Friday, January 26, 2024

The Unnaturals / Schreie in der Nacht (1969)

When poring over the impressively diverse range of genre films from Antonio Margheriti, I realize there’s still a lot more I need to see. I have more blind spots here than I care to admit. I plan on eventually rectifying this issue in good time, maybe starting with some of the derivative sounding ‘80s action/adventure stuff like The Last Blood (1983) or The Ark of the Sun God (1984). I do have a soft spot for retro space movies, so something like Assignment: Outer Space (1960), Margheriti’s first full film as director, would probably make my day. I have been a big fan of Margheriti’s exquisite gothic horror films for quite some time (no surprise there), and I’ve been itching to review one of his least talked about (as far as I can tell) gothic horrors, The Unnaturals / Contronatura

I thought this German / Italian co-production kind of had a classic comic book feel to it (something kind of in the vein of EC’s Crime SuspenStories). It’s also been compared to the krimi thriller, with all the fixings of a crime fueled storyline, only instead of a detective or Scotland Yard, the criminal foil and justice comes in the form of the supernatural beyond. There’s also no denying that the 1920s setting, primarily in a gloomy haunted mansion during a long meditative séance, hosted by none other than Luciano Pigozzi, with a bunch of stranded shady characters seeking shelter on a dark and stormy night is gothic horror as fuck. This is the kind of gathering that I consider a good time.


For some reason, The Unnaturals took a few watches before I was finally comfortable remembering all of the characters, their names, and their relation to one another. It feels like it might be more complex than it needs to be, so it is a rather challenging watch the first time around. If it weren’t for the appealing look and style, not a lot of people would likely care to revisit it, but I sensed it was worth taking a few more deep dives into the film, and I’ve come to decide that The Unnaturals is a pleasurable and relaxing little crime thriller overlapping gothic horror. 


So, I mentioned a primary setting in a dark atmospheric mansion, but this one also has flashbacks galore. I do like this format since you get to learn more about the vice-motivated characters and why they might actually be in the grip of the ever-prevalent hand of cosmic justice (almost predicting Tales from the Crypt 1972, a little). Plus, the dramatic flashbacks to ballroom parties, deadly love triangles, and fox hunting in open fields do help break from the claustrophobia of the closed off house setting. Although, unlike the usual anthology/portmanteau style film, the flashbacks are not separate stories but make up a single but complex backstory relating everyone present.


While watching The Unnaturals, I remember thinking that it would make a pretty good book. It turns out the film is based on a short story Eppure bussano alla porta (roughly translated to “Yet They Knock on the Door”) by Dino Buzzati

There’s quite a bit of setup before we get to the seance; we actually don’t get to the mansion until twenty minutes into the movie. The film takes its time to set up its main five players, starting in (what better place for the rich and decadent) a casino during the roaring ‘20s.


Business tycoon Archibald (Giuliano RaffaelliThe Long Hair of Death 1964) and his lawyer / accountant Ben (Joachim Fuchsberger - Dead Eyes of London 1961) are meeting up at a casino on a rainy night before travelling by motorcar to a place in Brighton. They need to deliver important estate documents in the morning that Ben has recently prepared, now that a ten-year statute of limitations period has passed. Along for the trip are Archibald’s administrator Alfred (Claudio Camaso - A Bay of Blood 1971) and his illicit lover Margarete (Dominique Boschero - Argoman the Fantastic Superman 1967) (who’s also Archibald’s mistress). Waiting in the backseat of the car is the gothic lesbian domme mommy, er, I mean, Ben’s business and pleasure partner Vivian (Marianne KochA Fistful of Dollars 1964), who seems to have an intense fixation on Margarete.


After everyone piles in, during the car ride, we get to know these characters a bit more during a flashback segment from, apparently, ten years prior, as we learn that Archibald was regularly cheated on by Margaret with the, then, newly hired Albert, who in turn was cheating on his love, Diana (Gudrun Schmidt). Both women were pulling strings for Albert’s success with Archibald’s business. 

It’s revealed one night that while Albert and Margaret were making love in the greenhouse, a lovelorn Vivian had watched the two lovers from outside through a window. Movie audiences in 1969 would be forgiven for assuming Vivian is also in love with Albert, but as we find a short time later, she really lusts and broods over Margaret. It shouldn’t be surprising that none of this (Albert and Margaret’s cheating, Archibald and Ben’s shady estate dealings, and Vivian’s sexual aggressivity) is going to end well.


Back in the present, the Brighton-bound motorcar eventually gets stuck in the mud, and the scoundrels are forced to take refuge in a nearby mansion (the rain drenched walk through the thunder and woods to the house is actually done quite well, with rain effects, swinging branches, and enthusiastic performances from the cast). 

When they arrive to the grounds of an old hunting lodge, the “uninvited” guests just kind of help themselves to entry, as the door seemingly opens for them. With the tempest outside, it’s assumed the proprietors will understand.


Once inside, they come across a strange man played by Pigozzi named Uriat (sometimes spelled Uraia in the subtitles) who seemingly is quite welcoming and hospitable to the travelers in the storm. His spooky mother (Marianne Leibl), a kind of psychic medium, happens to be stuck in a trance, unable to hear or see anything. The medium mentions a name that alarms both Ben and Archibald, who soon find themselves joining Uriat and his mother in a séance in order to try and break her out of her trance and learn more about what is going on. Meanwhile, Vivian takes a weary Margaret to a room upstairs.


The Unnaturals could have been a plain old story about crime, greed, and deceit, but there’s an added touch of the erotic with the inclusion of the sexually aggressive sapphic vixen Vivian. She broods in her lovelorn state, craving the love of a younger woman, Margaret (as well as Elisabeth (Helga Anders) during flashback segments). Vivian gives the film its edginess. I like to think that she is the cool one in the group, as she usually stands out, looking pretty badass in the background during some of the séance scenes. I can’t help feeling that Margheriti might have been channeling the predatory lesbian vampire a little with Vivian. It’s likely that we’re not supposed to like Vivian, but what can I say? This wouldn’t feel like much of a Eurocult film without her. 


Like with the previously reviewed Night of the Damned (1971), this one suffers from a lack of exterior establishing shots of the haunted house. Seeing as this is a Margheriti film, I’m surprised we didn’t get at least a mansion miniature for the exterior (as in The Virgin of Nuremberg 1963). Nonetheless, the interior set is quite marvelous, being a bit more on the dark and creepy side with plenty of atmosphere, prominent lightning effects from a grand blue window in the background, and stuffed animals scattered about the place. As I realized when watching Simona (1974), animal taxidermy is an interesting metaphor for the stagnant preserved past in a time frozen mansion.


The Unnaturals has to contain one of Luciano Pigozzi’s finest roles and one of his finest moments during the climax. Fans of the usually mild mannered Pigozzi won’t want to miss seeing him lose his shit at one point in this. 

I get that The Unnaturals may not be as meaty with its mystery storyline as it tries to be. The intense but old-fashioned soundtrack by Carlo Savina does lend a bit more excitement to the mystery. It’s also a bit convoluted and hard to follow, and as I said, it took a couple rewatches before it began to sink in a little. The flashback parts are supposed to take place ten years before the present narrative (if it weren’t for the hair color change on Archibald and Ben, you wouldn’t really be able to tell), but it feels more like a couple days or maybe a week prior. Despite its faults, we do get a pretty cool buildup and payoff. You don’t really have to be closely following to know that the characters are not good people and that something will eventually have to give with regards to justice (or is it vengeance?).


When I first watched it, I couldn’t quite decide if I had come across something special with The Unnaturals. I was eager to revisit it to take in more and hopefully elucidate it a little more for myself. Despite familiar genre conventions, there is something unusual about it. It’s beautifully and creatively shot by cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini and is in need of another physical media upgrade. It does have a pretty unique if awkward structure, numerous segments that will stay with you even after forgetting some of the finer details of the storyline, and unlikeable characters who still have appeal. The dialogue is actually pretty good, especially that coming from Uriat, his mother, and Vivian when she is in full seductress mode. 

If anything, it’s another worthwhile Margheriti film off the checklist for anyone looking to explore more from the genre diverse filmmaker. I would think it would pair well with a blackberry wine, the same “Blood” Uriat indulges in. 

© At the Mansion of Madness



  1. Just discovered your blog this morning over coffee … my god, feels like Christmas morning at my house! Such INTERESTING and well written reviews, and superb taste in movies (mirroring my own, of course.) Think I’ll put on another pot and read another dozen or so reviews - to hell with my chore list. Bravo!

    1. Gosh. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. This place has become like my baby that I like to keep alive. It brings me great pleasure to know that it can still delight fellow Eurocult/horror fans who can resonate with the material and hopefully find something new, too.

  2. I'm a sucker for old dark house movies, and the Italians have made a number of notable ones. This sounds at lot like Something Creeping in the Dark (1971), with a motley collection of people seeking shelter in a creepy old house, a seance, all kinds of tension, including sexual, among the participants, and plot that's hard to follow with just one viewing. And we wouldn't have it any other way! :)

    1. Same here! There will never be a shortage, so my work will never be done, and I'm actually ok with that. Thanks for mentioning Something Creeping in the Dark; I actually had forgotten about that one. Surprising since I reviewed it years ago: