A Mutual Oblivion: on Umberto Lenzi's Spasmo

Fingers dissolve to black behind credits: female mannequins are posed, roped, and stabbed through the breast, propped, and pinned to trees in the Italian dark. Spasmo. It's in the blood. This is not just an Umberto Lenzi giallo about the history of mistakes that brothers conceal, or about beautiful women who lie face-down on sunlit beaches to forget, pretend to forget who they are. Instead, it's the proliferation of the delusions of an already unstable male mind spurred to fragment-spiral patterns, yellow-edged, cracked, splintered lust of the choke-by disappearance, and the ultimate madness of a personal history. Or the tortured desire to know one's self while not wanting to know one's self. And in this epistemological lust, the roots of self-deception burst through layers of exposed unreality. The woman on the beach is the catalyst, placed in that particular spot by a brotherly force with the intent to corrupt her male onlooker. A crooked set-up, indeed, indeed.

Giallo: the shattered lens of a bewildering violence. Watch duplicity snake to bits of flesh, torn garments. Of the shattered psyche's delusion. Everything is unstable, a cinematic language not meant to be witnessed for the sake of clarity. And the woman on the beach flees the scene without notice, but the man has already been infected by this femme fatale presence as if he knows her, thinks he knows her (a-ha!). Oddly, a Spanish fortress hovers abandoned in the distance as a refuge, perhaps. But, here, all is lost. The man remains confused, left out in the open air, a space of chaotic horizon expanding: sand, water, sky unbound, thought unseen. An inner spasm of identity itching to scream. The cloak of his seeming ordinariness, as someone we can trust, reveals a sinister nature brewing (she doesn't trust a man with a beard), but instead we are given the chase, the lure, the seduction, the trapped self. When he meets her again, they fall in love. A splendid mistake.

Fret not, lover. I'll vanish to darkness as a bird of prey or a double scotch on the rocks of your Tuscanian tide and become plaster eyes and still hips, fingers lovingly stained with fake blood, painted smiles of our mutual oblivion.

The grip slips, jolts to hands tightening over minor chords, fuzzed-out guitar lines blurring to echoing chants, reverbed moans. A spasm to signify the physical climax of the sexual act. A muscular contraction in the limbs. An outburst of violent or erratic action as in a bullet to the gut of an intruder from a gun that shoots blanks. A paroxysm of curses. Fake blood on the floor. Of forgotten wards. Of disappearing bodies. The screech of a bird slamming its body into the bars of its confined enclosure. The body in a sudden state of uncontrolled movement: to the bed, to the floor, to the violence that has been sunk under the murk of psychical repression. A dose of the body becoming droplets of hate, turning other. The lights have gone dim, sputter out. A hardening of the skin (of the self). The nonhuman spasm (the mold fleshing, limbs posed open to invite one into the fold of the non-human). A shiver of pressure in the forehead.

Bring a knife. She's not real. Push the car off the cliff. The mannequin as she who cannot spasm. As a secret lover. As protection.

Our protagonist and the woman from the beach escape to a lakeside chateau. The owner, a friend of the woman (or so she says), is out of town. This is the set-up that pushes intrigue through an entrance into the unknown; we know the worst is yet to come. She insists they break in, stay the night. No one will know. No one would care even if they knew: mounting doom, erotic hints of a pivot-point within the giallo that echoes the isolated fragmentation of the protagonist's mind. Then, amidst his paranoia, his escalated fright, the lights go out. There's someone outside: a sound, a shadow, a ripple, a tick. He's afraid of the dark, afraid of his own inner obliteration. Of what pushes his memory to tighten his fists around skin, and squeeze. There are sides of a person we don't want to confront. A tightness around the eyes, a strained neck clenching shut. When the lights come on, the owner of the chateau, a portly older gentleman and his vivacious female companion are suddenly present. Instead of calling the authorities, they invite the couple to stay the night. Thus, the mind ruptures slightly, for the owner was one of the man's doctors. The man's lover pushing him to break.

Giallo as an invitation to entanglement among the crags and what dwells in the lure of kindness. There are always hidden intentions. Giallo as misidentification (who are these people, really?). Later, the man hears steps approach, a sudden knock at the door to his room. It's the vivacious woman. Chaos glimmers in the man's perception, an armored memory he would rather not rekindle. Desire overpowers reason. The armor shatters, revealing the ache of his mind. He ravages her on the bed, forcefully. He strangles her to death. Spasmo. The chateau becomes the window through which he sees himself as he was as a child, a boy with severe mental ruptures. Violent tendencies. Spasms of insanity. She was his nurse. Her death is his orgasm.

The exterior movement of the film, of a film in which the viewer is caught up in what appears to be a perverse murder mystery tears to strands of soft skin, folds back in on itself as it drives into the protagonist's horrifying past. He's dangerous. His brother, a wealthy industrialist (family business/dead father) has hired a man who has hired another man to murder this spasmodic killer of women. There is no longer anyone to root for. We are all stricken by the insanity of becoming.

I've seen the pale redness in her eyes, blood and ginger locks entwined over a dead face stricken on the bed. The nurse. I used to have a nurse. The quiver in the eyeball. A stripping away to squeal. To escape the confines of this stifling haunt.

Spasmo splinters apart, messy, as the viewer discovers the horror of the protagonist's childhood. Even to the end where he kisses and caresses his lover, the woman who washed up on the beach, hallucinating her as a nurse at the mental facility he was sent to as a child; he strangles her, too. Goodbye, lover. But whatever disease he suffers is hereditary. A malady of the blood. This explains the brother's motive in arranging the kill. It's not that his brother, in trying to have him killed, is doing it solely to rid the world of a "bad man," but it is revealed that his brother is a collector of female mannequins to quell his own sexual perversions. He keeps them in a red-curtained, lavish room. The brother walking through a room of female mannequins, each mannequin dressed and posed throughout the space. The ultimate experience of disappearance from one's self in the mirror of the unmoving other. To be caught among those who cannot speak, cannot move, cannot act on or engage the other in any meaningful way. Or having a brother murdered in order to prevent him from harming anyone else. And, simultaneously, these are the defenses we concoct to keep ourselves from dissolving into lunacy. The brother withdraws a knife, stabs a mannequin.

And the body twitches under the veil of imagination. A faint crushing ache below the skin, a pulsation in the nerves that hold back the horror that the body (as an object able to wrest control from its host) strives to undertake: a fight in the bathroom, beard shards in the sink, a strange car in the driveway. The body in throes, a seizure of guilt unleashed. A world struck yellow, destroyed by red streaks of hot blood on the walls. Drip. Drip. The blood-splatters form words to the black ballad of your death.

I'm wrenching away. The night is a plaster mold to stick myself into the hate that boils over the skin. And this is not skin I'm stabbing, but something harder, more familial. The pressure of the blade as it penetrates the abdomen. Choke, baby, choke. The heart of memory. No meat. A sinking relief like palms cupping clumps of sand, cupping sunlight, struggling to hold onto the semblance of what it means to be a person.