Review: Body Puzzle (1992)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #771

Also known as Misteria
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 20, 1992
Sub-Genre: Giallo/Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Lamberto Bava
Producers: Mario Bregni, Pietro Bregni
Screenplay: Lamberto Bava, Teodoro Corrà, Bruce Martin, Domenico Paolella (story)
Special Effects: Franco Casagni
Cinematography: Luigi Kuveiller
Score: Carlo Maria Cordio
Editing: Piero Bozza
Studio: Produzioni Atlas Consorziate
Distributors: Light Age Filmworks Ltd., 88 Films (Blu-Ray)
Stars: Joanna Pacula, Tomas Arana, François Montagut, Gianni Garko, Erika Blanc, Matteo Gazzolo, Susanna Javicoli, Bruno Corazzari, Ursula von Baechler, Sebastiano Lo Monaco, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Paolo Baroni

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] LibraShock”

[2] Jean Pierre Mirouze “Sexopolis”

[3] Shirley EllisThe Puzzle Song”

How does one even begin to fill the shoes of a visionary filmmaker of the late, great Mario Bava’s caliber? In addition to practically inventing the giallo all by himself and inspiring the American slasher movement, he understood what it took to make a decent horror movie and churned out a number of memorable chillers throughout the sixties and seventies. Once the time come for his ultimate curtain call, he handed the reins to his beloved son, Lamberto Bava, who was cutting his teeth as a director with his debut feature Macabre. While it’s hard to argue that the boy didn’t do good, his résumé makes for spottier reading than his main competition during the eighties, friend and fellow countryman Michele Soavi.

Soavi himself hasn’t always come good on his promise, although how can we forget the flush seven-year period where he gave us Stagefright, The Church, The Sect and his magnum opus, Dellamorte Dellamore? Bava’s output was reasonably consistent through the eighties, with A Blade in The Dark, Midnight Killer and Delirium: Photos of Gioia all demonstrating his ability to knock up a flavorsome giallo dish. However, only Demons truly stands out as a landmark piece and the nineties are barely worthy of remembrance where the Son of Bava was concerned as there was more money in TV movies than the kind of stylish chillers with which he’d made his name.

To be fair, he did return to the scene of the crime briefly in 2005 with The Torturer, sparking fresh optimism that he may be back on the incline after such a lengthy hiatus. However, his attempt to ride the coat-tails of the likes of Saw and Hostel fell on deaf ears and regrettably he’s barely worked since. Now in his mid-seventies, it is unlikely that we’ll ever see another Bava return and I find this immensely frustrating as he always seemed on the cusp of something truly wondrous and I just know he had it in him to step out of his father’s shadow and leave his own horror legacy in his wake. Fuck it, we’ll always have Demons right?

I regularly find myself scouring through his filmography in the hope that there may be some hidden gem that I’ve missed and one movie that is repeatedly flagged up is his 1992 giallo, Body Puzzle. Precious little is known about the film and I don’t recall it ever coming up in conversation I’ve ever been a part of. Mercifully, thanks to the good folk over at 88 Films, who have lovingly restored it for its Blu-Ray debut, the time finally came to finally break my duck. Given that it has remained low-key for over twenty years now, expectations were pitched realistically, as anything that emerged during the dreaded nineties has a hefty curse to lift before it can ever dream of matching up to its eighties counterparts. But my faith in Bava as a filmmaker never once wavered, regardless of how his career has ultimately panned out.

Barely five minutes in and my decision to piece Body Puzzle together myself felt wholly justified. The stylish opening murder of a kindly confectionist is both slickly shot and effective and the ground has been hit running. Moreover, instead of following the giallo blueprint laid out by his father with The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood & Black Lace, he reveals the killer’s identity straight from the get-go, calling to mind J. Lee Thompson’s 10 to Midnight in terms of flavor.

Our psychopath (the perfectly cast François Montagut) is ruthlessly efficient and utterly composed, thanks to the rousing chords of Night at Bald Mountain filling his eardrums as he goes about his foul work. It’s a bold move for sure, but not nearly as tension-sapping as it could have been, had the personnel been different.

Next on our itinerary is a swift trip over to the super swanky abode of recent widow Tracy (Joanna Pacula). Still reeling from the recent loss of her husband after a terrible motorcycle accident, Tracy is finding it incredibly hard piecing her life back together but there’s a whole other puzzle testing both her grey matter and fast-fraying nerves that entails a number of unannounced gifts showing up at the house and in the most unexpected of places.

Should Tracy wake up in the dead of night feeling peckish, then she may wish to toss some cold water on her face before venturing to the refrigerator as, while Hannibal Lecter swears blind that human flesh tastes just like chicken, there’s little “finger lickin’ good” about the bag of giblets currently chilling on her fridge shelf.

A few harmless innards is one thing but where does it end? A bonus ear? Lopped off hand on the front door knocker? Gift-wrapped tallywhacker? Charity may begin at home, but all this cloak and dagger donation simply has to stop, and a brief stay at her parents’ house seems the best way of stopping all this back-handed generosity.

The police agree and a flatfoot named Michele Livet (Tomas Arana) is assigned to ensure no harm comes to Tracy and hopefully crack the code. 24-hour surveillance doesn’t harm none either, although none of the cops staking out her grounds day and night appear quite as invested as Michele. Perhaps he’s just better qualified. Or more likely, he has sussed out another way to relieve a widow of her grief that entails a cheap bottle of plonk, nice bit of background sax, and his stiff Johnson.

Either way, their budding romance is looking decidedly precarious right now as the bodies are starting to pile up and, for all his best efforts, Michele isn’t coming up with much in the way of joining the dots. Could there be some kind of pattern emerging here? Maybe the victims are related in some way, after all, puzzle pieces are all about that group hug. Running frightfully short on leads or ideas, he does a little digging around and his investigation takes him to some fairly random places. Actually there’s just one – the local paddock – where flamboyant caretaker Morangi (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) sows fresh seeds of doubt in his already wilting mental crop harvest.

Body Puzzle itself is something of an enigma. At times it feels almost like a made-for-TV movie and Bava struggles to sustain any kind of forward momentum. However, just as we begin to lose heart, he hits us with something utterly outrageous and all is forgiven in an instant. Try this on for size – in a bizarre homage to Jaws, our killer dispatches a lifeguard in a public swimming pool and relinquishes him of his kidney underwater, without a solitary splash of blood in the water.

Later on, our hero happens across a freezer chest and opens it to find a shit ton of ready meals and a frozen corpse. As we prepare ourselves for a sneak attack from behind, the killer leaps out… from the freezer no less. This begs a number of questions – How did he manage to burrow beneath all those frosted goods and close the lid without assistance? How come he didn’t freeze to death himself? How did he know that our hero would look inside the freezer in the first place? Moments like these only serve to endear Body Puzzle to us further.

While Pacula does her level best as our beleaguered lead, Arana fares somewhat less well as the man tasked with saving the girl and solving the case. Possessing all the charisma of a chewed-up toffee, he barely looks like he can be bothered most of the time and it is left to the likes of Gianni Garko as his cantankerous police chief and Sebastiano Lo Monaco as a mortician amusingly named Mort to rally our interest. The latter in particular is priceless, coming out with gems such as “could be you’ve got yourself a real psychopath here” while nonchalantly snacking on a sandwich, surrounded by cadavers.

Bava does manage to prise a fair amount of suspense out of his shooting locations, particularly our distressed damsel’s luxurious homestead, which is a marvel of architecture and design and boasts its own art-deco style inside pool, a dumbwaiter and plenty of dark shadows for a psychopath to lunge out from. However, for all these stylish touches, it all hangs together rather awkwardly and the nonsensical plot only serves to undermine his good work. This is never more evident than the final act, where we finally solve the puzzle and the sum of its parts never quite add up.

If it sounds like I’m being overly harsh, then rest assured, Body Puzzle is more than worthy of your time and this is primarily down to an inspired turn from Montagut as our resourceful killer. While his identity may not be confidential, it’s his expressionless features and the methodical manner in which he dispenses of his victims that make him all the more frightening. Bava may not have broke the mould when constructing his final giallo before hitting the gogglebox, but his vast field experience sees him good in the end. Besides, I always did love a good conundrum.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: With the exception of one swift and grisly dispatch that takes place in a restroom cubicle, the focus is more on after-the-fact injury detail than gushing grue. However, the most inspired kill actually has no requisite for gore and involves a schoolteacher snuck up on and slain in full view of a whole classroom of blind kids for the ultimate in anatomy lesson. Meanwhile, any hopes of a splash of sexy time are thwarted the very moment the saxophone kicks in, resulting in Tracy & Mike’s lovemaking scene playing out by way of PG-13 montage.

Read A Blade in The Dark Appraisal
Read Macabre (1980) Appraisal
Read Demons Appraisal
Read Demons 2 Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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