Oasis of Fear aka Dirty Pictures aka An Ideal Place To Kill
1971 Italy/France Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Shameless Screen Entertainment Region 0
Please note: An oasis of spoilers await you in this review.
Umberto Lenzi’s a bit of a legend as Italian directors go. Perhaps more notoriously remembered for a couple of his ventures into the puzzling (to this reviewer) genre of cannibal movies with such dubious classics as Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox, he’s actually a bit of an all rounder. Whether you take that to mean he’s a skilled director at whatever he’s turned his hand to or whether you take that to mean he’d try his hand at anything is up for you to decide. All I know is in that some of the movies I’ve personally seen of his (such as Violent Naples, Seven Blood Stained Orchids or Spasmo) have all got that certain high quality look to the shot composition which I’ve come to associate with Lenzi and shout them out as movies to take a look at... if just on a purely visual level.
Oasis of Fear is a quite entertaining entry into what I call the “almost-a-giallo” genre of film making. Here, you won’t see corpses piled high or violent and gory deaths (that makes a change then), but there is a murder at this film's manipulative core and, if you’ve never seen the film before, you might even find yourself surprised at the direction this one takes.
This one has Ray Lovelock (The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, Murder Rock) and Ornella Muti (Princess Aura herself from the 80s version of Flash Gordon, Chronicle of a Death Foretold) as young teen lovers, Dick and Ingrid, who seem to be stripping off and single-handedly shoving their newly found, sign of the times sexual freedom into the faces of their fellow men at every chance they get. After making loads of money for their holiday by reselling pornographic magazines and then spending it all again, they go into the home-made market and start selling nude photos of Ingrid herself to keep them going on their road trip across countries and out of the path of “the law”. They come across an “oasis” (actually just a big house with some grounds) when they run out of petrol and the woman who lives their is at first hostile to their absconding with some of her petrol but things take a curious turn when she invites them to stay on with her for the night.
The movie continues with scenes of debauched revelry, nakedness (Ornella Muti guys!) and quite harshly comical 70s dancing (mind you, I tend to find most dancing highly comical, I’ll confess). If you’re an astute viewer then alarm bells will probably be going off in your head around about now as the proud home-owner Barbara (played by Zorba The Greek’s Irene Papas) attempts to divide our young lovers by sleeping with Ray Lovelock but also doing some dodgy things like making sure his fingerprints are all over the revolver in her husbands car... a man who she says she has been expecting to return home all evening.
After all these shenanigans, our two heroes of the sexual revolution finally twig that the husband isn’t just late in the time keeping sense, this little lightbulb popping up after they find his dead body in the boot of his car. They realise that Barbara has been setting the two of them up to take the fall for the murder of her husband and after some elaborate cat and mouse with her, they eventually get away with their car repainted and as much of the evidence destroyed as they can. Ultimately, though, this doesn’t stop Barbara from using these “undesirables” to take the blame for her and, in the last ten minutes of the film, the police are once again hot on the trail of our two young love birds in flight.
Surprisingly for a movie of this era, the murderess actually does get away with her crime... no last minute mistake or clever flash of inspiration from the police to moralistically pin the blame on the real culprit (I wonder if this film ever got a cinema release in the UK back in the 70s... my guess is probably no).
What is, perhaps, a little more typical of the time is the final minute or so of the film where Dick and Ingrid, being chased by the cops, see a stray dog in the road and swerve to avoid it. Being as this is a 1970s film that road happens, obviously, to be at the top of a cliff and our two protagonists lose control of the car and end up dead in the wreck of their MG! Just to milk the poignancy of the conclusion, the final shots of their corpses and lead out is punctuated by the same cheesy pop song which has been following our heroes around all over the film... but, you know, it kinda gets its message across.
So is this movie worth a watch? Well, as long as you don’t expect any deep messages to be imparted from its quirky moral centre, this film is definitely a fun ride from the start right through to the end credits. It’s got funky, 70s Italian music, Ray Lovelock in a Union Jack shirt (or should that be Union Flag considering he’s not on a boat), Ornella Muti in a distinct lack of shirt and some wildly entertaining (for all the wrong reasons) dancing. Add to this some mostly likable characters and some pretty amazing cinematography (as I’d suspect from an Umberto Lenzi movie) and I’d have to say that there are a lot worse ways of spending your money than on this peculiar thriller.
Just don’t go into it expecting high art.
As usual, Shameless have rebuilt this print from various elements to give you the longest possible, uncut version of the film (I’d previously seen a bootleg of this in its “Dirty Pictures” print and even that version was not quite as complete as this). There’s also an irreverent trivia subtitle track to watch with it if you like that kinda thing (which is something I’ll definitely be turning on next time I take this movie out for a spin). Once again, Shameless prove themselves to be a label to watch out for in this particular niche of the market. So definitely worth an upgrade if you’ve already got a version of this and you’re a fan of this particular movie.
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Images used with permission of Shameless Screen Entertainment.