Aenigma – Lucio Fulci – 1987



Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma is a parable about the impotence of sickness. When Fulci made this film, he wasn’t in the best health. He looks gaunt and ill in his typical cameo. He was having money troubles and troubles with producers. So here we have a story, very reminiscent of not only DePalma’s Carrrie, but even more so the Ozploitation classic Patrick. Essentially this is an astral-self attack movie, not a telekinesis movie. The differences are slight but basically make it so that the killers’ astral form can do just about anything.

Kathy is the frumpy daughter of St. Mary’s College cleaning lady, Maria. Maria’s daughter has a thing for the dance instructor. So, several of the college girls fix her up to go on a date with Mr. Hunktastic douche. Shitbag picks her up in a car and drives to remote spot where he starts to make out with her. She feels confident, kissing him back, divulging her innermost secrets and desires. But, he has placed a radio in his car. All around them, sitting in the dark, are individuals who judge her every word and mock her voice and desire. 

See, Fulci is that girl. Like most of his late films, the film distinctly echoes his disdain and insecurity. The faces in the dark? That’s the audience. Fulci gives, gives his heart, passionately to his love, and for what? To be mocked from afar? After a few moments the viewers turn on their headlights to reveal their presence. Kathy realizes she’s been had. Douchebag laughs in her face. She runs screaming from the car. 

The cars begin to pursue.

Women lean from the windows taunting Kathy. She runs frantically, headlong into the darkness as the cruel cries of beautiful faces chase her into the abyss. Then she runs into a busy street and is hit by an oncoming car.

Kathy is in a coma. Horrible machines keep her alive in a room of white light and dark blue walls. But her brain is awake, awake enough to transmit fear from afar. Awake enough to bring vengeance to those torturers who know no humanity. And this is Fulci. From even death he brings visions to our mind, through the ephemera. Though his is not a cruel spirit, this film finds him feeling very sorry for himself and very put upon. Though he is sick he is far from capable of expressing himself.

A new girl immediately arrives at the school. It could be that Kathy possesses this girl or that this girl is an Empath who funnels Kathy’s revenge. It’s hard to tell, but clearly the impulse influences the medium, not unlike the effect of watching a film has on its audience. Anywho, Eva is given Kathy’s old room and is attracted to all of her previous tormentors. The killing begins with gross dance teacher. He asks Eva out on a date, but before they meet, his reflection leaps from the mirror and destroys him. This scene, though cheaply done, very effective, and the message is clear. What do you see in the mirror? Does it create or destroy?

Fulci appears, briefly, as a stupefied police detective. There is no answer for the unreal. By appearing as this character, Fulci looks the audience in the face and basically says, “I don’t have the answers.” I don’t know how this works. I only know that it works.

A girl is killed by snails, and a doctor realizes that Kathy’s vitals have responded during the times of both of the deaths at the college. The snail death is not bloody, but there is a naked woman with tons of snails all over her, so if sexy snail stuff is your bag, then this is the film for you. Kathy’s respirator breaks and Eva has a coughing fit in class. No one puts two and two together. But here, Fulci does an interesting thing. He establishes that the two bodies share a vital link. That harm to one does harm to the other. Does this pull for the possession or ghost option? I’m not sure. Perhaps a ghost, couldn’t be harmed at all, so I guess, Eva really is possessed. And, why would you bother with possession if you could summon death snails to do your bidding?

To seduce the hot professor you were crushing on before you were in a coma, of course! That’s right! Eva comes on to the Prof, and they get it on! This is actually cool stuff, even if the scene isn’t terribly sexy. A comatose nerd uses psychic power to possess another woman and use her to seduce a man? That sounds a lot like Being John Malkovich. Just saying, that’s right, I’m comparing Aenigma to a Charlie Kaufman story.

A girl returns to an art gallery where a mock up of Rodin’s “The Thinker” comes to life and destroys the girl ultimately, by crushing her. The art comes to life and wreaks the havoc of the oppressed. The victim brings the art to life, issuing reprisal in a tangible way.

Professor dreamy begins to have a series of nightmares in which Eva, his girlfriend who is possessed by a coma girl, slays him after sex. Are his own dream visions protecting him. Fulci is know to both vilify and lionize the power of dreams and here it seems a clear case of the dreams acting as warning to the moral, (mostly?) professor.

Eva’s mother takes her home, but she bombards Professor Dreamy with love notes. Is this still Kathy in Eva’s body? Could she not just possess another gal? 

Another gal starts banging Dreamy, the only girl who feels sorry for Kathy’s condition. I love that these figures are only as moral a professor sleeping with his students. There is no moral high ground in this movie, except for perhaps Kathy’s aptly named mother, Maria.

The cleaning lady observes Eva sneak back onto the campus to murder two more students with mania set on by horrific visions. A girl sees her boyfriend beheaded at every turn and the terror sends her flying out of a third story window where she crashes to her death. Her boyfriend shows up moments later and looks out the window to see his dead gal. The windowpane falls, sending his head down to join his lover.

The ending is a fizzle. Eva threatens Jenny, Dr. Dreamy’s new fling, with a scalpel. After slashing the late arriving Dr., Eva falls dead to the floor. We ascend, Fight Club style, through the hospital. Above the trio is Maria, who has taken her own daughters life. The camera begins to ascend through the floors, (again, Panic Room style), until it pulls out from a beautiful model of a hospital in a large city. This final shot is very surreal and beautiful and Fulci acquiesces in this moment that peace is kinder than violence. Some spirits cannot be left to roam.



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