In Milan 1951, a prestigious magician, Dante the Great, is tragically killed when a deadly trick goes wrong. Fast forward 30 years later, the magician’s son, Lorenzo Manzini, has trouble finding his own success following his father’s footsteps as a struggling magician. The night before his grand debut, a woman has been gruesomely murdered on the very stage his father had died. As a compulsive gambler and an excessive drinker in over his head in debt, Manzini goes on with the show, but the events following his performance inspire a grisly, sadistic murderer to uses magic tricks to kill and point all evidence toward him. Hounded by a mysterious, chain-smoking detective, a frantic Manzini must split his efforts toward his own investigation into the murders, but as the bodies start to pile up and the evidence grows even more against him, there may not be anything left in Manzini’s bag of tricks to prove his innocence.
In the old traditions of an Italian murder-mystery, “Abrakadabra” is the 2018 released giallo inspired film from the Argentinian filmmaking brothers, Luciano and Nicolas Onetti, along with Carlos Goitia serving as the third wheel scriber on the script. The trio have worked previously on one other project from 2017, another horror of course, with the haunted ruins premised, “What the Waters Left Behind.” With the Onetti’s being brothers, their collaboration runs deeper, sharing an affinity for the genre that has inspired the duo to collaborate on another giallo thriller, “Francesca” in 2015 and “Deep Sleep,” where Nicolas served as producer to Luciano’s writing and directing duties. “Abrakadabra,” as well as “Francesca,” are not only far cries from the haunting and terrifying reminiscence of the ruins in “What the Waters Left Behind,” but also varies in direction, cinematography, and production design that more in lines with giallo hallmarks, such as extreme closeups, awkward camera angles, and posh interiors. “Abrakadabra” is a production of the Nicholas Onetti and Michael Kraetzer New Zealand founded company, Black Mandala, and another Nicholas production company on a more localized level with Guante Negro (Black Glove) Films co-founded with brother, Luciano.
Despite being dubbed in a fine-tuned homage of an Italian overlay track, the actors involved are hail from South America, as where the film is shot. The story centers around Lorenzo Manzini, played by German Baudino (“2/11: Day of the Dead”), and Baudino shepherds Manzini toward the brink of desperation, spinning out of control from the malevolent forces that seem to be binding his hands to gruesome murders. Baudino captures the marks of the giallo fervor in his animated performance, especially when running through a memorial park with arms flailing and a streak of fear across his face, but since it’s a murder mystery swarming around Manzini, the magician’s encounters with other rich characters comes key to unravelling Manzini’s dubious circumstances. His lovely assistant Antonella (Eugenia Rigon), the lurking chain-smoking detective (Gustavo Dalessanro), and a hospice-housed convicted murderer (Abel Giannoni) become cryptic pawns that turns “Abrakadabra’s” into a deadly game of chess soused deep into the thralls of a calculated whodunit. The remaining cast, including Clara Kovacic (“Jazmin”), Ivi Brickell, Raul Gederlini (“Francesca”), Pablo Vilela, Alejandro Troman, and Luz Champane, are perhaps the weakest link in the chain to hold “Abrakadabra” back from being a well-rounded giallo. There presence seemingly come into the fold without much creditability to their substance toward the story are, some of them, are easily dispatched with the same loosy-goosiness that firmly dilute their characters.
You have to give the Onetti brothers tremendous credit. Their attention to detail techniques, production design, and overall wardrobe schemes accomplished a toppling feat in taking the natural aesthetics, textures, and sounds of an Argentinian setting shot film and transformed all the blatant aspects to resemble an Italian giallo filmed in Italy from the 70’s or 80’s. Yet, does the veneer alone make “Abrakadabra” a good giallo film or just an immaculate carbon copy? The Onetti’s certainly know enough to exact a perfect replica as seen in “Francesca,” which was my first experience with the Onetti brothers, but “Abrakadabra” is a step backwards form “Francesca” from a story standpoint with some mishmash editing and character underdevelopment around the midsection of the second act that immobilizes the story from going forward properly, leaving the lead character Manzini in a circular rut rather than a tailspin to the climax. The prologue of Dante the Great’s accident and the twist ending that harks back to a opening Harry Houdini quote, “What the eyes see and the ears here…the mind believes,” solidifies as the best riveting acts of the Onettis’ film that becomes equalized negatively by a drab dynamic interior. In any case and though an Argentinian production “Abrakadabra” is an invigorating slice of Italian cinema with razor-sharp characteristics and a well shrouded and gloved killer.
Open sesame on the inaugural, limited edition Blu-ray, release of “Abrakadabra” from the new genre distributor on the block, Cauldron Films, who plans to release a full slate of cult films from 70s and 80s in the coming months. Limited to only 1000 copies, the Blu-ray release will include inserts of promotional artwork, a limited edition high quality slipcase with original poster art, and a CD soundtrack with music by Luciano Onetti. However, I won’t be able to review in full the finished package or the audio and video qualities as this review is based off a disc screener, but I can tell you reaffirm that DP Carlos Goitia’s scenes are amazing well established, lit, and a glimpse into the past. The Luciano Onetti score can be invasive at times, but a pure product of the electro-synth rock that goes hand-in-hand with the giallo cinematography. Audio options include an Italian 5.1 surround sound, and an Italian and English 2.0 stereo that come with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Accompanying the unrated 70 minute film is the theatrical trailer and raw behind-the-scenes footage without subtitles. As Cauldron Film’s maiden release, “Abrakadabra” is anything but hocus-pocus with a bloody homage to Italian giallo films complete with a vital synthesizing soundtrack and a shocking twist finale.