianchi, who wrote as well as directed this, was just looking for another eerie moment he could film that would pad out the running time of his slim story without stretching his tiny budget, and suddenly remembered Poltergeist. He’s not really good enough to keep us in suspense, but there’s probably enough to keep us intrigued enough to stick with the film until we get a really good jolt of a hanging body swaying out from the side of the screen before our eyes. Things then do gradually speed up, though the bloody murders that occur could have done with being spread out more instead of all happening over about five minutes, and one can only say to oneself “what the f***” when watching the final act which mixes the supernatural and the non-supernatural quite randomly, and where Bianchi seems to have totally lost the plot despite possible echoes of Lisa And The Devil and a rather good fight considering that neither performer seems to be doubled by a stunt person.
One has to laugh when the lid of a chest is able to decapitate somebody. Some may even laugh when somebody else runs right into a chainsaw blade despite the shocking nature of the moment. But a killing in a shower is highly effective. There’s a false scare when a voice saying “I’m going to kill you” coming from a shadow proves to be bloody Maurice again is followed by another shadow seen through the curtains saying “now you’re really going to die”, and for once the film has a real charge of terror. The subsequent multiple stabbing shows that Bianchi clearly looked at Psycho’s famous shower murder before shooting his, even if it’s nowhere near on the same level. Many of the angles are virtually the same and he even goes as far as to not show any shots of the knife hitting the body despite the huge amount of blood on display. The special effects are generally fine for their purpose, the yuckiest thing probably being a rather convincing maggoty decomposing head which one character then kisses! Cinematographer Silvano Tessicini also lensed Fulci’s Touch Of Death and The Ghosts Of Sodom and, as with those two films, occasionally shows some mild flair but mostly fails to give the proceedings a good look. More of that nighttime blue turns up here and there. Much of the action is scored by the same two tracks from composer Gianni Sposito, one of them repeated over and over again, and its mixing of twinkly child-like sounds with psychedelic swirling patterns is cool but doesn’t always correspond with what’s taking place on screen.
So what’s all this about the ending then? Well, try to make head or tail out of this. After his wife and kids have been killed, Martha finally shows up to tell him and us that, actually, her sister put her in the asylum as part of a plot to take all her money, before disappearing. I’m assuming that she’s supposed to be a ghost; she can’t be a figment of Richard’s imagination surely because it would have made the scene the most idiotic handling of a reveal ever. He then finally goes into that forbidden cellar and finds the body of Martha, followed by Thomas. He was Martha’s boyfriend, still loves her [and probably has sex with her dead body too], and is the one responsible for the murders, Martha having wanting to take out her revenge on every single member of the family. Okay, we can just about buy this, love and revenge can be taken to crazy extremes. But then Thomas is about to kill Richard when we cut back to the moment near the beginning where his car was almost destroyed by that truck – except that the car has now been destroyed and everyone in it killed. Though this is stretching it, it’s vaguely possible that this might have made for a reasonable variation on the ending of Carnival Of Souls, even if the obvious interpretation that we’ve been witnessing Richard’s guilt is not at all satisfactory because Richard had a lot of information kept from him when he was a child. But then we see that Richard is still alive and Martha is going to haunt him for the rest of his life, which seems dumb in all sorts of ways, not least because Richard doesn’t at all deserve this fate. In the course of writing this review, I’ve come to the conclusion that Bianchi just threw a few ideas together and hoped for the best – unless any readers have seen this and can offer some explanation?