Delirium (1972) Review

Delirium 1972 cover

This is not to be confused with the 1979 video nasty DELIRIUM, or the very strange 1987 thriller DELIRIUM: PHOTOS OF GIOIA, or with the countless other films of the same title. Renato Polselli’s DELIRIUM, that precedes the two previously mentioned films, is a story of madness and murder, that much like any gialli has twists and turns throughout the way, but a frank opening that immediately puts the lead character, Herbert, into the role of disturbed killer. The thing is, Herbert happens to work very closely with police, so he is able to evade their detection for the most part. His wife Marcia seems to be the only other person clued in to Herbert’s dark side, and almost invites the behavior, which adds sadomasochistic layers to their relationship.

As is not uncommon with 70’s Euro-horror, there are a couple versions of this film available, the definitive international version and the surprisingly different American version. Thanks to the Blue Underground DVD, it is now easy to see both versions. But to be honest, I hadn’t paid much mind to the American version before Giovanni pointed it out in his review of DELIRIUM. Previously I just assumed that it was a cut version as is the case with the DVD of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD. I would certainly recommend watching both versions, because they provide different experiences without that ever familiar ‘they just cut out all the good stuff’ feeling.

Delirium 3

I find it really interesting that the American version not-so-subtly hints that Herbert’s psychotic episodes and general instability are due to post-traumatic stress disorder from the war. There’s also more of a linear feel to this alternate version, whereas the international version takes more liberties with chronology. It’s still absolutely worth watching, but here and there it does feel like the ‘dumbed down’ version for American audiences that weren’t all that familiar with giallo films and needed a more strict outline of the plot rather than leaving a lot of room for interpretation.

For example: there’s a dream sequence, packed with S&M imagery, fairly early on in the film. In the international version, this sequence just kicks off, leaving the viewer wondering where it came from. It then shows Herbert and Marcia in bed, and there’s really not a strict indication that it was Marcia’s dream. However, in the American version, the dream sequence is prefaced with a shot of Marcia in bed, and then followed up with the same shot to more directly assign the dream to her. It’s a fairly minor detail, but an example of the ‘hand-holding’ that’s more often done in the American version.

Delirium 1972 - 2

Mickey Hargitay (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) and Rita Calderoni (NUDE FOR SATAN) star as Herbert and Marcia, and provide the two strongest roles in the film. There’s some sub-par acting scattered throughout the rest of the cast, specifically some of the early victims, but the chemistry between Hargitay and Calderoni is strong enough to carry the film. The pair are not flat, static characters, but instead portray several dimensions to their motivations and internal conflict. Herbert shows signs of self-loathing and definite regret for his actions. Marcia shows a sort of blind love for Herbert, but at the same time there is a combination of lust, fear, and even elements of hatred in her eyes and expression. The depth of their individual characters, their relationship, and then their involvement with those around them is truly fascinating.

DELIRIUM is a brilliant film, and tends to be overlooked by many. In fact, it may well be among the best gialli of all time, combining the psychosexual mind with the standard sleazy murder mystery framework (light on the ‘mystery’), all backed by a brilliant score courtesy of Gianfranco Reverberi. The room for interpretation that the international version gives really takes it up a notch as well. Giallo and Euro-cult fans alike should make sure to seek this one out, and while you’re at it try to find the time to watch both versions.

2 thoughts on “Delirium (1972) Review

  1. Cool review, Jonny! Thanks for mentioning me. The International version is definitely better, but it is missing two disturbing kill scenes that surprisingly show up on the US version, which alone make it worth a look. Delirio caldo is an insane giallo, literally speaking, and you are correct about the chemistry between Hargitay and Calderoni being a selling point to the film.


    1. Thanks Giovanni! Yeah the American version has some randomly extended scenes, like Herbert and Marcia’s first sex-ish scene, lol, plus the scenes you mentioned. I’m glad you pointed it out in your review because otherwise I may have skimmed over it until a much later date when I’d finally decide to give it a watch.


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