Umberto Lenzi was an efficient Italian journeyman director of the '70s and '80s, who proved himself able to turn his hand to most genres that came his way. His crazy zombie flick "Nightmare City" will always have a special place in my heart, not least because with it, he inadvertently pioneered the current (and controversial) trend in the genre for fast-moving, sprinting zombies. Although I'm guessing that we will never see another film where zombies sprint whilst toting machine guns and other weapons, in the near-future! Lenzi's thing was taking a popular genre and boiling it down to its basic (usually exploitational) elements. Thus, the Lenzi giallo "Bloodstained Orchids" was one of the most misogynistic and blood-drenched of giallos in an always misogynistic and blood-drenched genre; while "Cannibal Ferox" was the most misogynistic and blood-drenched cannibal film in an always misogynistic, blood-drenched ... well, you can probably see a theme emerging here!
It feels like there was a halo of sleaze accompanying most offerings in Lenzi's euro-cult filmography, and "Oasis of Fear" certainly plugs into that perception, at least on the face of things. From its opening scenes though, the film strikes a curiously playful tone, as the two main protagonists (played by Ornella Muti and king of '70 cult cool, Ray Lovelock) frolic joyfully through some rather grey European city streets — young and in love, and on their holidays. They are being accompanied on the soundtrack by a slice of Euro pop so vapid and cheesy that most central European countries would be too embarrassed even to enter it for the European Song Contest. The light, frothiness of tone is soon tarnished slightly though, when the viewer realises that the two are actually merrily skipping through '70s porn capital Copenhagen, visiting sex shops where they are intending cheaply stocking up on dirty mags and sex tapes to flog to those gaging-for-it Italians, thus financing the next leg of their trip!
Managing to flog their entire porn stash to a gay yacht owner (portrayed in that obnoxiously wary and disdainful tone that most mainstream '70s films used to portray homosexuality, almost akin to the way Jews were depicted in Nazi propaganda) Dick and Ingrid find themselves unexpectedly "rich". The two represent the much-maligned Free Love, hippie generation and in true counterculture style they proceed to blow practically every penny on bad clothes and other silly frivolities. The film displays quite a conflicted attitude to these two protagonists: at times almost childlike in their innocence, they are mostly quite likeable when thumbing their noses at hypocritical bourgeois society. Yet there is a kernel of cynicism surrounding their extroverted escapades. After getting themselves fleeced of their remaining finances by a fellow hippy type, Ingrid tries to cop a few extra pennies by flogging photo-booth shots of herself naked to a petrol pump attendant. The film follows a common tack in Italian cinema from this era: portraying the rebelling Youth of the day as innocent dupes of a corrupt society (see "Night Train Murders" for the most extreme representation of this theme) which swamps their ideals in corruption, and abuses their inherent rebelliousness for its own nefarious ends. As "Oasis of Fear" progresses, this once again turns out to be the underlying message of Lenzi's film.
The second act introduces Dick and Ingrid to the apparently repressed and neurotic world of Barbara Slater (Irene Papas), and this is where the main action of the film resides. After being caught siphoning petrol from the tank of her car, which is carelessly parked in an unlocked garage, the two hippy youths are invited to stay the night inside Mrs. Slater's rather grand home, and it soon looks to Dick like a spot of "threesome" action is on the cards, something which blinds him to any danger. For, of course, there are ulterior motives behind Barbara's sudden change of heart, the exact nature of which it would be unjust to reveal here. Needless to say, despite their liberated stance, Dick and Barbara are but babes in the woods when compared to the dangerous criminal intent of their host.
Lenzi furnishes the plot (not really a giallo in the accepted sense of the world) with several sex sequences but this film is not as explicit as one might expect, the nudity restricted to just these few instances. In many ways this is Papas' film (she may be known to most euro-cult fans from Lucio Fulci's "Don't Torture a Duckling") who gives us a nuanced character in her mysterious antagonist — cunning and by equal measures desperate, although Barbara's exact motives are never revealed. After such a perky opening, the film takes a shockingly unexpected downbeat turn at the end, with Dick and Ingrid showing themselves to be naive in the extreme after believing themselves free of any danger.
By no means a classic, this early '70s sex drama is always very watchable, and Lenzi shows himself once again able to knock out a well-made, un-fussy thriller. The widescreen transfer is good if unremarkable, and Shameless have also added in a few previously cut scenes with an Italian soundtrack and subtitles (the main soundtrack is in English). Taking their cue from their recent release of "The Designated Victim" we are once more furnished with a text commentary track; this one provided by the informed and irreverent Wilson Brothers who, rather than just provide the usual laundry list of dry facts, manage to accompany the film with almost a scene-by-scene review. They're both amused and often extremely amusing as they digress often to consider the Arcanum of early '70s pornography amongst other things! Euro-cult fans will undoubtedly enjoy this slice of middling euro sex-thriller shenanigans.