On a dark and stormy night, bickering couple Sylvia (Lucia Bose) and Donald (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) are en route to a friend’s post-plastic surgery party (classic line: “Helen picked a fine night to unveil her new nose”) when they witness a car chase wherein Inspector Wright (Dino Fazio) and his partner Sam (Franco Beltramme) apprehend a wanted murderer named Spike (Farley Granger). Joined shortly thereafter by Doctor Williams (Stelvio Rosi), who is desperate to reach a dying patient, his nurse Susan (Mia Genberg), and enigmatic professor of philosophy Lawrence (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino), the group discover the bridge up ahead has collapsed, leaving them stranded. Seeking shelter at a spooky old house, the travellers meet surly caretaker Joe (Gianni Medici) who, when not sneaking away to grope his girlfriend (Giulia Rovai) informs them this was once home to the late Sheila Marlowe, notorious occultist, sex fiend and macrame enthusiast. Okay, that last part was a lie. Anyway, Sylvia fancies herself a spiritualist and promptly (stupidly?) organises a seance seemingly summoning Sheila’s spirit that then seeps throughout the house exerting an unholy influence on the visitors.
Among only two films directed by Mario Colucci, a screenwriter with more spaghetti westerns and Eurospy flicks to his credit, this dull and dreary giallo also slots into the bunch-of-folks-stranded-in-an-old-dark-house sub-genre. On top of that it is yet another example of a gialli trading on the spectacle of watching smug, rich folk suffer and die, with all the characters cast as shrill, whiny yuppie types whom Colucci evidently holds in utmost disdain. All the men here are smug sadists while the women are closet masochists. Witness the extended and frankly pointless sequence where Sylvia fantasises about being violently raped by Spike in boob-bouncing slow-motion. Laden with pseudo-intellectual nonsense the screenplay is far less subversive than Colucci seems to think, given its one-dimensional misanthropic worldview.
Which is a great shame because those aspects that do work, go like gangbusters. Despite the pedestrian drama and casual misogyny, Colucci works hard to conjure an ominous atmosphere. Using canted angles, subjective camera, wide lenses and more heavy breathing than a sex line operator would hear in a week (not that I’d know - honest!!), he ably evokes a spectral presence menacing the unwary travellers, culminating in an eerie animated finale that might have had some influence on Sam Raimi seeing as it evokes a similar sequence in his stellar Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987). Not all the ghostly goings on prove quite so malevolent. It is implied that Sheila Marlowe’s spirit transforms Susan into a foxy minx as she removes her glasses, lets down her hair and shags Doctor Williams in classic “Why Miss Jones, you’re beautiful” fashion. Curiously, the brittle Susan (along with Williams, the closest thing the film has to a sympathetic character) is subject to a significant tirade from Inspector Wright. When she suggests he rest his strained nerves, the policeman tells her to mind her own business then breaks into a lengthy rant about how the world would be so much better if women knew their place. This comes after an effective sequence has Wright trapped in the cellar where a portrait of Sheila appears to fly out of the dark, hinting her ghost is some sort of liberating feminine force, though the suggestion is vague at best.
Given none of the characters are especially engaging, with Stelvio Rosi a hopelessly bland hero and Hollywood star Farley Granger - a long way away from his vintage Hitchcock roles in Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951), or even his more memorable steamy giallo Amuck! (1971) - an unfathomably plastic presence, there is no reason for viewers to care about their fate. The film is in essence a random assemblage of somnambulistic soap opera silliness strung together with a nonsensical quasi-supernatural non-explanation. “The past and the present intertwine. The answer is found only in the future”, muses Professor Lawrence. Oh shut up, you pompous twit. Besides, who is scared of a ghost called Sheila?