Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Per Sempre (Italy, 1987)

(Spoilers.) Also known as Until Death, this film is occasionally touted as an unofficial sequel to the popular Canuck horror film of 1980, The Changeling (trailer), which was directed by the facile Peter Medak (the man behind the much-maligned trashspectacle, Species II  [1988 / trailer]). In form and substance, however, Per Sempre owes little to that slow but affective and effective ghost story.
The third of four Italian TV movies originally broadcast as a segment of the horror series Brivido giallo (1986–87), to which the other Lamberto Bava DVD release Graveyard Disturbance (1987) also belongs, the central driver of the plot of Per Sempre owes a far more noticeable nod to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946 / trailer or 1981 / trailer) than The Changeling, though in Lamberto Bava's film the postman — or fate — never even rings once, let alone twice; instead, the slowly crumbling, murder-overshadowed relationship is confronted with a far more tangible if supernatural entity. At which point, in truth, the film also begins to owe aspects of its plot to Mario Bava's last film before he died of a heart attack in 1980, the 1977 Italian horror flick Shock, aka Beyond the Door II (trailer); in that film, as in Per Sempre, a couple disintegrates when faced by the revengeful ghost of the woman's murdered husband. In Lambert's film, however, the ghost is oddly if unexplainably corporal. 
Per Sempre opens with a scene that initially could be misconstrued as a strained rainy night rush to get the pregger wife to the hospital on time, but this trite concept is quickly cast aside when it becomes clear that a corpse lies wrapped up in the back of the van. No, the pregnant Linda (Gioia Scola of Conquest [1983 / trailer] and Raiders of Atlantis [1983 / trailer]) and her handyman lover Carlo (David Brandon of The Emperor Caligula: The Untold Story [1982 / trailer] and StageFright: Aquarius [1987]) are on their way to do away with the body of the inconvenient husband Luca (Roberto Pedicini). A short time later, the film jumps forward roughly a half-decade and we find Linda and Carlo are now a squabbling couple running the locally popular waterside restaurant and boat rental that Linda took over after her husband "left for up north"; Carlo, a paranoid wreck who is convinced that everyone suspects them, lacks all fatherly feelings for her sensitive son Alex (Marco Vivio of Demons 2 [1986 / trailer]), while Linda's enjoyment of the relationship seems both forced and confined to Carlo's exceptional bedroom technique — though they seem to always need an argument as foreplay. Into this fragile constellation a hunky stranger arrives from "up north," the good-looking Marco (Urbano Barberini of Demons [1985 / trailer]), who has a soft spot for Alex and seems to know more about the house and the couple than should be... 
The version of Per Sempre we saw was, regrettably, obviously gone at with a hacksaw despite the DVD box claim that it was "the full version"; thus we missed such important scenes — some of which are found in the trailer above — as that of the "dead" Luca regaining consciousness long enough to grab Linda's earring (a trinket that plays an important part later in the film), and also suffered some odd gaps in continuity (one important death goes from bottle-over-the-head-but-conscious to corpse-on-the-floor, while an earlier scene infers a scissor-stabbing never shown), but though these and other obvious cuts do dampen the viewer's enjoyment or cause occasional momentary perplexity, they in no way hamper the effective mood and mostly excellent acting that infuse what is almost a chamber play consisting of four main actors (five if you count the occasional appearance of the policeman [Giuseppe Stefano De Sando]) and one primary location.
The hunky Urbano Barberini is oddly charming while simultaneously unnerving as Marco, and David Brandon's Carlo is a convincingly macho and dislikeable asshole struggling to maintain control of things even as he falls apart; the most accolades, however, are due Gioia Scola, who plays Linda as an oddly slippery figure: both motherly and at times slutty, Linda, whether decked in sexy skimpies or dirty work clothes, remains both likeable and a figure of identification throughout the film despite, in the end, basically being just as much of a murderer as Carlo — and, in the long run, a far more cooler-headed one. If she is redeemed at all in the end, it is only due to the fact that her motherly love and instincts are greater than her own ego... 
Per Sempre does leave a few glaring questions unanswered by the time it draws to a close, the smallest of which being why it took more than a half-decade for the revengeful ghost to return and seek retribution. No, the biggest questions never answered are the what and why and how of his appearance as Marco and why, if his goal is to destroy the murderous pair, he doesn't just do it instead of dragging things out and even terrorizing his innocent son (initially in his dreams and, towards the end, in reality). But then, were he not to do so, the film would have very little to build its (effective) suspense and aura of guilt and disintegration upon — so let's ignore those nagging inconsistencies and enjoy the movie for what it is: a tight, creepy and effective supernatural thriller that, unlike so many of Bava's films we've seen, eschews all unnecessary and mood-destroying comedy.

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