All the Colors of the Dark May 3, 2017
Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark (1972) is an anomaly in Italian horror in that it doesn’t take on the typical stalk-and-slash form of many of its peers. Many within the genre, known as giallo, are essentially murder mysteries – bloodied Agatha Christie style whodunits, even – with the bad guy being a black-gloved killer whose face remains hidden until the last five minutes of the film.
But All the Colors of the Dark is more a surrealistic horror show than it is The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’s (1970) second cousin, with waves of hallucination, kaleidoscopic nausea, and occult themes more prevalent than a man or a woman’s thirst for blood.
Given that Martino is no Dario Argento, giallo’s biggest name and utmost talent, finding genuine terror in surrealism is clearly a struggle for the filmmaker. Making slasher flicks with a sprinkling of abstraction is doable for the man. Just look at his strange and fun Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and you’ll see what I mean. But ridding of the slasher element like he does in All the Colors of the Dark gives him less to work with. And in effect does it become plodding, stylistically intriguing to a fault but nonetheless increasingly monotonous the more it moves along.
In the film, Edwige Fenech, both Martino’s muse and the most prominent leading lady in giallo, is Jane Harrison, a troubled, traumatized young woman whose neuroses are starting to get the best of her. Her mother murdered when she was just five years old, Harrison has routinely toiled with an unstable psyche. But things have become more dire recently, as she was in a violent car accident that resulted in the death of her unborn child.
Currently living in London with her boyfriend Richard (George Hilton), Harrison finds herself progressively tormented by her mind and by outsiders who may or may not be real. Concerned that her life might take a turn for the worse if she continues to let her disturbed spirit influence every moment of her life, Harrison’s enigmatic neighbor (Marina Malfatti) suggests participating in Black Mass. Which, to Harrison’s horror, turns out to be a Satanic ritual that seems to make her deepest fears a reality.
But all this happens in a rather brief period of time, establishing that most of All the Color of the Dark’s run time be spent not working its way up to its seemingly climactic Black Mass but more on Fenech running from foes, shrieking in terror, and knocking things over like a klutz with a bone to pick.
For a short while, such is fine. It’s expected that a woman who inadvertently (perhaps stupidly, given its name) makes herself known to the Satan-worshipping community should be terrified out of her mind. But Harrison is merely terrified for far too long in a 94-minute movie. And when the big reveal arrives and it’s proven that nothing was ever really as it seemed, we can’t help but be disappointed. It’s trite and fails to shock, deficient in excusing the grating nature of all coming before it.
Even Fenech, so extraordinarily beautiful – she’s best at playing cat-eyed femme fatales like the one she did in Your Vice is a Locked Room … – is unable to save the film, undoubtedly because she both isn’t given much to do and isn’t able to utilize what makes her such a magnetic screen personality. For better Martino/Fenech partnerships, look in the direction of the aforementioned feature or 1970 cult classic The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. Or any other giallo film, no matter its connection to the filmmaker or the