Delirium (1979)

EDITOR’S NOTE, January 2022: We’re excited to share Severin has used a quote from R.D. Francis’s review on the back of the limited-edition slipcase version for their new Blu-ray release of Delirium. They since used the quote for the rear cover on their mass-marketed DVD.

At the time of composing this September 2021 review, we were simply crossing-off another film from our ongoing goal of reviewing all of the British “Video Nasties” of the ’80s (we’ve linked that three-part series at the end of this review). We were unaware that, first, Severin, then 88 Films in the U.K. — who didn’t make their respective, reissue announcements until November and December 2021 — were releasing the upgraded film in January 2022. . . .

So, yes . . . another obscure, mostly forgotten, even unknown in most quarters, 40-year-old film (see our recent — and now, updated — reviews for The Spirits of Jupiter and UFO: Target Earth) crawls out of the analog snows, aka woodwork, and bites us in the ‘ol arse!

DVD image courtesy of dcjsalesofficial/eBay.

Okay, so it goes without saying, but we’ll say it, anyway: This isn’t Lamberto Bava’s 1987 film of the same name — at least not in the celluloid confusing lands of the alternate-title U.S. In other parts of the world, that film was known as Le foto di Gioia, aka The Photos of Giola, starring the heart-melting Serena Grandi (Antropophagus), Dame Daria Nicolodi (Shock), and George “Big Ape” Eastman (who we’ve “Explored“).

No, this Delirium is the U.K. “Section 2” Video Nasty (see, we are finally getting around to polishing off those reviews, in full*) that served as the feature film debut by producer, writer and director Peter Maris, he who later gave us the cheesy-fun The Road Warrior rip Land of Doom (1985), and the god awful (sorry, Pete, it just is), one-two punch CGI’d ripoff of not only Independence Day, but Species, with the oft-Mill Creek box set-programmed Alien Species (1996). Maris, however, unlike most auteurs whom appeared on “Video Nasty” and bloody “SOV” lists, carved himself a rather prolific, low-budget resume of directing a film roughly once a year, for a total of fifteen films until 2007. As a producer, he also gave us four more: True Blood (1989), Ballistic (1995), the Christian apoc-rocker Raging Angels (1995)(!), and a pretty good neo-cable-noir with The Murder in China Basin (1999).

Okay, so back to the “Video Nasty” that is Delirium.

Ah, the VHS I remember. It feels like home. It also aka’d as the cooly-titled Psycho Puppet throughout Europe.

Charlie is your garden variety, Giallo-influnced-by-way-of-John Carpenter psycho trapped in a graphic foreshadowing of the Micheal Douglas-vehicle The Star Chamber (1983). In that film, Douglas becomes part of a secret society of judges who hire hitmen to assassinate criminals who slip through the system. Perhaps your nostalgia miles may recall the James Glickenhaus** written and directed The Exterminator (1980), with Robert Ginty’s war vet barbecue’in criminals with a flame thrower (we’ve since reviewed Part II as part of our “Cannon Month” of reviews). However, as with The Star Chamber, Peter Mavis, was — brilliantly — first.

In a Mavis low-fi world, we have a secret society of community leaders who’ve formed a “vigilante counsel.” Taking the law into their own hands, the committee’s kangaroo court convicts in absentia and murders the convicted. To run their court — and handle the “assassinations” — they hire Charlie: an ex-solider. At first, Chuck mops the streets with efficiency and plausible deniability on part of the counsel. However, as any emotionally damaged Vietnam vet (of the celluloid variety) should: Chuck freaks out and just friggin’ kills everyone — including squeezing in the butchering of innocent, young women: for he side hustles between “assignments” with his serial killer gig.

Delirium — as result of its foreshadowing two, better known, more popular movies, and its crazed, hybrid-amalgamating of Dario Argento with the later action-thrills of John Carpenter (see his earlier Assault on Precinct 13 vs. Halloween) — is an oddly-styled, unusual film that, again, also foreshadows Sylvester Stallone’s own, later Giallo-action hybrids in Cobra, and his less-successful attempt with D-Tox. We can even go as far as mentioning Charles Bronson’s graphic, but not as gruesome as Delirium, Italian Poliziotteschi-Giallo hybrid with 10 to Midnight.

However, unlike the films we’ve mentioned in comparison: Delirium is absolutely brutal in its misogyny (and Stallone had women hanging as hogtied-meat slabs in D-Tox). This movie — not Mavis, mind you — hates women: even more so than Joe Spinell’s head-scalping Frank Zito in William Lustig’s — again, more popular, better known; but Mavis was first — Maniac (1980). Look at the cover: this movie lives up to the “video nasty” de plume and then some, as it decides jamming a pitchfork through a woman’s throat (Pastor Estus Pirkle jammed sharpened bamboo rods into kids’ ear canals, so why not; you’ve never seen If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, well, you should*˟) and nail-gunning women to doors is the way to go — then justifies it all with the ol’ “Vietnam flashback” gag (the Gooks made me do it). The vet-flashback gag didn’t work in the earlier (I can’t not believe Peter Mavis wasn’t influenced by it), porn-industry backed The Last Victim/Forced Entry from 1973/1975. Only Mavis’s film is the more skillful of the two. (I keep flashing back — or is that forward — to Will MacMillan’s serial-killer oddball Cards of Death (1986); however cool that SOV’er is, Mavis made the better-quality film).

So, if you have a hankering for a “heavy metal” experience of an uber-weird n’ scuzzy amalgamate of John Carpenter’s Halloween and Sean. S Cunningham’s Friday the 13th — with a soupçon of Death Wish — load ‘er up. And while Cunningham is credited as being more bloody than Carpenter, Mavis out-bloodies Cunningham — by several gallons of Karo n’ food coloring — in this splatter-cum-cop flick.

Two thumbs up and five stars — as far as I am concerned. But what do I know: I’m the guy who likes Cards of Death.

Upon the Blu’s release, Eric Cotenas of DVD Compare dives deep on Delirium — and offers up some insights from Peter Mavis’s commentary and its two vignette supplements: “Directing Delirium” and “Monster Is Man,” the latter offers more insights from Effects Artist Bob Shelley (Moonrunners). Movies and Mania dives even deeper into the Blu, digging up a couple newspaper reviews from 1979, newsprint ads, and alternate VHS covers. Both are great reads for those D.I.Y ’80s fans of yore. Need more technical aspects on the release: has you covered.

* Click the images and enjoy all three parts of our “Video Nasties” series.

** Glickenhaus produced Maniac Cop, Frankenhooker, and the Basket Case franchise. He made his writing and directing debut with the Christploitation’er, The Astrologer, aka Suicide Cult.

*˟ We round up the “Christian Gore” of Pastor Pirkle — as well as director Ron Ormond’s lighter, Christian wares — with our review of The Second Coming.

We take a second look at Delirium as part of our May 2023 tribute to Roger Avery and Quentin Tarantino’s weekly podcast tribute to their days at Manhattan Beach’s Video Archives.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.