Tuesday, December 22, 2009



TITLE: The Reincarnation of Isabel
DESCRIPTION: An ultra rare example of deluxe sleaze by one of Italy's grand masters of the satanic knee trembler. Packed full with whippings, impalings, torture, sadistic couplings, and a series of devil worshipping bunk ups. [RottenTomatoes]
DIRECTOR: Renato Polselli
YEAR: 1982
RUNTIME: 95 min



Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that no amount of bared, buxom, female flesh can save some films. "Lies!" you may call out. "The Reincarnation of Isabel!" I'll call out in turn. And if you've seen this, you'll surely have to cede the point.

Part of what makes this film so horrible is that you can't pin down precisely what caused this piece of Eurosleaze to fail so badly. Certainly the cheap sets and props can be excused, and the uninspired lighting and bizarre cinematography -- these are par for the course with such films. But the tired plot holding more flashbacks and dream sequences than The Wicker Man remake, and being ten times as convoluted? The poor acting, made ten times worse by the role swapping so many of the actors did in the course of the piece? It is truly hard to imagine director Renato Polselli being pleased with the outcome of his work, but somehow I suspect he must have been.

After all, once you commit yourself to creating a low-grade knock-off of Mario Bava's Black Sunday, what sort of standards are you really holding the work to? So in The Reincarnation of Isabel we get a castle haunted by the presence of a woman burned as a witch hundreds of years in the past, and a contemporary-day guest at the latest housewarming party who looks a lot like the same witch. She's not the only one experiencing deja vu, though: Everyone at this happening shindig looks suspiciously like people from the flashbacks to Isabel's initial demise. Reincarnations? Mostly! But Count Dracula's also kicking about in the mix -- you know, for the hell of it. (One of the alternate titles is "The Horrible Orgies of Count Dracula," which would honestly serve just as well as a description of this film.)

In short, The Reincarnation of Isabel is about the efforts of reincarnated attendants to a long-dead witch, Isabel, to sacrifice the hearts of virgins in order to reanimate her. (And they have to be virgins, in part because Count Dracula won't drink the sullied blood of women touched by semen. There's a classy touch for you!) Sounds straightforward enough, doesn't it?

In fact, this is so straightforward a premise I almost need to give Polselli credit for mucking it up to the extent that he has: Truly, it takes a strange talent to make something so simple so impossible to follow -- either by making the flashbacks extremely difficult to distinguish from contemporary-day action, or by neglecting peripheral details like justifications for everyone's actions in this piece.

Nonetheless, there is an audience for every film, so let me just stress that even for viewers who appreciate the female form, this is a frustrating piece, because most of the nudity isn't very functional, and the bizarre camerawork is often to the detriment of full enjoyment therein. The real audience of this film will thus be lovers of trash cinema -- the ones who recognize that a decent soundtrack is sometimes all it takes to make a film palatable. And The Reincarnation of Isabel has at least that much going for it.

I for one, however, don't see much use in a film like this for anything but ambience -- the way some lounges and dance clubs now project bad old movies with a lot of wild imagery onto the walls with the sound turned off. In the company of your own home, you needn't turn the sound off to produce the same effect: the imagery is wild, the nudity is rampant, and the plot might as well be non-existent. But at the very least, it's not boring. Horrible as this film is from any other stand-point, it at least has the "fun" factor held extremely high over such offerings as The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance. And yes, for this reason alone I intend to see it again some day. Will I still be ranting about how horrible it is? Most definitely. I think that might be part of the appeal.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING AIDS: A lot of booze, plenty of viewing partners, and a high tolerance for trash.


Muffy St. Bernard said...

Loosely based on the life of Syd Barrett?

I've never heard that stated before. All accounts are that it was based on Roger Waters' own sense of alienation and anger, which came to a head during the '77 "Animals" tour (the "spitting on the fan" incident), not to mention the WWII loss of his own father. Waters himself says all this. He has, however, strongly objected to Alan Parker's own embellishments (especially of the mother character).

Barrett's decline was certainly the inspiration for much of Floyd's earlier "Wish You Were Here," album, which is maybe what you were thinking of when you wrote the review.

PS: In the movie, Pink is found semi-comatose BEFORE a big show, not after.

MLClark said...

Hi Muffy,

Thanks for responding. First, I'm afraid you've posted your comment to the wrong review: Blame Blogger for that!

Second, we must be reading different accounts, because while I absolutely concede that Roger Waters' own past has some blatant presence in much of the imagery in the film, the fact that the mental breakdown of the central character becomes the framework of the entire piece can't really be denied. The parallels therein, to Syd Barrett's own mental breakdown, are quite clear.

That said, again, I can appreciate the omission of Roger Waters' presence as inspiration being a serious one: In the course of this review I found myself reacting more than anything to the absurd perception of this film as "about Fascism" in the literal sense; and was more fixated on developing a discourse on the figurative direction of the film's material. This review therefore differs from my others here inasmuch as it's much, much more of a persuasive essay than an analytical one -- resulting in many basic omissions like the one you noted. Thanks for the catch!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

My troubles with Google-posting that comment were almost enough to send me into my own fascist nightmare/fantasy! "Who broke the Google comment feature this afternoon? Get them up against the wall!"

I was thrilled that my comment was finally accepted...now sad it was for the wrong post!