Pensione Paura (1978)

Four years after directing The Perfume of the Lady in Black, Francesco Barilli returned to direct this film. He had wanted to make a movie called L’Occhio, which had a very high budget, but producer Tommaso Dazzi had a treatment for this movie and, well, Barilli needed the money. An arrangement like that led to arguments on set, as the director and producer had very different ideas of the movie that they wanted to make.

During World War II, Rosa (Leonora Fani, who starred in The House at the Edge of the Park and the George Eastman film Dog Lay Afternoon which sounds like the scummiest or weirdest affair in, well, ever — which means I’m on the hunt for it) and her mother mourn the loss of Rosa’s father while running a hotel. After her mother dies myseriously, Rosa is constantly under assault from the insane guests, who are all murdered by a masked killer. Is it her dead father? Is this a gothic romance? Is it a giallo? Is it an exploitation movie? Who can say!

With a color template influenced by Suspiria and a predilection for art, this is one strange movie.  I’d compare it to Footprints on the Moon, a giallo that really isn’t a giallo and just has that label because it’s difficult to imagine what the hell it really is. It’s also known as Hotel Fear, which is a fine title for it.

Barilli also wrote Sacrifice! for Umberto Lenzi and Who Saw Her Die? for Alan Lado. He’s still making movies — mostly documentaries — but I really wish he’d made more of these uncatagorizable fantasy films. Is embracing violence part of growing from a girl to a woman? Is all male sexuality inherently brutal? Is Rosa becoming her dad or protected by him? And hey — isn’t it great that this movie gives you no real answers?

I mean — if you’ve been watching giallo long enough, you’re probably ready for a movie that punches your senses in the eyes and then doesn’t care to tell you what it all really means. In that way, the giallo prepares us for real life way more than any other genre. We never get all the answers and are always on the edge, lingering near madness, despair and death. Entertaining, no?

Arrow released a soundtrack for the film, but the movie isn’t available on DVD or blu ray in the U.S. Honestly, I’ve heard that it’s not an easy film to find anywhere. I found an untranslated version of the film — in high quality nonetheless — on YouTube, which I’ve shared below.

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