Review: “Delirium: Photo of Gioia” (1987)

A face only an optometrist could love (from "Delirium: Photo of Gioia")

Oh my hell. Considering my weakness for giallos – hell, for lousy Italian movies of all varieties, really – I can’t believe that it’s taken me so long to check out Lamberto Bava‘s 1987 trashterpiece Delirium: Photo of Gioia.

To say that Delirium is an assembly-line giallo would be like saying Janet Evanovich knows how to count. Brutal murders? Check. Naked bimbos? Got ‘em. Psychosexual perversity? In the bag. Multiple red herrings, bumbling detectives, questionable glamour, and a preposterous mystery killer?

That’s a good BINGO.

But while it may seem on the surface to be your typical slash-up-the-pretty-ladies exercise in lurid misogyny, Gioia does bring a few new things to the table. Namely: Hallucinations, implied incest, over-the-top photo sessions, and more peach paint and lucite furniture than you can shake all of Miami at.

Serena Grandi in the season’s best Sunbrella fabric

Gioia (translated to “Gloria” in the dubbed American release) is a former boudoir model who – following the speedboat-accident death of her former husband, Carlos (already this is HAAWWWWT) – has taken the reins of “gentleman’s magazine” Pussycat. (Hint: It’s not about cat rearing.) She’s played by Serena Grandi, who shares the role with her tremendous, gravity-defying mammajammas.

Gioia’s life is the kind of blithe, Penthouse Letters-inspired existence that giallo movies thrive on – she spends her days bathing, overseeing semi-pornographic photo shoots, relaxing poolside, and taking obscene phone calls from her handicapped neighbor, Mark. Never before has there been a woman so easygoing about having an omnipresent stalker watch her every move and threaten her obliquely with sexual violence. (Morgan Fairchild, put your hand down.)

Her attitude seems to be: “So what – he’s in a wheelchair. What’s he a-gonna do, run me over?” [Throws back head and laughs as two nude women pour champagne and truffles into open maw]

Delirium is so buono!

Aaaaaaaanywho …

Gioia is joined in her life’s pursuit of the finest in Italian stereotyping by her lothario brother, Tony (Vanni Corbellini, who collaborated several times with Peter Greenaway, of all people), who uses his Blue Lagoon curls and admitted boyish good looks to bag all the models who strut through Pussycat‘s doors. Tony shares a studio with photographer Roberto (played by giallo mainstay David Brandon, who played a similarly arch role in Bava compadre Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright the same year), who is a gay homosexual.

Rounding out this motley crew in oversized lapels, wide-brimmed hats and pegged pants is the Prima Donna of Italian Horror himself – er, herself – Daria Nicolodi (Shock, Deep Red, Opera, Phenomena, Dario Argento‘s pee-pee). Daria is always guaranteed to bring a matronly brand of classic style and the grace of a pile of cinderblocks to any project, and she doesn’t disappoint here. When not clearly being inserted as a red herring for the killer (who sports long blonde hair not unlike her own), her Evelyn is busy fussing about the magazine’s finances, browsing through beaver shots and playing Marcy to Gioia’s Peppermint Patty, if you catch my meaning.

The lovely Capucine

But that’s not all. Nooooooooo, not by a longshot. The icing on this particular pile of tiramisu is the one and only Capucine – the old-school international supermodel and star of The Pink Panther, What’s New Pussycat and Satyricon who sadly committed suicide by jumping out of her apartment window only 3 years later. Here she plays a woman obsessed with Gioia (another lesbian, this one explicitly so) who wants to buy her men’s magazine and scissor sister her into next sabato. It’s kinda sad that this was one of her last films, but it’s great to see her chewing up every available bit of scenery like a pro.

Anyway, models start getting killed (of course!) but here’s the kicker: For several of the murder scenes, we get to watch the lovely ladies from the eyes of the killer … who doesn’t see them as being so lovely. From his/her point of view, they’re HIDEOUS MONSTERS. In the case of the first gal, her entire face is an enormous eyeball. Lady Gaga, eat your self out.

Must be Charlie!

Another of the victims is seen as having an insect’s head – she is then killed with perfume and bees, which has to be the most elaborate, least fail-safe, and most fragrant form of murder I’ve ever seen. It’s also horribly-acted by the victim, and completely ridiculous – which is to say, AWESOME.

The killer takes photos of the dead bodies in front of huge projections of Gioia in her prime and sends them to various Pussycat staffers – mostly Evelyn, because she’s most likely to overreact to them. The killer also happens to kill covermodels right before their issues hit newsstands, which does wonders for circulation. Is the killer just trying to save the magazine? Or to destroy it?

Of course, the killer is suspected early on to be Roberto – both because he has access to the slides used in the killer’s photos and because he is a gay, and therefore hates women. Sigh. When will straight male filmmakers learn that we homos have no interest in women other than dressing them up like prostitutes and watching them cry on television? We leave the desire to murder them to you heteros, thank you very much.

Ladies and germs, the inside of my brain.

Anyway, all along the killer is shown in brief glances with what is clearly a long blonde wig, and anyone who has even walked past Dressed to Kill in the video store will see Michael Caine Drag written all over this baddie. Granted, Daria’s outfits do give her the shoulders of a linebacker, but my money at this point is on a fella.

After a prolonged and ridiculous sequence in the ugliest department store in God’s creation, we get to my favorite point of the film, where the killer actually speaks. You might think that an overdramatic serial killer of this nature might go for a legitimately creepy voice, but let’s remember – this is the subgenre that gave us serial killers who quack like ducks into the telephone as a bullying tactic.

Instead, this killer has the voice of the dog with the busted collar from Up. In case you need a refresher, here:

It. Is. Amazing.

At this point it’s a free-for-all, with bodies popping up and disappearing, tiny Italian cars with bewigged drivers zooming around and running over people, and a droopy-eyed lug of a “detective” (please!) not putting together any of the pieces (the fact that he’s the punk from Demons who snorts coke out of an actual Coke can may be an indication of his shortcomings as an enforcer of the peace). There’s zombie-themed photoshoots, aforementioned lucite furniture, truly unsettling bathtub sex with a corpulent love interest, and more pendulous breasts than you can dodge at an Elks Club meeting.

Actually, some brilliant soul named RetroQueer84 sums most of it up way better than I ever could, and in the best imaginable format:

Music montage!

In the end, the gay is absolved of guilt (and murdered, natch) and ends up a heroic character of sorts, as he tries to save our busty Final Senora in the process. No luck, but it does leave only one viable suspect left:  - SPOILER ALERT! - Tony. Sure enough, it’s Gioia’s own brother who is terrorizing her, and his kinky bloodbath culminates in an incestuous game of “Cut the Lingerie off Your Sister with a Butcher Knife” that I’m sure many of you with siblings will recognize. (Ew.) - END SPOILER

Our clever killer also reveals that he wore ladies’ clothes when he murdered the ladies, but makes it clear that he’s not a transvestite. So a good 27 years after Psycho, we finally have a cross-dressing killer who does it for absolutely no reason other than that it’s funny and will throw off the audience. Thanks, buddy! And Dr. Freud thanks you.

Delirium is trashy in the extreme. It’s vulgar, stupid, and literally overflowing with exposed mammaries. Bava seems to be genuinely celebrating the female form even as he hacks it to pieces, terrorizes it, and stuffs it into some of the most hideous fashions of the day – something that I can’t even begin to understand but will happily enjoy as entertainments. While it’s misogynist giallo in the classic style, it also lets the ‘mos off the hook for once (at least when it comes to the killer – everyone in this movie, gay or straight, is pretty obnoxious), which is something.


Delirium: Photo of Gioia is Rated R for dear Lord all that is holy.

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Buzz created in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.