Oasis of Fear

 

 Un posto ideale per uccidere (Umberto Lenzi, 1971)

aka OASIS OF FEAR / DIRTY PICTURES / AN IDEAL PLACE TO KILL

After a credit sequence romp through the landmarks of Copenhagen, Dick (Ray Lovelock) and Ingrid (Ornella Muti) high-tail it to Italy, paying their way by selling pornography. When the money and stock runs out, they decide to make their own and are promptly arrested by the Italian authorities.

Given the chance to leave the country and not face charges they hook up with some bikers and find what’s left of their cash gone the next morning. After a gas station attendant mistakes them for a German couple mentioned in the newspaper as being wanted for robbery, they go on the run and eventually run out of gas at a remote villa (the ‘oasis’ of the title). They plan to siphon the gas from a Rolls Royce in the unlocked garage but are discovered by Barbara (Irene Papas). She is initially apprehensive about their presence but soon warms to their youthful exuberance and free love philosophy.

I’m with other reviewers on this one being a more cynical giallo than Lenzi’s previous entries with Carroll Baker (PARANOIA, ORGASMO, etc). It does however serve as a bridge between those thrillers and Lenzi’s later films SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS and SPASMO (a fight scene in an aviary anticipates the latter film which may have used some of the same bird sound effects). While PARANOIA was a bit more balanced in its presentation of the jet set, ORGASMO presented both the free-loving young and high-living old as equally corrupt. In OASIS OF FEAR, youth are amoral but also childlike in their enjoyment of life and sex, the old are almost universally corrupt in this film.

The buyers of the pornography Dick and Ingrid sell are older Catholic women who cross themselves while looking at the pictures as well as married fathers lured by Ingrid’s long legs (Muti was underage at the time and a body double was used for nude scenes). Barbara sees the spur-of-the-moment opportunity to set up the younger couple and seizes it, pretending to embrace their free love philosophy (using her body and sensuality towards Dick not unlike Ingrid with the various older men). The authorities really are the “finks” that Ingrid calls them. After fleeing Barbara’s house, Dick and Ingrid stupidly decide to stop for a swim at the beach. A police patrol car sights from a distance the young couple sunning on the beach and – rather than questioning why two murder suspects would take time to have a swim hours from the border – the cop radios in that a young couple on the beach might be the two suspects.

It is obvious that Lenzi enjoys working with his three leads. They all get great close-ups and opportunities to show off. Lovelock and Muti are engaging as the representatives of modern youth and Papas is better utilized here in the “Carroll Baker” role than in her supporting role in DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING. Once she, literally, lets her hair down and rocks out with Lovelock, its easy to see why he’s fascinated by her.

Alfio Contini (THE NIGHT PORTER, RIPLEY’S GAME) provides some attractive Technicolor-Techniscope cinematography of Copenhagen and Italy, favouring rack-focus compositions contrasting the young and the old (actors in the frame, actors and background/foreground sculptures and statues). Bruno Lauzi’s score is less interesting than Piero Umilliani’s work on ORGASMO, Gregorio Garcia Segura’s on PARANOIA (conducted by Umiliani with a title song written by Terry Umiliani), and Riz Ortolani’s for SO SWEET… SO PERVERSE. Like those films, however, OASIS OF FEAR has a theme song: “How Can You Live” heard in two different versions in the film. Whilst not as good as the other films’ title songs it’s still memorable, catchy, and thematically relevant. The song is credited to “I Leoni” and Lorenza Visconti. I’m assuming that the main title version is performed by The Lions  and the version heard during the montage of Dick and Ingrid living it up is sung by Lorenza Visconti. The theme also shows up again as an “Indian” instrumental that Ingrid dances to in one of her body double’s nude scenes.

Shameless Film Entertainment’s PAL Region 0 DVD is the second official release of Lenzi’s film on DVD. The film first showed up on an Italian R2 DVD from Alan Young Pictures in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer (the cover incorrectly states a 1.85:1 ratio) with Italian 5.1 and mono audio and Italian subtitles claiming to have been transferred from the original uncut negative. If this is the case, then this Carlo Ponti production has not been well-cared for. The image quality is more soft and grainy than one would expect even for a film of this age (especially compared to the excellent transfers of the older Lenzi gialli PARANOIA and KNIFE OF ICE). Shameless’ release utilizes the same master but is apparently not a direct port of the R2 disc as the titles are in English (obviously newly created over a textless version of the montage shown under the opening credits). This source looks similarly soft and grainy but the audio is quite vibrant. Two separate fan dubs of the Italian source led to the discovery of significant differences between the Italian and English language version which are not so simply explained by the notion that one is a rougher cut of the other.

First off is the presence of an opening narration by Lovelock’s character following the opening credits in the English language version. This narration begins abruptly on my source for the English version – The Greek-subtitled VHS release – because that release was apparently an early attempt to integrate the footage from both versions. The narration is not present in the Italian version and has not been included in the composite English track on the Shameless disc.

 Next is a brief shot of Dick and Ingrid driving to the gas station (the Italian/Shameless version cuts from Dick distracting some nuns while Ingrid is posing nude in the photo booth).

When Barbara asks Dick to go down to the garage and get some more cigarettes, there is a brief extension in the  Greek English language VHS version where Dick protests that it’s too far (the Italian/Shameless version cuts from her asking him to a shot of Dick opening the garage door).

The next extension is in the scene featuring Barbara’s accomplice (Jacques Stany, PARANOIA) after he gives a statement to the police about a road accident. Once he leaves, there is a brief exchange between the two cops which Dick stumbles across on his bike. He turns around and is about to ride off when one of the cops calls him over. The Italian/Shameless version cuts from Stany pulling away to the shot of Lovelock riding towards the roadblock. The Greek/English version features a reverse angle two shot of the two officers talking before Lovelock arrives.

Finally, the Italian language version as seen on disc fades the music out with the ending of the credits while the Greek tape (which has Italian credits) continues the music for twenty seconds on black.

The Italian version, on the other hand, features two exclusive Italian language scenes. The first is between Dick and Ingrid in the garage which is then followed by a scene with them and a bound and gagged Barbara. There are also some Italian only scenes with subtitles in the English language versions but those feature Italian characters conversing and those were likely included in the English version in Italian because the Greek tape features original English subtitles for those scenes (cropped by the panning and scanning and sometimes covered up by the Greek video subtitles). It is highly unlikely that Dick and Ingrid would carry out an entire heated conversation in Italian together in a scene meant for the English language version; the same goes for the scene that follows that with Barbara since she also speaks English throughout. English subtitles are provided for the Italian only scenes on the Shameless disc. Curiously, the print also features the burned in original English subtitles to translate the newspaper headings early on. The Shameless release did manage to restore a brief sequence in which Barbara’s body double gives Dick a blowjob (this body double is reportedly the same one used for Muti’s nude scenes). The quality noticeably decreases from the already soft and grainy look of the rest of the transfer and the sound becomes muffled. I’m not sure for what version this scene was shot for but its inclusion – while welcome – is abrupt and may have been scrapped rather than used for some alternate cut. It was hoped that the Shameless release would restore the other footage seen only in the English version but this did not transpire.

Extras include a text commentary track by Kevin and Nicholas Wilson – who “hope you don’t take it too seriously” – that is informative, sometimes humorous and sometimes a bit smarmy. They manage to clear up some historical facts that would have been unclear to many a viewer; for instance, the popularity of aural pornography early on after pornography’s legalisation when the waters were still being tested. The significance of setting the opening in Copenhagen, which was one of the first countries to legalise pornography, would have had meaning to the movie-going public as many an American and British exploitation filmmaker of the time would disguise their films as Danish productions to attract audiences. There’s also a lot of trivia that is more familiar to Eurocult viewers such as Ray Lovelock’s Italian/British parentage and early musical career with Tomas Milian. A newly constructed trailer is underscored by what the commentators refer to as “Italian bubble-gum music” (the music Dick and Barbara are seen rocking out to early in the film). Other newly created trailers one for Shameless’ restored version of the interesting-looking THE DESIGNATED VICTIM that touts all of its attributes (another text commentary, English and Italian audio, deleted scenes), Corrado Farina’s restoration of his film BABA YAGA (branded with the subtitle “Reloaded”), WATCH ME WHEN I KILL, THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN, along with original trailers for TORSO and STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER.

Shameless has not given us the definitive release of OASIS OF FEAR but it could be argued that the missing scenes do not hurt the film and the picture quality may reflect the condition of the available elements.  They have, on the other hand, put an admirable amount of work into the release (text commentary, a surprising recovered scene, subtitling much of the Italian dialogue including some not translated in English prints) and their showmanship is infectious with one of their best self-made trailers and cool – nay, iconic – cover art that makes use of imagery from the Japanese poster.  Eurocult enthusiasts – especially lovelockandload members – who have not seen this film would be doing themselves a disservice if they skipped out on the film just because of the discs minor demerits.

(Eric Cotenas)