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Friday, April 29, 2016

Spider Labyrinth


Spider Labyrinth
1988
Gianfranco Giagni

Professor Alan Whitmore travels to Budapest to track down a colleague who has seemingly vanished. There, this professor of languages, discovers that not only has his friend met an untimely end, but he had stumbled upon a conspiracy involving a cult of spider worshipers. He quickly finds out that they value their secrecy very highly and the cost of uncovering them is far from pleasant. Whitmore desperately searches for clues but someone or something is silencing anyone who tries to help him.

Spider Labyrinth merges the Italian giallo murder mystery film to the foreboding doom and mind shattering horror of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. By 1988 the Italian genre boom of the 70s and 80s was beginning to wane, so it is not surprising that someone would try to offer up a variation on some well used formulas. Spider Labyrinth is largely successful merely on its novel approach, thankfully it also possesses quality beyond that.

Spitters are quitters.
 The movie is largely a mystery film, and it paces itself in a slow build. Clues are not readily available, and when a piece is revealed, it causes more confusion that resolution. The movie doesn't quite engage in operatic dream-logic like some other Italian horror films of the time, but it uses its eeriness calmly and effectively, at least until events go berserk in the final act.  In that way Spider Labyrinth has a superb control of its tone. It gambles on letting things slow to a crawl, all the better to explode into mayhem when the time is right.

The late tonal switch from atmospheric mystery to garish creature feature could have been easily bungled but, thanks to director Giagni’s keeping the film low key and strange, the effect feels more like things are bubbling over into a nightmare. I think this is a case where the unreality of the prosthetics, puppets, and stop motion only serve to heighten the unreality of what is happening on the screen.

SFX Guy: "So What do you want this monster to look like?
Director: "Make it look a C.H.U.D. had a baby with a Podling"
If the film has any major flaw it's that it is perhaps too slow to build to anything relevant. I did find it testing my patience occasionally but if you are a patient viewer, the film finds its pace about the midpoint and manages to keep doling out the questions at a steady enough pace until it reaches the climax. Spider Labyrinth rewards those who stick with it, although it is at times not easy.

It's a difficult film to discuss without talking about the finale since that is so key to everything that comes before it. Even the short coda at the end drives home some really visceral horror that sends the story off with a delightfully evil flourish. Spider Labyrinth is often overlooked on many Lovecraft film list thanks to being unusually difficult to find, but it belongs on that list as one of the better examples of that sub-genre. 

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