Appellate Judge Tom Becker's body is a rebus.
"Let's not pull any punches. There's a homicidal maniac out there somewhere, and somehow, you seem to fit into his plans."
Lamberto Bava is the scion of Italian B-movie royalty, his father being the great Mario Bava, who pretty much jump-started the giallo genre with his 1963 film, The Girl Who Knew Too Much. Bava Senior, of course, enjoys an extensive cult following thanks to his stylish, suspenseful, and often gruesome films. Bava Junior followed in his father's footsteps, and has turned out his own string of stylish, suspenseful, and often gruesome films.
But unlike his father or his close friend and mentor, Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava has yet to make a really memorable film; there's no Black Sunday or Blood and Black Lace, or Suspiria or Deep Red on his resumé (well, there is a Black Sunday, but it's really just another episode in L. Bava's series of Demons films, retitled to cash in on the legacy).
Body Puzzle is a '90s slasher/thriller that occasionally echoes the giallo films so popular in the '70s.
Facts of the Case
It's been a terrible time for the lovely Tracy Grant (Joanna Pacula, Tombstone); she tragically lost both her beloved brother and her husband, Abe, the latter in a dreadful motorcycle accident.
Unfortunately for Tracy, things are going to get worse: a homicidal maniac (is there any other kind?) has taken to slicing and dicing seemingly random citizens. After the kill, the killer a couple of body parts, keeping one and gifting Tracy with the other. On top of that, someone has dug up Abe's grave and stolen his body.
Handsome, though slightly dog-eared, detective Mike Livet (Tomas Arana, Gladiator) is on the case—seemingly 24/7. Zeroing in on the newly exhumed Mr. Grant, Det. Livet some disturbing things about the perhaps not-so-honest Abe and becomes convinced that the death of Tracy's husband is key to this spate of killings.
Lamberto Bava often introduces slightly "taboo" subjects in his films, like transvestism or necrophilia; unfortunately, these "shocking" elements often become the story, rather than acting as an element of the story, and his films tend to stumble about with little in the way of logic or legitimate plot development to propel them.
Body Puzzle is no exception, a delirious and ridiculous psycho-slasher that's fun to watch in the way a dozen jelly donuts are fun to consume: the farther you go, the more you realize how awful you're going to feel when it's over. Even by the generally lax standards of plausibility employed in slasher films, this one's off the charts.
It's hard to say too much about the plot of Body Puzzle without giving away one or more of the film's many twists—and there are many, many twists, one maybe every five minutes or so. As the twists twist and pile on previous twists, the film goes from cruising down Ridiculous Road and takes a sharp left onto Ludicrous Lane. The only thing you're probably going to see coming is the dull, pointless, and perfunctory romance between the fetching leading lady and straight-arrow cop. Suffice it to say, you probably won't see the end coming, not so much because it's a clever thriller, but because the reveal is so jaw-droppingly silly and the run up depends on so many contrivances, co-incidences, and misunderstandings, that it just wouldn't occur to you that someone would actually try to foist this off on an audience. The plot is so riddled with holes that it's less a movie than a gangland killing.
If ever a film cried out for one of those hackneyed "let's explain everything" endings, it's this one, but Bava leaves us hanging, ending everything in the standard way just minutes after the big "gotcha." As you watch the closing credits, you'll probably be wondering, "But how did…?" and "But didn't anyone notice…?" or "But no one checked…?" and so on.
The disc from Raro looks good, its 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer clean with vivid colors (the reds! the reds!). The Dolby 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is perfectly fine—contrary to the case, the film is not in Italian with English subtitles, but in English with no subtitles. While there are no meaningful on-screen supplements (unless DVD Credits is your idea of a meaningful supplement), there is a booklet with a very good essay on the film and Bava by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Now that I've buried Caesar, let's dig him up and do a little praising; Body Puzzle is a mess of a movie, but it's not without its virtues.
For one, there's Joanna Pacula. Pacula might not be much of an actress, but she is fantasy beautiful. If this were a film that required a significant level of emoting from its leading lady, Pacula's presence would be frustrating—when she comes upon a stray body part nailed to her front door or oozing in her 'fridge, she reacts with slightly less horror than if she'd found a flaw in her Hermes bag—but she's stunning to look at, and she has those "eyes of fear" that serve giallo actresses so well. As written, her blankness seems to be part of the character, as Tracy seems to hold the key to several clues, but when questioned about people and motives, usually just shrugs and says things like, "I can't remember" or "I never saw him close up." In the world of Body Puzzle, her wide-set eyes and flawless skin are enough that, while we don't exactly empathize with the character, she's still nice to have around.
Bava also clearly has a sense of humor about all this. Sometimes it's a sly in-joke—a cemetery director named Mario Fulci—or a slightly tired but cute word play—a pathologist named "Mort." Errant blood splatter is always good for a laugh, and minor characters have all sorts of quirks and idiosyncrasies (though I do wish that films like this weren't so quick to portray gay characters as the equivalent of Paul Lynde's long-lost and less-butch cousin). Giallo goddess Erika Blanc (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave) has a supporting role, as does Gianni Garko (The Psychic).
The kills themselves aren't really as gory as they seem, but they are plentiful and handled fairly well; while logic might not be his strong suit, Bava certainly knows how to build suspense. Classical music plays a part in the proceedings, and it adds greatly to the tension.
While the cinematography isn't overall impressive, there are some striking shots, most involving camera paramour Pacula. My favorite: Pacula walking through her house—which has a swimming pool in the living room—in a billowing red robe while the killer watches her through a glass door. It's creepy and beautiful, and is the sort of thing that gives the film a slightly more artistic veneer than it actually merits.
A schizo and silly late-entry giallo-esque slasher, Body Puzzle is a mixed-bag of pain and pleasure.
More than a bit guilty, but not without its charms.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
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