Ænigma is a 1987 Italian supernatural horror feature film directed by Lucio Fulci (Zombie Flesh Eaters; City of the Living Dead; The Beyond; et al) from a screenplay co-written with Giorgio Mariuzzo. The movie stars Jared Martin, Lara Naszinski and Sophie D’Aulan.
St. Mary’s College, Boston, New England: Lonely pupil Kathy is an outcast at an boarding school whom lands in a coma resulting from accidentally being hit by a car during a cruel practical joke against her by several of her tormentors.
A little later, Eva, a new arrival to the school, takes over Kathy’s old room and begins socializing with some of the girls responsible for Kathy’s condition. It transpires that Eva is a pawn under the control of the comatose Kathy from her hospital bed in seeing revenge against those whom did her wrong, while Kathy’s physician, meets and begins dating Eva whom also targets his latest girlfriend…
If there’s anything be learned from Aenigma …. well, actually, that might be giving the film too much credit. There’s probably nothing to learn from Aenigma. The film does start with a pretty cruel prank and that prank leads to some snail-related mayhem but really, you should have already learned the danger of pranks after Carrie burned down the prom.
The prank involves the cruel girls at St. Mary’s boarding school tricking their classmate, Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic), into thinking that she’s on a date with a gym teacher (Riccardo Acerbi) and then jumping out of the shadows and surprising her when Kathy and the teacher start making out in his car. This leads to a humiliated Kathy running out into the middle of traffic, where she’s promptly hit by a car and goes into a coma. While everyone agrees that sucks for Kathy, at least it means that no one will ever know the truth about the prank.
Then people start dying. They die in a variety of weird ways and since only the people involved with the prank are the ones being targeted, it doesn’t take much effort to guess that the comatose Kathy is probably involved. It also doesn’t take much effort to guess that the newest student at the school, Eva (Lara Lamberti), has been possessed by Kathy and is mostly just hanging around to make sure that everyone’s dead.
What’s weird is that, in her coma, Kathy has so many different powers that you have to wonder why exactly she needed to possess Eva. For instance, the gym teacher is strangled when his own reflection jumps out of a mirror. One of the girls is killed when a statue in a museum suddenly comes to life and attacks her. Yet another girl is somehow killed by snails.
Yes, you read that right. She wakes up to discover that she’s covered in snails and this leads to her dying. Aenigma is regularly criticised for the scene with snails. “Why didn’t she just get out of bed and take a shower or something?” many a commentator has asked. I guess they have a point but, honestly, if I woke up and there were a few hundred snails on me, I would totally freak out.
Apparently, the main reason that Eva’s there is so she can try to seduce Kathy’s handsome doctor (Jared Martin) but the doctor is more interested in Jenny Clark (Ulli Reinthaler), who was involved in the prank but who, unlike everyone else, felt really bad about it afterward. I’m sure that would lead to any complications….
There’s kind of a sad story behind this rather forgettable if occasionally entertaining horror film. After making horror history by directing notable films such as Zombi 2 and The Beyond, director Lucio Fulci had entered into a career decline. Struggling with ill-health and having had a falling out with some of his former collaborators, Fulci found himself working with lower budgets and less interesting premises. That’s certainly the case with Aenigma, which was shot in Sarajevo with a largely unknown cast and which blatantly ripped off the plots of Carrie and Patrick.
Aenigma has a terrible reputation among fans of Italian horror. Admittedly, it’s a very flawed film yet not quite as bad as some have made it out to be. Sure, the snails are ludicrous but their inclusion is also so weird you can’t help loving it when they show up. For that matter, the coach being killed by his own reflection and the scene where the statue come to life are clever ideas, even if their execution leaves something to be desired. Even in his later years, Fulci still had talent. Unfortunately, when it came to films such as Aenigma, he rarely had the resources necessary to truly make his vision come to life.
Lisa Marie Bowman, MOVIES & MANIA – guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens
“In terms of sheer entertainment, however, the film simply flies by, feeling half the length of even some arguably better lesser Fulci efforts like Manhattan Baby. Its blend of eighties silliness and off-the-wall nastiness make Aenigma prime late-night viewing for Italian horror fans.” Anchorwoman in Peril
“So this is Fulci borrowing then; a cup of Carrie here, a pinch of Patrick there, sprinkled with some Jennifer to sweeten the pot. And while the glory gory days are not revisited, he does go in for a decapitation, self-strangulation, and in a weird move that could only come from his mind, death by snail (not the $5 a pop kind in a restaurant, fancy pants; these are your, well, garden variety). ” Scott Drebit, Daily Dead
” … we get bleeding paintings, death by statue, an Evil Dead-esque strangulation by doppelgänger, and in the most infamous moment of the feature, suffocation by snails. Unfortunately the latter scene, despite being actually quite effective in execution on account of using real, live, snails, will pretty much always, understandably, stick in the mind of those who seek to denigrate the film as a whole.” Pickled Cinema
“The effects and makeup do effectively create an eerie atmosphere. In particular I’ll say that comatose Kathy resonates an aura of malice (as seen above), and anyone who is even slightly uncomfortable with bugs will be squirming at the slug scene. Though it is a far cry from one of Fulci’s greatest films, Aenigma is still certainly an entertaining watch.” Blood Sucking Geek
“There’s plenty wrong with Aenigma, but not enough to really rile up the viewer. Aenigma fails to impress or enrage, it sits in the middle as a hollow and empty experience masquerading as a horror film.” Sound on Sight
“Ænigma was Fulci’s stab at making an up-to-date eighties-style horror movie. The film stock is bland, clean and micro-grained while the lighting strives vainly for colour gel atmospherics. Caught between two stools, the film can’t even boast the right sort of cast for this new aesthetic it’s trying to please. The actresses simply aren’t tacky enough.” Stephen Thrower, Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci
“Though girls are smothered by snails or crushed to death by an animated Greek statue, the horrors are mostly clumsy and familiar, involving shaky camerawork, unconvincing decapitations by window and hysterical overacting. The premise is stolen from Patrick (1978) and the the overwhelmingly blue look borrowed from Phenomena (1986)…” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
” …stilted, incomprehensible and utterly overblown shocker.” John Elliot, Elliot’s Guide to Films on Video
- Jared Martin
- Lara Naszinski
- Ulli Reinthaler
- Sophie D’Aulan
- Jennifer Naud
- Kathy Wise.
- Director Lucio Fulci has a cameo role as a police detective at the crime scene of Fred Vernon’s death.
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