Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Giorgio Mariuzzo & Lucio Fulci
Starring: Lara Naszinsky, Milijana Zirojevic, Dusica Zegarac, Riccardo Acerbi & Jared Martin
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“... What about her father? What kind of guy would make love with a retard like Mary?!”
In a horror movie, the outcast always gets the last laugh. No, he may not get the girl to live happily ever after with on a beach under the shining rays of the sun, but he most likely will get her with an axe in the woods under the piercing light of the moon. Canadian slashers were built on this foundation and before them was Stephen King’s supernatural first kick at the can, Carrie. You’d think people would stop messing around with the un-cool, but that would take away way too many murder scenarios, wouldn’t it? In 1987, Lucio Fulci crossed into Carrie and just a dash of Suspiria territory with Aenigma, which is hailed as one of his least engaging efforts. As much as Fulci was a phenomenal artist, he never shied away from borrowing from a peer and making it his own. He was never a downright thief, and Aenigma proves just that, even if it is a relatively stereotypical affair.
The film opens with an infinitely cheesy soft-rock love song and a young lady named Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic) donning thick makeup for a big date. A couple friends help her dress and eventually she’s all prettied up in a red dress, finally having the chance to go out with her long time crush, Fred (Riccardo Acerbi). The romantic evening leads straight to the car of her boy toy and horror fans who haven’t even heard of the film before would know just what’s up. They were supposed to go dancing, but why waste energy? Fred wants to get right to the good stuff. As they’re touchin’ and rubbin’, Kathy lets out some remarkably odd information about her never thinking this day would ever come and how she’s more than willing to let Fred slide home. Incriminating information, indeed. The van with its lights out parked across from them all but confirms the suspicion.
It’s all a scam and the car is rigged. Everyone can hear just what poor Kathy is saying and when they turn their lights on, she realizes she’s been bamboozled and takes off running with these jerks in hot pursuit. A vehicle strikes Kathy in her attempt to get away and she is hospitalized in a coma. The girls of Saint Mary’s College don’t seem to mind, give or take one, and when new student Eva (Lara Naszinsky) arrives on campus, everything is business as usual. Except, Eva brings with her a haunting enigma. She’s being possessed by Kathy’s mind and soon becomes her instrument of revenge as one by one her former tormentors fall by extraordinary means. If that’s not enough, there’s a nutty janitor running around the place with glowing, red eyes. Is there a connection between the two, and more importantly, is there a way to stop Kathy from taking more lives. I hope not, because the girls in this flick are real bitches!
Aenigma doesn’t deserve the bad rep it’s gotten from the horror crowd in the last few years. Even as a huge Fulci fan, I was afraid to touch it. After viewing the awful Sodoma’s Ghost, that is really saying something. Whereas Sodoma’s Ghost was barely even a movie, Lucio Fulci still showed a glimmer of his former self in this 1987 offering, which seemingly went away the next year with the aforementioned travesty along with the shaky Touch of Death and quitting on what could have been a very interesting comeback film, Zombi 3. But, Aenigma isn’t all bad and although its characters are very slasher like and the premise is very stereotypical, it’s still a fun supernatural romp. At the very least, it’s visually appealing, something that wouldn’t be seen again in the Fulci world until 1989’s The House of Clocks.
We’ll start from the top, Saint Mary’s all-female school is home to many a sluts and bitches. Kathy is one of the couple nice characters we’re introduced to and we only know she’s nice because of how the others treat her. Mean girls never seem to get lynched on a date, nor are they aggressively chased down the road dangerously into traffic. At least not until the second act. The beginning is really weird and having watched it a second time and knowing the twists in the plot, you feel a hell of a lot sorrier for Kathy and the hokey love song doesn’t help matters. What also doesn’t help is she applies makeup so heavily that she looks like a homely hooker of about sixty in a young woman’s body that would make the nastiest Motley Crue groupie picked up drunk on Sunset Strip back in 1981 look timid. In a revenge film, it’s crucial that you feel sorrow for the lead and you feel very much for this poor girl. Carrie is the classy type of revenge film, Aenigma is the type that has the viewer rubbing their hands together maniacally just waiting for what goes around to come around.
Visually, Fulci makes exciting use of his sets and uses a nice array of camera angles making things very easy on the eyes. In addition, many scenes have a blue hue that is nice for atmosphere and adds to the supernatural tone of the film. Naturally, the maestro makes his standard cameo in the film as a police officer. The music is pretty good, nothing up to Fabio Frizzi standards of course, but it fits the film well. The gore isn’t flying at you in swarms like the outrageous zombie movies, but Fulci’s death scenes are still mildly creative and are different than the usual stabbings and bludgeonings. We get a really cool effect of a painting coming to life resulting in a severed arm from the art actually falling down onto the floor before dripping blood on a lady and a statue is brought to life and becomes the devil’s right hand. There’s nothing excessive and it doesn’t need to be, the amount of gore fits the film’s tone and necessity perfectly. No, Aenigma will never win any awards and it’s not even close to the best Fulci movie. What is sad is that so many people seem to not at least find it tolerable because every Fulci film wasn’t complete gold or conversely, doesn’t stack up in the gore department regardless of the fact all too many people despise his films on the exaggerated grue principle alone. I can understand people being disappointed that it’s no City of the Living Dead, but those of us who can enjoy a film like Prom Night II should have absolutely no problems with Aenigma.
Image released Aenigma on DVD back in 2001 and the disc is absolutely barebones; there isn’t even a main menu screen. Although the film is presented in its 1.85:1 ratio, the disc is non-anamorphic, but the video quality is on par for a 2001 release with light softness and some blemishes. The Dolby Digital mono track is clear and packs a decent punch. Overall, Aenigma has been ill-received because it is a victim of circumstance. Anchor Bay had released most of Fulci’s best work quickly and they had only just released Manhattan Baby and The Black Cat a month or two before Image put out Aenigma. Before this, the least effective Fulci thriller widely available had been The New York Ripper, which packed a sickeningly sleazy punch that may have been seen in poor taste, but ultimately still succeeds. But, the world found out that Lucio Fulci was human upon these releases and the initial shock hasn’t completely faded to this day. I guess these people haven’t seen most of Wes Craven’s mid-eighties horror output or, hell, pretty much every film Tobe Hooper has made outside his Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. Aenigma is an everything eighties supernatural horror venture that doesn’t beg to be seen, but it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. Rent it!
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