Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!
Much suggested debauchery will attract the prurient-minded to this woolly Italian‑made sexploiter. Carroll Baker for mild marquee value. X rating applied by distributor.
Lethargic pacing, ludicrous scripting and a general air of stupefaction characterize this ridiculous Commonwealth United Italo‑French import, which originally bore the far more delectable title of ORGASMO. Although basically nothing more than an obtuse exploitation programmer, PARANOIA‘s sex angles give it potential for fast hard‑sell playoff in ballyhoo situations. Carroll Baker provides mild marquee value starring as a rich, amoral alcoholic widow who is held a virtual prisoner in her lush Italian villa by two nasty young transients, who try to drive her mad to get their hands on her estate. Apart from a nude shower seduction scene reprised from Miss Baker’s last exploitation epic, there is virtually no portrayal of the sexual debauchery around which PARANOIA revolves, and it rates its self‑applied X only by intent, not accomplishment.
Apparently lost on his way to Queens College, New York, American vagabond Lou Castel moves in with Baker to satisfy her erotic demands, and soon introduces his pretty step‑sister Colette Descombes into the affair. Baker is wined and drugged into a few three‑way orgies (not shown), until she begins to show signs of wear. Remorsefully but correctly characterizing all three of them as “nauseating,” she tries to kick her visitors out, only to find herself blackmailed via incriminating lesbian photos. With the run of the villa, the disagreeable duo make a few offhand murder attempts and torture the pale, wan Baker with intermittent blasts of cacophonous rock music, played by Weiss and the Airedales. The balance of the film blends sex with well‑worn horror conventions (lights going out, noises in the night, bodies in the closet, etc.), until, by the time they serve her a frog on the dinner tray, she’s even begun to look a little like Baby Jane.
Finally, Baker totters off the villa roof onto the stone patio, where faithful lawyer Tino Carraro tenderly picks her up and‑surprise!‑drops her over a high railing on to the driveway, where she lies presumably dead. The plotters have won, but crime does not pay… as graphically demonstrated when Castel and Descombes plow their new car into a convenient truck in the last shot. Baker gives a shrill, monotonous and quite terrible performance, but with passionate love‑scene dialogue like “Dirty me, dirty me, yes yes yessss!” followed later in similar circumstances by “Yes, yes, yes—hurt me!” it’s not fair to blame her exclusively. The script is full of comments on itself (“I find the whole thing very distasteful,” comments Baker at one point), and given the hokey situations, director Umberto Lenzi never builds the slightest suspense or mood. A brief montage by Enzo Alabiso is well-done, but eclectic Lenzi will never gain the cult following of Mario Bava, the stylish director he flatly imitates.
Photographer Guglielmo Mancori manages a couple of interesting shots, but overindulges the zoom effects, especially during the inevitable discotheque scene. In removing a major plot point for the US market, Commonwealth has only succeeded in making a bad film even worse. In the original, it is clear the heroine has murdered her husband, motivating somewhat her bizarre behavior, and deletion of several other scenes involving a Scotland Yard inspector makes the lawyer’s last minute arrest in London seem sillier than it is.
1970. Commonwealth United (A Tritone‑Societe Nouvelle de Cinematographie Production). Eastman Color by Movielab. TotalScope. 91 minutes. Carroll Baker. Lou Castel. Colette Descombes. Produced by Salvatore Alabiso. Directed by Umberto Lenzi.