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A house in the country
A UK region 0 DVD review of OASIS OF FEAR / DIRTY PICTURES by Gort
 

If you're young enough to be considered part of the internet generation, then you may well be mystified by the very idea of paying money for softcore porn, let alone the concept of sneaking so-called adult magazines between two newspapers to hide their purchase from everyone else in the shop. Except the weary sod who's serving you, of course. At least that's what I've heard. Ahem. It's almost a shame if you are as you'll miss out on what is probably the best porn buying gag in the history of film, which takes place early on in Woody Allen's 1971 Bananas ("Hey Ralph, how much is a copy of Orgasm?"). It may also leave you scratching your head at the early activities of the young couple at the centre of Oasis of Fear (Un Posto ideale per uccidere, aka Dirty Pictures), another neat little Italian thriller resurrected to its former glory by Shameless.

Dick and Ingrid are self-styled sexual liberationists who fund their carefree European travels by selling porno mags and sex sounds to an Italian smut dealer, and nude pictures of Ingrid to tourists. In Pisa, at the base of the possibly symbolic Leaning Tower, they pick the wrong guy to wave their wares at and, in a superb zoom-cut, are hauled in front of some police official and ordered to leave Italy pronto. On their way to the border they meet up with a nutball biker and his mate, who share their food with them then rip them off. With their Polaroid camera in the hands of the Polizia and needing money for petrol, Ingrid struggles to bang out a few hot snaps or herself in a photo booth. Going by the quality of the finished pictures, this is definitely a machine to hunt out for that special flattering portrait.

An unfortunate (and unlikely) coincidence sees them mistaken for a pair of German bank robbers by the petrol jockey they try to sell these snaps to. Dick overhears the police being called and the pair scurry off without filling up their car. When they inevitably break down, they do so close to an isolated house. They ring the door bell repeatedly, but middle-aged Barbara, who dwells nervously within, has no intention of answering it. Finding the garage door ajar, our intrepid pair set about syphoning some fuel from Barbara's car but she catches them at it. After a brief but heated argument, both parties calm down and the couple bid Barbara farewell, only to have their previously hostile host suddenly change her mind, apologise for her rudeness and invite them in for a sandwich.

If up until now you've been amiably coasting, it's here that that you really start to sit up and take notice. Dick and Ingrid's cheerful adventures in the amateur porn trade are engaging enough, despite their dips into the sort of very public hippie behaviour you only ever see in movies ("Drink, doves of peace!"), but the first shot of Barbara, which catches her in the middle of a phone conversation and in a state of considerable agitation, is instantly captivating. Who is she talking to and why is she so alarmed by the prospect of visitors? Pleasingly, this air of mystery doesn't let up. With her guests installed, Barbara continues to behave erratically towards Dick, contemptibly shunning him one minute and jumping into his pants the next. Does she fancy him? Certainly looks like it. But wait a minute, does she also fancy Ingrid? Or are we and they being deliberately misdirected here? It's a real strength of Oasis of Fear that it keeps us guessing for a good half-hour, and when the reveal comes it doesn't disappoint. This also provides second viewing pleasures in the clarification of actions that seemed odd or inconsistent the first time round. Oh yeah, so THAT'S why Barbara asked Dick to get some cigarettes from the garage...

The intrigue continues even once the truth is out. There are even a couple of sequences of genuine Hitchcockian tension, the first set in an aviary at night, the second involving Ingrid, a car and three investigating policeman, though this one concludes in a manner that I'm sure Hitch would shudder at having his name associated with. I did find my allegiance shifting back and forth a bit, however, as intermittently I began sympathising with Barbara, and Dick started to live up to the anatomical implications of his name.

To judge the performances you have to look past the dubbing and then the three leads acquit themselves well, with Irene Papas in particular managing the shifts from anxiety to annoyance to confident sexual predator in most convincing manner. While the dubbing is sometimes an issue, it's a relatively minor one. Shameless have gone to some trouble to track down the English language track, and with good reason. Dick is supposed to be British, the majority of the dialogue was obviously delivered in English (the dub matches the mouth movements too well), and it's likely there's only a dub at all because both Ray Lovelock and Ornella Muti are Italian by birth and their accents might just have given the game away. I'd still wager that Lovelock was a bit more convincing in his delivery than whoever stepped in to make him sound more English, which I suspect is partially responsible for my second half uncertainty about whether I actually liked him that much.

But this is a small irritation in an otherwise nifty and well plotted thriller whose post-60s hangover elements – wild hairdos and multi-coloured lights in discos, and songs that have "dubba-dubba-dubba-dey!" in place of lyrics – are charming rather than embarrassingly dated, unlike a good many other films of its day. That you'll probably see the end coming a good five minutes before it happens can be put down to genre conventions of the period; that it doesn't really matter is as much due to the narrative and subtextual logic of the conclusion as the quality of journey taken to get there. Chalk another one up for the Shameless lost gem revival project.

sound and vision

In order to deliver this complete version – a world first, apparently – a couple of compromises have clearly had to be made. On the plus side this is an anamorphic scope transfer and the source film elements are in largely good shape, displaying minimal dust spots and damage, and good contrast and colour throughout. However, the fuzziness of fine detail and diagonal jaggies strongly suggest a non-digital video source for the transfer, and the picture certainly has a look that I associate with analogue video. If your TV's small enough this won't be as evident, but on a 42 incher or higher there's no escaping it, and playing the disc on a computer the scan lines and image halos are clearly visible. The effect is all but hidden on our reduced size grabs above, but you can see the effect on the image below, which a section of a full-sized screen grab.

The sound also has its imperfections, notably a narrow dynamic range and a tendency to hiss on the trebles of dialogue, but given that this is a rare and rescued soundtrack we should cut the disc some slack here. Due to this complete version being mastered from a number of sources, occasionally the English dialogue gives way to subtitled Italian. At first this feels deliberate, with Italian only spoken by Italian characters, but the spell is broken later when Dick and Ingrid appear to forget their English and swap their voices accordingly. In a couple of places the dialogue is clearly out of sync with the picture, but neither last that long.

I have to give a special mention to the main menu. It's not the design, which is decent enough in the usual Shameless mode, but the way the backing track (taken from the film, of course) kicks off with a "Wheee!" from Ingrid. For some reason this delighted me so much that I kept starting the film and pressing the menu button just to hear it again.

extra features

Trailer (2:58)
An intriguing trailer, largely for its very sober and very English 1970s voice-over. Quite long, and an awful lot of spoilers if you've not seen it, so save this for afterwards. But it really is worth a look.

Shameless Fact Track
In the style of the track on Designated Victim, this is a textual extra that appears at the bottom of screen in the manner of optional subtitles to provide information on a particular scene, location, actor or filmmaker. Compiled by Kevin and Nick Wilson, it's a far busier track than its Designated Victim predecessor, but also a sillier one, a mixture of interesting facts, amusing quips and the sort of comments you hear in the cinema when sat in front of a talkative nitwit who's trying to impress his girlfriend. On the whole, though, the interesting and amusing definitely outweigh the annoying.

summary

Another choice find by Shameless, its complete English language status tending to compensate for its slightly sub-par, video-sourced transfer. The fact track may irritate at times, but as it says on the extras menu, it's not meant to be taken too seriously and there's enough good stuff included to make it a (largely) welcome addition.

Oasis of Fear
Un Posto ideale per uccidere
Dirty Pictures

Italy 1971
95 mins
director
Umberto Lenzi
starring
Irene Papas
Ray Lovelock
Ornella Muti
Michel Bardinet
Jacques Stany
Calisto Calisti

DVD details
region 0
video
2.35:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
languages
English and Italian
subtitles
English (for Italian sectiosn)
extras
Trailer
Fact track
distributor
Shameless
release date
24 November 2008
review posted
29 November 2008

See all of Gort's reviews