Mathematics professor Stefano D'Arcangelo (The House With Laughing Windows' Lino Capolicchio) takes a leave of absence from his teaching job in
Rome to visit his childhood home on an
island near Venice.
For years he has been bothered by anxiety attacks seemingly rooted in a
childhood trauma. These attacks have gotten worse recently, persuading him to
take a break from his work. On the train trip south he meets a beautiful
antiques dealer named Sandra (Suspiria's
Stefania Casini), who is traveling to the same island. Stefano is attracted to
her and she doesn't seem to mind his attention. Once on the island he takes up
residence with his older brother Paolo (Craig Hill), the town's Catholic
priest. When Stefano remarks on an odd woman he sees in a restaurant, Paolo
explains that she is the local medium. With very little prodding Paolo (like a
gossiping old woman) relates the salacious nature of several of her client's
backgrounds, including a doctor suspected of murdering his first wife, a
midwife believed to perform abortions, and a wealthy child molester. On the
first night of Stefano's return home the medium is strangled to death outside
the church. Paolo witnesses the murder but can't see clearly enough through the
rain and shadows to identify the killer. Running outside, Paolo and Stefano
can't find the body. They decide to keep quiet. But next morning, when a
threatening typewritten note is slipped under Paolo's door, they realize
something did happen.
After the police find the medium's body, Stefano begins to try to unravel the murder urged along by the steady string of notes to Paolo threatening him to stay silent. The priest is distraught since he has no idea who the killer is and is unsure of what to do. Within days after the medium's death her prominent clients begin turning up murdered as well. It seems sure that Paolo will be next. Stefano's anxiety attacks continue as he divides his time between romancing Sandra and following clues. He begins to think that there might be a connection between the fragmentary memories from his childhood, the killing of a young girl years before, and the murders happening around him now.
The Bloodstained Shadow ("Solamente Nero") is a pretty good thriller but not a standout example of the genre. Too many story elements are borrowed from other, better films and the memories of those movies hang over the proceedings like a... ahem, shadow. The repressed memory of a crime, the mysterious clues imbedded in a strange painting, and the mentally childlike character set up as the most obvious suspect are just some of the things cribbed from Argento films. Even the
setting reminded me a great deal of Nicholas Roeg's seminal Don't Look Now.
Director Antonio Bido jumbles things up pretty well for the first half of the
film but he loses the story's narrative momentum in the middle with far too
much time spent focused on the not quite believable romance between Stefano and
Sandra. As a couple they have no spark on camera; while Casini is fine in an
underwritten role, frankly Capolicchio leaves me cold. Most of the time he
seems a little unsure of how he should be playing the character. Since early on
our suspicions are raised about his possible guilt this uncertainty could have
been a great component in a complex mystery. Unfortunately it just feels as if
the actor is flailing about from scene to scene trying to build a character
that should have been in the script for him in the first place.
One element of the film that I would have expected to feel shopworn was the inclusion of a priest character, but I found Craig Hill's performance as Father Paolo to be very interesting. I am always fascinated by the Catholic elements of many gialli because I have very little frame of reference for the religion. The reoccurring themes of suppressed guilt and inescapable sin wind through so many films in the genre and for me, lend them an emotional weight they wouldn't otherwise possess. This religious element can often feel welded onto the story but here it seems more naturally layered into the film; I attribute that to Hill's performance. The scene in which he confronts the rich child molester is powerful and well played even through the dubbing. Also, the priest's very real fear and uncertainty as the threatening notes continue to appear in the church make his eventual fate even more effective.