Italian director Pupi Avati's contributions to the genre have been few but they have been potent, and quite often brilliant, contributions. His atmospheric mystery starring Lino Capolicchio, La casa dalle finestre che ridono (1976), subverted the mechanics of the standard giallo formula and boasted rich characterizations and a meticulous and satisfying story. Its visuals, like the iconic image of the titular house, have few equals from his contemporaries in the genre. Within the last few years, I was treated to a viewing of a much later Avati contribution to the genre, L'arcano incantatore (1996), a wonderful period-piece mystery with a strong occult theme. L'arcano incantatore plays out like a beautiful and cautious fairy tale, and again, boasts a strong performance by its richly-drawn protagonist, portrayed by Stefano Dionisi. Over the last few months I have kept my eye on several copies of the out-of-print, Image Entertainment DVD of Zeder (1983) with hopes a seller would reduce the price, so I could purchase it. With luck I was able to secure a copy and was again treated to Avati’s cinema. I haven’t seen Zeder in years, and this recent viewing was extremely satisfying.
At first blush, I thought that the exposition, the opening flashback sequence at Chartres, was too contrived to introduce the character of Zeder and the concept of the “K” zones. What is later revealed, in a storyline parallel to Stefano’s investigation, is that Dr. Meyer and Gabriella, now a grown woman, have not abandoned their search from almost thirty-years previous. They are not alone, either, as it appears they have recruited quite a staff and have secured serious financial backing in uncovering the existence of a “K” zone. When Stefano makes a little headway in his investigation, he usually becomes thwarted by some mysterious figures who knows exactly what Stefano is up to. These mysterious figures appear to be working for a larger group engaged towards the same goal.
By the end of Zeder, it is apparent that the central relationship of the film is between Stefano and Alessandra. Stefano becomes obsessive towards uncovering the truth, even putting his life in danger at times, while Alessandra wants him to abandon his search and come home to her. In a particularly endearing scene, Alessandra reunites with Stefano in a hotel room after a fight. She reveals to Stefano that one of their close friends is dead, and they both realize, despite their previous spat, that they need each other for consoling. The emotions of the scene never feel forced, and Zeder is really benefited by Lavia’s and Canovas’s performances.
Riz Ortolani’s score for Zeder is memorable, primarily because it is tonally inconsistent with the images (as is his score for Cannibal Holocaust (1980)). It is a heavy-synth score, far more evocative of John Carpenter’s score for Halloween (1978) with shades of Harry Manfredini’s score from Friday the Thirteenth (1980). Ortolani’s score is kind of amazing in a singular sense for adding a true unreal vibe to the entire film.
I can find little fault with Zeder. It is truly a film to be appreciated by adults. It’s storyline always assumes that its viewer is intelligent and thoughtful and rewards that viewer in the end. Zeder easily ranks as one of the best Italian genre pictures in its waning days.