Bizarre events, heinous violence, vigorous sex and gruesome gore crowd this slim, grotesque opus set in and around an old farmhouse amid the luxuriant landscape of eastern Italy. Neil O'Netty, an author of historical fiction, is stranded when his car breaks down while he's sightseeing, leaving him at the mercy of an intense attraction for Marisa Panic, a beautiful woman who comes to his aid. She offers him overnight shelter (and much more) within her family's dilapidated, creepy mansion, where eerie colors glow in the moonlight, and dead bodies seem to appear and disappear from sight. Neil's mounting obsession with Marisa dulls his fear of the eerie, cavernous condition of the manor and of its inhabitants comprising Marisa's eccentric, elderly relatives, all part of a retired troupe of traveling puppeteers. Neil's initial concern about his car is hushed by his overwhelming desire for Marisa, culminating in several over-the-top sex scenes such as are rarely found in a horror story. Tessier intermingles this erotic overindulgence with several stereotypical haunted house effects, including echoed whispers in the darkness, cauldrons of peculiar soups and a tour of a dank, labyrinthine cellar, though this part of the narrative seems like an afterthought to the passion play. Anton Panic, Marisa's priestly uncle (the ""Father Panic"" of the title), like the rest of the family, becomes a frightening catalyst in the book's thrilling, time-and-space-shifting crescendo. Waking up in a concentration camp, Neil fights for his life at the hands of military guards who commit shocking acts of brutality for sport. Tessier reveals in the book's notes that he derived these final scenes from real-life events perpetrated by barbaric Croatian ""Ustashas"" in the 1940s. This distinctive fusion of fact and fiction is sure to garner attention as horror-with-a-conscience. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000 Release date: 12/01/2000 Genre: Fiction
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