The first five and a half minutes of 1972’s All the Colors of the Dark (also known as Day of the Maniac and They’re Coming to Get You!) subvert what I called the “graphic beauty” of the giallo in some intriguing ways.
An outdoor scene of a stream slowly darkens, replaced by an old crone with blackened teeth, dressed as a child and a dead pregnant woman are both made up to be anything but the gorgeous creatures we’ve come to expect from these films; even star Edwige Fenech (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Five Dolls for an August Moon and so many more that I could go on and on about) isn’t presented in her normal role of a sex symbol. She’s covered in gore, eyes open and lifeless. As the camera zooms around the room and begins to spin, we see a road superimposed and hear a car crash. Even when Edwige’s character in this film, Jane Harrison, wakes up to take a shower, we’re not presented with the voyeuristic spoils that one expects from giallo’s potent stew of the fantastique and the deadly. She stands fully clothed, the water more a caustic break with the dream world than an attempt at seducing the viewer or cleaning herself.
Again — in a genre where words possess little to no meaning — we are forced to wait five and a half minutes until the first dialogue. Richard, (George Hilton, Blade of the Ripper) her husband, bemoans that he must leave, but feels that he can’t. His therapy is a glass of blue pills and lovemaking that we watch from above, his penetration of her intercut with violent imagery of a knife entering flesh. Instead of the thrill we expect from this coupling, we only sense her distance from the proceedings.
As Richard leaves her behind, we get the idea of the madness that exists within their apartment: a woman makes out on the sidewalk with a young hippy man, who asks when he’ll ever see her again. Mary, (Marina Malfatti, The Night Evelyn Came Out of Her Grave, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) a mysterious blonde, glares down at him, somewhat knowingly. His wife looks lost and trapped. Without dialogue, we’ve already sensed that some Satanic conspiracy is afoot. Echoes of Rosemary’s Baby? Sure, but you could say that about every occult themed 1970’s film — the influence is too potent, a tannis root that has infected all of its progeny.
Last year, a car crash took the life of Jane’s unborn child. Her sister Barbara (Nieves Navarro, Death Walks at Midnight, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals) has advised therapy, something that Richard laughs at. As Jane waits to see the doctor, she sees a man with the bluest eyes (Ivan Rassimov from Planet of the Vampires and Django in Don’t Wait, Django…Shoot!) — eyes we’ve seen before, eyes that hint at blood and murder and madness.
Even when she’s surrounded by people, such as on the subway, Jane is lost in her thoughts and in another world, one of inky blackness and isolation punctuated only by the cool blue eyes of the sinister man who tracks her everywhere she goes. Even the teeming masses of the city make her feel more lost; only the light of the above ground world erase the nightmare of her stalker. That is — until he finds her in the park, where she screams for him to stop following her. The camera is detached, following her from high above, watching her run away, needing the refuge of her home. Even then, the man is still there, banging on the door, demanding to be part of her reality.
The thing is — Richard has no faith in his wife’s sanity. And even when he’s telling her sister, Barbara, how he doesn’t trust psychiatry, he’s also watching her undress in a mirror. This scene really hints that they’ve had sex in the past (perhaps the past was just five minutes ago).
Jane finally finds a kindred soul — her neighbor, Mary, who we saw earlier in the windows. She tells Jane of the sabbath, the black mass and how it helped her. She sees Jane as a lost soul who needs to be saved and agrees to take her to her church.
The blue eyed man returns, chasing Jane past a spiraling staircase, ax in hand, as the camera spins, making us dizzy as it cuts from the building to the man to Jane’s car to the man. Jane demands to be allowed to go to the sabbath, as she fears the madness that seems ready to overtake her.
As we approach the old mansion where the rite will occur, we feel more a sense of belonging, a warmer color palette instead of the washed out nature of the urban sprawl that we’ve experienced until now. Everything is lit by candle. Mary appears to have achieved a glow and Jane stands in stark contrast to the beatific zombies of the assembled congregation. A taloned priest murders a dog in front of Jane’s eyes as Mary caresses her (trust me, this isn’t a Fulci realistic dog murder, although I hid my mutt Angelo’s eyes for this scene). The priest tells her that if she drinks the blood, she will be free. Hands and lips and bodies overtake her as an orgy breaks out, a bacchanal that she seems to want none of. This sex is presented as horror, as anything but pleasure, yet Jane seems ill equipped to resist.
Immediately, we see her enjoying her husband, no longer frigid and everything back to normal, as he says. However, Jane tells her that she doesn’t feel real any longer. She walks to the bathroom, seeing multiple reflections of herself that harken back to the kaleidoscope effect we saw as the priest took her on the altar.
No matter what peace and love and sex happens, Jane can’t escape the blue eyed man. Even on a romantic lunch date with her husband, he’s there, outside, waiting for her. A taxi drives her back to her home, the only sanctuary against the invasion that the man presents. As she goes through her husband’s effects, she finds a book of the supernatural, emblazoned with a pentagram. He claims that it’s just a second-hand book and accuses her of hiding things from him.
Jane returns to the Satanic church, this time willing giving herself over and actually seeming to enjoy lovemaking for the first time in this film. Mary intones, “Now you’ll be free.” Again, the long fingernailed priest takes her while the blue eyed man watches her, his hands covered in blood. The members of the church dance around her as Mary calls to her. The priest tells her that Mary no longer exists. She is free to go, as she brought Jane to the church. The final act is for Jane to murder her, to send her away. Jane screams that she can’t do it, but Mary tells her that they must part, that this act will free her as she lowers herself onto the dagger that Jane clutches.
Jane awakens, fully clothed, in a field. The blue eyed man is there, telling her “Now you are one of us, Jane. It’s impossible to renounce us.” He offers his hand, telling her to follow him. She’s expected. He takes her to an altar that is the same design as the pendant we just saw her wear during the orgy. She demands to know where Mary is, but the only answer she gets is that she belongs to the cult and will now be protected. Mary is gone and Jane was the sacrifice that allowed her to be free. They show her Mary’s body, covered in black lace, as she runs screaming.
Perhaps in retaliation for the ritual, dogs chase her through the woods, tearing at her, stopped only by the blue eyed man who knocks her out. She awakens, clad in virginal white, surrounded by white sheets. Her husband leaves a note in lipstick on her mirror. She looks and the symbol is on her arm, which is covered in blood. When she goes to Mary’s apartment, an old woman lives there instead.
Jane is totally lost — the ritual has brought her nothing but more madness and the blue eyes man even closer. Her husband is away on business, her sister is on vacation, her therapist is dismissive. Even the walls of her apartment, walls that offer security, have become a maze of fear. The colors shift to Bava-esque hues of blackness and reds, as we see the blue eyed man attack her over and over again, constant repetition of frame as she screams — and then there’s no one there, just the room filled with red and a broken piece of pottery embedded in her hand.
Jane’s doctor leaves her with an elderly couple after examining her. Her husband can’t find her and asks Barbara to help.
Jane awakens in a white room — of course, the blue eyed man is outside the house waiting — in the gauzy, early hours of the morning. Yet there is an ominousness about the proceedings — no one is there. A tea kettle is boiling on the stove while the old man and woman sit there, in still repose, dead at the breakfast table. She’s trapped in the room with them as she frantically calls for help. She tells her doctor that the man is there and has killed everyone. He calmly tells Richard and Barbara that he has another patient to deal with, as he doesn’t trust Richard and wants to keep him in the dark. However, he does reveal the truth to Barbara. That lack of trust goes both ways, as Richard follows the doctor.
Meanwhile, the blue eyed man has found Jane, telling her that she cannot renounce them. He tells her that the knife that he holds killed her mother when she tried to renounce them. And it’s the same knife that killed married. He tells her that she is beyond reality and will never find it again.
Following the sound of a hound, she finds the doctor’s car in the driveway — and of course, he’s dead, too. The blue eyed man gives chase and finally tries to kill her, but he’s stopped at the last minute by Richard, who stabs him with a rake. He stomps on the man’s hand over and over again, revealing the tattoo symbol which he stares at.
Meanwhile, Mary arrives home to a green-hued apartment, with Richard smoking and accusing her of being part of black magic. He saw the symbol when he watched her undress and she tells him that she wants him, that she can make him forget her sister. She promises him untold power and that he can become anyone he wants. As she leans in for a kiss, he shoots her, tossing the envelope of a letter that he received that explains it all.
Cut to a hazy white room where Jane has been given a sedative. An inspector — the priest from the cult! — demands to see her. Richard arrives and embraces her, telling her that he will take her out the main door. They speed away in a car and return to their apartment. But all is not well — Richard is killed by an unseen person and Jane is left holding the dagger. The police that arrest her all have the symbol on their wrists and are led by the leader. The camerawork now becomes tighter and claustrophobic, as we see the cult descending on her.
Wait — it’s all a Wizard of Oz dream, with the police and her husband at her bedside, explaining the entire plot of the film, which ends up even more ridiculous than everything that we’ve seen up until now (which is really saying something). Turns out there was no real magic. The cult was just a drug ring. Mary was real and just a heroin addict.Her sister was behind it all because she wanted all of the money from the will of their mother’s murderer, who wanted to give 600,000 pounds to both of them.
Jane rejects this reality, saying that this cannot be true, not after all that she’s seen. The cop replies that he kept trying to call her and she never answered, so he wrote it all in a letter — the letter that Richard showed Barbara after he shot her. It’s worth noting that the American version of the film ends with Jane being killed by the cult and all of the ending — nearly six minutes worth of important story and denouement — exorcised.
We return right back to where we were, with Richard going upstairs — just like we’ve seen before. Jane screams that she knows what will happen. The cult leader attacks him, blaming her for Barbara’s death. Richard follows him to the roof where they fight and the priest ends up being thrown from the roof. Jane tells Richard that she knew the man was there, she knew that her husband killed her sister and it wasn’t a suicide and that some strange force is guiding her. She asks for help and the credits roll.
With this film, director Sergio Martino (Torso, 2019: After the Fall of New York) crafted an intriguing blend of the supernatural and the giallo, even if the procedural elements come only after the film has descended into surrealism, as if they are a cold glass of water splashed in the face of a viewer who needed an explanation. Magic is madness and we can’t even trust our heroine at the end when she begs to escape the power inside her.
This film is terrific, with Edwige Fenech turning in a strong performance. You really feel the isolation and madness that surround her and empathize with her. The visuals are strong and the break from the genre conventions of masked killers, gloved hands and inept police make watching this film a real joy. From beginning to end, it makes you question not only the reality that it presents but the objective trustworthiness of our heroine. And while it betrays an obvious inspiration to the aforementioned Rosemary’s Baby, it is not slavish in its devotion, making a powerful statement on its own merit.