Scherzo Diabolico

| May 6, 2016

Adrián García Bogliano made a big impression on horror fans with his first English-language feature Late Phases, which was also a pretty big departure for the filmmaker in other ways. He didn’t write the screenplay, and the subject matter–a blind veteran taking on a werewolf terrorizing a retirement community–couldn’t have been more different from most of his previous work. Bogliano and his brother Ramiro García Bogliano first caught the attention of the international horror scene with nasty exploitation films like Rooms for Tourists and I’ll Never Die Alone, but his more recent work has been based more in the supernatural. His latest feature Scherzo Diabolico is something of a return to the kind of films he was making a decade ago, although with much higher production values.

Aram (Francisco Barreiro) is a family man working an office job. He’s ambitious, but all his hard work has been getting him lately is a lot of unpaid overtime and a litany of complaints from his wife. He seems to have taken up a new hobby to help pass the time: trailing teenage schoolgirl Anabella (Daniela Soto Vell), learning her routine, and timing it to an album of classical piano that he listens to obsessively. Every day he goes to work, makes nice with the boss whose position he clearly lusts after, then leaves and follows Anabella around and takes meticulous notes. Finally the big day arrives: Aram dons a skull mask and kidnaps Anabella, taking her to a remote, abandoned factory and chaining her to a pole with a tattered mattress, a blanket, energy bars and bottled water. As Aram’s plan begins to take shape, things in his life start to improve drastically. But has Aram really pulled off the perfect crime, or is it just a matter of time before the consequences of his actions come back to haunt him?

No points for guessing the correct answer. Scherzo Diabolico deals with some very unpleasant ideas, and Bogliano mines both unexpected observation and humor from his characters’ bleak situations. Aram is certainly no hardened criminal, and his preparations for specifics of the kidnapping are darkly funny. Once he has the girl, though, Bogliano examines how someone who is doing something he knows is wrong might react to being in this position. Aram has a wife and son who he loves very much, but he also can’t help himself from taking advantage of being in a situation far outside the bounds of civilized behavior. He does things that are reprehensible and although he clearly feels horrible about it to the point of being physically ill, he still goes through with his plan. He’s an interesting character if not a particularly sympathetic one. When the inevitable karmic retribution starts, he has no one to blame but himself.

And that retribution is gruesome. True to his exploitation roots, Bogliano doesn’t flinch at presenting some exceptionally brutal violence in the film’s outrageous finale. There’s also a lot of nudity, but the scenes that would normally be used in this sort of film for titillation are instead balanced by nudity that is queasily uncomfortable. That’s not to say Bogliano is overtly making any kind of statement on the subject. It feels more like he’s hearkening directly back to the kind of mean-spirited 1970s exploitation films that routinely did the same thing. Although he obviously has a lot more resources to work with than most of those filmmakers, even if some of the more ambitious drone camerawork is a little shakier than it should be. Anyone looking for more of the fun of Late Phases will be disappointed and/or disgusted by this film, but with its moments of jet-black comedy and surprisingly insightful look at a person trying to come to terms with their own amoral behavior, Scherzo Diabolico is an intriguing return to form for a major talent in international genre cinema.

Dark Sky Films released Scherzo Diabolico on DVD on 3 May 2016.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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