In 1981, RAI-TV presented six hour-long films based on stories by 19th century horror/fantasy authors from such directors as Giulio Questi (DJANGO, KILL!), Marcello Aliprandi (A WHISPER IN THE DARK) and Giovanna Gagliardo (STREET OF MIRRORS), starring actors that included Veronica Lario (TENEBRE), Saverio Vallone (ANTHROPOPHAGUS) and Stefano Madia (THE DEVIL’S HONEY). But it was the mini-series’ second episode that remains its most celebrated: The final work of legendary director Mario Bava – and the debut of his son Lamberto Bava as co-director – LA VENERE D’ILLE/THE VENUS OF ILLE stars Daria Nicolodi (DEEP RED) and Marc Porel (DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING) in an elegantly chilling tale of supernatural love. Five episodes have been sourced from broadcast masters, with Bava’s swansong restored from a 16MM print discovered in the RAI vault by film preservationists Simone Starace and the late Michele De Angelis.
EPISODE 1: The Sandman
Dir. Giulio Questi
Hotheaded, romantic student Nathaniel conceives a passion for the professor’s daughter, Olympia. Others, though, say she has no soul, even that her singing and dancing are mechanical. When he stumbles on the professor and his assistant fightin over the automaton’s disassembled body, Nathaniel becomes even more unhinged.
EPISODE 2: Venus of Ille
Dir. Mario Bava & Lamberto Bava
Wealthy landowner Mr. De Peyhorrade uncovers a bronze statue of Venus on his property. Afterwards, De Peyhorrade asks an antique expert, named Matthew, from another village to examine the statue and confirm its wealth. Upon arrival, Matthew is striken with love by Clara, Mr. De Peyhorrade’s daughter-in-law, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the statue.
EPISODE 3: The Perfect Presence
Dir. Piero Nelli
Based on Henry James’ “Sir Edmund Ore,” it concerns the eerie experience of upper class, pipe-smoking Henry (William Berger, Five Dolls for an August Moon) when he becomes entangled in the lives of Annie Marden (Rada Rassimov, The Cat o’ Nine Tails) and her daughter, Charlotte (Emenuela Barattolo), who seem to be haunted by an apparition from the mother’s past. This one is very low key and chatty, but the solid cast and sumptuous production design make it a classy little ghost story on the non-menacing side.
EPISODE 4: The Possessed Hand
Dir. Marcello Aliprandi
The Possessed Hand is essentially a remake of the magnificent 1943 French horror film La main du diable (Carnival of Sinners) about a mysterious man showing off a ghastly, seemingly sentient severed hand to a group of guests at an inn during a snowstorm. Through flashbacks we learned the story of the diabolical limb and its origins with a Mephistopholean carnival barker played by the fantastic Gabriele Ferzetti (who makes this episode worth a look all by himself). While the earlier episodes were all shot in scenic locations with convincing period interiors, this one shifts gears for the rest of the stories by being obviously stage-bound with more minimal, stylized sets.
EPISODE 5: The Bottle Imp
Dir. Tomaso Sherman
Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson. In Samoa, Stevenson (Mario Santella) relates the story of Keawe (Stefano Sabelli), manages to acquire a seemingly unbreakable bottle from an elderly rich gentleman who informs him that it contains an imp capable of granting his dearest wishes. However, the owner will be damned for eternity if he dies while the bottle is still in his possession. Obviously inspired by Powell and Pressburger films (especially The Tales of Hoffman), this is very theatrically staged and often feels more like a ballet with the camera moving back and forth between the stylized action and the narrator.
EPISODE 6: The Dream of Another
Dir. Giovanna Gagliardo
An adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham.” Here we have the saga of medical student Edward Eden (Stefano Madia), who is approached by the aging and wealthy Albert Elvesham (José Quaglio) in search of the perfect heir. Of course, that arrangement comes with a very big hitch that turns into an metaphysical nightmare. Again this one is shot on very spare sets, often shrouded in darkness or with a Magritte-style cloud backdrop that gives it a weird, dreamlike feeling throughout.
Language(s):Italian, English commentary