aka The French Sex Murders
aka Das Auge des Bösen
aka La brigada del inspector Bogart
aka Maison de rendez-vous
aka The Bogeyman and the French Murders
Director: Ferdinando Merighi
Starring: Anita Ekberg, Rosalba Neri, Evelyne Kraft, Barbara Bouchet, Howard Vernon, and Robert Sacchi
Running time: 83 minutes
Genre: giallo, exploitation
It all began on the last day of Carnival: The silhouette of a man leaps from the Eiffel Tower! Cut to the base of the Tower, where a man dashes toward it from one direction, while several cars full of men and gendarmes pull up from assorted directions. Then HUMPHREY FREAKING BOGART jumps out of a car, and they all give chase up the Tower! Upon reaching the observation deck, the man/silhouette leap (again), and Bogey lights a cigarette, then looks pensively down. A noir-ish voiceover tells us when it all began …
Jewel thief Antoine leaves the scene of the crime to shower baubles on his favorite hooker, Francine (Bouchet), at Madame Colette’s House of Ill Repute. Unfortunately, the very concept of a hooker doesn’t seem to sit well with the deranged Antoine, and he smacks his bitch up upon realizing that she does indeed make the sex with other men. Antoine is clearly crazy and a dick. He absconds, and her body is found bludgeoned to death. It seems obvious that Antoine is the killer, and he is pursued accordingly by Bogey–sorry, Inspector Pontaine (Sacchi). Antoine goes to his ex-wife Marianne (Neri) for help, but she and her lover/manager Pepi want none of that, and the hapless schmuck is soon caught, protesting his innocence all the while. Upon his arrest and sentencing, Antoine vows revenge upon all those who helped to convict an innocent–albeit derange and woman-beating–man. To further his vendetta, Antoine escapes prison and flees, only to be decapitated in a grisly motorbike accident. His head is handed over to the creepy Dr Waldemar (Vernon) for some totally pointless “experiments,” and we’re briefly distracted by some intrigue between Waldemar’s assistant Roger and his daughter Leonora (Kraft) before the Inspector pronounces the case closed.
Everyone can rest easy now, right?
Since this is a exploitation murder mystery, no. People continue to die right and left, all with a connexion–sometimes so entirely tangential as to appear invisible–to Madame Colette’s House of Happy Endings. Who could the killer be? Is it the pipe-smoking Professor of Prostitution? A hooded Satanic cabal? The Killer Nun–err, Madame Colette–herself? Could it be sleazy Roger? Or even Boris Karloff–I mean, Doctor Waldemar? Who knows? Merighis sure doesn’t seem to! We will visit scene after scene, murder after muder, and the cast will drop like flies until someone realizes a murder mystery requires a killer–and all will be revealed, culminating in the final chase we … already saw. Twice.
Play it again, Samuele: Not all gialli were created equal, and French Sex Murders is one of the most disadvantaged orphans of the genre. It has none of the style or visual flair key to stars in the giallo firmament, nor any suspense, and not very much gore. The plot is more confused than convoluted, and makes even less sense than that of most gialli. But a cast that’s a virtual Who’s Who of Eurocult cinema, a swinging score by Bruno Nicolai, insane edits by Bruno Mattei, and the nonsensical gimmick of a Humphrey Bogart-lookalike make it a worthwhile diversion for the (very) tolerant fan.
Bill: Remember that awesome scene in Point Break, when Johnny Utah is chasing a president through back yards and alleys and they’re leaping fences and throwing a dog around and it’s exciting and fast-paced and gets you all pumped? French Sex Murders starts off exactly like that scene, only it’s not awesome and it doesn’t have the same excitement and action or even a dog, but it does have some cops making a big deal of jumping over a chain that was so low they could’ve easily stepped over it. Oh, and Johnny Utah is Humphrey Bogart and the man in the president mask is a cartoon silhouette. Yes, Humphrey Bogart. Or, rather the man with Bogart’s face, Robert Sacchi. He’s not the only familiar face. Just as Point Break had an awesome cast of recognizable actors (at least to mainstream American audiences,) FSM’s cast, while maybe not the Eurosleaze all-star team, could definitely be the Eurosleaze all-stars B or C-team. This cast, the complete absurdity of the movie, and some laughably inept acting, however, are all the movie has going for it. French Sex Murders, I mean, not Point Break.
Fisty: I especially like the cast credits over the laissez-faire chase scene; excitement is created by all the infamous names flashing by, but not by the chase itself. It’s a very subtle way to distract viewers’ attentions from the many shortcomings of not only the opening scene, but the entire film. After all, one can coast on the pleasure of seeing Evelyne Kraft, Rosalba Neri, or Barbara Bouchet for quite a while–or Howard Vernon if that’s your bag.
That amazing cast influences the wacky plot, too. Apparently, it was common practice to feature alternate edits–sometimes differing wildly–for different countries, often focusing on a star who was particularly popular in a given country. A cheap exploitation flick like French Sex Murders (I’ll never make an initialism of that title because I enjoy saying it too much) would milk that dodge for all it was worth, as you can see if you try to follow along with French Sex Murder‘s plot. The good folks at Mondo Macabro took practically every inch of footage from every version, stringing it all together in what is touted as the longest, most complete version of French Sex Murders ever distributed, but whether that creates any clarity in the storyline, I’ll leave as an exercise for your divertissement.
Basically, nothing in French Sex Murders makes much sense. I know, I know, you’re saying, “But Fisty, how often do gialli make sense?” Yes, yes, as a genre, gialli do not have a reputation for being sensical. With all the red herrings flying about like fish at the Pike Place Market, and the boobies, and the psychedelica and the camp, the gore and the boobies, the crazy visual style and editing tricks, well … the actual story can get lost. But most have at least a pretext of plot, and the greats have more. French Sex Murders is not one of those. Everything in it is a red herring for exploitation’s sake, until they decided to just wrap it up already.
Ordinarily, you’ve got some amateurs investigating a murder (or murders), hindered by the hilariously incompetent police force. French Sex Murders has no amateurs doing anything at all but wandering around living their varied lives: Leonora and Roger have their affair and worry over it, Marianne sings and worries over her cheatin’ man, Waldemar messily mashes up a sheep’s eye for no particular reason, etc. Inspector Fontaine wrapped up the case after Antoine died, so he’s really not doing a whole lot after that other than the occasional narration, other than looking uncannily like a cross between Bogey, Nixon (Bill: like in Point Break!,) and my ex Sean. Ugh. People die. This isn’t even really explained as subplots, because they’re just the faintest traces of such. It’s more like the bare bones of five different movies (read: familiar and/or pretty faces) are all tossed together haphazardly till they stick in a semblance of a story. Mostly, people die that you’re expecting to die, so there’s not a lot of tension because, well, you’re already expecting it. Occasionally, someone else of no apparent import dies. Even the murders themselves are pretty tame, too, with some laughable effects, so the payoff for waiting and watching is insignificant.
Bill: Antoine’s escape from the law is possibly the most useless twist in the film. He’s captured and tried and sentenced to die by the guillotine, which, shockingly, France was still using until 1977. I looked it up. This all seems to happen in, like, a day, by the way, with the trial – a murder trial with no real witnesses and a man’s life on the line – lasting all of two minutes! Nice courts, dick. Anyway, he lays a curse of revenge on everyone that allowed an innocent woman-beating thief to be executed for Francine’s death. This is cool. An innocent man is put to death, swears revenge and people start dying. I can dig that, only, in the next scene, you’re being informed that he’s escaped. They don’t show you this happening. They tell you with a news report. One second he’s screaming about a curse and the next, he’s on the loose. Now the supposed killer is on the loose and ready to carry out his revenge for the beheading he escaped. Fine. Not as good of a story, but I’m still down. Only, then, they cut to him running from the cops. He steals a motorcycle and we get a really shitty motorbike chase with the cops that ends with him getting in an accident and losing his head.
If they were going to cut off his head anyway, why not just do it with the guillotine? Why was this chase even necessary? All his escape did was lessen the impact of his curse rant, make for even more of a convoluted plot and pad the run time with boring scenes of Antoine riding a motorcycle. Did Dick Randall just show up on set one day and demand a motorbike chase? (Fisty: Yes.) Did they not have a kung fu professor handy to shoehorn in that day? “Hey, Merighi, someone’s letting me borrow a motorcycle, write it in.” I mean, I could at least understand it if Martellanza was the kind of actor you just wanted to see more of, but he’s not. He’s terrible! His dick-flappingly angry explosion of man on woman violence against Francine should have been upsetting, but he’s so outrageously bad that the scene becomes unintentionally hilarious.
Fisty: As a card-carrying humorless feminist who likes to shriek, “Misogyny” whenever she gets the chance, I must say that it is amazing how woman-beating becomes high comedy in the hands of skilled artisans. I love that Merighi keeps Bouchet fully dressed while Antoine’s willy waves in the wind–and that Martellanza desperately tries to keep it covered. His performance is nothing short of uh, remarkable. French Sex Murders is full of moments like that.
Bill: Like when one girl is accosted and all but raped in the club, and Marianne and Pepi just watch. And when Pepi finally does step up to stop the guy, Marianne interprets it as a sign of infidelity! And seduction in French Sex Murders seems to boil down to snatching a bitch up by the arm, spinning her around and slamming faces together, busting her lips with your teeth. I am surprised everyone walked away with all their teeth intact. There really is a lot of crazy to laugh at in this flick. We did mention that, right? Every murder flashes over in rainbow colors, like some twisted Skittles commercial. The courtroom scene flashes to negative. At one point, while the aging judge is on the verge of collapsing, looking like he’s having a heart attack, Waldemar, the DOCTOR, just suggests he go home and have a shot of Cognac. Alcoholism is the BEST heart medicine!
But it’s Bogey that really takes the prize. Inspector Pontaine just has to be the wackiest thing in the whole movie. One of these things is not like the other. He feels like he was snatched out of a completely different movie and dropped into this. It’s like having a Ru Paul impersonator play Gary Busey’s part in Point Break. Even his dialog is out of place, with lines like, “You run a tight ship, Pepi. Better keep it on an even keel.” He just does not fit in this movie. Whoever had the idea to cast Sacchi and use him like this (probably Randall) is either completely mental or a true visionary. Either way, the total nuttiness of French Sex Murders is the saving grace of an otherwise stupid giallo that, despite its cast, can’t even manage to be sexy.
Fisty: Whoa, whoa, WHOA. Brandy IS medicinal, Bill. And lest we forget as Dr Johnson said, “Claret is the drink for boys, port for men, but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” Clearly, Waldemar is a hero. Acting out a Donkey-Skin fantasy, but a hero nonetheless.
I want to get back to where you were going with sex and the French murders. Considering it’s a giallo set in part in a brothel (and ostensibly named for it), French Sex Murders isn’t seductive in the least. There isn’t much nudity or sex–comparatively speaking. Merighi also keeps the focus largely on male characters; though the camera does follow Marianne and Leonora around for a while, it’s content to chase others as well. It’s an interesting turnabout from a more usual female-centric giallo, where a woman is an integral part of a sleuthing duo, or the main character. Rather than dissecting the male gaze upon women as in films like Blood and Black Lace–or even Strip Nude for Your Killer–Merighi seems more interested in gazing upon males and their activities; women are only incidental. They’re on par with the hideous faux rococo knickknacks scattered around the sets to class up the place.
Bill: Ugh, I know. All that eye candy and no one bothers to take the wrappers off. Neri may be your girl, but I am all about Evelyne Kraft. She was stunning as Leonora, way hotter than stupid old Lori Petty was in Point Break. But sadly she isn’t given a whole lot to do in the movie and Roger can never seal the deal (not surprising, considering he pronounces Roger ROH-jhay,) so she never sheds her kit. The second half of the movie is a bit spicier, however, including the sex scene where we get to see Doris’ magnificent pit-crops hanging like the damp black hair on a pair of Japanese ghost girls’ heads. Typically underarm ‘fro on a girl is something I’d complain about, but here, it adds some extra hilarity to a sex scene that was already made pretty funny by her bearded hippy man’s lovemaking style. It kind of looks like he’s in a wrestling match that he can only win by climbing over her and licking her shoulder blade.
Fisty: I might venture that the main failing of French Sex Murders is that it doesn’t fetishize anything at all; not the blood or kills, not the mystery, not the women or even the sex (and if you can’t fetishize sex, what fun are you?). Even with all its myriad faults, look at how another purely exploitational giallo like SN4YK worshipped its women; they were stunning and active–look at the camera’s love for Femi Benussi; she exists to be sexy and beautiful (which is likely sexist, but who doesn’t enjoy watching that woman walk? or move? or breathe?), her introductory scene is a paean to the confident and sexually liberated woman. There is no woman like that in French Sex Murders. And the sex is perfunctory, like they realized they were over halfway through the movie with barely any action, and so they threw in a sweaty sex scene.
With such flaws, can we still call it a giallo? Sure, why the hell not? It nominally features many genre conventions: Black-gloved killer, psychosexual motivation for the murders, murders that re-enact or compulsively repeat a trauma, camp fashion, incompetent cops, red herrings, casual sex, etc. We’ve got a ludicrous narrative, staccato editing, tacky settings, and performances that vacillate between labored and melodramatic, but we also have a film that is rarely dull due to its defiance of conventional (or good) filmmaking. Dick Randall (look for his cameo as a few-wearing sheikh!) et alia set out to make a campy and preposterous exploitation giallo, and they did just that.
If you’re looking for middle-brow Art or intelligence, you won’t find it in French Sex Murders. You won’t find much sexiness or style, either, or even blood, but you will find total absurdity.
Bill: It’s no Point Break, but it’s ok for a watch with some MST3K style ribbing.