La Setta (1991)
By: Joe Lewis on April 24, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Cecchi Gori (Italy), Region 2, PAL. 1:85:1 (16L9 enhanced). Italian DD 5.1, Italian DTS 5.1, English DD 2.0. Italian subtitles. 115 minutes
The Movie
Director: Michele Soavi
Starring: Kelly Curtis, Herbert Lom, Mariangela Giordano, Michael Adatte, Carla Cassola, Tomas Arana Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Gianni Romoli, Michele Soavi
Country: Italy
Wow. What a genuinely horrible movie this turned out to be.

The fifth film of Milanese horror director Michele Soavi, La Setta (The Sect) opens in California during the Summer of Love. While a group of campers are messing about, a grizzled old man comes and crashes the party, only to ritualistically murder the hippies in a grisly montage. Cut to Frankfurt, where we see the cultists in action again – this time, the fruitcake is an aged Giovanni Lombardo Radice (whose character's name is 'Martin Romero', a tribute I'm sure the zombie master could have done without) who cuts out a young woman's heart. In a truly hysterical turn of events, Radice is pickpocketed in a crowded train and, when the thief pulls out the human organ, he sparks a panic. The police finally capture Radice at a crowded station and hold him at gunpoint and, after some nonsensical rambling, the cultist forces his mouth onto the muzzle of one of the cops' pistols and blows himself away.


Things don't really get more credible, and it's not even fun in a B sort of way. We're introduced to Kelly Curtis' (Jamie Lee's sister) Miriam, a young schoolteacher who almost runs over an old man (Moebius Kelly, played by veteran actor Herbert Lom) on her way from work. Horrified, Miriam takes the old man back to his place for the night where he gets up to some truly weird shit – including slipping a bug up Miriam's nostrils before making a quick escape down the well in the kindly schoolteacher's cellar (the door, it seemed, was locked). Things get increasingly strange as the cult members, including Moebius, begin to get closer to Miriam and their malevolent intentions soon become clear.

Ultimately, La Setta is a muddled picture, not quite sure whether it wants to be a supernatural thriller or a giallo. This can be put down almost entirely to a bumbling script – Argento was in a creative slump when he wrote this, and co-writer Gianni Romoli was noted for a few C-grade Italian pictures, but little else. Romoli went on to write Argento's Trauma, Dellamorte Dellamore and a handful of little known Italo-indie horror flicks. Soavi himself also bomb-dives into the bumble-fuck screenplay with as much blatant ignorance as a toddler with a black permanent marker and a white wall. The acting is pretty hideous, however there are a few gems in the mix – Giovanni Lombardo Radice's part, as small as it was, was fantastic and he's always a pleasure to watch on-screen. Radice (who went by his Anglicised name John Morghen for much of his eighties output) is a genuine icon of Eurotrash, starring in Deodato's 1979 shocker House on the Edge of the Park, and jarringly played the deranged Logan (a role he had genuine contempt for) in Cannibal Ferox. Herbert Lom's performance is also commendable, and the Austro-Hungarian famous for his role in the Pink Panther films plays the demented old cultist well. Aside from these few standouts, it's all very strained and hammy, a characteristic typical to many films in the Eurotrash cycle.

Michele Soavi had become something of Argento's protégé in the late eighties and early nineties, and the expansive surrealistic influence of Dario is clear here – but it verges on the overbearing. Actually, fuck 'verges' – Soavi's a filthy hack. The director emulates his mentor so slavishly that La Setta comes across as something that Argento would have filmed in the eighties and, given that's when the latter hit one of his most abysmal creative slumps, that's far from a good thing. By La Setta, Soavi hadn't developed his directorial style and while it emerges in its fledgling stages with his next film Dellamorte Dellamore, Soavi has operated in the shadows of greater Italo horror masters throughout his entire career. It seems hypocritical to slam Soavi for the very attributes that so many directors possessed during the zenith of the Eurotrash cycle, but there was always a talent, however obscured, or a notoriety that made these rehashes fun. But this isn't the case with La Setta – masturbatory, overly referential and carbon-copy imitation is the order of the day. There's nothing that makes this a refreshing revisit, or even a fun redux of an oft-used concept.

For someone, like myself, who really digs the Italian exploitation vibe, La Setta comes as a total disappointment. The film isn't entertaining, it isn't well made – and above all, it's simply an echo of some of the worst work yielded by its writer/producer, Dario Argento. I can't, in good conscience, recommend La Setta to anyone, even genre fans. The film is only available on Region 2 in Italy (online retailers such as Xploited stock it), so it makes for an expensive blind-buy – and one that this reviewer regrets immensely. Much like gangs of knife-toting youths, this is one film that, when encountered on the street, requires either total disregard, or savage beating with a greater weapon. Like something Radice has a meatier role in. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
The picture is presented in anamorphic 1:85:1. It looks good, with a bit of grain here and there but nothing that detracts from the film. Even though distracters would have been welcome. On DOP duties is Raffaele Mertes (who later worked on Argento's Trauma), and he doesn't do a bad job at it – but the flashy exuberance isn't anything unlike Suspiria, Inferno and the like.
There are two Italian 5.1 tracks in Dolby and DTS. Both are crisp and clear. The English track is in 2.0 Dolby, and I had to lift my volume to the maximum just to make out some of the dialogue. Italian subtitles are included. Prolific Italian composer Pino Donaggio is La Setta's muso, and his atmospheric work on the film is very good. Donaggio has around a hundred and twenty films under his composer's belt, among them Don't Look Now, Carrie and Dressed to Kill.
Extra Features
The basics – a photo gallery, theatrical trailer and talent biographies.
The Verdict
When I bought this DVD in an Italian video store, the clerk enthusiastically informed me that La Setta had 'tanto sangue' – lots of blood. A glowing recommendation to be sure, but one that proved to be a case of blatant overpraise. While it's pretty much made of fail, what is most outstandingly bad about La Setta is its derivativeness – we've seen it all before, and we've seen it done far better. Argento, Romoli and Soavi's clunky script makes understanding this film a needless chore, and the latter's directorial prowess is seriously questionable. Radice, as always, is super-cool, but 180 seconds of screen time is far from a saving grace. Kill it with fire.
Movie Score
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