Spasmo (Umberto Lenzi, 1974)

Umberto Lenzi Spasmo artwork collage

Spasmo (1974)
Running time: 94 mins.
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi. Produced by:
Ugo Tucci
Cast: Robert Hoffman, Suzy Kendall, Ivan Rassimov, Adolfo Lastretti.

The Story

Christian, a rich playboy, finds a young woman lying unconscious on a deserted beach. The woman, Barbara, wakes up and immediately speeds away in her car. Christian and Barbara meet again, onboard a luxury yacht. The two then retreat to a motel when a gun-toting thug climbs in through the window…

The visuals

In terms of visuals SPASMO is a standout among Lenzi’s thrillers. The film boasts carefully-composed, well-lit cinematography by the unsung hero of Italian genre cinema, Guglielmo Mancori (MANHATTAN BABY). Umberto Lenzi’s films are often relatively plain, with darting zooms as the primary stylistic device. This unexpected visual splendour sets SPASMO well apart from any other thriller Lenzi has directed.

The cast

Suzy Kendall has more to work with this time around compared to her other two roles in Italian thrillers. Under Lenzi’s taut direction, Eurocult regular Robert Hoffmann (DEATH CARRIES A CANE) gives perhaps his best performance. Umberto Lenzi also puts Adolfo Lastretti to good use as the black-corduroy-clad henchman.

SPASMO is Umberto Lenzi’s stylish thriller set in a parallel universe of the hedonistic rich who do nothing but zoom around the sun-drenched coast, party on yachts and sleep around in picturesque seaside villas.

The script

Although the English dialogue is stilted, it does bring across the characters’ ambiguity. There’s a line where one character casually calls another “a sweet, sweet whore”, which is disturbing. The final act is so engrossing that the dialogues don’t matter – a sign if truly great cinema.

SPASMO sits apart from majority of Italian giallo thrillers of its vintage. Hard to believe this tense, complex and nearly bloodless film is the work of the director of CANNIBAL FEROX.
The finale where the characters’ troubled past is revealed via projected old home movies is a triumph of editing.

The richness of visual composition, nuances of Suzy Kendall’s acting, complex plot architecture and Ennio Morricone’s splendid melancholy score all make this film a standout. SPASMO merits repeat viewings and is the film to remember Lenzi by.

Reviewed by Alex Bakshaev in April 2020 updated May 2020