Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tonino Ricci's Panic (1976)

Jane (Janet Agren) is working in her lab, when she notices two caged rats going at each other and an alarm goes off. The alarm signals a breach in the lab's security of a possible viral contagion. Her chemical company and the local government near London want to keep the breach hush-hush to prevent a public panic. Meanwhile, a cute young couple are shagging in their automobile. The couple is attacked, mutilated, and killed. The cops investigate the murder and call in Captain Kirk: no, not William Shatner but my main man, David Warbeck. Kirk learns of the breach in the lab and when he follows up with Jane, he learns that Professor Adams is missing, the brilliant scientist who was working on a new project. Is there any link between the contagion, the murders, and the recently-missing Professor Adams in Tonino Ricci's Panic (1976)? Panic is a patchwork quilt of would-be plotlines. For example, when Kirk visits Jane on his initial investigation and learns that Professor Adams is missing, the two go to Adams's retreat out in the country to search for clues. Finding the professor's dead bodyguard at his hideaway, the sequence, at first blush, looks like the beginning of a mystery and blossoming romance between Kirk and Jane, as the two exchange jokes and stumble upon clues. The murder scenes are shot like a slasher flick: Ricci uses the camera's p.o.v. to mimic the monster stalking, slowly and creepily upon his victims. Around the end of the first act, the film kicks into panic mode, as scenes are shown of soldiers in trucks roaming the streets in their gas masks and hazmat outfits. Kirk, however, donning a tan raincoat is still investigating the murders, like a old-time private eye. He and a police officer head underground to look for clues of the monster; while above ground, in a fantastic sequence, the monster attacks in a full movie theatre. Grabbing a young lady and throwing her over its shoulder, the monster finds solace in the projection room where his dinner can be eaten. By the time the final act begins, the government has quarantined the English town and the citizens have moved into the titular panic and begin rioting.Ricci has seemingly never had a fondness or a patience for plotlines. Ricci loves the action sequences and the more the merrier. For example, his best film, The Big Family (1973) is really a series of exciting mob hits tied together with the most perfunctory plot line. When he tackles tiburons and aliens in The Shark's Cave (1978) or aliens in an underground kingdom in Encounters in the Deep (1979), Ricci could care less why his characters are in the water, just as long as the sharks are in a willing frenzy or the aliens are ready to take over the world. I love the man's cinema, so if Ricci can give me some seriously enthusiastic sequences, I'm sold. Yes, I'm a cheap date, and Ricci delivers. The monster in the movie theatre is standout: to watch the rubber-suited monster writhe in pain as the awful film plays on the screen, only to claw through the screen and scare the hell out of the patrons is true B-movie gold. When the monster attacks in two sequences unsuspecting families, the viewer thinks that it's Ricci in the monster suit, because there is so much enthusiasm. To his credit, Ricci actually links all of these disparate scenes together with a very thin visual cue but linked nonetheless. Janet Agren's Jane is sorely underused. Agren as an actress has been underused in her career. Often just eye candy, as in Giuseppe Bennati's underrated giallo, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974), or as a collateral character, as in Carlo Vanzina's Mystère (1983), as Carole Bouquet's friend, Agren briefly gets to show her charisma and range. When Agren is given a substantial role, for example, as the pretty lady who runs the truckstop in Sergio Martino's Hands of Steel (1986), she often steals her scenes and shines brightly. This is the second film that I can recall where Ricci doesn't use Agren enough, and I wish there were more scenes with her.
David Warbeck, like Agren, is a Eurocult legend. Warbeck made some phenomenal flicks with Antonio Margheriti, such as The Last Hunter (1980), The Hunters of the Golden Cobra (1982), Tiger Joe (1982), and Ark of the Sun God (1983), which really defined and shaped Italian 80s action movies. Warbeck also appeared in a little-known film by an obscure director during this period, Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (1981) that's really popular with the young folks. Warbeck's good in this role. He can smoke a cigarette and wield a gun with the best of them.I've probably had more fun with Panic than would most viewers. I absolutely love films that coast on fumes financially but are guzzling an endless supply of enthusiasm and fun. By no means a cinema classic, Panic is a Ricci classic, which is quite all right with me.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Hans, I always knew you were a cheap date. You're like butter. Btw, wish me luck. I have an interview with someone called Albert Wesker at the Umbrella corporation. I just know everything is going to be okay. And that is large and in charge.