Trivia The nudie images of Ingrid are actually a double - Ornella Muti was under age at the time of filming.
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Oasis of Fear (1971)
27th Jan 09
A sexy young couple on the run find refuge at an older woman's secluded villa. Or do they?
Umberto Lenzi is the Man. You can't deny his massive contributions to those Italian subgenres we know and love. Starting out with pirate flicks, he went onto do a couple of Spaghetti Westerns, before leaping into the wonderful, sexy world of the giallo. But his best was still to come, when he turned to the poliziotteschi genre with outrageously entertaining movies like Almost Human and Syndicate Sadists. But the tireless genre-hopper still wasn't finished, turning in a memorable Cannibal Holocaust rip-off with Cannibal Ferox in 1981 (even though he had already dipped his toes in cannibal stew previously with Deep River Savages ten years prior). Phew, and I haven't even mentioned Nightmare City yet! So, you see, the world simply wouldn't be the same if it weren’t for Umberto – truly one of the coolest hack directors the world has ever seen.
I'll get around to Oasis of Fear now. This little ditty is from his early giallo period way back in '71, and is chock full of enough cool little twists and turns to keep dedicated giallofiles happy. Like another recent Shameless release, The Designated Victim, it feels like less of a giallo due to the absence of a black-gloved mysterious killer formula, but that's ok. This one follows an irritatingly good looking hippie couple, Ingrid (Ornella Muti) and Dick (Ray Lovelock) travelling through small town Italy, paying their way by selling home-made filth to sweaty locals eager to see more of Ornella Muti’s tasty curves. Who can blame them? After a local reports them to the police, they take to the road again in a stolen car, running out of petrol near the oasis of a secluded villa. When attempting to siphon petrol from the car in the garage, they are caught in the act by a startled Barbara (Irene Papas) - the middle-aged owner of the residence.
Hostile at first, Barbara then invites them to stay for a while, stating that her husband is out of town and that she gets afraid on her own. So, this being the time of free love, they have a kinky party session (to some great music!), which is when the dynamics of the threesome begin to get really interesting. Barbara transforms herself into a sultry, more desirable figure with an unusual allure, trying to unlock Ray’s lovelock at every opportunity, while Ingrid gets jealous. Later that night, Barbara throws their car keys in the swimming pool before placing a wad of cash in Ray's pants while he's sleeping. It seems the game is about to begin.
This suspenseful and cynical little film is a breath of fresh air for those of us familiar with Italian thrillers from the glorious 1970s. Lenzi is still in control of his firm hand at exercising a degree of subtlety before the genre wore him down in the mid 70s, by which time his increasingly crude style was much better suited to the burgeoning cop thrillers in the wake of one Inspector Harry Callaghan's no-nonsense crime-busting antics.
Lenzi is aided by a great cast here – Lovelock and (the under age) Ornetta Muti look fantastic, even if they both have a tendency to irritate at times (eagle-eyed Flash Gordon fans out there may recognise Muti who played the unforgettable Princess Aura in the 1981 film…yeah, she’s the one that gets whipped while wearing all that spandex). Greek actress Irene Papas (Don’t Torture a Duckling) is exceptional as the mysterious host, Barbara – by far the most interesting and intriguing character in this small ensemble. It really feels like the plot doesn’t kick into gear until our two younger leads arrive at her villa. Lenzi takes a leisurely approach to introducing his mischievously playful younglings to us, but this first act could do with a ten-minute trim to take us right up to the ‘oasis’, which is where it really starts to cook. It’s an intriguing variation on the home-invasion formula that keeps on twisting, turning and throwing new cards on the table. Lenzi, along with writers Antonio Altoviti and Lucia Drudi Demby hold all the aces here; the viewer will never guess where the action is headed - one of the film's main strengths.
Oasis of Fear is also quite a tame effort from Lenzi, so don’t go into this expecting the kind of gore or violence he later embraced with Ferox or Almost Human. There is very little, if any, blood, instead working with a sexual tone throughout, from the first act’s ‘dirty pictures’ (which was an alternate title) right through to the erotic tension at the villa.
In summary, a strong effort from Lenzi. Nicely shot with a strangely upbeat soundtrack, it more than makes up for a lack of nastiness with a really tight story and a top-notch cast.
Shameless Screen Entertainment, we thank you once again for giving us the most complete version of yet another essential Italian thriller. Unfortunately though, the quality isn’t up to the usual standards Shameless have so far set. The anomorphic transfer is a little soft, and the dialogue changes from English to Italian frequently. One cool thing to look out for is a great text commentary – funny, informative, and non-intrusive.