Aenigma / Ænigma (1987)
Running time: 90 mins.
Directed by: Lucio Fulci. Produced by: Walter Brandi, Ettore Spagnuolo
Cast: Jared Martin, Laura Lamberti, Ricardo Acerbi, Ulli Reinthaler, Sophie d’Aulan, Jennifer Naud.
St. Mary’s College, Boston. Kathy, an outcast, is in a coma following a prank gone too far. Yet the girl’s vengeful spirit refuses to rest. Soon it takes possession of the beautiful new arrival Eva. She now hast to enact Kathy’s revenge on those who had tormented her. One by one the pretty young things start dying under mysterious and increasingly bizarre circumstances.
Though reportedly suffering from ill health during the film’s production, Lucio Fulci still has the eye for impressively eerie visuals. Fulci does his best to deliver a quality product on a severely reduced budget here. The helmer of THE PSYCHIC and CONTRABAND knows how to film even the dreariest screenplay in a visually interesting way.
Fulci is not terribly invested in the flimsy and unoriginal story but makes an effort to inject plenty of style into the proceedings. Bearing in mind its vintage and production history, it’s no wonder AENIGMA looks shoddy at times. The film’s technical execution is not on par with Fulci’s more celebrated work. Some of the more ambitious shots are sadly marred by obvious camera shadows and wobbly pans and zooms. There clearly wasn’t any money for retakes or time for rehearsal of the technically demanding scenes.
AENIGMA’s dignity is at least partially saved through an unusually inspired and effective score by Carlo Maria Cordio (ABSURD, PIECES, TOUCH OF DEATH). While the soppy “Head over Heels” ballad which Douglas Meakin sings over the opening and closing credits is an acquired taste, the rest of the synth-driven score hits the mark. It’s mainly bare synthethiser, very late 1980s. The music for the aerobics scene is appropriately upbeat and mindless and some eerie tunes add atmosphere to the nighttime scenes. Cordio’s score really compliments this uneven film and helps carry the (often tame) horror scene. Music and sound effects smooth things over whenever special effects and scarcely furnished sets fail to convince.
Outwardly a mixture of PATRICK and CARRIE, AENIGMA also recycles some elements from Lucio Fulci’s then-recent work. The finale with the female protagonist exploring the shadowy corridors of an eerie hospital and wandering into a room with cadavers laid out on slabs is very similar to THE BEYOND). The scene where Kim faces the bleeding corpse of her boyfriend, unable to look away is again a reiteration of the closing scene of THE BEYOND. Both films co-written by Giorgio Mariuzzo.
AENIGMA’s story is weak and most of the characters are unlikeable. Worst of all, there isn’t an interesting central figure to root for. Doctor Anderson ( Jared Martin, THE NEW GLADIATORS), never even comes close to solving Kathy’s enigma. Then there’s that awkward shift in the final act where Ulli Rheinthaler suddenly turns from a supporting character to the protagonist. The deux ex machina resolution doesn’t help things, either.
Despite its obvious low budget, Lucio Fulci’s AENIGMA has 1980s vibe aplenty and features some quality set pieces.
Although Fulci stated in an interview that AENIGMA had sold to most territories, there isn’t much information on whether the film did much business upon its original release. It did receive a prize at the Avoriaz Film Festival and was one of the last Fulci films to enjoy a theatrical release in the US. Today numerous home video editions of AENIGMA exist. A relatively tame film (coming from the director of THE NEW YORK RIPPER), AENIGMA was nevertheless cut upon home video release in West Germany (where it was released as DÄMONIA). The censors trimmed the infamous “snails attack” scene, the nightmare sequence in which a love scene turns nasty and “beheading by the window” scene.
“Made in Yugoslavia”
Although the story is supposedly taking place in Boston, Fulci shot AENIGMA in Yugoslavia. The main location of the film, St. Mary’s College, is actually the Konak, a former noble residence in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Some of the young cast members (Dragan Bjelogrlic, Ljiljana Blagojevic) went on to become major film stars in Serbia.
AENIGMA is a flawed film from the twilight period of Lucio Fulci’s busy career. With its skeletal story, weak technical execution and middling horror scenes, the film is easy to dismiss as a failure. However, AENIGMA is not without its merits: it has a strong 1980s vibe and a quality musical score. Despite the glaring budget limitations, the film is quite entertaining. There’s an inventiveness to it which has always distinguished the works of Lucio Fulci from those of his less committed peers.
Reviewed on March 2 2020 by Alex Bakshaev – Updated on May 8, 2020