The Washing Machine
Original Title: Vortice Mortale
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Italy /France / Hungary, 1993
Thriller / Drama, 87 min
Distributed by: EVS Entertainment
Years ago when I was working in an underground video store that stocked, supplied and distributed uncut import tapes of great genre pieces, I once read a synopsis that said that this movie was all about a haunted washing machine. Obviously I tossed it to one side and decided that Deodato had lost it completely – how could the man responsible for such beautiful and grim masterpieces have sunk so low to make a movie about a haunted washing machine?
Fifteen years later I can laugh at my naive arrogance and actually enjoy this movie for what it is and finally get over that faulty synopsis that made me stay away from this piece for a decade and a half.
Inspector Alexander Stacev [Philippe Caroit] finds himself in an unnerving and disturbing place when he arrives at an apartment housing the three Kolba sisters; the eldest, Vida [Katarzyna Figura – a polish actress who almost made a lead part in Robert Altman’s The Player 1992 - lost it to Greta Scaachi, but later starred in his Prêt-à-Porter 1994 and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist 2002], middle sister Ludmilla [Barbra Ricci] and little sister Maria [Ilaria Borrelli].
The three women have a complex tale that they tell about businessman Yuri Petkov [Yorgo Voyagis – also seen in Ugo Liberatore’s Nero Venazio (Damned in Venice) 1978 and the Augusto Caminitio directed Klaus Kinski oddity Nosferatu a Venezia (Nosferatu in Venice) 1988] who is supposedly Vida’s boyfriend but has gone mysteriously missing. Drunken Ludmilla claims to have found his body chopped up and stuffed in the washing machine – hence the English title – but the police find no obvious evidence and more or less laugh at the women who apparently have no case for the cops to get involved in. But there’s obviously something more going on than is being told here, as the sisters start to lure Alexander into a complex web of mystery, seduction and treachery. One by one they approach him with strange tales of what happened that night, and even though he’s resistant at first he can’t help himself from being drawn in as they one by one seduce him.
At the same time Alexander’s assistant Nicolai [Laurence Regnier in his only ever screen credit] starts picking up Intel that leads back to the missing Yuro Petkov. A suitcase filled with jewellery and cash is obtained during a heroin bust, there are indications that Petkov was involved in counterfeit rackets and other dodgy business. And it also becomes apparent that Petkov had insatiable lusts for all three of the Kolba sisters which further complicates the possible murder case, as it could have been any one of them that might have killed Petkov him… if he’s dead that is, because there’s still no body found. Stacev get’s drawn into their web of deception as he tries to figure out what actually happened to Petkov and at the same time tries to keep a professional distance to the three women constantly trying to seduce him, although that barrier is breaking down for each encounter he has with them…
I feel that many of the Italian post Giallo movies - not all, but many – that came in the late eighties, early nineties had lost the flamboyant style and image system of the great Gialli period. Instead they had become diluted messes that depended more on cheap shots of nudity, poor effects and piss poor scripts rather than using the traits as beneficial characteristics to the narrative. It’s almost as if they couldn’t’ really get over the Giallo genre being dead, and just fused it with all the wrong things, instead of being arty and lustful pieces they became silly and sleazy in all the wrong way flicks. Although some directors took did step away from the Gialli traits and go for the good old classic thriller that once inspired the Giallo instead, and in that move they took all the seasoning that is associated with Italian genre cinema with them. Ruggero Deodato’s The Washing Machine is one of those movies and instead of trying to be a wishy washy post Giallo flick, it goes right into the thriller genre and gives it a decent Italian make over.
It’s fairly obvious that what we are dealing with here is a very Italianized take on Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct 1992. But where that movie only had one antagonist and that one scene that made it infamous, Deodato’s The Washing Machine triples the raunchiness and chucks in three insatiable and seductive female antagonists instead. It would be easy to say that the women here are objectified and only seen as male fetishes for our voyeuristic obsessions, but that would be wrong, as this movie is indeed about strong, powerful women who all share a common goal – to open their own burlesque club. And you can’t criticize a movie that tells a tale of strong, determined women for being chauvinistic and sexist can you!
The Washing Machine surprises me, because it’s a lot better than I imagined it to be. Compared to the likes of the exceptionally poor Phantom of Death 1988 it’s easily one of Deodato’s better later works. It catches my interest with its enigmatic story and it’s who dunnit narrative. And this is exactly how flashbacks should be used, as part of the puzzle, for with each flashback we are given further clues to who and why, even in the red herring flashbacks that deliberately throw us of course.
Script wise it’s a decent little piece that Luigi Spagnol put together. Spagnol had previously worked with Aldo Lado on Rito d’amore (Love Rituals) 1989, and after a brief presentation of characters there’s a natural interest to see where this movie will go. And the age old question Who Dunnit? is still posed. Even though Deodato himself may not be very fond of the movie and find it one of his weakest pieces – mainly due to weak actor performances and a rushed production, I rather enjoyed it, and sure there are some pretty awful acting moments, but overall it’s all good and there’s no feeling of it being rushed at all.
I only have one major question with the movie, and that’s whatever happened to the Irina [Claudia Pozzi] character? She has that shock reveal, threatens to take her life and then vanishes from the movie with Alexander’s gun... It leaves some questions that never really get answered, but at the same time it works as an effective tool to show the arc of Alexander’s character, and prepares his final descent as the ending moves in. A cynical ending that sees him walking away from the positive values through degeneration to negative values.
Being a co-production between the Italian ESSE. CI Cinematographica, French EuroGroup Film and Hungarian Focus Film; the choice of shooting the movie in Budapest was a wise decision as the location brings an automatic, cold, dark Gothic aura to the piece. There’s a few beautiful shots of authentic Budapest locations, like an outdoor baths, and the bridges. And I love the wide shots of the huge stairwell where Vida handcuffs Alexander to the railing before forcing herself upon him. There’s quite fair amount of somewhat Argentoesque visuals throughout the flick. High angles looking down on the action, which give an enhancement to the voyeurism subplot. For what it’s worth Sergio D’Offizi’s cinematography is certainly some splendid work, and the movie does look really good. There’s a lot of shadows and depth to the compositions which surprisingly, or rather not as D'Offizi usually delivers some excellent cinematography, but in the context that this is commonly referred to as a bad movie, look absolutely superb.
There’s a great use of suggestive subplots running through the movie, such as the S&M theme – which could have been explored further, especially after the one major reveal that Alex shoves in the face of his long-time girlfriend Irina. As she’s devastated by his confession of having affairs with all three of the Kolba sisters, he opens up his closet and exposes a large collection of whips, spank panels and other S&M attire. She obviously freaks and takes off, but then it’s never discussed again. But this is how subplots work, and it’s also a possible key to why Alexander falls for the sister’s fiendish erotic game. He’s obvious into the kinky shit, and when they one by one more or less dominate him, he falls hard. Vida dominates him, Ludmilla throws herself at him repeatedly – which he sees no real challenge in, and Maria seduces him and taunts him until he almost cut’s all bonds with his former career to be with her. This leads up to the series of sudden twists at the end of the movie, and his underlying sexual preferences may possibly be what finally becomes his downfall.
Claudio Simonetti’s score is brilliant. It’s very much in the vein of his previous – and later – electronic scores. It definitely brings a very Italian aura to the movie, which I’m convinced helps it along. Because the soundtracks to these movies are terribly important, and there’s something that is significant of the time period, but still not as determined as say the periodic hard rock that many others went with at the same time. Instead the rather powerful and potent score that brings some of the Goblin magic with it to the movie enhances the overall Italian atmosphere that this movie holds.
Then there’s that piss poor and deceptive English title, The Washing Machine. What moron decided to call it The Washing Machine? Wouldn’t a straight translation of the original title Vortice Mortale have been better, wouldn’t Deadly Vortex have worked just fine? Sure there may be some line of thought that the cryptic title The Washing Machine was suggesting some metaphorical and symbolical innuendo like many of the classic Gialli did with their titles, but I still feel that it’s a piss poor title and Deadly Vortex would have been a much better choice.
The Washing Machine was the last feature that Ruggero Deodato directed before returning to the world of Television. It’s a decent last flick, as it’s quite entertaining, it’s got a good enough and engaging story, a fair amount of nudity and eroticism and a little nod at Deodato's previous cannibal themed movies, which make it a great entry into the late thriller – post Gialli catalogue. The latest feature project that he Deodato's been connected to officially these past years is Cannibals, a loose sequel to the 1980 masterpiece. But this is also a movie that’s been proposed for half a decade without any major progress, so only time will tell if Deodato will succeed in presenting us with yet another fascinating piece of Italian genre cinema.
Dolby Digital 5.1, English dialogue or Thai dubbing, optional Thai subtitles.
Here's the opening titles and Simonetti's score.