Monday, August 9, 2010

A Whisper in the Dark (1976)

I gotta tell you, I love slow-burning, mysterious ghost stories. The psychological impact of such films leave me wanting more, so I eagerly seek out titles I’m unfamiliar with. Such was the case with A Whisper in the Dark (aka Un Sussurro nel Buio), a 1976 production from Italy.

In this film, a wealthy family is vexed by the existence of Luca, the imaginary friend of their 12-year-old son Martino. Mother Camilla is affected the most, so much that her nerves are shot. It doesn’t help that she has two bratty daughters, or that her mother, The Countess, is visiting the mansion and her husband is a philandering fool. However, everyone soon begins to fear Martino and his imaginary friend Luca.

Why you ask? Well, it seems that anyone who has anything bad to say about Luca or Martino has something bad befall them. For example, when his sisters play a trick on him, Martino tells them Luca will get back at them. That afternoon, the sisters are to attend a party but it starts pouring rain. Even when they try to attend, their car gets a flat tire. In another instance, Martino discovers his father is having an affair and the adulteress is scared away by a toad placed in her bath.

Pretty tame stuff, but it spooks the family enough that they bring in an “expert” to analyze Martino. When the professor threatens to take Martino away he mysteriously dies. Are all these instances mere coincidence or does Luca really exist?

A Whisper in the Dark starts off very strong. It has the creepy atmosphere of the surrounding countryside and forest, plus the foreboding mansion that lend it much gothic beauty. Then there are some spooky scenes, including Martino “interacting” with Luca, an artful shot of a lone red balloon floating through the gardens, the light sound of a child laughing, a swing swinging on its own, a weirdly unsettling kid’s costume party and a very effective scene where Camilla is kissed by invisible lips.

There is no doubt that the film is beautiful, lushly shot by director Marcello Aliprandi and cinematographer Claudio Cirillo (who actually plays a detective in the film and also does a cute intro before the film!). However, the film never really goes anywhere and the creepy scenes are far and in-between. Mostly we see the family interacting (dear lord those sisters are grating! If I was Luca I would have gotten rid of them long ago) instead of any real ghostly activity. And the fact that there is only one death was pretty disheartening. Of course, since the film is so ambiguous this is supposed to make us question if Luca really exists or if everything is just unhappy circumstance, but for me this wasn’t enough.

While I enjoyed the psychological games the film played with the audience, I just wish a little bit more had been done to scare the audience instead of puzzle them. The ending gives no resolution, but repeats a similar pattern of Martino telling everyone that Luca prefers peach jam on his toast, not plum (yes, a table setting and food is laid out for the invisible Luca). Previous to this scene is a bizarre dream-like sequence where Camilla decides to take care of Luca’s ghost (since he may be her own miscarried child) for herself and through fog and snow leads him out of the mansion’s gates. The next morning she wakes up on the muddy ground (sans snow or fog) and finds Luca back to his old tricks at the breakfast table. So much for resolution…

A Whisper in the Dark is a film I desperately wanted to love. Ghost stories are my absolute fave and the right ones send a delightful shiver down my back, but this film only left me mildly interested. While it is a beautiful film and has its unsettling moments, more should have been done with it. If you are like me and like subtle, atmospheric horror it does deserve at least a look, though!

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