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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor  [September 17, 2013]





[]  Many films take inspiration from past film eras, subgenres, and styles, reinventing old techniques for new works. House of 1000 Corpses draws its inspiration from 1970s grindhouse horror. But some films don't so much reinvent as slavishly imitate past works. That is the whole point of these "gimmick films" -- their gimmick being how accurately they can replicate the look and feel of a past era.

Some gimmick films are funny parodies. Man of the Century satirizes late 1920s screwball comedies; Isle of the Damned does it for 1970s Italian cannibal films; Shafted for 1970s blaxploitation fare. Other gimmick films are loving homages to be taken as seriously as the originals. Automatons honors low-budget 1950s sci-fi. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow does it for bigger budgeted 1930s sci-fi.

Sonno Profondo is a violent homage to 1970s Italian giallo films. The title obviously evokes Dario Argento's Profondo Rosso, though Sonno Profondo also bears similarities to Short Night of the Glass Dolls. Naturally, the story concerns a serial killer who targets sexually nubile young women, often prostitutes.






Yet despite its humorless tone, Sonno Profondo's images are giallo to the point of parody. Director Luciano Onetti favors lingering shots of gloved hands fondling razors, knives, and syringes. There's the usual cutting out of faces from old photographs. Onetti has also mastered the giallo technique of using closeups and context to make innocent items -- dolls, pearls, music boxes, classical statues -- appear unsettling.

"We chose to shoot a giallo because it's a subgenre that has millions of fans," said Nicolás Onetti, the director's brother and film's producer, to the Hollywood Investigator. "Real giallo disappeared in the 1980s. We filmed Sonno Profondo respecting all the giallo components as phones, clothes, art, cars, and music used in the 1970s and 1980s."

Sonno profondo means deep sleep. "It's the medical term that describes the film. But it's a good coincidence with Profondo Rosso, one of the best giallo movies ever." As influences, Nicolás cites Argento, Sergio Martino, and Paola Cavara (The Black Belly of the Tarantula).

Closeups are prevalent in Sonno Profondo because the story is depicted almost entirely from the killer's POV. While it's a giallo tradition to hide the killer's identify, most giallos expend much screen time on the victims and sleuths. Here, we are almost always with the killer, who is usually alone.

"The idea of filming from the killer's POV was trying to understand the mentality of the killers," said Nicolás, "and showing the persecution between them, without the need to show their faces."

It's a curious aesthetic choice. Feminists criticized 1980s slasher films, partially because so many of them depicted the murders from the slasher's POV. This was likewise thought to encourage viewer identification with the killer, but for the sake of cheap thrills. Nicolás suggests that Sonno Profondo's viewer identification will instead promote understanding.



Yet I came away from Sonno Profondo without understanding the killer's mentality. Rather, because there were two killers, one stalking the other, and because the extensive POV shots were apparently intercut with flashbacks, memories, and a few objective shots, I was often confused about events occurring onscreen. Who was stalking who? Was this a past memory or a current killing?

It's confusing to see only hands wielding instruments, clad in gloves (sometimes leather, sometimes rubber -- Are they two different people? We don't find out until the end), and a few glimpses of women's faces before they die. Even then, the women wear sunglasses, or we see only closeups of their lips or legs, preventing any real identification with the victims.



All this is doubtless intended to create mystery. The film is peppered with clues. But I was more lost, hence bored, than in suspense. Sonno Profondo is about an hour long, but its shortage of human faces, characters, anyone to identify with -- killer or victim -- makes for a stifling and tedious experience. As a character, a pair of gloved hands might carry a short film, but it tires at feature length.

Sonno Profondo does an excellent job of capturing the style, decor, and ambiance of 1970s Italian giallo. The use of "scratched film stock" effects, and faded images, further our sense of watching a film that was shot in the 1970s. The music is exemplary and appropriate. Luciano Onetti's original score captures the era perfectly.

Luciano "is a musician," says Nicolás. "He respected Ennio Morricone's style, who composed the music of the best giallos in the 1970s."

Well done on that front. But the weak point with such gimmick films is that, once the filmmaker has parodied or imitated every familiar element of a subgenre, it runs out of steam. Then we're left with the story, or lack thereof. Gimmick films emphasize form, not content. They focus on technique, not substance. Every gimmick film listed above admirably replicates its target genre, but once the initial pleasure of recognition passes, these one-trick ponies become repetitive. How long can you watch leather-gloved hands wielding a razor blade (or laugh at the platform shoes and jive talk in Shafted) before you're bored?

Sonno Profondo is more admirable than enjoyable.

Nicolás Onetti says Sonno Profondo was shot on a Nikon D3100 "with different lenses of the 1980s. The film was filmed in HD and edited by Luciano using Sony Vegas 10 and After Effects." Estimated budget was 4000 dollars, which Nicolás himself provided.

Sonno Profondo is currently making the festival circuit. It's been selected for screenings at the 2013 SITGES International Film Festival, Puerto Rico Horror Film Festival, and HorrorQuest Film Festival.

Both Onetti brothers have a day job. Luciano is an auctioneer and musician. Nicolás is a lawyer. The two of them are " working in our second project, another giallo."


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