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ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO (1971)
Director/Cinematographer: Mario Bava
Story: Dardano Sacchetti and Franco Barberi
Screenplay: Mario Bava, Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni and Sergio Canevari
Camera operator: Antonio Rinaldi
Editing: Carlo Reali
Music: Stelvio Cipriani
Main players: Claudine Auger (Renata); Luigi Pistilli (Albert); Leopoldo Trieste (Paolo Fassatti); Laura Betti (Anna Fassatti); Claudio Volonte [Claudio Camaso] (Simon); Chris [Christea] Avram (Frank Ventura); Anna Maria Rosati (Laura); Isa Miranda (Countess Federica); Brigitte Skay (Helga); Paola Rubens (Denise); Guido Boccaccini (Bobby); Roberto Bonanni (Duke); Giovanni Nuvoletta (Filippo Donatti); Renato Cestie (Little boy); Nicoletta Elmi (Little girl)
Alternate titles: A Bay of Blood; Antefatto; Reazione a catena; Ecology of a Crime; Before the Fact; Twitch of the Death Nerve; Bloodbath; Carnage; Last House on the Left Part II; New House on the Left
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
SYNOPSIS:

As in SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO and CINQUE BAMBOLE PER LA LUNA D'AGOSTO, greed is the motivating factor: desire for a lovely piece of property, owned by the invalid Countess Federica, sets the story in motion. Despire her wealth, the countess is isolated and lonely. As she gazes out of a window, the rain drops running down the window pane seem to stain her face like tears. Within a few minutes, however, she is murdered by her husband, Filippo Donatti, who is then killed by an unseen assailant and dragged into the bay. The presence of a suicide note, pilfered from the countess' diary, leads the police to assume that she took her own life.

Bava next introduces Frank Ventura, a real estate agent, and his secretary/lover, Laura, as they lie in bed discussing their plans to take over the bay. They realized the bay's potential to fetch a large price on the real estate market, and have convinced Donatti to kill his wife when she refused to sell. All that Ventura requires is Donatti's signature, though he does not realize that he, too, has been killed.

Back at the bay, Paolo Fassati, an entomologist who owns a small place on the grounds, is hard at work trying to capture an insect. He runs into Simon, who Bava later reveals to be the countess' illegitimate son. Simon also lives on the property, sustaining himself with the squid he catches in the bay.During their conversation, Fassati suggests that the countess was murdered. Very defensively, Simon insists that it was a suicide. In the course of this short scene, Bava neatly establishes these two characters. The entomologist with his almost child-like enthusiasm for insects is perhaps the only likable character in the film; he speaks openly and honestly, and has nothing to hide. Simon, by contrast, is sinister and mysterious. Bava introduces him with a grotesuqe closeup as he bites into a still-living squid in order to kill it. As the story soon establishes, killing is part of Simon's nature.

Meanwhile, a group of teenagers unwarily make their way to the bay. With an uncany sense of the wrong place to be at the wrong time, they break into Ventura's cottage for a little love making. One by one, they are killed off by Simon, whose sadistic streak insures that much blood is spilled.

It is also established that it was Simon who killed Donatti, and that he is now working with Ventura. With Ventura's assurance that he will give him money enough to leave the country, Simon agrees to sign over the property to him. What they fail to realize is that Donatti also has a daughter, Renata, and that she is determined to take the land for herself. The countess' will has not yet been discovered, and Ventura worries that Renata might be the real beneficiary, so he persuades Simon to "talke care of her," as well.

Accompanied by Albert, her weak-willed husband, Renata pays a visit to Fassati and his wife Anna. A fortune teller with a very supercilious nature, Anna slyly insinuates that the countess' death was probably Donatti's work and that Simon may be the one to inherit the property. Shocked to discover that she has a half-brother, Renata decides that he will have to be disposed of, little suspecting that he is also hot on her trail!

After finding Donatti's mutilated body on Simon's boat, Albert and Renata stop at Ventura's cottage, which is apparently deserted. When Albert leaves for a moment, Ventura tries to dispose of Renata, who gets the upper-hand and kills him instead. This scene is accidentally witnessed by Fassati, and when he tries to phone the police, Albert strangles him. Meanwhile, Renata takes care of the nosy Anna by decapitating her.

Things are complicated further when Laura shows up looking for Ventura. Simon, infuriated to discover that she and Ventura conspired with Donatti to murder his beloved mother, disposes of Laura, before finally being dispatched by Albert. With all of the loose ends apparently tied up, Albert and Renata plan on going home to await the "news" of their inheritance. In an ironic twist, Bava has them shot to death by their own children, whom they have ignored throughout the course of the film, when they playfully point a loaded shotgun in their direction. The little girl then turns to her brother and remarks, "Gee, they're good at playing dead, aren't they?" before skipping off to play by the water.


CRITIQUE:

Following a string of minor vehicles, ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO marks an amazing return to form for Bava.

The film's first image, following the titles sequence, is a rapid travelling shot which follows a fly as it swoops about in the air before dropping dead and plummeting into the bay. This witty, but seemingly insignificant, sequence, neatly sums up the two major themes of the film: the inevitability and suddenness of death, which most of the characters are destined to encounter; and the fact that man, for all of his pretenses about civilization, is little more than an insect -- and a particularly nasty insect, at that.

Bava's main inspiration for this film seems to have been the classic Ealing studios comedy KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949), directed by Robert Hamer. In that film, the great character acto Dennis Price gives a wonderfully droll performance as a cast-off member of a titled family who contrives to speed his inheritance by doing away with his relatives (all played by Sir Alec Guinness). The tone and subject matter are much the same, but Bava's film is much more extreme in every respect, especially in terms of violence.As in Bava's other thrillers, there are no heroic characters for the audience to root for. Most of the film is carried by the bitchy Renata and her spineless husband Alfred, but Bava does not ask the viewer to sympathize with their plight. Even the nominal innocents, including the quirky entomologist and his fortune telling shrew of a wife, are so broadly portrayed as to be caricatures. The main difference between the characters here and their counterparts in CINQUE BAMBOLE PER LA LUNA D'AGOSTO is that, sympathetic or not, they are interesting; the entomologist, beautifully played by Leopoldo Trieste, even manages to be endearing, so much so that the audience is sorry to see him killed.

ECOLOGIA may not present a particularly cheeful portrait of human nature, but there is a ring of truth to it, and the presence of strong female characters like Renata reveals much about Bava's frequently misunderstood attitudes towards women. Bava recognizes their ability to be either victim or victimizer. He sees their potential to be stronger than the male. And, most importantly, he understands the irony behind their relations with men: the man frequently flatters himself that he is using the female to his own ends, but this is simply an assumption informed by chauvenistic attitudes. For example, Frank thinks that by sleeping with Laura, he is keeping her in check, while it is actually the other way around. Unlike many directors of horror films and thrillers, Bava refuses to relegate his female characters exclusively to the level of weak, screaming, addle-brained victim.

The convoluted narrative (based on a story by Dardano Sacchetti, also known for his collaborations with Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Lamberto Bava), is strewn with a number of unexpected plot twists. Perhaps the most inspired detail is the way the film becomes a kind of modern-dress version of MACBETH once the story comes to concentrate on the Albert and Renata. Like Shakespeare's play, Bava's film deals with a weak-willed husband driven to murder by his unbalanced, power-mad spouse. Once albert's hands become stained with blood (literally, in a scene that manages to top a parallel scene in Roman Polanski's stunning 1971 film of MACBETH in terms of pure shock effect), he becomes more assertive and enters whole-heartedly into the task at hand.

Bava also avoids passing moral judgment over his characters: for example, the horny teenagers (this fixture in many dismal FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH-style films is indebted to this sublime example) are not killed because they are having pre-marital sex -- they are simply too stupid to realize that there is a murderer around. Even the two children (one of them played by red-headed Nicoletta Elmi, later to be seen in Bava's GLI ORRORI DEL CASTELLO DI NORIMBERGA, 1972, as well as Lamberto Bava's absurdly popular DEMONI / DEMONS, 1985, and Argento's masterpiece PROFONDO ROSSO / DEEP RED, 1975) are not above spoliation, transformed as they are into murderers by watching their parents' example.

The various murder scenes are incredibly bloody, but the humorous edge prevents the film from becoming a tour through a slaughterhouse (to borrow one critic's misguided but irresistible description of the resurrection scene in Terence Fisher's marvelous DRACULA -- PRINCE OF DARKNESS, 1965). There is a decapitation, multiple slashings, a face split in two by a meat cleaver, a stabbing in the groin, a love-making couple skewered together by a jungle spear, and so on. So vivid were these scenes, in fact, that over the years ECOLOGIA has been cut and re-cut ot satisfy the censorship standards of the day. The uncut version has since surfaced on video, thus preserving Bava's most mischievously funny work in its entirety.


Review © Troy Howarth


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