Among debut films by writer/directors who observed and absorbed the works of other filmmakers and wanted to exercise their own unique voice, Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971) aka La Corta Notte delle Bambole di Vetro aka Malastrana aka Paralyzed, from Italy’s Aldo Lado, holds a special place. It contains several tropes of that country’s now treasured tradition of giallo thrillers – mysterious deaths, shadowy encounters, sinister locales – but adds to those a layer of elitist entitlement, political suppression and class subversion, not so incidentally setting his tale in Prague, three years after the repressive incidents of the Prague Spring. It is vampiric horror that borrows from great predecessors about innocents drawn into and rendered helpless by omnipresent evil – Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964), Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Breakdown – and weaves its eerie and fascinating web via a startling flashback and flash-forward storytelling style. Although it took some time to find exposure outside its home country, where it was only a mild box-office success, it gained traction as an influential work when home video releases in subsequent decades enlarged its audience.
The film grabs from the start with the discovered, virtually lifeless body of American reporter Gregory Moore, played by the prolific French actor Jean Sorel (Belle de Jour, The Day of the Jackal),whom the audience quickly learns is alive – but unable to communicate with anyone around him as doctors prepare to autopsy the apparent corpse, whose body temperature stubbornly resists an absolute pronouncement of death. Short Night of Glass Dolls is his story, as his memory recounts his investigations of a mysterious series of murders of beautiful young women and the disappearance of his fiancé (Barbara Bach), whom he fears may have faced a similar fate. Swedish-born Ingrid Thulin, already an iconic screen eminence via six prior collaborations with the great Ingmar Bergman and more recently co-starred in Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969), plays Moore’s colleague and former lover Jessica, who aids him in his various inquiries within the police and the Czech bureaucracy. German character actor Mario Adorf, whose international portfolio ranged from Major Dundee and Ten Little Indians (both 1965) to The Red Tent (1969) and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), portrays another of Moore’s inquisitive pals, whose involvement leads to a bad end. Working in tandem with director of photography Giuseppe Ruzzolini (Burn!, Duck, You Sucker!),editor Mario Morra (The Battle of Algiers, Burn!) and film scoring titan Ennio Morricone (more memorable titles than you can count), Lado crafts a mood of Old World beauty counterpointed by shuddering dread as the trio traces the trail of creepy clues and circumstances to a secretive members-only enclave known as Klub 99 – and the truth about who’s in charge and what they’ll do to keep it that way.
To get more specific would spoil the spine-tingling fun; if road maps are needed, check out these web essays by Jim Harper [http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/features/2014/02/24/aldo-lado-beyond-giallo/] and Daniel Goodwin [https://www.screamhorrormag.com/short-night-glass-dolls-film-review/]. Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of Short Night of Glass Dolls treats you to a crisp 1080p transfer, both original Italian and English-dubbed soundtracks, the Morricone score on a fabulous Isolated Music Track, a ferociously informative Audio Commentary by historian/giallo aficionados David Del Valle and Matteo Molinari, and the promise of a jolting experience that’ll blow your mind. Preorders open tomorrow, Wednesday October 3, for the October 16 arrival of a Short Night of Long Haunts.