No sir, he may be a serial killer, but the highly respected, criminal psychologist and police consultant Dr. Herbert Lyutak (Mickey Hargitay) is no psychopath.
He actually makes for a compelling lead, thanks to a fair amount of charisma and outward charm that contrasts with his hidden sick side. It’s made known early on that Herbert’s a particularly nasty fellow, with a pitch black disturbing murder sequence involving a young lady (Stefania Fassio). In making its protagonist a murderer, we have something more unique from the get go. Though we know Herbert’s a killer, murders still continue in the traditional ‘whodunit’ giallo style, which imposes the question of Herbert being the only killer. The multiple murder scenes of pretty girls getting killed are cruel, which isn’t surprising for a giallo, but Polselli really seems to be trying to outdo them all.
Being a criminal expert, Herbert is recruited to help out on the case regarding the girl he just murdered, unbeknownst to the inspector, of course. Inspector Edwards (Raul Lovecchio), doesn’t seem to suspect Herbert as much as he should, as a bartender did point out that Herbert was the last one to be seen with the murdered girl. The police almost seem unintentionally comical, which sort of hurts the dark and disturbing aura that the opening murder initially casts on the film. To be fair, it is ironic and does add edginess, having the killer so close to the police.
Herbert’s wife, Marcia (Rita Calderoni), has suspected her husband of being a murderer and a sadomasochist, and even after her suspicions are confirmed, learning of his dirty secrets in his treasure box, her love for him causes her to not necessarily overlook but accept him for what he is. Marcia’s nightmares indicate that she knows her husband’s true nature. Hargitay and Calderoni have good chemistry; both characters they play are sadomasochists and really seem made for each other. She wants him to know that she loves him no matter what, and, as a form of bedtime play, she tempts him, inviting his hands to her neck to strangle her just shy of suffocation, among other things, letting him indulge of his sadomasochistic desires. A Polselli trademark emerges while he strangles her, as she appears to be suffering, but somewhere along the way a smile briefly flashes across her face as her eyes roll back for a second.
There are familiar genre motifs running their course, here, and the story's outcome isn’t too much of a surprise, but the murder mystery isn’t necessarily what sells the movie; plot is usually secondary in a polselli film. It is not an issue of what is played out, but rather how it is played out, which is where a lot of the fun is. Delirium emphasizes a sadomasochistic illness in its serial killer protagonist and explores the fascinating marriage relationship between Herbert and his wife, both in reality and in nightmares, which serve as artistic attempts at capturing insanity on film. Polselli really seems to drive everyone to give their all for the camera during the nightmares, where disorienting montages involving chains, orgies, and Sadean elements coupled with maniacal screams and laughter help the film to deliver what its title promises. However, some have claimed that the nightmare sequences are the best part and are unfortunately underused.
From what I’ve seen, Renato Polselli also seems to enjoy incorporating clown-like characters into his scripts, as should be apparent from Steffy in The Reincarnation of Isabel or Totoletto from The Truth According to Satan. Here, in Delirium, the clown-like character is murder suspect and parking lot attendant John Lacey (Tano Cimarosa). The scenes with Lacey exploring Herbert’s mansion to try and clear his name and getting locked in the cellar almost feel a little like padding. It tries to amplify the mystery, in a way similar to Deep Red, with the character searching the big spooky house for clues. He’s the red herring, but he turns out to be more of a goofy hero who suffers from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for better or worse.
The latter parts sink into total madness and I really think that Calderoni owns the last thirty minutes of Delirium. I do enjoy the insanity, and I could never tire of watching Rita Calderoni and her committed acting. I love that chic purple outfit she sports at the beginning.
There’s a suggestive relation between Marcia, her maid (Cristina Perrier), and niece in law, Joaquine (Christa Barrymore), that is sapphic in nature, which manifests itself in her dreams. Joaquine always looks stoned, which I thought was an interesting quality about the actress playing her, who I also similarly remember from The Reincarnation of Isabel.
There are two different versions of this movie, the original International version and an alternate American version, that have been released together on both the Anchor Bay and Blue Underground DVD releases. I think they’re both worth watching. The US version is edited down and quicker paced, though not any less violent. If it was at all possible, this alternate version has a couple more brutal kill scenes that actually outshine. A part in the American version where Herbert murders his other niece, a character not even in the International version, with a plastic bang, is about as cold and realistic as it can get. Additionally, many would recall that it would seem that Herbert resists killing the school girl he picks up, but in the US cut, after urging her to leave his car, he goes after her and strangles her with her own hair; I’ve never seen that before.
Although I do think the international cut should be considered the definitive version, the alternate cut is quite different and does work surprisingly well, extending the story and adding re-watch value. The added angle of making Herbert a Vietnam War vet is plausible, making the film something more topically relevant to the US audience at the time it was made, and it does feel a little more complete, for it does give him a backstory. Though a lot of it is stock, the added war footage wasn’t just intrusively added by distributors, which sometimes happens, but Polselli actually shot the additional war footage, using Hargitay, Calderoni, and Lovecchio in the scenes.
The music for Delirium by Gianfranco Reverberi is absolutely rockin’, particularly the main theme song, How Many Times, and the voice from the singer is exquisite.
A while ago, a friend of mine, Terence*, brought to my attention that Raul Lovecchio (born Ettore Lo Vecchio), who played Inspector Edwards in this film, is a singer, who goes by Raoul, and lends his voice for soundtracks. His voice can be heard on the spaghetti western soundtrack for Kill Them All and come Back Alone. Listen to that voice, and I think you’ll agree that it’s very likely the same one singing How Many Times.
*(Check out Terence’s YouTube page, Rules of Achia, for several great clips and rare movies, like Demons 5, Etoile, and La verita secondo Satana).