What follows is a review/discussion by three diverse authors…all enthusiastic creators and readers of pulp adventure. The three of us met in 2021 and immediately enjoyed one another’s company and writings to the degree that we joined in the tradition of author circles like the 1930’s Kalem Club (a literary group whose last names all began with K, L or M, and included H.P. Lovecraft) and the Inklings, the Oxford circle made up of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.
A brief introduction: Atom Mudman Bezecny is both an author and publisher, and created the Hero Saga, which has brought to life unique pastiches of classic — and some wonderfully obscure — pulp characters. R. Paul Sardanas is the co-creator (with artist Iason Ragnar Bellerophon) of the Doc Savage adult pastiche Talos Chronicle, and André Vathier is a French Canadian author who has written stories in both the Hero and Talos “universes”. Together we comprise the Conseil du Mal (or Council of Evil)…dedicated to wicked literary pleasures of all kinds!
AMB: For this discussion, the Council of Evil will be talking about Umberto Lenzi’s 1971 giallo thriller, Oasis of Fear. Oasis was one of several gialli Lenzi made at the tail end of the ’60s. It forms a curious triad with Lenzi’s other films Orgasmo (1969) and A Quiet Place to Kill (1970). The original Italian title of Oasis of Fear translates to An Ideal Place to Kill. The entirely separate A Quiet Place to Kill has also been released under the title of Paranoia–which was the release title of Orgasmo in the United States. What makes this even more confusing is the fact that Orgasmo has an extremely similar plot to Oasis of Fear. As our discussion will hopefully uncover, this is one of the least bizarre things about Oasis.
Oasis focuses on the Italian adventures of American hippies Dick and Ingrid, who make their way across the country by selling pornography, including some featuring themselves. Eventually the authorities get wise to their operations and banish them from Italy. While trying to make their way out of the country’s borders, they run out of gas, and decide to siphon gas from Barbara, the wealthy wife of a diplomat who presently resides alone in the titular Oasis. Barbara catches them in the act, and what follows is a mindbending game of sex and murder which leaves every party involved unsure of their comrades’ true intentions.
Oasis of Fear was one of the first gialli I ever watched, and it opened me up wide to the genre. Before, I had known giallo films as simple thrillers, and expected nothing great from them. What I found, however, was that these thrillers contain a uniquely, splendidly Italian emotion aura which turns what ought to be straightforward mystery plots into dazzling feasts for the senses–experiments in grotesquery and strangeness, often for their own lurid sake. In the case of Oasis, I was struck by the self-conscious nostalgia that surrounded it, a sort of melancholy innocence that served as a great emotional critique of the then-dying hippie movement. Dick and Ingrid are first seen running joyously through the rain as the Italian band I Leoni channels the Beatles for their song “How Can You Live Your Life?” This song’s central lines invite us to ask, “How can you live your life / if people won’t let you live it the way you like?” It is a reflection not just of the authorities clashing with the two youngsters, but of the rebelliousness of the Hippie Generation as a whole. It’s clear that the lovers have started traveling across Europe in order to be free, and their sexual escapades stress that further. They are running away from consequence. Like many protagonists of early ’70s cinema, however, they will soon learn that trying to evade consequence is a deadly mistake in itself.
By the end of the film, the cozy, naive love the two have enjoyed is doomed. Their encounter with and manipulations by Barbara have left them questioning each other, and beyond that, death is inescapable for them. They have already been branded. All this resonant fatalism, in a movie that was probably made just to show off the bodies of its two lead actresses.
AV: Oasis of Fear (Which sounds like a Doc Savage title ) was not my first giallo. That would 1973’s Torso ( I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale). Torso can be seen as a precursor to slasher films like 1978’s Halloween. Coincidentally both Torso and Halloween have an antagonist who kills women while wearing a white mask. One is more of a whodunit while the other laid the ground work to modern slasher tropes. I was under the flase impression that all giallo movies were horror films. What I discovered thanks to Atom, is that they are intense emotional thrillers . Maybe in 2022 we have grown numb to sex and nudity but for a movie that is considered “sexploitation”, i have seen more graphic depictions of sex and nudity in modern HBO or other Prestige Television shows.
Prior to watching this movie i found out that actress Irene Papas who played Barbara in Oasis of Fear passed away on Sept.14, 2022 at the age of 93!
I dedicate this discussion to her.
RPS: A lovely gesture to dedicate our discussion to Irene Papas, André. Her performance in this film is really quite remarkable, as I’m sure we’ll be discussing in depth. Interestingly it seems she was the third choice for the role, which Lenzi, the director, first wanted to give to Carol Baker (with whom he had worked in other thrillers), and Ponti, the producer, wanted Anna Moffo, who apparently backed out only a few days before shooting began. Papas, an actor of considerable stature, was brought in by Ponti, though Lenzi thought her inappropriate for the role. I actually found her mesmerizing as Barbara…a powerful player who brought considerable gravitas to the role (and who took the role seriously, unlike some other film heavyweights who appeared in thrillers of the time as “paycheck exercises”…Richard Burton in 1971’s Bluebeard springing immediately to mind).
The phenomenon of the giallo has fascinated me for decades — a natural interest (or unnatural, as the case may be) given my literary attraction to often scorned and dismissed genres like pulp fiction and pornography. They are, if approached with an open mind, both fun and illuminating. I’m endlessly drawn to elevating all of those genres by infusing them with style and technique usually reserved for the ivory tower…but they have tremendous allure as subterranean entertainment as well.
As you observed Atom, giallo (though marginalized in the minds of many critics as sex/slasher exploitation) in fact excels most when creating what you describe as “emotional auras”. They are concerned with uprooting intense drives and fantasies, often involving mind games which are a mix of exciting and frightening.
Oasis of Fear explores this territory in some very unique ways. It’s certainly not a horror film, is not bloody at all, and doesn’t strive to create an atmosphere of terror. As you noted Atom, its subtext is much more about the decline from hedonism and idealism into nihilism of the hippie generation…and the clash with previous generational mores.
As you mentioned André, the nudity and sex of Oasis of Fear (daring in its time) is very tame when compared to everyday fare on HBO today, but even that is interesting to consider. The breakthroughs in the portrayal of explicit content in film from the late Sixties, early Seventies were maverick in both the film arts and literature of the time (in literature, Philip José Farmer’s A Feast Unknown and collections like Halan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions were doing much the same thing). This was a revolution in breaking down taboos in books and movies, and films like Oasis of Fear played a part in that revolution. It was more than exploitation…with the integration of these themes into entertainment, there was a contribution to more open thinking regarding all forms of sexuality in society.
In addition to watching the film, I did some exploring into its background. Lenzi apparently wanted to go deeper into territory more akin to the generation-defining Easy Rider…while Ponti wanted more of a traditional giallo. The result is a film that is — remarkably — both and neither of these things. Surface changes in the original plot include the shift from the two hippies, Dick and Ingrid, being involved with drugs as a means to get money (as was the case with Easy Rider, and which Ponti feared would cause issues with the ratings board) to pornography. The pornography depicted actually feels remarkably innocent — Dick and Ingrid float through the early scenes of the film like a pair of carefree hippie angels, with “free love” a mantra of joyful play rather than a “dirty secret” or dark obsession. They buy a stack of explicit magazines which they then take into more-repressed Italy, and sell to customers who seem thoroughly bemused by the lighthearted approach Dick and Ingrid exude.
When those run out (and they spend their profits in sprees of careless abandon), they take pictures of themselves to sell. In one amusing scene after Dick’s camera is confiscated, Ingrid squeezes into a tiny photo booth to take nude shots of herself, crashing around and swearing in the booth’s tight confines. Dick, standing guard outside, makes a donation to some passing nuns, who had seemed intrigued by all the noise. Dick and Ingrid are completely oblivious to consequence…though as you say Atom, this will soon change.
AMB: I agree with you, André – this one’s for you, Irene. Irene Papas also appears in the landmark giallo Don’t Torture a Duckling, and I hope to be checking out some of her more famous films, such as Iphigenia and Zorba the Greek, sometime in the next few months.
André, as you and I have discussed elsewhere, Halloween was originally going to be much more giallo-esque. I’m curious about how that version of the movie would have played out. Even in its present form, however, Halloween shows its giallo influences, though it also infuses elements from proto-slashers like Psycho. Curious how gialli, which come from a fiercely Catholic nation, are often darker and more sexual than what Americans of the ’70s and ’80s were doing–Halloween and Friday the 13th are very sexually tame even by the standards of their time. Though as you say, HBO and other places show we’re catching up (even if our Puritanism manifests in other ways).
The concept of libertinism, or pleasure for pleasure’s sake, was of huge interest to the ’60s and ’70s, and I think it’s that pseudo-philosophical perspective, so similar in so many ways to the rebellious movements of the 18th Century and others, that makes movies from this era so interesting. In many ways, Dick and Ingrid are the epitome of their era’s libertines, being, as you say, Paul, “carefree hippie angels.”
Their worst sin is being naive and privileged enough to believe that they can do whatever they want. Their philosophical aims have elevated them somehow. If they had been drug dealers, it wouldn’t have felt as wholesome as it does–both drugs and sex can be harmful, but by and large the former are the more deadly. I definitely agree with you, that a lot of movies which we write off as exploitation were actually challenging the status quo. The egregious sexism of the films of Doris Wishman, for example, is often so brutal that it’s hard not to read as self-aware satire. These movies lend themselves to some remarkably progressive criticism, if viewed through the right lens.
I do have to wonder, though, if this movie isn’t punishing Dick and Ingrid for their joyousness, no matter its degree of innocence. I’m reminded of a song that plays in the rather similar 1972 film An American Hippie in Israel, which is also concerned with philosophical libertinism–the refrain claims that, “Someday they’ll have to play / for taking time to play,” and this turns out to be quite horribly true by the film’s end. The cynical but hippie-inspired drugsploitation flick A Ton of Grass Goes to Pot features a scene where a group of free-lovers are confronted by a cop, who tells them, “It’s time for you to grow up and get a job. You got kids to feed, man, and there ain’t no welfare down here.” The movie’s tone suggests it sides with the cop. There is a sort of conservatism to Oasis in its seeming proposal that you cannot consensually make money off your own sexuality without there being some sort of consequence. Of course, Barbara enjoys a bisexual extramarital liasion with our heroes, and she is never punished. In fact, her secret scheme succeeds with flying colors. Maybe the message isn’t that there’s a deserved punishment for being free with one’s body–maybe it’s that there’s a punishment for failing to recognize one’s own gullibility.
Papas’ performance is really great, especially in the face of such a daunting task as portraying a victim who is secretly a victimizer. Unlike Dick and Ingrid, who chow down on lobster and four-course dinners on the money made from their porn, Barbara is truly sophisticated, but she’s not perfect. Every time she answers the phone she comes one step closer to being found out, and she is openly afraid during these moments. It is entirely possible too that she was legitimately afraid of Dick and Ingrid when they threatened her, but allowed her own fear to guide the performance she was setting up for them. She makes herself hard to read on purpose, and that is greatly to the movie’s benefit.
The word “performance” of course reminds me of my favorite movie, Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s 1970 triumph Performance. That movie is also about exiled travelers (one, anyway) stumbling on the lair of a declining elite, who end up caught in mind games with their host. Oasis of Fear doesn’t go so far as Performance, having the personas of the guests and the hosts blending together, but it does twist and turn on who is good and who is bad in the situation. It creates an ambiguity which, while not fearful in itself, is nonetheless hypnotizing.
AV: Like Flight to Lucifer this is another case where the creator hates his creation (Curti, Roberto (2022). Italian Giallo in Film and Television. McFarland p.134) According to that book Umberto Lenzi said and I quote “If I could burn that film, I’d do it!”. What is it with us and liking work that their creator hated hahaha.
Atom you talk about “his movie isn’t punishing Dick and Ingrid for their joyousness, no matter its degree of innocence.” I am reminded of quote by Phillip K. Dick : “This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed–run over, maimed, destroyed–but they continued to play anyhow. We really all were very happy for a while, sitting around not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief: even when we could see it, we could not believe it.”
This is part of the afterword for A Scanner Darkly (1977) Again with the theme of the decline of the hippie free love movement and the use of recreational drugs. Oasis of Fear in my opinion is part of that movement that was born out of this decline. When the consequences of that decade caught up with them. Youtuber May Leitz when talking about the book Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis said it best: “They [the character’s] have absolutely no awareness of consequences and then when the consequences find them [it] completely destroys them”. Ingrid and Dick are oblivious and they go around making bad decision after bad decision. Selling pornography when they know they can get in serious trouble. Trusting people who end up abusing their carefree attitude. All of this led them into the arms of Barbara.
I will spoil some of the movie so if you don’t want to be spoiled go watch the movie now. it’s okay we will wait. ….
You’re back? Did you like it? Alright now i can talk about it.
Regarding the character of Barbara, if the premise of Oasis of Fear was done today, I feel she would have been the focus character. A lot of thrillers, horror or any story with a killer focus on the killer. His motivation and every side character exist to shine light on the murderer. Not in Oasis of Fear. Barbara exists solely shine light on Ingrid and Dick. Her motivations are nebulous. She acts scared and hysterical then calm and calculating. We get no deep insight into her character. At least not on the same level as Ingrid and Dick. If it was done today, the writing convention would have spelled it out for the viewer. This is in no way a bad thing. Sometimes as viewers we want some insight into the killer.
The movie is subtle in a lot of ways. But the movie spells it out for us with the car. This bright yellow flower power car that ingrid and Dick drive around with. Then at the end we see it. They painted it black. Their clothes are all dark.
I see a red door
And I want it painted black
No colors anymore
I want them to turn black
Something to note. From late 1968 to 1981 that period in Italian history was known as the years of lead. This period was plagued by waves of political terrorism. This period did have an influence on giallo. How it manifests in Oasis of Fear is this feeling that the good times are over.
RPS: It’s interesting…as the 70’s were the decade of my own coming of age, I remember that what in retrospect is pretty universally thought of the decline and end of the hippie generation and the innocence of its ideals was not quite so clear in living through those years. I’ve often told the tale of how I discovered Farmer’s A Feast Unknown in a counterculture head shop in ’73 (and that establishment was always filled with young men and women who were iconoclastic, idealistic, cultural outlaws). By the later 70’s the hedonistic side of youth culture had shifted…the hippies, many in their late 20’s or older, were no longer using the slogan “Never trust anyone over 30”. But (perhaps contradicting my own observations earlier in our discussion) I wonder, on reflection, if in ’71, the creators of Oasis of Fear were fully in position yet to be making a full blown parable of the ending of that era. I had mentioned Easy Rider, a film Lenzi was interested in channeling, which in 1969 presented a similarly disastrous ending to a hedonistic journey…but it’s possible that in both cases the “message” was more one of the cultural and societal struggles going on at that time (the Easy Rider protagonists being gunned down by avatars of ignorance made them tragic but outlaw-noble symbols of a culture still very much alive and well). In that sense Oasis of Fear may have been less a knowing commentary on a darkening and declining hippie culture, and more an intriguingly nuanced look at the dynamics within the generational conflict then very much still raging The Free Love Generation was, in many ways, quite enthusiastic about storytelling that exposed the hypocrisy of privileged people who had invested in “the system” (often ignoring their own hypocrisies, as cultural movements often do) — and entertainment venues from books to comics to music to movies were very much on that bandwagon, slanting much of 70’s entertainment toward presenting hippies and “straights” as antagonists, with the straights considerably more ruthless (as will be demonstrated distinctly in Oasis of Fear).
I thought of myself as a hippie in those years, but identified more with the side of the movement that was concerned with fighting what I perceived to be society’s true evils (racism, sexism, greed and the entrenchment of the privileged, war, environmental destruction, etc) rather than its hedonistic aspects…though I confess those were fun.
The film’s narrative focus on Ingrid and Dick rather than Barbara (as you observed, André) certainly feeds into this paradigm, though interestingly the movie does not make Barbara a straw-cutout “evil straight”, as it is at least hinted that her murder of her husband was provoked by her being a victim of abusive behavior in that relationship. Remember of course that Lenzi (40 at the time) and Ponti (59 in 1971) were age-wise more from Barbara’s generation, and they portray Dick and Ingrid as free-spirited, but also (let’s call it like it is)…remarkably dumb. I wonder if there is a little subversion-within-the-subversion going on, with the portrayal of Barbara showing her to have considerable agency, as well as intelligence and drive. I got the distinct feeling that she was the one Lenzi and Ponti were rooting for to come out on top.
AMB: I think that seeing things from a purely historical view definitely changes context, and I think that helps explain how we view and mythologize the end of the hippie era. It is very easy to look at Altamont and the Manson killings and view them as inevitable conclusions to this blissful time in history; there’s this idea that these events transformed the biker and the hippie guru into cultural images of blood and death, and one day the gentle sitars stopped and the angry punk screaming immediately took over, like a lightswitch being flipped. But like you said, Paul, it wasn’t that simple. Unless you really dig into something, history has this streamlining effect that makes the past seem fixed or foretold. But in actuality ambiguity was raging every day, as it does in the present.
I really can’t help but wonder how much the fatalism imposed on the hippies by their opponents played a part in this vision of a quick decline. It’s hard for any movement that’s been hated by the majority culture from the beginning to achieve a positive position in history. I don’t want to give the hippies overly much credit, because they were far from perfect. (Trans exclusion was a problem among second-wave feminists, and white people appropriating Black or Indigenous cultures for themselves was commonplace.) But as a millennial, I understand the nuance and frustration of one’s generation and values being nearly universally vilified. It’s hard having one’s social power systemically stripped away by powerful older figures so that that older generation can continue to force their oppressive views on the country…which is why Boomers need to stop doing that sort of shit to millennials now that we’re coming up on our mid to late thirties. But I digress…
As far as the hippies, we also exist in a strongly failure-centric culture. Recently I’ve become intrigued by the concept of silent film stars whose careers flopped upon the development of sound. It turns out…this is largely a cultural myth. Almost every great actor from the silent era who continued in sound continued to enjoy wide if not even wider success. John Gilbert, for example, is commonly ascribed a grotesque squeaking voice that stood in contrast to his romantic masculinity–but the movie he’s mocked for, His Glorious Night, was laughed at because the dialogue was bad as written, not as spoken. Silent stars whose careers ended in the sound era were those who chose to retire for entirely separate reasons. But many film fans tend to believe that those who starred in technologically less-advanced movies were inferior to their talkie counterparts. We dwell on failure, because that’s what happens when our culture was created by Puritans.
(That’s the second time in this conversation I’ve railed against the Puritans. One might think I had anti-religious fixations or something.)
So strange that movies like this so uniquely expose the duality of life and death. It seems that in the world of Oasis you cannot live more greatly without drawing near to the vastness of death. In my experience, that’s the opposite of real life. The more you live the smaller death gets in your life. But stories like this tell us to cherish great living while it lasts.
AV: I forget Paul that you lived it! I must admit since I did not live it, instead I read about it. Some folks have stated elsewhere that individuals such as myself look at history with clear beginning middle and ends. Instead of what it is…a series of events. Speaking of Puritanism let’s talk about sex.
Before watching the movie I decided to prepare myself and read some books, articles and online articles about the giallo genre and the era it was produced . This movie is often classified as sexploitation and on the most explicit end of that spectrum. I found it almost comical how tame it is to modern standards. I found the recent series House of the Dragon to have more explicit sex scenes. Did we just grow accustomed to it? It’s true that our attitude towards nudity and sexuality have changed in 50 years. Not too long ago Basic Instinct was considered highly controversial because we saw some pubic hair. It feels like every streaming service has at least two shows with explicit nudity.
This idea that Ingrid and Dick are these deviants because they consensually produce their own pornographic material is laughable in the internet age where people are more tolerant towards sex work (Still not great but better than it used to be).
I can’t help but chuckle at Lenzi and Ponti making a soft-core pornographic movie also at the same trying to vilify pornography.
RPS: The approach to cinematic sex has certainly evolved in the fifty-plus years since Oasis of Fear, no doubt about that! But at the time, the X rating was something profoundly feared by some filmmakers, and actively sought by others. Its effect was to marginalize a film (by severely limiting its audience) while at the same time sensationalizing it as something “forbidden”. Lenzi’s previous film Orgasmo got an X, and ads for the movie wore it like a badge of honor. The ratings system of the time was the epitome of Puritanism…all it took to get an X was enough nudity or sexual content in the script to proclaim it explicit in that regard (sexuality, even in its gentlest forms, being more of an evil in the eyes of the ratings/censors than violence).
The absurdity of this began to erode the bite of the X rating very rapidly…the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy came out as an X film, but starred A-list actors and was nominated for Best Picture.
In any case, “sexploitation” films were very much a thing in 1971. My understanding is that both female actors, Ornella Muti as Ingrid and Irene Papas as Barbara, did not do nude scenes, and the full-frontal or semi-explicit sexual scenes were shot using body doubles. Male genitalia, considered the height of “obscenity” and reserved for XXX films, does not make an appearance in Oasis of Fear.
Though the sex in Oasis of Fear is certainly presented as titillation, aspects of it also drive the plot and the characters, which was interesting as indulgence in hippie-style pornography was not the original screen treatment’s “crime” of Dick and Ingrid. Ingrid, though openly proclaiming the joys of “free love”, is profoundly upset when she discovers that Barbara has seduced Dick (she walks in on them during sex after their hedonistic party, but does not confront them). She is angry and clearly feels betrayed, picking up a ridiculously inadequate pair of scissors with the intent to return and violently break up the liaison, before swallowing her feelings and acting them out more obliquely from then on in the film.
Dick appears to feel no sense of having betrayed or hurt his lover…and Barbara is using the seduction as part of her manipulation of the two hippies…and it is interesting to see these attitudes: for Ingrid sex was part of an emotional bond; for Dick (one wonders if the name Dick at this point took on double meaning), he could turn his emotions on and off in pursuit of pleasure, and Barbara saw and used sex as a weapon. These are all sexual stereotypes, but they did provide a more complex psychological undercurrent to the behavior of all three characters.
AMB: The history of the X rating is really interesting, as is the history of attempted obscenity regulation in film in general. Trying to regulate obscenity is always a doomed battle because social morals are always changing, as echoed in remarks like Potter Stewart’s infamous “I know it when I see it.” Interestingly, the first film to be rated X for violence rather than sexual content was 1970’s I Drink Your Blood, a hippiesploitation film a la Oasis of Fear. I Drink Your Blood‘s reception of the X was probably due to the hippie villains’ deliberate resemblance to the Manson Family. The movie is basically a what if sort of tale, as in, what if the Manson Family showed up in a small town, raped a girl, and then were infected with rabies via meat pies distributed by the girl’s vengeful ten year old brother. It’s a gruesome movie to be sure, with decapitations, impalements, and the suicide of a pregnant woman – much more disturbing, obviously, than Oasis. A lot of people really did not like hippies. But then, I hope Manson is in Hell, so.
It is really weird that films are so touchy about male nudity compared to female nudity – but then, in a heteronormative patriarchy, the eroticisation of men is not allowed unless it facilitates male power fantasies. In this way, cishet men have been conditioned to fear penises. The penis has always been the bogeyman lurking beneath cinema, and only fairly recently has it started to, as it were, come out of the closet.
On that note…yes, Dick is rather a cunt, isn’t he? It wouldn’t be a giallo without a little sexual cruelty, so Dick gets to fuck around and Ingrid has to just fuss till she fizzles out. This, after Dick has been kind of treating Ingrid in a rather pimpish fashion. If you ever find yourself in a sexual tense situation in 1970s Italy, do NOT trust men, no matter how hot or forbidden they are. Actually, don’t trust anybody, of any gender, just leave Italy and go to a place where you can be killed by something preternatural instead, like Spain or Australia.
AV: indeed Paul we did not in fact see Dick’s dick. Back in 2006 there was this documentary called “This film is not yet rated” where they talk about the “objective” standards when it comes to MPAA ratings. How subjective it is since it’s individuals who rate movies. So yes the penis is still very much the height of obscene. But also lesbian sexuality is more kindly looked upon than male homosexuality.
Sex, nudity is not the reason why Oasis of Fear stayed with me. For me it’s the ending. Barbara wins! She gets away with murder and Dick and Ingrid die. The finality of it was shocking. Not to trash on more recent movies. But I feel if Oasis was an American production and done in the 80s or any other decade Dick and Ingrid would have had their happy ending where they learn their lesson that the movie director wants them to learn.
Also the movie does not dwell on it. There is like not even 2 minutes left and BANG car crash. Cue the cheery music.
A major disappointed for me is how difficult it is to watch this movie. Not because of the subject matter but just how unavailable it is. It did receive a vhs, dvd and blu-ray release but all three are out of print and can be very expensive on the second-hand market. As we speak it’s not available on streaming services (at least not where I’m from). I just find it sad that a lot of movies regardless of status might just get lost due to bad distributors.
RPS: The standout for me in this film was the performance of the two female leads, Papas was a formidable presence. Within recent memory she had played the title roles in Antigone (1961) and Electra (1962). Papas won Best Actress awards at the Berlin International Film Festival for Antigone and from the National Board of Review for The Trojan Women, released in 1971, the same year as Oasis of Fear. As I commented earlier, she could well have treated Oasis of Fear as a trifle between major parts and mailed in her performance, but instead produced a bravura rendering of Barbara. Her dark sensuality, punctuated by a wild spectrum of emotions all encapsulated in a labyrinth of manipulation, was masterful.
Muti, only sixteen at the time, was completely believable in her role as the emotionally open but naive Ingrid. She embodied a sense of innocence and adventurous yearning — as well as emotional fragility — that was very true to many in the hippie movement.
One scene mentioned by multiple critics of the film as outstanding is a sequence where the characters pursue one another through an aviary, and it’s true, that scene is perhaps the only one in the movie that attempts a level of suspense-film tension.
But the critics focusing on it and wishing for more missed the point to my mind…Oasis of Fear has staying power precisely because it is not a traditional suspense film. Another tense scene (designed for kinky erotic effect as well, as Papas — well, her body double — has her breast exposed) displays Dick attempting to torture Barbara with a lit cigarette to get her to reveal information. She remains stonily impassive toward the threat of pain, which was chilling, as it pointed thematically toward the hardening effects of her supposedly-privileged life. By contrast, Dick is the one who breaks down, unable — though he comes close — to willfully inflict pain on her.
There are moments in the film where it edges toward black comedy…but not knowingly, I believe. It simply collapses into absurd logic from time to time. After discovering the body of Barbara’s husband planted to incriminate them, Dick and Ingrid decide to bury it outside the house…as if that will somehow help in preventing its discovery or clear them of being suspected of the crime? And the car being repainted — losing its bright colors and hippie flower pattern to become black — is a little hard to swallow as well. Dick gets a couple of small paint cans at a local hardware store, and instead of a streaky and inadequate cover-up, it looks like it was painted in a professional body shop. The unique model of car made it stand out visually anyway. The only other nod to disguising themselves to make their getaway is Dick cuts his hair (not even particularly short)…why of course, cut a hippie’s hair and he becomes unrecognizable! Ingrid, despite having been the one to talk to the police earlier, makes no great effort to change her appearance.
As you say André, the ending is exceedingly abrupt. Dick and Ingrid blithely drive away to head for the border, but are as relaxed as if leaving grandma’s house instead of the lair of a supremely calculating villainess. Of course in no time the cops have heard Barbara’s completely convincing recitation of their crimes, and are after the pair.
Continuing to be clueless, Dick and Ingrid decide to stop off shy of the border and have a relaxing ocean idyll. While they are soaking up the sun, the cops ID them and block the road.
Finally deciding to wrap up their beach day, Dick and Ingrid run smack into the police and attempt to run for it. A high speed chase ensues (who knew that Dick had that in him?). The car crash, remarkably enough, occurs when a small animal darts across the road, and the hippies swerve to miss it. Practicing hippie-ideal “live and let live” behavior right to the end.
Dick and Ingrid die (or do they? Atom, I think our readers might enjoy hearing how Ingrid’s character appears in your own Hero Saga)
And that music…yes indeed, cheerful hippie pop. Pretty off the wall…I mean, can you imagine the somewhat similar ending of 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde accompanied by a lilting tune?
As noted earlier, Lenzi disowned the film (wishing he could burn it), but I’m glad that wasn’t feasible — instead we are left with a bizarre little classic in a genre and from a time that is endlessly fascinating.
AMB: Yes, I agree that the women of this movie provide the best performances–I’d like to give a shoutout to the body doubles as well, as that’s got to be thankless work. I doubt many body doubles who aren’t stunt workers get a lot of credit, especially if they’re being used for the purpose of concealing the lead actresses’ modesty, so I’ll take this time to I say props to them. The guy playing Dick does a fine job, but as you say, Paul, the leading ladies blow it out of the water. If I haven’t mentioned him before, my favorite bit part of the movie is the drummer guy in the club near the movie’s beginning, who just goes absolutely nuts and is probably meant to be coked out of his mind. He stuck with me for months after I first watched this.
There are so many different moods in this movie, and I think that’s part of why I love it so much. Love and lust, abuse and joy, chaos and danger and bliss and the hard fist of cold reality all abound. There are dumb moments, both intention and otherwise, but there are also those moments which Lenzi must have meant as irony, dark humor, and satire. It’s a movie where if you go exclusively off the dub work and the budget, it may seem bad. But it’s so complex that I can’t help but see it as authentically good. Complexity is what makes or breaks movies in my opinion. I hate boredom in movies and this one doesn’t disappoint. Hippiesploitation movies like this seem to enjoy hanging loosely on the tack of their premises as they reminisce about all these little bits of human living. And yet on top of that, they embrace the absurd, the bizarre, the extraordinarily outlandish. And they’re chill, even when they’re framing naive young people for murder. Somehow, this chillness often ends up being sad or nostalgic in some way. Like I said: complex. Like a bouquet of funeral flowers.
In my stories of the time-traveler Flint Golden, such as Flint Golden and the Thunderstrike Crisis, which can be found at the website for my press Odd Tales Productions, Ingrid does indeed get a second chance. In my view of things she was able to climb free from the burning wreck of her car, though Dick was actually killed in the crash. After recovering, she eventually returned to the U.S., where she met Clark Savage III, the son of a certain bronze-skinned adventurer, and became pregnant by him. Her son, who would one day be called Flint Golden, grew up to be a brave explorer and hero. In case you haven’t read the 1980s Doc Savage comics by Denny O’Neil and Adam and Andy Kubert, my stories are suggesting that Ingrid is the unnamed hippie girl who became the mother of Doc Savage’s grandson, Clark “Chip” Savage IV. In my stories “Aberrant Branch” and Operation Xanadu, as well as Katherine Avalon’s story Betrayal: A Tale of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, we learn that Ingrid lived a long and complicated life before her passing in the early 2010s, which included becoming the mother to Chip/Flint’s twin half-siblings Jake and Julia Hazel and enduring a brief and abusive marriage to fellow hippie David Angar. In her later years she was a wise and kindly woman, and she never let go of her rebellious streak. She raised her children to be kind and to live life to fullest, and to fear no evil.
AV: I share the same opinion both women lead the movie. I thought that perhaps it was the dub that made Dick’s character a little flat. Who knows until I learn to speak Italian I will have to base my opinion on the dub. But after watching it again I paid closer attention to the quiet scenes. The ones with no dialogue. Irene Papas’ acting range is superior. She truly sells it as calculating always two steps ahead of anyone and being “hysterical” the next (or perhaps it is all part of her ruse). Some of my favorite scenes are when she asks our main couple to do what seems at first unrelated tasks. Can you get this glass please? Can pick that up? Let’s have sex. Later on, we discover that everything was deliberate with the intention to frame Ingrid and Dick.
Paul you mention that they are clueless. In other movies, this might come off as silly. The protagonist making bad decision after bad decision. Where Oasis of Fear differs from other movies is that from the very beginning we see that they are prone to bad decision-making. We seem them being ripped off by a biker “Robin Hood”. We see them getting arrested and being let go with a small warning for selling pornography. This lack of good decision-making does not feel out of character. Of course, they would take a swim near the border. Of course, they decide to move the body and bury it somewhere else. Their impulsiveness is what drives the story. It’s one of the few movies where it does not feel forced.
Also having Dick getting his di… Johnson sucked while wearing a union jack jacket. I think there is a metaphor there. This iconic scene is on the cover of most dvd’s and bootleg vhs.
That is something I really enjoy about your stories Atom. You give often forgotten characters a second chance. I had to read Issue two of the four-issue DC comic series Doc Savage: The Silver Pyramid again. You are right Clark Savage III’s lover is unnamed! My mind played a trick on me I was sure she was named Ingrid. I don’t want to generalize but I have read more than few pastiches of the bronze-skinned adventurer and not all but a lot of them continue the tradition of having an unnamed or absent mother. Not you. Instead Flint Golden’s mom was more than just an unnamed hippie. Other authors would have made her a perfect saint. In her youth she was a hippie who made pornography and not once in your stories does she feel guilt for it. She’s not repentant to the point of making her son a paragon of virtue. She’s not a Clark Savage Sr 2.0. This is a breath of fresh air. It’s always fun to see her live her own life. She does not live in the shadow of her heroic son.
RPS: It’s probably safe to say that Oasis of Fear is not a widely-known film today, but there’s much in it that’s remarkably illuminating about how pulp-type fiction (and despite being categorized in its own genre, the giallo, it incorporates many elements used as the building blocks of pulp fiction, including mystery/thriller qualities, dark sexuality, murder…) can remain powerful over many decades. In that way it’s instructive to creators of pulp fiction today (including us). Pulp fiction often skirts around strong emotion in order to put the emphasis on action (often very violent action), but here we have a film that is very restrained in its violent content, and spends a lot of time delving into psychological depictions — and manipulations — of its characters. There’s a timeless human quality to that, and as time passes which may date shallow aspects of the storytelling, the infinite chambers of the mind that can be opened — particularly in pursuit of its lusts — offer a theme that never becomes dated.
Just the fact that you mined this story for a character to use in your own creations, Atom, is something that the ensemble from Oasis of Fear would probably be astonished by — and I think that should give inspiration to the creators of today, who feel their own creations are destined for obscurity or oblivion.