Directed by Luciano Onetti & Nicolás Onetti
Written by Luciano Onetti, Nicolás Onetti, Carlos Goitia
Starring Germán Baudino, Eugenia Rigón, Gustavo Dalessanro, Clara Kovacic, Raúl Gederlini, Pablo Vilela, Abel Giannoni, Alejandro Troman, Luz Champané, Lucía Galizio, Camilo Levigne, Claudio Rusiecky, Ismael Andrada, Yanina Lojo, Francisco Lacelli
Find out more about this film here!!
Recently, I watched the Onetti Brothers’ WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND, a blatant rip-off of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. I remembered being somewhat intrigued by the Onetti’s FRANCESCA, which was released a few years ago, and also saw that they made another Giallo based film called ABRAKADABRA recently. Having not seen ABRAKADABRA, I wanted to give the Onettis’ another shot, as I was impressed by their eye for the macabre, even though I wasn’t taken with their storytelling abilities.
With ABRAKADABRA, the Onettis’ seem to be more in their element. They tell a story of a washed-up magician, addicted to gambling, and tormented by the childhood memory of witnessing his father’s death when a stage performance goes deadly. The magician’s life gets more complicated when he finds out someone is gruesomely killing women using his own stage props. With the police full of questions and a shady man following him, the magician turns to his only confidante, his assistant/lover, who has secrets of her own.
Gialli is definitely a zone where the Onettis feel at home. They are able to convey the tone, mood, and look of a typical Gialli, making ABRAKADABRA look like it was some lost film discovered and dusted off from the late 60’s/early 70’s era. Every odd camera zoom, every weird sound effect, every stylistic lighting or camera angle choice—it all seems ripped right from some Italian production made long ago. The Onettis have definitely done their homework and hold the Giallo in high regard. This respect shows in every frame as all of the elements are there.
Another aspect of the Giallo that is ever present is the overly complex plot and labyrinthine story structure. This often made Gialli difficult to watch with modern eyes. Back then, I would attribute this difficulty in storytelling to come from the practice and mastery of new technological equipment of the time and maybe a focus on the visuals rather than the telling of a straight forward story. I think there was also some kind of gap between cultures evidenced in Gialli that made the genre charming and unique, as the Italian films were paying homage to American tropes, utilizing American dubs, and mixing them with Italian sentiment. It was an odd sort of Frankenstein that I find to be utterly fascinating. Even if the story makes not a lick of sense, I am still dazzled by most Gialli as I feel they are a snapshot of an era that is tragically lost and completely engrossing.
With ABRAKADABRA and the Onetti’s first Giallo film FRANCESCA, while the technical aspects are there, unfortunately so is the fragmented story. And while that fragmented and confusing story—full of sidebars, dreams, dangling plot threads, and just nonsense scenes, are a part of Giallo films, they are the least interesting aspects of Gialli in these modern times, in my opinion. I give the pioneers of Gialli a pass because they were blazing the trial, but now, with the trail long since blazed, I think looking at ABRAKADABRA through the modern lens, these storytelling aspects feel more like flaws than charms. It feels like parts were left out, not because they couldn’t look at the film immediately after filming, but because the filmmakers simply lack the skills to tell a story with depth and nuance. They have the style down pat, but what they did with that style was less than engaging and lacking in that certain something that snags a viewer and reels them in.
Maybe I’m looking at ABRAKADABRA unfairly as it is a good example of Giallo filmmaking. There are some death sequences that are as elaborate as they are gruesome. I also found the magician’s overdub to be comically entertaining as the voice actor puts a tough guy growl to every line he mutters. These are fun little aspects that I wish there were more of in ABRAKADABRA. It’s like a person who recreates a classic painting brush stroke by brush stroke. All of the technical aspects are there, but it lacks the soul of the original. While this is a giant leap in terms of originality compared to their carbon copy cannibals in WHAT THE WATERS LEFT BEHIND, ABRAKADABRA still feels like a copy of a genre rather than a specific film. I can’t wait for the Onettis to let loose with something they can call truly their own.