Saturday, 27 January 2007

Rings of Fear / Enigma Rosso

The body of a girl, Angela Russo, from the exclusive St Teresa's School for Girls is found in the river, wrapped in plastic like Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer.

One of many Twin Peaks-isms in the film, others including a secret diary and repeated references to coffee

Detective Di Salvo (Fabio Testi) is assigned the case, but finds the investigation going slowly until the dead girl's younger sister Emily indicates that he should focus his attentions on Angela's friends Franca, Paola and Virginia, the remaining three-quarters of a group collectively known as the Inseparables (“if anybody knows what Angela was up to, it's them”) and gives him the dead girl's purse, containing clues in the form a surprisingly large sum of money and a secret diary in which the Saturdays are marked with a stylised cat.

It is less than clear what the figure means, however, until a convenient roadside billboard reveals it as the logo of brand of designer jeans sold at a boutique in town.

Further investigation soon reveals that the Inseparables were regular visitors to the place and that it is the hub for a schoolgirl prostitution ring. Unfortunately the ringleaders have friends in high places who will do whatever it takes to protect themselves, including murder.

De Salvi meets some of the the staff of St Teresa's School for Girls; comparing this to the equivalent scene in What Have You Done to Solange the influence of Massimo Dallamano is evident

Meanwhile Franca, Paola and Angela find themselves being terrorised by figure identifying themselves only as Nemesis. (“Run towards the black shadow. Death will come to meet you and your deepest desires will then come true. Nemesis.”)

The Inseparables in the shower and under observation, perhaps by Il Gatto dagli occhi di giada?

With no fewer than six writers working on the script for Rings of Fear, it is not surprising that the end results are somewhat confused at times, most notably in the handling of Di Salvo's relationship with his kleptomaniac partner Christina; fed up with his devotion to the job, she announces that if he leaves she will not be there when he returns and follows through on the threat – with no obvious effect upon him or the subsequent narrative.

Nevertheless, anyone who has seen What Have You Done to Solange or What Have They Done to Your Daughters will have no difficulty in picking out the dominant contribution of Massimo Dallamano – whose accidental death in 1976 robbed him the chance to complete the trilogy – through the private Catholic girls' school environs, complete with shower-room peeping tom and line-up of the teachers / suspects; backstreet abortions gone wrong; sex and drug orgies, all the way down to a vague fairground motif as Di Salvo drags one suspect (played by Jess Franco regular Jack Taylor) onto a roller-coaster to facilitate extracting the information he needs.

Il gatto a nove code?

Unfortunately the film also shows a distinct case of diminishing returns, with director Alberto Negrin – whose sole film this seems to have been, the rest of his career having been spent in television – failing to achieve the same degree of critical distance from the exploitative material as did his predecessor. Thus, for instance, while he cuts in close-ups of the shower-room voyeur's eye, the broader theme is not really integrated into the proceedings in a way that makes the viewer think about his own responses to the scene.

Yet another fall from a great height

The casting of Testi as police investigator makes for some fascinating contrasts and comparisons with Solange, the actor having played the amateur investigator / suspect there, with the differences in attitude between the early 1970s giallo-krimi and the late poliziotto-giallo seemingly encapsulated by the poliziotto directness of Di Salvo's approach (“Somebody with a cock this big raped Angela Russo and threw her in the river!”) against the krimi restraint and discretion shown by the Scotland Yard man.

As with Daughters, meanwhile, the film testifies to the widespread sense of social malaise prevalent as the anni di piombo wore on, whether the headmistress of the school – at times perhaps recalling a real-world version of Suspiria's Tanzacademie – who is is most concerned with preserving its reputation, yet does not care about the sometimes dubious family circumstances of her pupils so long as their fees are forthcoming; the consistent thwarting of good cops by their superiors (“Rich, influential men pay well for teenage favours,” indeed); or even such minor details as the boutique shop assistant closely scrutinising the bill used to pay for a pair of jeans.

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