Olivia (1983) Review by RevTerry

I recently made a trip to the contested national monument Gold Butte for some desert sleeping and drunken campfire tales. On the way to that part of the wasteland, I noticed a few signs mentioning a particular bridge known in schoolyard rhymes for falling down, (falling down). By the third or fourth, I turned to my longtime homie, designated driver and defacto local guide and casually inquired as to why. 
"What the fuck is up with Arizona and the London Bridge?"
 At first, his reply was simply that they "own it," but there is only so much you can do in a car, and my interest peaked, so I pressed for more information while loudly eating Funyuns. It turns out that in the 60s the "modern" London Bridge (there were several before including the more famous London bridge from medieval times) was indeed crumbling and in need of replacement. To churn up some cash for a new one, a city councilor named Ivan Luckin devised a plan to unload the bricks on some gullible foreigners and headed to the states hyping it up as a timeless landmark. Sooner or later the pitch caught the attention of eccentric landowner Robert McCulloch who hoped a "historical" attraction would bring visitors to his land in Lake Havasu. This meant completely dismantling the bridge, transporting the literal rubble and then reassembling it in the desert. McCulloch was wrong, and no one seemed to give a shit. I had visited lake Havasu twice with two different parties, and neither had seen nor heard of the ridiculous attraction while there getting sunburned and paying too much for beer. However, once my travel-mate had officially schooled me on the Arizonian artifact, I realized that I had heard tell of this obscure multicultural trivia before in Ulli Lommel's film Olivia (1983).
When we first meet Olivia, she is a young girl who, by using one of those old-timey keyholes, secretly observed her prostitute mother's brutal murder at the hand of a deranged John. The understandably disturbed child soon grows up to be an unhappy young housewife (Suzanna Love), whose only outlet comes by watching the neighborhood hookers from her window. Bored with the lifestyle, she attempts to take a job at a local pub, only to have the notion vetoed by her piece of shit spouse, who demands she tends to chores or something instead. Stuck in the house alone when Richard (Jeff Winchester) leaves for work at nights, she begins hearing her mother's voice from beyond the grave. Her mother, who is a just a tad more ghastly than before, implores Olivia to suit up in some pink leather that's just laying around and hit the streets to look for a customer. Olivia complies and, after pissing off the under-bridge regulars, finds an interested party. The dude is a real winner and brings her home to his mannequin collection for some strange discussion and rope-play when mom has her kill him instead. This becomes a recurring activity and leads Olivia to an American by the name of Michael (Robert Walker Jr.), who is on business in London. The two begin a passionate secret affair, meeting at the bridge nightly for their steamy romance. Unfortunately, hubby grows suspicious and catches the two mid-make-out sesh. The gotcha leads to a scuffle, and Richard is flung from the bridge to his death. Fast forward a few years, Mike hasn't seen Olivia since that night (shit must have gotten weird after the dead husband thing) and is leading the pieced transportation of the London Bridge to Arizona. Once again, Olivia comes into his life with a new American accent and death following close behind. Also, she can open a beer cap with her teeth, which hurts to watch.
The narrative is an unorthodox, compounding sleepwalk through dark moments with surreal, bitter outcomes like a disturbed retro Lifetime movie that took too much acid in high school. At first, it can be hard to follow as it moves forward in random time increments and without clear resolution. While never really landing a twist, it feels like anything could happen, and takes place in a dark poetic reality. It makes up a coherent set of events but does so in a daze and without giving any hints as to what it is working towards while it's happening. The focus gets stuck on painting the turmoil in broad, aesthetic strokes, and the exposition stays light. It's broken into distinct abrupt acts that together depict a person's downfall in seasons as a nightmarish fable. All of the supernatural elements are up for interpretation, but the tale could easily have been a ghost story had the roles of the main characters reversed. Never fully decrypted, the character of Olivia is a mysterious, alluring death magnet invoked by a haunted item she is shackled to by unseen forces. To Michael, she is a specter who pops in and out of his life (to have steamy moments and cause chaos) whenever he is around the almost arcane object.  As a centerpiece, the bridge itself is always present both in the direct plot and the background. It serves as the vehicle of fate with no explanation and sets up coincidence like a romance flick only for it to be revealed as a curse shortly afterward.
Although the film is sometimes classified as a slasher, those elements are quick and few. Instead, it comes along as a trashy, psychosexual tribute to classic cinema. Most transparently, the film makes several callbacks to Alfred Hitchcock, including borrowing some moments outright. Every few scenes forcefully craft an opportunity to pay homage to the famous body of work, with mixed results. Lommel’s freeform and sometimes amateur style never quite hits its mark as intended. Instead, it takes on a fashion that is equal parts classic dark noir and sleazy corn, draped in an almost fantasy-like atmosphere. Along with Hitchcock, the film reaches towards the work of Brian De Palma and Roman Polanski in a similar fashion. Less intentionally, it reminds me of the European sleaze of the 70s, as it is derivative of many of the same sources and ultimately too idiosyncratic to fully mimic them.  It never truly comes around to the qualities of its influences but crafts an engulfing dark fable from lofty ambition.
In both story and production, it feels like two films connected by small details. Whether wholly intentional or not, the wide technical discrepancy between parts fits well with the dual personality theme. Most of the changes come with location, a few key elements following across, but with a separate visual attitude in every case. There is a constant haze in London, and a dingy, dim grain to Arizona, both creating their type of shading. I can't speak for the UK, but the Lake Havasu depiction rings partially true, though I do remember the place being brighter. Made for $500,000, it often looks like a higher budget film from ten years before, while still feeling adequately dirty. There are various methods employed to highlight important parts of the screen, creating an effect somewhere between Casablanca spotlights and those photos you get at the mall with the fuzzy blurred circular frame. The camera work gives away its influences making hearty tries for shots mastered by directors from the eras beforehand. There are full fluid swings between classy drama and late night fare where the entirety of the production follows. The competing styles are drastic but make oddly complementary partners, wading artistic craftsmanship on shoe string cheese. Often beautiful, some of the shots breed a unique and lasting sadness. A lot of work and thought seems to have been ingrained into the imagery of every scene. There is little actual violence and much less gore then some of the advertising implies. The on-screen murder that does take place puts style over splatter and replicates iconic angles from past eras. In general, it's less explicit than it seems, giving up more effective sketchy vibes than visual sleaze. The evolving nature of the work is tied down with a haunting score from Joel Goldsmith that gives each sectioned piece a uniform dreary sound that reminds me of a haunted lighthouse for some reason. Most of the technical flaws seem to have their place in the bizarre, depressing experience, and the overall passion comes through exceptionally well. Altogether, it's a great use of resources, and well-worked tricks to make something effective, fucked up and unique.
Olivia (or Prozzie, Mad Night, Double Jeopardy) was co-written and directed by Ulli Lommel, closely following his sci-fi psychological thriller BrainWaves (1982). Initially an actor, Lommel took part in arthouse projects working with cult names like Russ Meyer, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Andy Warhol. After directing ten films, Lommel made a jump to the mainstream horror with The Boogey Man (1980), which saw considerable box office success on the heels of Halloween (1978). Developing a taste for FX blood, the director stuck pretty close to the genre throughout the 80s, tackling popular themes and tropes. Immediately following Olivia, Lommel would make Boogeyman II (1983), The Devonsville Terror (1983), and the singing sci-fi oddity Strangers in Paradise (1984). He would revisit Olivia (kind of) twenty -three years later when reworking some footage into Ulli Lommel's Zodiac Killer (2005). Continuing to work until his death, he had several projects slated for the coming years, including something called Boogeyman: Reincarnation. A legend in her own right Ulli Lommel's wife at the time Suzanna Love played Olivia with a distant aura of isolation and quieted baggage. It is one of several projects the two worked on together. As a duo, they seem to compliment each other's style and would continue to collaborate after their divorce. It's hard to say if the film would work without her as she provides a good chunk of the cryptic depth. According to legend, the two were visiting Lake Havasu in preparation for Boogeyman 2, when they learned about the London Bridges relocation. Lommel found the attraction fascinating and fashioned the film's plot around it. Opposite Love is screen great Robert Walker Jr. during his less active years. The role is awkwardly developed, but Walker gives a solid, reserved delivery and has the perfect confused scowl.
Olivia is a twisted fairytale filled with loneliness, guilt, and Hitchcock references. Borderline messy and blatantly uneven, the storytelling manages to be cryptically engaging and filled with otherworldly atmosphere. A thick cloud of fantasy and depression elevates the common sex thriller tropes to an interesting tale of woe. It's not a slasher or in line with the classic cinema that it attempts to replicate but is well crafted all the same and clearly a work of passion. The movie is dry, derivative and weird as fuck which I can get down with. Plus, that's pretty fitting for a film centered around Arizona's globetrotting, recycled desert bridge.
(I was unable to locate a good trailer, let me know if you have one)
 1h 20min | 1983
 Director: Ulli Lommel
Writers: Ulli Lommel, John P. Marsh, Ron Norman 

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