The Brattle Theatre's "Revenge of the Grindhouse" series is happening this week, with a range of b-movies, exploitation flicks, and foreign knockoffs of American blockbusters, all programmed by the extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic Lars Nilsen of the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, and in partnership with the newly-formed American Genre Film Archive. The kick-off was Paranoia (also titled Orgasmo), a giallo film with Carroll Baker as Kathryn, a jaded, recently-widowed alcoholic settling into a villa outside Rome to grieve for her wealthy husband's death and settle his accounts. When the young, broad-faced American college student Peter (Lou Castel) happens upon her home after his car breaks down, the two quickly begin a wild love affair. He stays with her for a few days and eventually invites his pixie-like sister Eva (Colette Descombes) along for the party, and the situation descends into weird sexual and psychological manipulation that slowly drives Kathryn insane.
Rated X at the time, Paranoia is fairly tame by today's standards. Sure, it has its share of titillating moments and naked lady butts, but most of the sex stuff happens offscreen. In fact, it is the implied actions that make the film more creepy and frightening, with viewers unsure of just how far Peter and Eva go to drive Kathryn into a panicked frenzy. The story is a little too slow, with ineffectual pacing throughout the beginning and middle sections. The sets and costumes are lovely, though sometimes the imagery is a little too "OMG DRUGS IN THE 60'S!" (which I guess isn't too surprising considering it is indeed the 60's and there are nondescript drugs involved).
Carroll Baker is pretty great as Kathryn, a bored woman looking to regain her confidence and sexuality through an experimental fling, but completely out of her depth when the true natures of her guests are revealed. She tries to be strong, but her alcoholism and general womanness get the best of her and in the end I didn't especially care what happened to her. Lou Castel is off-putting and gross as Peter, but I really liked Colette Descombes as Eva, with her gorgeous eyes and retro-cool exterior. The movie isn't so much about the people, but about where they'll all end up.
Paranoia is fun for its strange characters, poorly accented dubbing (I had no idea Peter was supposed to be American), and fairly engrossing, sexy-creepy story. It's not as shocking as its branding would have you believe, but the offscreen activities will leave you questioning just how far things went. Considering the whole affair is done as an intentional rip-off of better-produced films, I'd say it was pretty good!