Lamberto Bava has blood coursing through his veins.
I know what you’re saying: Doesn’t everyone? No, not like Bava. This is the maestro of giallo, the man whose father (Mario Bava) pretty much created the Italian sub-genre. He has cut his teeth on many horror films, perhaps most notably the grotesque meta-thrillers Demons and Demons 2. The blood coursing through his veins is pulsating and ready to spurt — one only needs to look at his body of work to see that the red stuff overflows.
With 1992’s Body Puzzle, Bava made an effective slasher flick that proves to be a true head-scratcher. Tracy (the lovely Joanna Pacula) just lost her husband in a motorcycle accident. As she deals with her grief, strange things begin to occur. A killer (François Montagut) is on the loose and he’s leaving different body parts from his victims in Tracy’s house. Somehow there is a connection between the morbid gifts and Tracy’s dead husband (although the clues remain frustratingly obscure).
Helping Tracy with her predicament is police officer Michael (Tomas Arana), the repository of the movie’s most cliche lines of dialogue. Together this unlikely duo needs to outsmart the slasher before it’s too late.
On a very basic level, Body Puzzle shouldn’t work as well as it does. The plot is needlessly confusing. The script by Bava and Todoro Corra is passable. The dubbing can be oddly out of sync. Still, the director is able to spin a tale of intensity and menace that actually leaves the audience disoriented and scared. Body Puzzle, in many ways, feels like the bastard son of The Silence of the Lambs; it’s certainly not as effective as the Jonathan Demme classic, but it has moments that are terrifyingly suspenseful.
The movie holds together mostly because of the merits of each actor. Pacula is stunning, that rare exotic beauty with the sexy accent. Montagut is frightening and totally dedicated to his part. He has a face of expressionless stamina. There are few close calls in his slayings; he simply dispenses of his victims in the most mechanical of manners. He doesn’t even talk, just kills.
The best sequence in the 100-minute movie is when the killer goes after a lifeguard at the bottom of a swimming pool. Bava expertly films the scene, heightening the danger and leaving us with an uncomfortable feeling of dread.
Rarovideo has put together the movie’s recent DVD release. There aren’t too many special features, but a nice booklet is included about Bava and company.
Looking back, some 20 years after its initial release, Body Puzzle feels oddly influential. They don’t make movies like this anymore, but they certainly make television shows like this. Watching the movie is like watching an extended episode of Criminal Minds or CSI. It’s a police procedural with all of the necessary elements: beautiful damsel in distress, gumshoe detective, strange killer, convoluted plot with twisty turns.
The movie is popcorn entertainment that is entertaining, frightening and confusing. Two out of three ain’t bad.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Directed by Lamberto Bava
Written by Bava and Todoro Corra
Starring Johanna Pakula, Tomas Arana, François Montagut and Gianni Garko
Running time: 100 minutes