A long haired, crazy-eyed man is stalking and killing a seemingly random assortment of people from whom he extracts a variety of body parts, some of which he sends to recently-widowed Tracy, whose house he regularly visits. As Tracy finds solace in the arms of the investigating police officer, a link between the victims emerges-they all received organ donations from Tracy's husband, a piano player (a better writer would have made him an organ player) who died in a motorcycle accident. But just who is the weird chap going around killing everyone and retrieving the organs?
That question is a pretty, pretty contentious one, to which I shall return... The first thing to note here is that this is a very 90s film, in that it's a real product of its time. The 90s was (unless you were living in the Balkans or Rwanda) a time of fairly low-octane living, with no huge wars or conflicts, economic growth and Big (but slightly dumb) Movies-think Independence Day, Titanic, even Jurassic Park (which isn't that dumb, but its plot didn't overly tax my 8 year old brain when I first saw it). I hesitate to compare Body Puzzle directly with these films, not least because the plot may well prove extremely taxing on the brain, but it's undeniably a fun, frivolous film. (Though saying that, not many gialli are gritty and serious.)
The look of the film is very Italian 90s, albeit at the upper end-think one of those Sergio Martino erotic thrillers or a Joe D'Amato Filmirage production if the budget of either was doubled. The direction is mostly functional, with the occasional use of steadicam or dolly tracks adding a touch of class to proceedings-an early scene in which the mysterious killer stalks round Tracy's house at night benefits hugely from some fluid camera work, setting a high bar of which the remainder of the film sadly falls somewhat short. It's a real shame that steadicams weren't around in the heyday of the genre, as the likes of Martino could've made great use of them (as it is, Argento has dabbled to great effect on occasion). There are occasional crew reflections visible as well, which somewhat takes the gloss off the not-overly-glossy cinematography.
And nowhere is the lack of glossiness more apparent than in the police station scenes. It's as if Italian directors were allergic to staging a dynamic police station scene which didn't somehow look like something from a stodgy black and white film, so lacking in joie and vivre are those sequences. And there are a lot of cops in this film-it's one of the police procedural subset, with Tracy taking No Steps Whatsoever to try and figure out what's going on, seemingly content to exist in an oblivious vortex, prancing about her lovely house in nightdresses. And, sorry to report, these are probably the sorriest bunch of cops you're ever likely to see in a film, consistently outwitted as they are by a lone wolf operating right under their noses. But before I launch into a series of light-hearted critiques of the film, I'll pick out a few positives.
The cast is great. Well, not quite-the supporting cast is great. Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Gianni Garko, Erika Blank (who was ageing terrifically at this point in her career) and Bruno Corrazzari (who wasn't) all pop up for memorable cameos (well, the first two are memorable anyway). The direction is also solid-there's one odd moment when we get one of those 'door creaks closed suddenly, locking a character in/out' sequences filmed from the wrong side of the door (ie with the door between us and the character) clearly revealing that its closing of its own volition, with no hidden guiding hand, which-and I may be wrong here-I thought such scenes tried to hint at. There are also car chases which bookend the film which contain some ludicrous fast motion (the editors should've taken heed of one of the characters' shouts about going "too fast") which seem especially poor by 90s standards, but Lambava redeems himself by concluding the second one with a great crash involving what looks suspiciously like a real windscreen being smashed by a helmeted motorcycle rider. The way the killer listens to a specific piece of music to get 'in the mood' is a nice throwback to Deep Red, as well as my own unproduced giallo script 'Necrophobia' (it's not a throwback to that as I wrote it 17 years after Body Puzzle, but I just wanted to give myself a shout-out).
That previous paragraph, which was meant to be praising the film, ended up being about 50% praise and 50% light criticism, so I'll bow to the inevitable and take some potshots at an easy (and, might I remind you, a very enjoyable) target.
The police. Good lord, the police. In an ideal world I'd sit each and every police character in the film down in an interrogation room and pace back and forth for a while shaking my head, and then launch into a barrage of questions. Among these questions would be the following (and SPOILERS will abound):
Detective Livet (AKA Tomas Arana)-why did you take soil samples from a graveyard with your bare hand? And then have sex with a person who was involved in an active case? (Although, given you seemed to be about to drive home rat-arsed before the opportunity for sex arose, the lovemaking may have been the lesser of two evils.)
Police Chief (AKA Gianni Garko)-why does your personality change from scene to scene so drastically, almost as if you're a composite character fashioned out of different writers' drafts? (I myself would lean towards your 'critical of Livet' persona as being the most appropriate one, although you could tone down the media whoring.)
Police in general-how did the police who were on guard outside Tracy's house miss the killer continually coming and going from said house? And how did the killer repeatedly gain access to his victims before you managed to track them down, even after you'd discovered the link which bound them together? The idea that a random chap on a motorbike can find out where a schoolteacher works before the police force can raises some serious questions (which ultimately should be asked of you, Schizo Police Chief).
And how, for the love of fuck, did you all end up not knowing that the killer was Tracy's husband?
Yes, that's right-the elephant in the room finally rears its trunk. Simply put, this twist is one that could not happen in real life. Here, however, if we adopt the viewpoint that the film takes place in a hermetically-sealed giallo world in which nothing beyond what we see on screen exists at any given moment, then you could make a semi-convincing argument that it's a plausible possibility, especially given the general incompetence of the police. So, essentially, if we view the film as existing only as a film (which, to be fair, is actually the case) with nothing happening beyond what we see on screen (again, literally true-unless there are a couple of deleted scenes), then it's possible for the almost Frasieresque misunderstanding which is at the root of the twist to be sustained across 40-50 odd minutes of screentime. In the real world, in which the investigation would have stretched across several days, it's inconceivable that the crossed wires would not have been exposed at some point.
And your willingness to embrace the hermetically-sealed filmic logic underpinning the twist will go a long way towards governing your ultimate opinion of the film. Though, even if you absolutely fucking despise the twist, isn't it a pretty ballsy one? Come on, admit it-it's not every filmmaker who'd stake the success of a murder mystery film on something that, if held up to the light, is so transparent that it may as well not exist. (Which it doesn't.)
Anyway, seeing as we're gathering the characters of the film together, I may as well ask Tracy and Tim/Abe a couple of things.
Tracy-why are you so underwritten, despite being ostensibly a lead character?
And, not waiting to hear whatever badly-dubbed inanities you proffer, I turn to your crazy husband-why did you send body parts to Tracy, thus giving the police a very large clue as to the identity of the killer (although, to be fair, you may have been aware of their general incompetence and assumed you'd get away with it)? Why did you leave a glass of wine and a pizza in full view in your 'secret' living area? How on earth did you know Livet would look in the freezer, and how long did you have to wait there until he came? And, for the love of Christ, why did you switch your weapon of choice from a knife to a leg of lamb when he did come?
So there you have it, a series of questions which take cheap potshots at a film which never set out to be anything more than mindless entertainment. Granted, setting such a low bar should very much not make one immune from criticism, but Bava has made a genuinely entertaining film here at least, which is more than can be said for most other filmmakers who set out to make disposable fun. To paraphrase the odd poster which is on the wall of Tracy's house during the climax, a optimist will watch this film and see it as being one of the final hurrahs of the classic giallo, narrative gaps and all. A pessimist will be too busy driving a truck (sped up to x2 speed) through those narrative gaps to enjoy it. If you're one of those latter types though, you probably secretly love having something to complain about, so there really is something for everyone here. Kinda.