I found Simon Wright, writer of the horror blog Creatures of Light and Darkness, over on the Reddit horror threads talking about House by the Cemetery, and then before you know it I was asking him to join in for Mayoween. Unsurprisingly, he chose a giallo – Luigi Cozzi’s rare film Demons 6: De Profundis, otherwise known as The Black Cat – and below he takes time out to explain the history behind the film as well as his own review. It’s a great, detailed read, so don’t miss it!
As Italian horror fans will be well aware, Dario Argento finally followed up his two hallucinatory masterpieces Suspiria and Inferno a whole twenty-seven years after the latter’s release with The Mother of Tears. While reviled by most, it does have its fans, such as yours truly. Now, I’m not going to attempt to argue it’s even close to being in the same league as its predecessors, as it obviously isn’t… but people often seem to forget two crucial things when approaching it. First and foremost, the bottom started falling out of the Italian film industry during the eighties and into the nineties, meaning directors had to make do with budgets that were a small fraction of what they’d been used to during Italian horror’s Golden Age. And two, the Dario Argento of 2007 is (for better or, as is generally agreed, worse) a dramatically different filmmaker to the one of the seventies and eighties. But we’re not here to defend Argento’s latter day output… we’re here to talk about a mother from another brother…
Originally intended as an unofficial follow-up to Argento’s phantasmagorical fairy tales, De Profundis has a production history perhaps as convoluted as the film’s plot would become… in fact, the latter is no doubt partly the fault of the former. Essentially the story goes something like this: Daria Nicolodi, who played an integral part in the creation of Suspiria and Inferno (she and Argento also co-authored a daughter, Asia, before their relationship disintegrated), worked on the project with Cozzi until it became apparent that the writer-director (who is a huge fan and also a friend of Dario’s) intended to make a tribute rather than a follow up… and as you might imagine, she had no interest at all in doing that. As a means of paying homage to Argento, as opposed to trying to follow him, Cozzi utilised the old film-within-a-film conceit, making the story about what befalls those foolish enough to try and make another movie based on the same material. Where it starts to get more complicated is that apparently the US distributor insisted on the Black Cat title, as they were intending to release a series of Poe films. Now admittedly the links between that classic tale and this movie are tenuous, to put it mildly, but remember that this was also known under the title Demons 6. The last point to mention before we get to the film proper is that the reason it’s so obscure is because said US distributor went under prior to its release and the print seemingly disappeared with it. As a result (and as far as I’m aware), it’s not commercially available… but the intrepid among you will no doubt find it easily enough.
The movie opens (after some night-time driving footage, backed by rockin’ 80’s music!) in a way that will be familiar to those who’ve seen Riccardo Freda’s Murder Obsession or Michele Soavi’s Stagefright… i.e. what seems to be a stalk-and-slaying scene turns out to be part of a film being made within the film. And funnily enough, said film is being directed by none other than Michele Soavi, though he’s called Carl here. It seems to be a giallo related to Poe’s Black Cat and stars one Anne Ravenna (played by Florence Guérin), who doesn’t really care for the project or her director. She needn’t worry though, as her husband Marc (Urbano Barberini, of Argento’s Opera and Lamberto Bava’s Demons), who also directs, is working on a film that he seems confident will be a smash hit… yup, you guessed it, he’s the poor fool planning to make a movie based on the same material as Argento’s… and of course he wants his wife to play the lead role of Levana the witch. In a nice tipping of the hat moment, both Argento and Suspiria are mentioned when this idea is first being laid out to the prospective leading lady; we even get a snatch of the film’s famous music, though somewhat bizarrely this is played over a still from Inferno.
The first intimations of this new project being an extremely bad idea come later that night, when Anne, after starting to read Marc’s script treatment, puts on a black veil in an attempt to start embodying Levana. Almost immediately, the real witch crashes through her mirror shouting something to the effect that Anne can never be her, while wrestling her to the ground and regurgitating green vomit all over her face. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is all revealed to be a dream (e.g. no smashed mirror or green puke when Marc finds her)… or is it? Well yes, I guess it is… and one full of ominous portents, terrible make-up effects and Argento inspired psychedelic lighting!
Now, it’s at about this point where the film starts to go off the rails for me. There’s still plenty to enjoy from this point in, but frankly the story starts to spiral out of control. Of course, narrative was never a major strength of Suspiria or Inferno’s but plot wasn’t really the main point there. Sure there was a story in both, but it was essentially a jumping off point for a series of atmospheric, purely cinematic set-pieces, where as in Cozzi’s movie it seems like they’re actually trying to offer an explanation for what is transpiring. I won’t attempt to lay out the particulars here as it gets ridiculously convoluted. All I’ll say is that you may need to be patient with it, though I’ll fully admit the movie tried my own patience at times.
Furthermore, I’d suggest that it could probably be at least five, maybe ten minutes shorter… heck, with a bit of editing in the right places, the problems I’ve just mentioned could probably be somewhat dealt with.
A couple of cast related caveats: the film features both Caroline Munro (as Anne’s friend and rival Nora), who has appeared in such genre gems as Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Slaughter High, to name just a couple, and Karina Huff, who plays occult expert Esther Semerani. This second actress is probably unfamiliar to most, as she doesn’t seem to have had many screen credits, but she did play a pivotal role in another Italian horror production from 1989… Lucio Fulci’s House of Clocks, which I’d highly recommend to fans of the director. And finally, Brett Halsey also appears, playing movie mogul Leonard Levin, the man planning to produce Levana. It probably isn’t giving anything away to state that this guy seems like bad news from the very first time we meet him.
So, to cut to the chase, what’s the verdict? I think it’s fair to say this probably isn’t for the casual horror fan, unless they have an affiliation for strange cinema and late eighties borderline schlock. But for those who have caught the Italian horror bug, it’s certainly worth a watch at least once. And in a way, it’s perhaps as worthy a follow-up to Suspiria and Inferno as Argento’s own (though I find that one more consistently entertaining)… and for one thing, it certainly has more of that gorgeous coloured gel lighting that those earlier films were famous for than Mother of Tears does. My other main problem with De Profundis, apart from the plot bogging the film down, is what I would term “sub-Demons silliness”… and by this I’m referring to the aforementioned green puke and Levana’s frankly crap looking make-up… though to be fair, I suppose she did rise from the grave, so was probably going to look pretty crusty. And seeing as this was also marketed as Demons 6, maybe they had to throw that kind of stuff in there to appease some of the money men.
All these problems aside, this is a reasonably entertaining (though horrendously over-plotted) hidden gem of a film. And considering its vintage (the late eighties being a far cry from the Golden Age of Italian horror cinema) and the various problems befell it, it’s pretty amazing it’s as good as it is. So sure, not one for everyone, but hey, which film out there really is?