Oasis Of Fear Review
Umberto Lenzi has quite a number of fans for his career of police thrillers, cannibal movies and irregular gialli. Possibly the most prominent of these followers is the director himself, whose own comments about his quality and pre-eminence amongst peers like Fulci, Argento and Deodato are legends of self-publicity. Like many, I have been taken back about this self-regard after watching the unutterable cannibal movies, the creaky horror flicks and some decidedly ordinary thrillers. Still, he has deserved some acclaim for his excellent crime movies with Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli, and the superb setpieces from his best gialli like Seven Bloodstained Orchids.
A number of his better films have crawled out onto DVD, but several have retained the cachet of being undiscovered by the medium. I genuinely would welcome an English release of Kriminal, and some have craved the release of Dirty Pictures presented here in its longest form yet. After watching it I put that anticipation down to the cult value of a jailbait performance from the 16 year old Ornella Muti rather than the film being an undiscovered gem.
Like The Designated Victim, I do wonder whether this film is really a giallo. It does have the sleaze of Muti's presence and some strong sexual scenes shot with great style. It isn't though very violent, and the central murder happens away from the camera. Thematically, it seems to have more in common with later Italian exploitation flicks like Lado's Night Train Murders and Deodato's House on the Edge of the Park, but even that comparison seems a weak one given Lenzi's famously right wing convictions and those film's pinko sentiments.
The nearest comparison I can make is with Fernando Di Leo's To be Twenty. Both films seem to at first celebrate sexual freedom and personal liberation, before making victims of the naive young people at the movement's heart at the hands of reactionary and established elders. Lenzi's film is much more hypocritical though on the sexual politics front, as the story of young rebellion leading to misadventure seems to be much more conservative - the camera seems to want to enjoy the nubile Muti whilst keeping its moral cards close to its chest about her personal exploitation of her image, and the film's of her. The grasp of the complexities of the political freedom of this younger generation does seems rather loose and simply a welcome opportunity to cop a load of some young flesh.
I am not sure that this luridness was the single intention of the screenplay as the story set-up of the two liberated holiday makers played by Lovelock and Muti stumbling into a bourgeois murder plot seems rife for commentary. The manipulation of the free loving couple by the wealthy Irene Papas rests on her relative appearance as a respected citizen in comparison to the two undesirables, but this isn't really expanded upon with Lenzi opting for a tragedy of misunderstanding in a battle of wits rather than political comment. In essence, the two young fools' disadvantage is more their lack of street smarts than their social position.
The film is technically quite interesting despite the refusal to work the political critique. There are some intriguing and provocative examples of framing, some iconic costumes, and good choices in the casting and production. The central threesome are all well-cast and the swinging main theme captures the sense of period excellently.
Recognising these qualities I can't help but cast doubt on the treatment of the mechanics of the story. If anyone tries to tell you that the double-crosses and thriller twists are novel, then do take that with a pinch of salt as I felt that the tension was poorly evoked and the progression of the drama not always handled competently, let alone with intrigue or innovation. Some of the lack of emotional investment and the hypocrisy really lets the film down, and I have to say that, for all the clever camera angles and thoughtful provocative composition, it does feel as if that the film is more interested in being chic and cool rather than fulfilling the screenplay's intentions. Lenzi seems to settle for a film of effect rather than substance.
So, I am afraid that this isn't the lost cult classic that some have hoped and my mixed view of Lenzi's directorial skills will just have to continue. Oasis of Fear, aka Dirty Pictures, fails to be much other than basic titillation with a criminally underdeveloped set of dramatic ideas.
Transfer and Sound
Brought together using English and Italian language soundtracks and presented throughout in 2.35:1, clearly a lot of time has been put in to assemble the most complete version of this film available. The basic materials are not of a high quality though, and the print is very worn with bleached skintones and damage around the borders of the frame. This may account for why this transfer is so soft and lacking clear and strong colours. Edge enhancement is noticeable, aliasing is present and there seems to be shadowing of the contours of the images.
The sound is similarly flawed with hiss, crackling and hum appearing regularly. The matching of the different language tracks isn't seamless and I noticed one very obvious jump in audio continuity before the scene with the ravens. The English subs are burnt into the Italian language sequences.
I would say that the A/V quality is marginally better than for the same company's release of Ratman, and I imagine that plenty of effort has been put into finding better sources. For fans, this will replace far weaker and incomplete copies from dubious origins, but I can't say this is a good looking or sounding presentation. I think giving it a 4 may be very charitable on my part.
Discs and Special Features
The Shameless Fact Track which made it's debut on The Designated Victim release is present again here but peopled with a few flights of fancy such as pointing out that actors bear a resemblance to other Italian directors. The film's trailer is found with six other Shameless trailers on this dual layer, region-free disc.
Some giallo fans like this film a great deal more than me, and they will find this release a welcome purchase. For the rest of us, I am not sure whether the A/V quality or the film will impress.