Monday, January 17, 2011

The Spider Labyrinth (Gianfranco Giagni, 1988)

I've heard of spiders from Mississauga, but spiders from Budapest?!? Absolutely ridiculous! Sporting not one, but two facial anomalies, a bearded man with glasses, halfway through The Spider Labyrinth (a.k.a. Il nido del ragno), a movie about... (I'll get back to you on that, as I haven't decided yet), utters the line: "I'm in the middle of a situation I do not understand." Mere moments after these words were spoken, I couldn't help but notice that I was nodding profusely. At first, I thought there was something wrong with my neck–it's been known to cease up on me, especially when I'm watching weirdo Italian horror flicks set in Magyarország, a magical land located smack-dab in the middle of Europe (come for the paprika, stay for the screeching harpies). But then it dawned on me: I was concurring with his bewildered statement, and, as everyone knows, when I agree with something I hear, I tend to express that agreement by nodding (the level of the nod's profuseness depends on the quality of the item being agreed upon). It's not that the film, directed by Gianfranco Giagni, is overly complex (it's pretty straightforward, if you think about it), it's just that it leaves out a few key details. However, it's recently come to my attention that I should stop expecting films to lay out their plots in an easy to digest manner, and, of course, quit boasting about my ability to lower and raise my head.

What lay before me was a deeply strange film about a global network of spider-worshiping cults who are not bent on world domination, but have a profound interest in maintaining the structural thickness of their shadowy, hypoallergenic veil of secrecy. Your average spider cult can't truly call themselves a success if their members are constantly going around strangling people with their noxious saliva. No, you need to keep a low profile. Here's an excerpt from the spider cult's super-secret handbook: "Only stab and suffocate (or 'suffocate and stab,' it's entirely up to you) those who are about to expose us to the rest of the world."

Unfortunately, the human animal is an extremely curious creature, and if it catches wind of something that peeks even a little bit of their interest, especially if that something is cryptic in nature, they'll be all over it like am impotent mule covered in psychedelic ectoplasm. With web-based branches located in far away places such as Mumbai, Penetanguishene, Caracas, and Saransk, professors at a Dallas, Texas university learn that some dude living near the spider cult's Budapest borough has deciphered an ancient tablet. Sending over their most expendable, uh, I mean, their most promising professor, the university hopes Alan Whitmore (Roland Wybenga) can shed some light on this mysterious find.

In charge of driving Alan around Budapest is Genevieve Weiss (Paola Rinaldi), a beautiful woman whose jaunty mane of freshly shampooed black hair and sleek black leather skirt twinkle simultaneously in the midday sun. While being taken to his hotel, Alan notices the leg-like appendages jutting out from the bottom of her leather skirt. After he's done sizing them up, his eyes soon find themselves focusing on the loopy nature of her gold earrings. The reason I'm mentioning this is not because I'm a pervert who is obsessed with ladies fashion, it's because his character seems to go from being a stereotypical heterosexual man (they love legs) to a stereotypical gay man (they love accessories) all within the span of five seconds. Which is something I did not expect to see, especially from someone who is purportedly from Dallas, Texas.

Speaking of the Big D, you know how I knew there was something fishy about Ms. Kuhn (Stéphane Audran), the owner of the hotel Alan ends up staying at? Upon meeting him, she tells Alan that she thinks Dallas is a fascinating city. Fascinating?!? Dallas? It's a lot of things, but fascinating* ain't one of them. Either way, I looked at her with a truckload of suspicion after that. Add the fact that Ms. Kuhn had a creepy demeanor (catatonic with a hint of malaise), presided over a frightfully imprecise set of bangs (you couldn't equalize shelves with those things), rocked an empty baby carriage in a windowless room, and carried around a skinny black cat, and we're talking one unscrupulous landlady.

While Ms. Kuhn liked to hide her many idiosyncrasies, the, oh, let's call her the "toothy spider woman," was not-so subtle when it came time to exhibit the more demented side of her personality. Played by the awesomely named Margareta von Krauss (the second 's' in her last name rules so hard, that I can hardly contain myself), the agile, Bride with White Hair-esque assassin, who shoots sticky goo from her mouth, was the last thing I expected to see cavorting about in an Italian-made horror film. The way she flew through air emitting this terrifying shriek was off-putting, yet electrifying at the same time.

I liked how before each toothy spider woman attack, this black ball would bounce menacingly into the area where the slaughtering was about to commence. This lets the victim know that the chances of them being knifed and/or asphyxiated during the next five to ten seconds are quite high.

It's too bad she only got to dispatch a handful of people, because Margareta von Krauss is hands down the real star of The Spider Labyrinth. In fact, I liked her so much, that I was mildly forlorn every time she would recede into the night after completing another successful slaying. Sure, that giant demon baby–you know, the one that grows spider limbs–was definitely an attention grabber, but nothing beats the sight of Margareta's shock-haired toothy spider woman lassoing another sap with her industrial strength spittle.

The only instance where Roland Wybenga was able to elevate himself to the level of Margareta von Krauss, or, for that matter, the alluring Stéphane Audran (Faceless), was when he briefly penetrates the subterranean lair of the spider cult. I was rather pleased with the manner in which Mr. Wybenga went about exploring this icky realm. However, to be fair, a lot of credit has to go to production designer Stefano Ortolani, who obviously knows a thing or two about strewing an underground passageway with rotting corpses and clumps of debris.

On the other hand, the scene where Roland's Alan Whitmore is trying to locate an antique shop was a tad tedious. I'm sure his arduous search through the abandoned streets was supposed to add to film's eerie mystique, but for me it did nothing but make me long for Margareta and her stabbing ways. Hell, it even caused me to miss Maria (Claudia Muzi), the skittish chambermaid, as her after hours showdown with the toothy spider woman amidst a maze of white sheets was a thrilling spectacle.

All the same, I would have loved to have seen the look on Gianfranco Giagni's face the moment he found out that Roland Wybenga had been cast as the lead in The Spider Labyrinth. Call me someone who is on the cusp of being deemed certifiably insane, but I can just picture him dancing around his office chanting "Roland Wybenga" over and over again.

Initially, I thought Paola Rinaldi's innate sexiness was woefully underplayed. Nevertheless, after some unnecessarily protracted soul searching, I've come to the conclusion that not only was I completely wrong about the degree of Paola's sex appeal, I was a tad myopic as well. Sheathed in a multitude of checkered blazers, and by "multitude" I mean one, Paola's Genevieve uses this jacket to convey to her foreign guest that she fully understands the importance of inner-city practicality. This sensibleness, however, gives way to a kind of carefree nonchalance when darkness falls. Employing the jet black fibers that make up the geometric configuration of her unimpressed groin triangle, Genevieve, her checkered blazer tucked away for the evening, wields her scrumptious lower half with the slapdash earnestness of a hag-ridden slug.

I don't have to tell you, but one of the keys to keeping "the great cobweb" under wraps is having its members adhere to a strict wrist covering policy. Which is why I found Genevieve's habit of rolling up the sleeves of her many blazers, and by "many" I mean two, to be somewhat perplexing.

Anyway, improper blazer etiquette aside, an odd film, even by Italian standards, The Spider Labyrinth, while not as erotic as some of its sleazier cousins, does have a certain charm about it. Extremely weird in places, especially when the screeching starts, it's an assorted burlap sack just waiting to be licked by discerning tongues the world over.

* If I'm wrong, and Dallas is a fascinating city, please accept my sincere apologies.

video uploaded by vigilanteforce



  1. Haven't been to Texas in a gazillion years, and I can't say that I ever have any desire to ever go back. In fact, I only wanted to go to Houston to check out this Bosnian restaurant featured in Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives...and guess what? The guy opened one up in Charleston! Seriously!

    Dude, my latest CFNY entry was really, really obscure.

  2. I hear the city of Houston had a pretty sweet club scene back in the late '80s, and that Austin is some kind of cult movie paradise.

    A Bosnian restaurant?!? I bet Toronto has a couple of those tucked away somewhere.

    Really, really obscure, eh? (I sat next to a recently released convict on the streetcar the other day and he must have said "eh," like, a billion times.)

  3. Wow, now that is an in depth movie review. It sounds like they really got a lot from the production designer. All in all, I might see it. The story really confounds me on some points. This is not one on our radar, so I really think its cool that you review these types of old movies.

    Draven Ames

  4. I didn't catch this until now, but it's crazy that we published reviews on the same day opening with a bit about head nodding. That's some sort of obtuse synergy. By the way, Obtuse Synergy...great fucking band. They opened for Throbbing Gristle once.

    I've seen many Italian horror movies, but this one has eluded me, as well as Paganini Horror, which is a cheesy haunted house thing with a zombie Paganini (the violinist). I'm sure there are a few other noteworthy ones I've missed. Thanks for filling a small hole in my euro trash heart ;)

    My word verification is "mogryl", which is also the name of a dog monster I had to defeat in D&D in order to obtain a great treasure, which included the mystical crotch rocket +43, one of the rarest (and most powerful) weapons in all of nerdom.

  5. I'm a big fan, no, scratch that, I'm a HUGE fan, of Obtuse Synergy's early stuff.

    The first time I heard the word "obtuse" was on WKRP in Cincinnati.

    Filling small holes is what I do best.

    D&D is an abbreviation for Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game.