Monday, April 27, 2009

Gianfranco Giagni's Spider Labyrinth (1988)

Professor Alan Whitmore (Roland Wybenga), in CIA black-ops fashion, is summoned by his superiors at his university to make the trek to an Innsmouth-like town in Budapest, where a previous professor was doing important research. Whitmore doesn't know what it is that he is looking for, but when he arrives, Whitmore must find the missing professor, obtain his research, and finish up. Whitmore is greeted by the professor's assistant, Genevieve (Paola Rinaldi), the only friendly face he encounters. The townsfolk are quiet and clannish. Pretty young maid at Whitmore's hotel, Maria (Claudia Muzi), and the old town crazy (William Berger) tell Whitmore to leave. Whitmore delves deeper into the mystery and begins to uncover the town's ancient secrets.Gianfranco Giagni's Spider Labyrinth (1988) shows a strong influence from H.P. Lovecraft and Italian horror maestro, Dario Argento. Giagni employs the wonderful out-dated color scheme of Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), combined with the atmospheric European architecture, to excellent effect. The sleek and slow steadicam is also note-worthy and gives Spider Labyrinth an appropriate ethereal feel. Sergio Stivalleti's special effects show an influence from Rob Bottin's work on John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) and his own work from Lamberto Bava's Demons (1985) and Demons 2 (1986). It's a terrific blend with horrific results. For a film under ninety minutes, the film never drags and the suspense continually builds.The plot of the film is familiar to any reader of H.P. Lovecraft and its mystery is an old but interesting one. The script's most serious flaw, other than some daft dialogue, is the rendering of the main character, Whitmore. Lovecraft penned some of the most intelligent and resourceful scholars in his literature, but he never penned one this stupid. Whitmore acts like a lost child looking for his toy in most of the scenes. Clues to the mystery are literally shown or handed to him, and it's almost as if H.P. Lovecraft was giving him a supernatural kick to the pants to get him through the mystery. To his credit, Roland Wybenga plays an endearing idiot. Paola Rinaldi, as Genevieve, is not given much to do but take her clothes off, smile, and chew the scenery. Muzi's terrific in her small role as the maid, Maria, and genre stalwart William Berger gives another professional and competent performance. As flawed as the plot and characterizations are, Spider Labyrinth doesn't suffer much: like Argento's work, the viewer can bask in the atmosphere and the scares and leave the brain's legwork to Lovecraft's fiction.
Spider Labyrinth is Giagni's only genre credit, and today, he has moved on to more socially relevant projects. If he ever returns to the genre, then he will be welcomed. Italian horror cinema certainly needs more little gems like this one.

4 comments:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Being given nothing to do but take your clothes off, smile, and chew scenery is large and in charge.

f said...

Does anybody know what happened to Roland Wybenga ? I met him in the early 90ies in Vienna but never heard of him again.

Brandon said...

Roland Wybenga, my uncle, passed away in 1996.

dirk said...

Hi Brandon: Roland was a wonderful person. He lit up the place everywhere he went. I only knew him briefly but was very fond of him. I am very sorry to hear about his passing. He is in a better place now.