Reazione a catena's status as a sequel to The Last House on the Left would be a pretty neat trick, seeing as how this 1971 Slasher Flick was released a over a full year prior to The Last House on the Left. What's more, The Last House on the Left was released in Italy over two years after Reazione a Catena. Hell, Reazione a Catena's 1972 US release was over three months prior to The Last House on the Left's inauspicious and limited release. This is my long-winded way of telling you that although there are all kinds of films peppered all over the Video Nasty List that liberally rip off The Last House on the Left, ironically, The Last House on the Left, Part II is not one of them. Further although there are tons of films both on and off the List that have been influenced by Reazione a Catena... The Last House on the Left has nothing whatsoever to do with this film.
It does have more than its fair share of shock and splatter elements that keep it firmly planted in the Exploitation realm. You've got the large-breasted skinny-dipping female named, no shit, Brunhilda (Brigitte Skay), you've got the bottomless sprint through the woods, the extreme giallo and so on. It also has enough of what the conservatives in early '80s Great Britain would have interpreted as "Obscene" to get it banned on the Video Nasty List.
And to think it all boils down to a Real Estate deal. Man. Remind me never to buy land in Italy. We begin as Countess Federica Donati (Isa Miranda) is murdered, leaving her husband, Count Filippo Donati (Giovanni Nuvoletti) as the sole heir to the prized Bay that everyone seems to want to either get their hands on, get into, or bury their corpses in. Just how long he remains the surviving heir is the next question.
It isn't long before more bodies are hitting the floor in varied (now) slasher-staple ways. This includes members of the local citizenry and members of that gang of partiers that lovely Brunhilda is a boisterously naked part of. An interesting thing about this story is just how hard it is to get a bead on who is doing these things and for what reason. Everyone is a potential suspect and everyone has a pretty logical reason why they aren't likely to be the culprit. As the murders go on the list of potential bad guys seems to diminish. This is less a "whodunnit" than it is a "whosdoinit"!
This makes things difficult and confusing for the Count's daughter Renata (Claudine Auger) during her time of shock, mourning and determined investigation. She and her husband Albert (Luigi Pistilli) work their agenda through every step they can pushing for a resolution, yet finding it hard to trust anyone out there. Meanwhile, another young go-getter (who is essentially homeless) named Simon (Claudio Camaso) involves himself in other ways as well, thickening the mystery as he gets closer to the truth. As so very much of this is revealed to be about Land, the deal wheeling Real Estate agent with the Used Car Salesman's name, Frank Ventura (Chris Avram), pops up to sleaze up the landscape along with his nearly always naked (yet strategically, unrevealingly photographed) lover Laura (Anna Maria Rosati). Additionally you've got the ubiquitous creepy couple in the form of a local entomologist named Paolo Fossati (Leopoldo Trieste) and his weird, fortune-telling wife Anna (Laura Betti, who looks like she would feel naked without a Crystal Ball in front of her). Then, of course, you've got Brunhilda's partying party. Her date Bobby (Robert Bonnani) certainly missed out on a great show by staying behind... but their friends Duke (Guido Boccaccini) and Denise (Paola Rubens) make their own night music... in the day time. Who is hunter, who is prey? The tantalizing possibility could be that there are even multiple killers out there, hunter and prey in one. And what if this killer is a big None-of-The-Above?
This is most assuredly a distinct possibility, especially to the viewer of today. Noting the release date of 1971, it's interesting that so many slasher flick methods are used here long before they became clichés. Take a few random scenes here and there out of the main context and it's just as easy to picture Jason Voorhees doing the killing. In fact there are some scenes in the Friday the 13th series that are literal re-shoots of some of Bava's own sequences. The English-Speaking audience members who would go on to make similar films would likely have known this film by its US release titles, A Bay of Blood and Twitch of the Death Nerve, or by the name under which it was released, and banned, in the UK, Bloodbath. The influence is clear over a great many films... none of which are The Last House on the Left (which, incidentally, was another film banned in England as a Video Nasty).
The elements that led to the banning of Reazione a catena may not seem quite as shocking today, though they were sufficient to throw the BBFC and NVALA into a tizzy. A floating corpse seeming to cop a feel on the bare bottom the aforementioned skinny-dipper is disturbing enough, but a double murder of a coupling couple is enough to tip the scales into the land of the banned. There is one (of a few) scenes that still seems gruesome and repulsive, even by the standards of today. It's one thing to find a waterlogged corpse... it's another thing to find a waterlogged corpse with an Octopus attempting to eat its head. It was disturbing enough to provide the basis for the marketing art in many releases. This, too, may have been a factor in its banning as many of the objecting parents and VHS-seizing cops would, quite literally, judge a tape by its cover.
We'll set aside the unlikelihood of a cephalopod being in the bay and attaching itself to the corpse's face for the sake of the film. Here's where the drawbacks start to pop up. Although the mystery is solid and the oft-imitated death sequences inventive, the acting is somewhat lackluster and the ultimate payoff (though satisfying) almost feeling like it's one layer too much. Watching this movie from so many years after its creation, it might be easy to dismiss it as just another slasher flick with similarities to a great, great many that also ran. However, this would be a shame as Reazione a Catena isn't an also-ran... it's among the first and most pioneering of the slasher subgenre. Considering some of the gore effects in the early Friday the 13th films, it's still a surprise to see the successes that this film makes in pioneering some of the same moves. These are, of course, a credit to the masterful Carlo Rambaldi.
To be frank, yes, this is just a slasher flick... like Star Trek was just a Sci-Fi show. It has influenced many that went on to influence many and its impact may have dimmed since its release. However, this one is more than just another entry onto the Video Nasty List. It may not be a perfect or a great film, but it is a smart thriller with a solid mystery and inventive content. It's a must for fans of the genre. Three Stars out of Five for Reazione a Catena. It may not be Psycho, but it's pretty damned good. Now to cancel that Camping Trip. Somehow I just don't feel like swimming anymore. See you in the next reel, sucker.
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