EYE IN THE LABYRINTH
EYE IN THE LABYRINTH opens with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges, "a labyrinth is built to bewilder the mind of man. Its architecture, however rich in symmetries it might be, is subordinate to this end", perhaps the best indication that what we're about to witness is not your usual giallo film. Immediately thrusting us into a disorientating, Caligari-esque series of tunnels with a wounded man running for his life from an unseen assailant, Mario Caiano's 1972 effort is determined to thwart our expectations, mixing an absurdly complicated plot and deft characterization with Freudian psychobabble and shady double crossings.
After the wounded man (later revealed as a doctor named Lucas) is stabbed to death, his girlfriend Julie goes looking for him. At the clinic, she is told he went to a conference only to have a patient approach her and say that Lucas is in Maracudi. When Julea arrives back at her home, she finds a gunman waiting for her. He demands to see Lucas. When Julie tells him that she doesn't know where Lucas is, the gunman smacks her around and leaves, warning her not to tell the police. Julie discovers Maracudi is the name of a small coastal town. Stopping at a cafe in town, a man offers to take her to Lucas. He leads her to a rundown, dilapidated building then leaves her. She is nearly killed when the man pushes a mound of crumbling masonry off of the buildings roof. Running away in a panic, Julie runs into Frank, another man from the cafe.
Frank doesn't believe that someone tried to kill her and he goes back to the scene to retrieve the purse she dropped. Curiously enough, all her belongings are still there. Except, of course, the picture of Lucas she was carrying with her. Frank offers to take her to an orphanage he owns and offers her a piece of advice. She may want to enquire about Lucas at a villa owned by a woman named Gerda. Gerda's village is a resort of sorts, the kind of place eccentrics like to go to get away from the mundane.
When Julie arrives at Gerda's villa, she is disappointed to find that no one knows Lucas. She decides to spend the night. She is introduced to the other guests, which include a couple of actors, a photographer seemingly obsessed with photographing feet, Gerda's lazy, druggie arm candy, a composer who spends a great deal of time making audio recordings of nature sounds, and a slow-witted boy who wanders around and frequently makes passes at our heroine. Julie notices something strange sitting on Gerda's bookshelf. It's a copy of a book she gave to Lucas. She even wrote a little something on the first page. Gerda refuses to let her see it. Later that night, Julie sneaks downstairs and takes the book off of the shelf. The first page is missing. Julie begins to get the idea that these people know something more than they're saying. An attempt on her life only strengthens that position. As she digs deeper into what happened to Lucas, she discovers every one knows more than they're letting on and Lucas' killer may be closer than she thinks.
Convoluted narratives are the stock-in-trade of the giallo film. A lot of the time, I get the feeling that all the red herrings, double crossing, misdirection, etc. are little more than an acknowledgement of the simplicity of the films central mystery. All of these things must be tossed into the mix or the audience would be able to figure out immediately who is behind the murders or who is committing the crimes (though anyone schooled in the ways of the giallo can usually do this no matter what distractions the screenwriters throw at them). The narrative presented here by Caiano and his co-writers Horst Hachler and Antonio Saguera is packed with seemingly extraneous material, but the final outcome of the film makes all of it necessary. Because the film is so densely plotted, it feels slower than it should. The film is not paced incorrectly, mind you, but the constant onslaught of new faces, new facts and new stories makes the film feel slow and talky. Fans of the Argento-style gialli are likely to be disappointed to find that the film only contains four murders, the most vicious of which occurs in the first five minutes.
But the film has a lot to offer to the more patient viewer. The giallo was an incredibly malleable kind of film and EYE IN THE LABYRINTH provides those looking for a more cerebral minded film something worth watching. Its punctuation marks aren't provided by shocking murder set-pieces but quiet revelations. The films pulse never rises too high and it isn't likely to satisfy those looking for gratuitous thrills, but it tells a complex story well and with enough interest that boredom never becomes a factor. The films story doesn't exactly hold water when you sit and think about it in any kind of depth (it is the kind of story that requires a five minute Freudian explanation, a la PSYCHO, at the films end just to make sure you really "get it"), but it holds up well upon a second viewing and reveals a surprising strength of vision. Caiano and Co. don't cheat at all throughout the film. It might not make much sense outside of the film, but in its own internal diegesis, it all works perfectly.
The main draw of the film for fans of Italian and European genre film will be the cast. Rosemary Dexter (JESS FRANCO'S JUSTINE), Alida Valli (EYES WITHOUT A FACE, SUSPIRIA), Adolfo Celi (WHO SAW HER DIE?, DANGER: DIABOLIK), Horst Frank (SO SWEET... SO PERVERSE, THE CAT O' NINE TAILS), Franco Ressel (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE) and Sybil Danning (THE RED QUEEN KILLS 7 TIMES) are all recognizable faces and all turn in good performances. But the real star of the film is Caiano. While the film isn't flashy or particularly well-directed, his sure-handed approach to the material anchors EYE IN THE LABYRINTH well. It's a superbly crafted little brain twister and a good, though not great, example of the giallo film in its heyday.