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  Aenigma Slug-Fest, Fulci Style
Year: 1987
Director: Lucio Fulci
Stars: Jared Martin, Lara Lamberti, Ulli Reinthaler, Sophie d'Aulan, Jennifer Naud, Riccardo Acerbi, Kathi Wise, Milijana Zirojevic, Dragan Bjelogrlic, Ljiljana Blagojevic, Franciska Spahic, Dusica Zegarac, Zorica Lesic, Zoran Lesic, Lucio Fulci
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Homely high school girl Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic) gets a ghastly makeover from fellow student Kim (Sophie d'Aulan) to prepare for her, frankly inappropriate, date with hunky gym teacher Fred (Riccardo Acerbi). Unfortunately it turns out to be a cruel prank so Kim and her bitchy friends can laugh at Kathy's breathless make-out session with Fred. Things go too far when a car chase leaves Kathy comatose in hospital where frizzy-haired Doctor Robert Anderson (Jared Martin) is baffled by her irregular brain activity. Sure enough, Kathy's mind or soul or whatever escapes her body and possesses sexy new girl at school Eva Gordon (Lara Lamberti) who becomes roommates with the nice girl Jenny Clark (Ulli Reinthaler). Using Eva as an instrument of vengeance, Kathy enacts supernatural vengeance on each of her tormentors.

Actually it is never entirely clear whether Eva is possessed or possibly a phantom conjured by Kathy's yearning to be pretty and popular. If indeed the former then it is surprising Aenigma exhibits no sympathy for the victim of Kathy's mental manipulation. After as the plot unfolds poor Eva loses her identity, sanity, a boyfriend and is manipulated into committing multiple murder. Of course given it is established early on Eva's sole interest is in sleeping with as many men as possible, one imagines Lucio Fulci reckons she deserves to suffer. Ah yes, that trademark Fulci misogyny runs rife throughout Aenigma. Yet for a film from Italy's grumpy grandfather of gore, it is relatively bloodless. By this point, bereft of skilled collaborators like screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, special effects expert Giannetto De Rossi and cinematography Sergio Salvati, Fulci (who cameos as a police inspector) was largely perceived as in decline. Certainly Aenigma is no masterpiece but is more artful and entertaining than what was yet to follow.

This was Fulci's belated cash-in on the high school misfit with psychic powers plot of Brian De Palma's classic Stephen King adaptation: Carrie (1976) by way of the coma patient with psychic powers angle of Patrick (1978) with a smidgen of Slugs (1987) thrown in for good measure. In an infamous scene, a naked girl is smothered by hundreds of slimy snails while one wriggles right into her screaming mouth. It is a suitably grotesque set-piece, all the more unpleasant for anyone aware of Fulci's reputation for mishandling actresses. Your heart goes out to actress Kathi Wise for enduring what was likely a very tough shoot. To Fulci's credit his dreamlike visual flair is well evident. Take for example an early scene where Kathy's soul rises from the operating table to soar over St. Mary's Girls' School. Slick photography and often ingenious lighting tricks gloss over the overly contrived plot that fails even to adhere to its own cracked dream logic. Set in Boston but filmed in the former Yugoslavia, the film is riddled with the usual eccentricities that arise when European filmmakers mimic an American milieu. The dialogue is as unintentionally hilarious as one would expect from a fifty-something Italian man aping the lingo of American teenage girls.

Against all odds Lara Lamberti runs the gamut of emotions with impressive gusto. The attractive model turned actress also appeared in Lamberto Bava's giallo A Blade in the Dark (1983) and in a small role opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Red Sonja (1987). However, her angelic beauty and striking eyes were best utilized as the titular heroine of lavish German fairy tale Mahuliena, Golden Maiden (1987). Co-star Ulli Reinthaler will be familiar to Fulci fans given she went on to be mauled by a Muppet baby in Zombie 3 (1988). American soap opera staple Jared Martin, in his second role for Fulci after post-apocalyptic actioner The New Gladiators (1984), injects a modicum of seriousness to ridiculous events. Yet he also figures in the film's most objectionable plot twist as the middle aged Anderson moves from romancing the underage Eva to seduce good girl Jennifer with no consequences. It is unfortunate that to get to the gooey fun horror set-pieces the film upholds the idea that teenage girls are insatiable sexpots who turn into right bitches if left unsatisfied. A steamy sex fantasy that turns nasty when Eva bites off Robert's nipples (!) says it all really. How else could they justify a slightly sad montage where Eva writes a love letter to Robert unaware he is getting busy with Jenny on the side? Viewers may also wonder why, given Eva/Kathy has such awesome supernatural powers, she opts to menace Jenny with a tiny knife?

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Lucio Fulci  (1927 - 1996)

Italian director whose long career could best be described as patchy, but who was also capable of turning in striking work in the variety of genres he worked in, most notably horror. After working for several years as a screenwriter, he made his debut in 1959 with the comedy The Thieves. Various westerns, musicals and comedies followed, before Fulci courted controversy in his homeland with Beatrice Cenci, a searing attack on the Catholic church.

The 70s and early 80s were marked by slick, hard-hitting thrillers like A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Don't Torture a Duckling and The Smuggler, while Fulci scored his biggest international success in 1979 with the gruesome Zombie Flesh Eaters. Manhattan Baby, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery were atmospheric, bloody slices of Gothic horror, and The New York Ripper set a new standard in misogynistic violence. Fulci's last notable film was the truly unique A Cat in the Brain in 1990, a semi-autobiographical, relentlessly gory comedy in which he also starred. Died in 1996 from a diabetic fit after several years of ill-health.

 
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