Thursday, April 26, 2012
***A promotional shot of Laura Gemser in the seventies***
While he is primarily known as a director of horror films, with Vampyres being the most celebrated, and thrillers, the masterful Symptoms standing as his greatest work, Spanish filmmaker Jose Ramon Larraz has worked in a number of, sometimes surprising, genres including comedies. While not among his more notable films, El Periscopio, a sex-comedy from 1979 starring a lovely Laura Gemser remains a lightly perverse and fitfully funny film that is worth seeking out for fans of this iconic director, as well as its popular star.
Larraz was turning fifty years old when El Periscopio hit the European film market in 1979. Given the more provocative title And Give Us Our Daily Sex in some English language markets, El Periscopio wouldn't turn out to be a great success for Larraz but it would provide an interesting conclusion to his powerful seventies output. Sandwiched in between the relatively obscure The Golden Lady (1979) and the underrated Stigma (1980), El Periscopio is the most lightweight film Larraz ever shot, a deliberately ridiculous and goofy work centering on a teenagers obsessive peeping at two often-undressed nurses who are his neighbors. Even though it is bogged down by a series of bizarre subplots, El Periscopio ultimately succeeds as a sexy dumbed-down farce precisely because Larraz understood the type of film he was making. In other words, El Periscopio is the kind of intellectually vacant film only a very intelligent director could successfully make.
While preparing El Periscopio in 1978 Larraz handed over his story idea to none other Sergio Garrone, the writer and director of some of the most deranged and infamous Italian exploitation films of the sixties and seventies, including Kill Django...Kill First and SS Experiment Love Camp. Garrone would end up penning the final screenplay for Larraz but his work would turn out to be surprisingly soft as well. While El Periscopio is slightly seedy, and surprisingly explicit, in spots, this is a rather tame collaboration from the minds of Larraz and Garrone, a collaboration that could have proven very dangerous indeed had the two been looking to make something truly disturbing.
Exploitation fans will notice several familiar, and welcome, names on the credits of El Periscopio including composer Ubaldo Continiello (he would provide the excellent score for Lamberto Bava's terrific Macabre less than a year later) and former Pasolini cinematographer and future director Roberto Girometti, who photographed the film. In front of the camera, we have a few familiar faces as well including Gabriele Tinti and, of course, Laura Gemser.
While El Periscopio will be of interest to fans of Jose Larraz, perhaps the reason most will want to seek it out will be due to the presence of Laura Gemser. The Indonesian beauty had been working almost nonstop in the five or six years leading up to El Periscopio and she's a pleasure to watch in the film, even though Larraz doesn't ask much of her. Still, Gemser manages to be both funny and sexy and, I suspect, the role must have felt like a breeze after the globe-hopping films she had been making mostly with Joe D'Amato.
El Periscopio remains one of the more elusive films that Laura Gemser shot in the seventies. My version comes from an imported VHS English language dub that leaves a lot to be desired visually, but at least appears to be taken from an uncut print. Considering the considerable cult followings that both Laura Gemser and Jose Larraz have a proper release on disc would be most welcome.