I've already posted this review at Latarnia but I thought I would also try to stimulate some discussion of this film here as well including some information on other releases.
“… a labyrinth is built to bewilder the mind of man. Its architecture, however rich in symmetries it may be, is subordinate to that end.” - J. L. Borges
After an onscreen quotation from Borges, NIGHTMARE CASTLE director Mario Caino’s EYE IN THE LABYRINTH opens with psychiatrist Lucas (Horst Frank; CAT O’NINE TAILS and THE DEAD ARE ALIVE) being chased by a knife-wielding killer through a labyrinth (actually, it seems like a parking structure framed and lit so that its angles suggest a maze) and being stabbed to death. This, of course, is a dream of our protagonist Julie (Rosemary Dexter; Jess Franco’s original choice for the lead of JUSTINE before Romina Power was imposed on the production) who goes to a psychiatric clinic the next day to discover that her boyfriend Lucas hasn’t turned up. She goes to his apartment and gets roughed up by a thug also looking for Lucas. Among his scattered papers, Julie finds the name of a seaside village and travels there looking for him. She shows his photograph to a couple of the locals and a strange man leads her to a dilapidated house where her purse is stolen and she is almost killed. She escapes and runs into the arms of Frank (Adolfo Celi; WHO SAW HER DIE?) who also recovers her purse (the photograph is missing, of course). He advises her that if her friend has been to the village, he most likely went to the villa of eccentric millionaire Gerta (Alida Valli) which he makes sound like a brothel but actually turns out to be more of an artist colony which Julie swims to naked when her clothes are stolen on the beach. None of the people there – a composer who makes music out of recorded sounds and conversations, a pair of actors who have to argue before they can have sex, Gerta’s younger gigolo, Louis – claim to have seen Lucas but Julie stumbles upon a pair of clues: a rare book she gave to him on Gerta’s shelf and a photograph of his hand taken by one of the guests. With Frank’s help, she discovers that Lucas had in fact been there and was not the man she thought him to be. The composer says that Lucas tormented him, getting him to confess his incarceration in an asylum to the group. The photographer says that Lucas raped her; knowing she was still a virgin. The acting couple claim Lucas spied on them and discovered a scandalous secret. Julie also learns from Gerta that Frank is an ex-gangster who used to own Gerta’s seaside mansion. Frank, meanwhile, uses a painting portraying Lucas’ murder – painted by Saro, slow young man who doesn’t have the mental capacity to invent; he can only copy what he sees before them – to be able to move back in (he had previously had a room in the village’s old orphanage). Julie attempts to get Saro to speak by taking him with her to the police but gets in an accident (her vision occluded while driving by flashes of a labyrinth spiraling around an eye) and she manages to get him killed by lighting a cigarette and tossing the match over her shoulder without realizing that her just-crashed car is spewing petrol! On the beach, Julie discovers Lucas’ bloody shirt and is nearly killed by a spear gun from a passing speedboat. Julie finds out from Louis that Gerta is really a drug trader and the actors and artists inhabiting the villa are her dealers including Lucas. When Lucas’ headless body is fished out of the water – triggering more labyrinth flashes for Julie – Gerta and the others turn against Julie. It is only through the intervention of Louis that Julie is able to escape, costing him his life. Frank sees Julie’s car speeding away and returns to Gerta’s villa and after taking his cut of the profits tells her and her crew to get away from the villa before the police arrive; little do they know that Julie didn’t make it to the police station and is tied up in the cellar. Frank has special plans for her that includes revealing who really killed Lucas if she doesn’t discover it herself first.
Other than the opening Borges quote – which should be somewhat of a hint as to the killer’s identity before it becomes painfully apparent – director Mario Caino (NIGHTMARE CASTLE, SHADOW OF ILLUSION) unfortunately injects little energy into this potentially interesting giallo. Although there are some nice sun-drenched seaside exteriors, the cinematography is rather bland, dependent on zooms into the faces of suspicious characters and wide angles and solarized colors to suggest delirium along with the indistinct flashes of the labyrinth spiraling around the eye. The script itself is interesting and manages to neatly justify some of its more glaring contrivances. On the other hand, the flashbacks are redundantly narrated (it might have been more interesting if what was said and what was seen were different). Sadly, what starts out as a potentially interesting puzzle film like Luigi Bazzoni's FOOTPRINTS or a conspiracy giallo like ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, defaults to the labored "PSYCHO" explanation/resolution. Celi and Valli are always welcome faces in a giallo and are very effective. A pre-Hollywood Sybil Danning is on hand as one of the red herring suspects but does not really stand out. Lead Rosemary Dexter is dubbed by the same voice actress who dubbed Jane Birkin in SEVEN DEATHS IN A CAT’S EYE but is rather bland which is perhaps why it took me several sittings to get through the entire film. As a dead man known only through flashbacks, Horst Frank (like Danning, a German co-production contribution) gets by mainly on his looks since he gets barely a word of dialogue. Mario Bava’s composer on BLACK SUNDAY, THE EVIL EYE, and BLACK SABBATH Roberto Nicolosi provides a generally uninteresting jazz score (though there’s some nicely atmospheric bass if you turn on your subwoofer). Bava actor Franco Ressel is also on hand as one of the suspects.
The only English friendly release I am aware of is the long out-of-print Swedish-subtitled PAL VHS from Filmex which is cropped from I’m guessing 1.85:1 and is in faded condition with washed out detail and bleached whites that make the end credits impossible to read since the freeze-frame is facing the sky in the background.* It is interesting to note that the end credits do list the musicians who performed the score and their instruments. This version seems to be the grey market print of choice. I think ETC has it on DVDR.
*Thanks to gialloboy’s exhaustive schrackfilm forum posting of his giallo collection for the name of the Swedish VHS distributor and thanks to Thuri for the trade.