Ænigma (1987)


Kathy, a rather homely young woman who attends St. Mary’s College for girls (or it’s sorority, I’m not 100% sure), is going out on a date with Fred, the schools hunky gym teacher. Unknown to her, the whole thing is a setup for a very cruel prank by Fred and the other girls at the school. Trying to flee from her pursuing tormentors, Kathy is run into traffic and winds up in a coma. After almost dying on the table, Kathy suddenly finds her mind free to roam outside her body. She uses her newfound skill to possess Eva Gordon, the newest student at the college, in order to enact her revenge on all those at the school who made her life hell.


Okay, let’s get this out of the way: the plot of Ænigma doesn’t make much sense.

Well, no, that’s not exactly accurate. The plot of Ænigma is simple enough to understand: Girl is seriously wronged, Girl subsequently takes revenge on those who wronged her. As far as understanding plot summaries go that one is easy-peasy pumpkin-squeezy. Where Ænigma truly falls apart is in the story and execution. Most of it just doesn’t feel like it made it past the first draft before filming started. Possible plot points are brought up only to be immediately discarded, character motivation seems to be all over the place, it’s never clear how the victims are dying, no explanation is given for Kathy’s supernatural powers, some scenes seem cobbled together and poorly transitioned, and the gore, what little there is, is lackluster, to say the least.

That last point, considering Lucio Fulci’s reputation, is probably the most disappointing, though not surprising considering when the film was made. On top of all that, the dialogue is cringe-worthy, the English dubbing is poorly done, and most, if not all the characters are terribly unlikeable. Clearly, Ænigma had a lot of strikes against it before it even really got started.

aenigma3The girls at St. Mary’s College in “Boston” aren’t impressed and they weren’t even in the movie.

The main theme of the film is classism, and in that regard the film did a good job in its portrayal. Okay, it did a semi-competent job in its portrayal. Kathy is the daughter of the schools ‘retarded’ maid, while all the other girls come from privileged backgrounds. Thus, Kathy’s revenge center’s around using those markers of high society against her tormentors. Fred, for instance, is obsessed with appearance. Because of course he is, he’s the gym teacher. At one point he smacks one of the girls on the butt and criticizes her for her ‘flab.’ Considering this is a horror movie and every woman in it is required by law to be 20 lbs underweight at all times and in the tightest clothes possible, I can only assume he was referring to the possibility of that measly 1 mm of skin on her hip not being perfectly toned. Regardless, he’s clearly a superficial ass and thus his punishment is to be killed by his own reflection. Another character mocks an already comatose Kathy by criticizing her love of garlic-y escargot (Wait, I thought eating escargot was a sign of high-class? Whatever…).

Naturally, that girl’s fate is to be…smothered by snails?

She must have skipped the class where they taught everyone how to roll
over….Or just move in general.
 I mean, it’s creepy, but I’m not really sure
how this was supposed to be a viable threat, quite honestly. Do snails
secrete a paralyzing agent that I’m not aware of?

But, again, the story isn’t 100% consistent, so this pattern of retribution sort of falls apart towards the end.

And it’s that lack of consistency and clarity that’s really the film’s major downfall. For instance, one of the students conspiratorialy whispers to the newly arrived Eva that some nights all the administration disappears and there are strange noises coming from the headmistresses chambers. What could this mean? Is it a late night meeting? Is something sinister going on that could explain Kathy’s mysterious supernatural powers? A demon summoning? A lesbian orgy? Who the hell knows, because it’s never brought up again for the rest of the film. Similarly, Kathy’s poor mom is seen glaring menacingly from behind corners and appears to have a sporadic case of strange red, glowing eyes. Is this where Kathy gets her powers? Is Kathy possessing her own mother when she’s not bothering Eva? Again, no one knows. Maybe not even the director, because it’s never brought upon again or explained in any way. And none of that even touches upon the characters fluctuating motivations (most notably including Kathy’s) and the utter incompetence of every single person at every level of authority. I could probably write a thesis solely focused on the number of plot holes and idiotic story elements in this twisted tale of terror.

But, seriously, why does she have weird cat eyes? Someone explain this to me.

As mentioned above, this is a Fulci film, so those who are aware of his work might go into Ænigma expecting a certain level of blood and gore. Those people would be undoubtedly terribly disappointed. The film is surprisingly lacking in the gore department and a lot of the really gory bits that are here happen mostly just out of range of the camera, as are most of the deaths. One gal falls out a window, one dude gets strangled, another gets crushed by a statue….You want to know how much of that you see? Not a damn lick of any of it. So there’s nothing particularly memorable here death-wise, minus the snail/slug thing. Everything is pretty standard. Oh, and despite a noticeable focus on eyes, there isn’t even a hint of ocular damage during the entire film. Not even for Kathy, who was supposedly mangled by a car. It was something I totally expected to see and was surprised wasn’t present.

aenigma6Unless you count blood getting in your eye. In that case, this is a close as you get.

So yeah, Ænigma ends up being pretty bland. The characters are annoying and largely interchangeable. With the exception of Snail Lady, the deaths are uninspired and the story, what little there is, feels cobbled together from a number of better ideas. It’s a shame really, as I see potential in this Carrie rip-off, but the execution just doesn’t let any of it shine through. If you like Lucio Fulci, than Ænigma might be of interest to you. Just know going in that it is far from his greatest work.

He did sneak in a cameo as the incompetent inspector, though. So, yay?

Ænigma is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.


2 thoughts on “Ænigma (1987)

  1. This has been sitting in my queue for a while now, yet I just can’t bring myself to finally sit down and watch it because I know it’s supposed to be so bland. It’s just…I’ll get to it. Some day.


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