La Bambola di Satana isn’t a very well-known example of a giallo film; for quite a while, it’s been lost to contemporary viewers. The most memorable information about it has nothing to do with the plot itself but the way it came to fruition: something of a passion project for writer/director Ferruccio Casapinta, who received a grant to make his one and only film. Casapinta makes no attempts to buck the trends of the giallo genre, and in truth he steals many of his ideas for the film from many other giallo directors. What La Bambola di Satana becomes is a series of tenuously-related genre concepts that are spaced out much too far within the plot, and the film often suffers because of its egregiously slow pacing.
It’s interesting to see La Bambola di Satana falter so much despite what sounds on paper to be an overloaded plot. The film finds Elizabeth (Erna Schurer) visiting her recently deceased uncle’s castle to hear the reading of his will, traveling with her fiance Jack (Roland Carey). When she gets there, she’s bombarded by demands that she sell the castle as per her uncle’s initial hopes; the governess Carol (Lucia Bomez), dressed entirely in black with tight hair buns and large librarian glasses, urges her to think about selling to their neighbor Reynaud (Ettore Ribotta), and Reynaud himself makes some encouraging remarks as well. But quickly Elizabeth finds out there is a ghost haunting the place, calling her name at night (because her ancestor had the same name), a black-gloved man walking around the estate, and black-veiled figures in her dreams that strip her down and whip her in the torture dungeon.
All of these things would generally make for an entertaining, if over-the-top, giallo tale. But Casapinta has no idea how to juggle all of these themes while crafting a sensible plot, and far too much of La Bambola di Satana is devoted to empty dialogue, piercing giallo gazes, and a woman who is often seen on the outskirts of the castle with little characterization provided for her until her important reveal during the conclusion. Casapinta’s endless dialogue about estate sales often gets in the way of any development of the characters that will come to be an integral part of the killer’s reveal.
Still, that doesn’t keep Casapinta from spoiling a lot of the surprises in store for Elizabeth. Nearly everything about the mystery at the heart of La Bambola di Satana is revealed early on in the film; we know the why, the what, and part of the who, but the second person’s identity is kept under wraps until the very end. The question, though, is why Casapinta thought it was a good idea to give the viewer this knowledge, because it eliminates any suspense that Casapinta attempts to create when Elizabeth experiences ghostly moans in the night or an erotic dream. Unlike the later, similar film The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave – which keeps the audience wondering whether its protagonist is really experiencing supernatural events – La Bambola di Satana leaves no room for that kind of tension. The only thing missing is the identity, which turns out to be as expected.
La Bambola di Satana does have some interesting imagery, though – along with a great color scheme – and it’s unfortunate that Casapinta couldn’t find a better balance in the pacing. The eerie moments are sporadically spaced throughout the film, and ultimately Casapinta relies on just a few short dream sequences and the presence of the killer to keep things interesting. Most of the thematic parts of the generic giallo are squandered, although Casapinta makes use of its beautiful female leads (in particular Schurer, who undresses multiple times for some tasteful nudity).
But La Bambola di Satana lacks the finesse and polish of the giallo films it attempts to ape. Its director’s inexperience is clear, and although the cast puts in a solid effort, the pacing and tension of the film can’t match what at first seems to be a pulpy exercise in the genre. While portions of the film manage to create some memorable imagery, it doesn’t make up for the hellish boredom of the film’s first two acts.
Twilight Time’s limited release of La Bambola di Satana (in an edition of 3000 copies) looks, frankly, glorious. The video quality is consistently great, with only a couple of instances of grainier imagery. The color preservation is particularly nice, making the many reds and greens of the film stand out.
As for audio, the 1.0 Italian mono track provided sounds crisp and clear, with no drop-outs or sound issues. No problem with audio volume either. Twilight Time has released an excellent transfer of the film, probably the best you’ll ever find.
Twilight Time has provided a nice Blu-Ray package for La Bambola di Satana with a pull-out essay with full-color photos. English subtitles are included, although these contain a few grammatical and spelling errors.
The only real extra on this disc is an audio commentary from film historians David Del Valle and Derek Botelho. It adds good value to this release because the audio track may or may not be more entertaining than the film itself; the knowledgeable content is certainly worth its own listen/watch. Another audio track, the isolated film score, is also included. The limited special features, though, might throw some off from purchasing this release.