DVD Review: Plot of Fear

'An above-average period crime thriller, laced with psychoactive threads of perverse eroticism and bloodletting...'

Devon Ashbyby Devon Ashby

 

Adding to their already impressive repertoire of psychedelic Italian crime reissues, RaroVideo has released a fresh Paolo Cavara cut characteristically rife with motorcycles, leather jackets, and nefarious cloaks and dagger intrigue. Plot of Fear augments Raro’s already impressive library of recent U.S. reissues by the Italian distributor, which includes work by art house heavyweights Pasolini, Fellini, and Antonioni, as well as revered crime genre veterans like Ruggero Deodato and Fernando di Leo.

 

Lomenzo is a pensively mustachioed and fashionably leatherclad Italian detective commissioned to investigate a series of recent homicides. Otherwise seemingly random and disparate, the murders are solely connected by a series of cut-out illustrations from the popular German compendium of children’s fables Struwwelpeter, a cautionary tome elaborating surreal and bizarrely horrific punishments that befall misbehaving children. Each murder victim’s death is an enactment and/or parody of the Struwwelpeter illustration it’s been earmarked with.

After encountering a beautiful and mysterious woman named Jeanne (genre perennial Corinne Cleary, star of French eroticist Just Jaeckin’s Story of O), Lomenzo learns that the murder victims were all members of a private organization called the Fauna Lovers Club, a loose collection of professed animal rights advocates whose actual activities were reportedly more sensually decadent. In flashback, Jeanne recalls her elliptical associations with the group, returning particularly to a hedonistic weekend party that spiraled disastrously out of control, ending with the death of a prostitute.

Cavara is best known for co-directing the seminal first film in the Mondo Cane series, a bizarre cut-up documentary that spawned countless knockoffs and eventually gave birth to an entire subgenre of knockoffs, presaging current, maligned fascinations with dislocated and recontextualized freakshow footage in popular media. Cavara’s later giallo and crime career is more narrowly celebrated, but movies like Black Belly of the Tarantula have achieved a degree of cult status within their niche subgenres that precedes the director.

Plot of Fear is recognized generally as one of the strongest films in Cavala’s oeuvre, partly because of its unusually twisty narrative and unconventional story structure. The strength and weirdness of the movie’s narrative form is likely attributable to collaborating screenwriter Bernardino Zapponi, who had worked previously with Fellini and Argento, and helped Cavara augment his existing interest in using abrupt contrasts to trigger off-kilter audience response. The repeating contrast of the surrealistic, fantastical decadence of the pieced-together flashback narrative with the unusually sedate treatment of the police investigation create an effect of two realities bleeding gradually into and infecting each other.

Raro is well-known for spicing up their releases with covetous extras, and Plot of Fear is no exception, featuring filmed interviews with co-writer Enrico Oldoini, actor Michele Placido, and Paolo Cavara, son of the now deceased filmmaker. Also included on the disc is a click-and-drag PDF booklet of extended criticism by my personal favorite Fangoria contributor, Chris Alexander. Plot of Fear’s combination of genre tropes and simultaneous rejection of tiresome conventions associated with the pop giallo and poliziotteschi subgenres it incorporates make it an above-average period crime thriller, laced with psychoactive threads of perverse eroticism and bloodletting in a respectable vintage Italian tradition.