Body Puzzle

Reviewer: Jeffrey M Anderson
Rating (out of five): ** 1/2

Lamberto Bava is the son of the legendary Italian horror director Mario Bava. Lamberto entered the business young and assisted his father on many films, and recently even helped to assemble the amazing "lost" film Rabid Dogs (1974). When Mario died in 1980, Lamberto embarked upon his own filmmaking career. Two high points were Demons (1986) and Demons 2 (1987), both of which were co-scripted by Dario Argento, another Italian horror legend, and were both playfully post-modern chillers well before Scream came along.

But after a few decades, it's now fairly clear, and most fans would agree, that Lamberto did not inherit his father's gifts. Case in point is Lamberto's Body Puzzle, a 1992 serial killer movie that has been newly restored and released on DVD by Raro Video. The pieces are mostly there: a grizzled detective, a beautiful widow, body parts, etc. But somehow they just seem to come up in the wrong order, or stack up independent of one another. In other words, the real puzzle has nothing to do with the story; it has to do with how the movie was made.

Tomas Arana stars as Mike Livet, a police detective with poofy, thinning hair and one lazy eyelid; he's sharp, yet burnt-out (people keep asking him when he last slept). He gets assigned to a series of grisly murders, in which specific organs have been cut out of the victims. This leads him to beautiful widow Tracy Grant (Joanna Pacula). Her husband's corpse has been dug up in connection to the murders. The movie's gimmick is that the killer is collecting the donated organs that once belonged to one man, in a sick attempt to piece him back together.

But once that gimmick is revealed, the movie's switcheroo doesn't make much sense, and neither does the final shot in which the hero walks off into the distance. This is one of those movies in which, even after the cops figure out the next targets and try to protect them, the killer has no trouble finding them anyway. The cops spend a lot of time speaking very intensely and/or yelling at one another, but they can't seem to be in the right place at the right time, despite all their detective work and the obvious evidence.

The younger Bava relies more on set decoration than on style; Tracy's house is a marvel of architecture and design. It has an indoor pond, and -- of course -- a dumbwaiter. In one of the movie's best moments, the dumbwaiter comes into play just as one would expect it to -- almost. However, the director doesn't really place these objects within the frame in any interesting way. Mario Bava could take on a nonsensical, illogical script and make a masterpiece out of it with his extreme, colorful compositions, suggesting a unique kind of dream logic and that anything was possible. Lamberto's movie is more realistic, and so the awkward plot moments just seem awkward.

At least Body Puzzle has some funny moments, such as the goofy mortician whose name is "Mort." Additionally, the movie makes interesting use of sound design: the killer listens to "A Night on Bald Mountain" on his walkman each time he kills, and the movie often drowns out all other sounds while this is going on. Overall, it's a mildly diverting effort, but it doesn't do much to elevate Lamberto's status.

Quality-wise, Raro's DVD is excellent -- this company has truly become a force to be reckoned with -- but it contains no extras.

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