Aenigma (1987)

They made a clown out of Kathy once too often!
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Aenigma - They made a clown out of Kathy once too often!

Horror film creators often addressed the subject of bullying well before it was trendy to pretend to care in order to market a product. This scenario was often saved for the slasher and as this sub-genre was booming in the eighties many directors saw this formula as a way to pay the bills. Even Lucio Fulci joined the band on their wagon in 1987 with Aenigma. Despite his attempt to hop on, Aenigma still exhibits a lot of the staple plot devices of traditional Fulci yet, for the most part, misses the devices that made the slasher so mainstream. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you want to get out of 90 minutes of entertainment. The audience is spared a generic and predictable slasher very typical of the era but the attempt to meld into this formula results in a disjointed story more so than Fulci's usual brand of irrationality. For the Fulci fan this is undoubtedly the work of the focus of their fandom, for the slasher fan this is going to be a bit weird.

It would be foolish to base a decision regarding further perusal of the story based on the opening scene. This scene is copied straight from the US slasher rule book then pasted in condensed Italian form with an added injection of campness to ensure you are 100% sure it is set in the eighties. A difference here is that most directors would dedicate a sizeable chunk at the beginning setting the scene, developing characters and establishing motives; Fulci gets it over with faster than the black guy would have died in a more traditional slasher. Kathy gets dolled up eighties style by her friends consisting of the "hot and bitchy" female and some guy who would be purposefully clumsy with soap should he ever do prison time. Kathy leaves for her date with the school hunk. Kathy discovers it is all a joke and a tragic set of events unfold to put her closer to her maker. That is the seven minute scene setter and it is obvious from the next few minutes that comatose Kathy has possessed the new girl at school so there is nothing left to do except kill some bratty bullies.

Some have suggested that Aenigma borrows heavily from Carrie. It does quite blatantly borrow from numerous slashers and spans a wide spectrum of the narrow field for inspiration. The confusion starts when killing starts and it becomes apparent that this director wanted to make something other than a story pressed from the slasher movie template. New girl Eva Gordon (Lara Lamberti as Lara Naszinski), although possessed by the vengeances of the comatose Kathy, doesn't actually kill anyone. She is more recon for the paranormal forces that deliver the retribution by way of the scenery. This is a step away from the usual methods of slasher death delivery but a step towards Fulci's comfort zone.

A number of the scare tactics used seem rather dated. Snakes and skeleton corpses had all been seen before and by the late eighties horror had moved on to new, more controversial territories. This could explain the embarrassed and only slightly fearful expressions on the actors faces; they exhibit the expressions one would probably make enduring the hokey cokey opposite a drunken Heather Mills. The infamous snail scene is quite gross and once again typical Fulci (think tarantulas in The Beyond) although requires quite a flight of fantasy to believe the apparent peril. A pinch of salt would help here in more ways than one.

As would be expected the scenes of anguish are dragged out but some of the magic is missing. The threat doesn't seem as dangerous as it should be, possibly due to the overuse of eighties guitar music for the duration of the terror rather than ominous tones. It seems that the death scenes weren't intended for this style of film where shocks and splatter are more appropriate. They don't have the impact here that a slower burning and more engaging film would have given them.

Aenigma takes what Fulci does well but forces things into a place where they don't belong like the Babylonians did before him. Fulci fans will appreciate the death scenes for the extended torment and the often randomness of the situation but don’t expect the calibre of his more famous movies. Do expect a cameo.
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