“Aenigma” (1987)

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By Jerome Reuter

Aenigma is a 1987 horror film, directed by Lucio Fulci. Truth be told, it’s one of the more bizarre entries in his filmography. At times, it’s somewhat hard to describe. The short answer is that it’s a supernatural horror film. It borrows heavily from a typical slasher film of the time, centering most of the story on adolescents.

It certainly has a unique feel about it, but without much of the imagination his earlier works possessed. There is one thing that’s quite conspicuous by its absence. Which was much of the trademark camera tricks that graced some of his earlier work.

I have to be honest about this one. I feel this is one of his lackluster works, and isn’t one I’d recommend at the drop of a hat. You might find it an interesting viewing, at least once.

The story of Aenigma itself is a bully revenge tale. Once again, something you might see in an American slasher flick from the time. Some devious classmates prank a young woman named Kathy, when it goes awry; she ends up in a coma.

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Much like his gates of hell trilogy, Fulci chooses America as the setting for this tale. This time, it’s a fictional girls academy in Boston. (In reality this was filmed in Yugoslavia.) Lying in a hospital bed, she sets about taking revenge from her comatose state. She accomplishes this by taking possession of a new student at the school, named Eva. She in turn becomes the implement of revenge.

At first glance, this story might have potential to be really good. However, I feel Fulci couldn’t use it to his advantage. I feel a lot of this has to do with the lack of imagination on his part. In his previous works, he had always found new ways to make people die. A lot of these still make the average view squeamish, even today. The death scenes you get in Aenigma are a far cry from what you’d expect from the godfather of gore.

That isn’t to say they’re not interesting, they certainly are. I’d be lying however, if I said they didn’t feel cheap, and sometimes even comical. Truth be told, some sequences in his earlier works do provide a light chuckle at times. Here, they’re uninspired, as well as on the comedic side.

(Spoiler alert: Once again, Fulci borrows from Dario Argento. This time, it’s with a window operating as a make shift guillotine. A la Inferno.)

So instead, we get treated to some of the lighter side of revenge. A few of these sequences involve an art gallery statue coming to life, to strangle one of the pranksters. Also, and I’m not even joking, one is done in via snail suffocation.

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Although these scenes do entertain, something about them falls short for me. It’s a far cry from a wood splinter to an eyeball.

Despite its obvious shortcomings, it does have one thing going in its favor. As I mentioned earlier, this has a certain unique feeling to it. Much of this is credited to its dream like cinematography, which is somewhat reminiscent of Conquest. As well as the synth heavy soundtrack, which does help with the overall mysterious feeling this has. However, it doesn’t save this one from being forgettable.

Not one of his better works, but if you love Italian horror, give it a watch. After all, you might see something in this film that I couldn’t.

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