Written by: Lamberto Bava & Gianlorenzo Battaglia (story), Fabio Pittorru & Franco Bottari (screenplay)
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Starring: Al Cliver, Silvia Dionisio and John Steiner
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“Don't worry, guys like you never go to jail..."
I find it interesting that a lot of the Euro-horror guys have a legacy that’s sort of pegged to one genre when just about all of them bounced around all over the place throughout their careers. Argento’s irrecoverably tied to gialli, Fulci to zombies, Bava to pseudo-slashers, and the list goes on. And then there’s Ruggero Deodato, one of the directors responsible for molding the cannibal genre not only with that genre’s masterpiece, Cannibal Holocaust, but also with Last Cannibal World a few years earlier. But those are but two films in a nearly fifty year career that has seen Deodato direct everything from kick-ass cop flicks (the borderline psychotic Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man) to Last House on the Left riffs (House on the Edge of the Park). Before any of that, though, the sleaze purveyor dabbled in erotic thrillers, an even more gratuitously sexy cousin to the giallo that generally focused more on sex than murder. One of these movies is Waves of Lust, a bizarre, small-scale effort that embraces the genre’s gratuity but also hints at underlying subtexts.
It’s a weird sort of slow-burn whose endpoint seems a little too obvious as it revolves around two couples (and I think there’s only one more speaking part) whose paths cross for a few fateful days. Irem and Barbara (Al Cliver and Silvia Dionisio) are an average pair who start the film by observing Giorgio (John Steiner) from a distance, jokingly noting that his wealth and status allow him to get away with whatever he wants. Barbara ends up briefly befriending Giogrio’s girl, Silvia (Elizabeth Turner), before setting up a date with him later that evening. It’s all part of a scheme to get all four together for whatever reason, and Giorgio sees this as an opportunity to invite everyone on a boating trip, where they’ll basically swap girls and deep sea dive.
And that’s exactly what happens for most of the movie, which sounds kind of dull. Sometimes it is--the diving sequences certainly drag, and there’s a general ennui to the proceedings since the obvious point doesn’t really emerge until the end. It’s an oddly told story because it proceeds in such a way that you know exactly what’s going to happen (obviously, Irem and Barbara have targeted Giorgio for some reason), and you’re left hoping there will be some wild explanation for it all or some twist somewhere along the way. When the cat-and-mouse game among the couples emerges, it presents some possible avenues and directions, and the film at least feels morally ambivalent enough to truly fuck with expectations. The movie offers you four completely strange human beings that are often doing horrible things or having horrible things done to them, and it’s an intimate little display of hedonism confined to a boat that somewhat unfortunately does play out a little too predictably.
Girogio is the worst of the bunch, the brazen asshole that revels in being one. He’s the type of guy who would invite a couple he barely knows because he wants to dick-swing by showing off his yacht and because he sees Barbara as a conquest. Whenever he’s not around, everyone basically talks about what a prick he is, but I’m not so sure he would try to refute that. It’s probably a bad thing that Steiner’s performance makes this guy the most compelling of the bunch, and he borders on being an almost charming scoundrel who observes everything like a sly fox. His mischievous, shit-eating grins further make him a salivating fox in a henhouse, and he awesomely presides over the film. It probably also says either a lot about me or a lot about these sort of films when I pegged poor Silvia as a girl who would probably get slapped around a lot. Casual misogyny almost always comes with this territory, but, in the case of Waves of Lust, it’s not really casual because it’s very much the point--Giorgio is an abhorrent misogynist, with Irem and Barbara playing at a white knight routine to rescue Silvia from the Stockholm Syndrome style relationship.
Women are literally property to him--he “gifts” Silvia to Irem at one point in the film, and the two engage in amorous displays that stop just short of actual sex because Giorgio still has to grant her permission for that. He also basically considers her a slave, so Waves of Lust not so subtly comments on upper class debauchery and their treatment of those beneath them. However, the film never exactly lets us get a handle on the “heroes” either--there’s something enigmatic and almost sociopathic about them; the film opens with an upside down shot, as Irem is fond on standing on his head to get a different view of the world. It would seem as if these two are interested in upending the status quo, but they often remark that the world is just as screwed up one way or the other, so they feel more like agents of chaos out to cause havoc not out of moral obligation, but out of resignation. They might be in this for a kind of perverse pleasure that differs from Giorgio’s brand of sadism, but it’s perverse pleasure nonetheless. Barbara is especially ambiguous, infused with a real, manipulative “dark woman” vibe by Dionisio, making her a perfect companion for Giorgio when he begins to eye her.
Waves of Lust is an interesting film for all of this, but Deodado himself never makes much of a case for his own interest in it--the film is kind of shoddily framed at times and full of zooms, his camera lecherously gazing during the numerous erotic sequences, rendering the film a transparent softcore trash-up of Knife in the Water. Fair warning--it’s not much of a horror film, as those elements don’t take over until towards the end, when a mysterious painting enters the fray and possible murder plots surface. Still, I suppose it’s a close enough relative to other sub-genres that it’d warrant a curious peek from the enthusiasts. Raro Video recently released the film on DVD for the first time in North America, and it’s another solid offering from this niche company. The presentation features a digitally restored anamorphic transfer that holds up well--it’s a little soft and hazy, but that could very well just be due to the source material. Two audio options--the original Italian and an English dub--are available, with both sounding crisp but a little anemic. Special features include a filmography and biography for Deodato, deleted scenes, the director’s rare TV commercials, and a 17 minute documentary called “Erotic Tsunami” that features Deodato and others reflecting upon and discussing the film. Per usual, the film also has extensive liner notes, this time from Eric Cotenas, who expounds upon both Waves of Lust and Deodato’s career. This film is feels like a footnote in that career, albeit an intriguing one that mixes playfulness and grimness in equal measure--it's kind of like watching a cat run laps around a a cocky mouse before finally deciding to pounce. Rent it!
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