The film is directed by Sauro Scavolini, a prolific screenwriter (All the Colors of the Dark, amongst many others) with few directing credits. He is the brother of director Romano Scavolini (Nightmares in a Damaged Brain), who also helmed cinematography for Love and Death in the Garden of the Gods.
The story is fed to us in fragmented bits and pieces from an inquisitive Professor of ornithology (Franz von Treuberg), restoring and listening to a heap of tangled audio recording tape he discovered in the forest outside the villa he’s rented to study the non-indigenous birds of the region. As the Professor listens to the tape recordings, the film cuts to flashbacks of the previous inhabitants of the villa, making the place seem haunted by a past that is both alarming and fascinating. While the past is the primary setting of the story, the film still emphases events in the present, particularly the relation between the professor and the seedy estate administrator, Dominici (Vittorio Duse), giving the Professor dimension and making him more than just an avenue of backstory disclosure.
The mystery element to the past storyline seems to stem from trying to find the truth behind, what seems to be, a suicide attempt from the lady of the house, Azzura (Erika Blanc). One of the movie’s most compelling images is of the fiery red headed, nude Erika Blanc with her wrists slit, lying unconscious in a tub of red water. The conversations between Azzura and her psychoanalyst, Dr. Martin (Ezio Marano), regarding her suicide attempt, her past, her marriage to her husband, Timothy (Rosario Borelli), and her incestuous relation with her brother, Manfredi (Peter Lee Lawrence), permeate throughout the course of the backstory, making the movie feel like a Freudian psychoanalysis. There’s sometimes a lot of reverb in the characters’ voices to indicate the discussions happening in the past, or as in a dream.
Azzura’s marriage to Timothy causes her brother heartache, driving him away from the villa, only to turn up a few months later with a photography studio and a new love interest, Viola (Orchidea de Santis), a free-spirited vagabond. Viola is the one who later finds Azzura with her wrists slit in the tub, and, after saving her life, becomes sexually involved with Azzura. It becomes apparent that Azzura has insidiously been the cause of severe torment for her brother. Despite being a highly disagreeable and unsettling character, Manfredi manages to be sympathetic and, one could say, the tragic hero of what does end up feeling like a Shakespearean play. (Lee Lawrence’s life was tragically cut short. There had been a false notion that he committed suicide, but his wife of the time, Cristina Galbo (What Have You Done to Solange?) recently confirmed that he died after a battle with brain cancer at the age of thirty.)
The emblematic spooky, disturbing, yet beautiful dream sequences are a Eurocult hallmark and are appreciated very much here on this blog, and Love and Death has a nifty little dream scene of its own, related by Azzura to her psychoanalyst, that’s definitely a highlight. The dinner table setup in a lush beautiful garden reminds me of the Mad Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland, which could probably be called a Mad Fried Chicken Party, in this case.
There’s also a frequent tendency from the director to film Erika Blanc walking or running through long passages and alleyways, sometimes with the camera stationed or following from behind. She’s a phenomenal leading lady here as an actor, but as a visual delight, she shines like a fiery idol and really seems to compliment every stunning backdrop. In addition, there’s a pink lamp in the nicely decorated living room that shows up a lot and matches Blanc’s pants and vest in a couple scenes, a nice way of integrating the leading lady into the foreground, as well.
Despite an absence of anything supernatural, Love and Death still manages to feel eerie, with a moody and atmospheric environment that is wonderfully complimented by the dramatic and haunting classical music, by Giancarlo Chiaramello. There does end up being quite a body count, and the chemistry between Blanc and Lee Lawrence is intense, as their characters together embody the Eros & Thanatos theme so aptly promised by the film’s title. The actress playing Viola, de Santis, is a pleasant new face for me, whose presence in the story, driving the infidelity theme, completes a dysfunctional love square.
Patient viewers who don’t mind a bit of melodrama to go with their thrillers will discover a hidden gem in Love and Death that’s also a reminder of how underrated Erika Blanc is.
© At the Mansion of Madness