A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.
A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.
Now the swimmer and the female shark saved by him confront each other. For minutes they stare fixedly into each other’s eyes. They swim circling, keeping each other in sight, and each thinking: “I was wrong all along. Here is one more evil than I.” Then in unison they glided underwater towards each other, in mutual admiration, the female shark slitting open the waves with her fins, Maldoror’s arms thrashing the water; and they held their breaths, in deepest reverence, each one anxious to gaze for the first time upon his living image. Effortlessly, at only three yards apart, they suddenly fell upon one another like two magnets, in an embrace of dignity and gratitude, clasping each other tenderly as brother and sister. Carnal desire soon followed this display of affection. Like two leeches, a pair of nervous thighs gripped tightly against the monster’s viscous flesh, and arms and fins wrapped around the objects of their desire, surrounding their bodies with love, while their breasts and bellies soon fused into one bluish-green mass reeking of sea-wrack, in the midst of the tempest still raging by the light of lightning; with the foamy waves for a wedding bed, borne on an undersea current as if in a cradle, rolling and rolling down into the bottomless ocean depths, they came together in a long, chaste, and hideous mating! –Comte de Lautreamont, Les Chants de Maldoror, 1868
With Lucio Fulci’s knowledge of art, literature, and critical theory, as well as his obvious keen intelligence, I cannot help but imagine this passage inspired the infamous Zombie Versus Shark scene in Zombi 2. It’s easy to forget–or to never know–that Fulci was not simply a third rate filmmaker. Knowing that he began as a critic and a screenwriter, that he attended Rome’s Experimental Film Center and studied under luminaries such as Visconti and Antionini, his familiarity and interest in Surrealism and Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, and understanding “pure cinema” adds a critical foundation to comprehending his work as a writer and director. Too often I see his work derided as having “no plot,” or being too “slow,” or not having “good characters.” Or he’s dismissed as being “ridiculous,” “lame,” or “just” a gorehound, a grindhouse/exploitation director, out for a buck (“willing to do anything for a lira”). It makes me mental–though I won’t deny that he was certainly out to make a buck much of the time. Like many of the more familiar Italian directors, Fulci was what you might call a “working director,” meaning he took jobs to support himself–and importantly, his family. Sergio Martino, Sergio Corbucci, Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi: they all had to do it at one time or another, or even for most of their careers, hence the often checkered oeuvres, spanning the popular Italian genres, under these names. It’s worth noting, that of the familiar working directors, only Bava is usually considered an auteur (and have you SEEN Dr Goldfoot and the Girlbombs???). Dario Argento on the other hand, is always reckoned an auteur, and thanks to generous financial support in his early career has been able to pick and choose what projects to be involved with–note the disparity. Martino has gone on record as saying that he never cared too much about what kind of movies he was asked to do: “[He] just tried to leave his mark on whatever project people asked [him] to do and were willing to throw money at.” We can apply that to Fulci, who left his signature on films as diverse as sex comedies (The Eroticist), gialli (A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Don’t Torture a Duckling, One on Top of the Other, Seven Notes in Black), horror (The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery, The Gates of Hell), Westerns (Massacre Time, Four of the Apocalypse), adventure yarns (White Fang), and many more. (For my money, one of his best works is the too-little seen historical Beatrice Cenci, an adaptation of Shelley by way of Artaud. It’s one of the most brutal, yet beautiful, films I have ever seen.) But I digress. I am here not to defend Fulci, but to praise him–and wish him a happy birthday. I only wish he could have many happy returns, but I suspect he is happier now. If anything, Lucio Fulci was an artist when it came to visual stylings–no mere artisan–who sought to transcend conventional cinema and to articulate the horror that surrounds us daily. He drew upon a repertoire of critical and philosophical knowledge, a vast body of art and literature, even modern psychoanalysis, and used a mythic approach to create oneiric images of human misery and despair on celluloid. What others see as plotholes or lapses in judgement are usually just the visible underpinnings of his work. They are often deliberate. The lack of structure, the jettisoning of conventional narrative form are absolutely deliberate. If anything, his great appreciation for the cosmic absurdity of our lives enhanced his films for the astute viewer. However, some find it difficult to appreciate his artistry. Consider this a (very) brief primer, if you will, for approaching Fulci’s work:
NARRATIVE IS MEANINGLESS
FORGET PLOT FORGET LOGIC
PACE IS UNIMPORTANT
SIMPLY EXPERIENCE THE IMAGES
EXPECT INNERVATION, SUFFERING, TORMENT, AND DESPAIR
FILM AS PURE THEME, NOT STORY
EXPECT A BARRAGE OF IMAGES AND SPLANCHNIC SENSATIONS
If you can see your way to accepting such concepts, then appreciating the pure, visceral nature of Fulci’s work may be easier.
Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?
aka What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?
aka Why Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?
aka The Case of the Bloody Iris
aka Das Geheimnis der blutigen Lilie
aka Las lágrimas de Jennifer
aka Les rendez-vous de Satan
aka Rendez-vous avec la mort
aka Erotic Blue
Director: Giuliano Carnimeo
Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Paola Quattrini, Annabella Incontrera, Carla Brait
Running time: 94 min
The neighbors were almost unanimous that she wasn’t a nice girl. At a payphone, a call is made. A woman answers, telling the beautiful blonde in the phonebooth to “Come on up.” Hanging up, she saunters through the busy city to Bruno Nicolai’s sweetly jazzy score, a bright spot of mauve on a grey and taupe street. She arrives at a building and joins the throng entering the elevator. As the crowded elevator ascends, no one seems much interested in anyone else. As it rises, stopping to let off and take on passengers, someone in black surreptitiously dons brown rubber gloves. At the unlucky thirteenth floor, all but one passenger and blonde exit, and as the doors close, the other passenger turns to her, quickly muffling her with a cloth. He whips out a small blade, and stabs her! Twice in the belly, then a slice across her slender throat, and the unbelieving girl collapses, dead. At the sixteenth floor, the killer leaves, but not before sending the elevator up to the twentieth floor, where she’s found by a curious trio of residents: Mizar Harrington, Professor Isaacs, and Mrs Moss. The three have a common bond in living on the top floor of the building, but are otherwise near strangers.
Wanting to avoid trouble, Mizar and Mrs Moss vamoose before the police arrive, leaving the professor to make a statement. Elsewhere, the de-boner architect Andrea (George Hilton!) and nebbish yet ultra-campy photographer Arthur discuss advertising theory and exoticism in the latter’s studio. While Arthur suggests the “black but not too black” Mizar as perfect to advertise Andrea’s new
slumapartment building, Andrea’s attention is caught by the luminous Jennifer (Edwige Fenech!) and her groovy bodypaint. Though Arthur dismisses models Jennifer and Marilyn as “good for certain things,” Andrea can’t help but wonder …
Later that evening, we spot Andrea in the crowd at a nightclub, sampling the exotic entertainment: Mizar’s sexual wrestling act, chock full o’ gymnastics, innuendo, and torn off clothing. Andrea displays his love of chivalry, impressing Mizar and scoring a clandestine appointment with her. Back at the studio, Jennifer and Arthur are working on a clearly haute couture spread–the old mattress she’s rolling around on in her sheer negligee is a dead giveaway. But in the midst of her fierce smizing, Jennifer catches a glimpse of her ex-husband Adam, sending her into a flashback of his free love cult and kaleidoscopic orgies, and she collapses in hysteria. Even later that night, Mizar arrives home and sensibly decides to take the stairs up to her flat. Only when she gets there, it seems there’s someone else already home, and that they don’t have good intentions. A chase ensues in the darkened apartment, and the undefeated Mizar is hog-tied, stripped, and then left in a filling bathtub to drown.
A random elevator murder is one thing, but another murder the same night, in the same building, of the first person on the scene to the previous murder, and well, even the lackadaisical detectives in Italy are interested. More-so in philately, but you take what you can get these days, eh? The police commissioner and his assistant begin poking around the building and examining Mizar’s acquaintances, searching for a connexion between the two women other than approximate geographical location at the time of death. Soon enough the shiftily suave Andrea comes to their attention, but his attention is all on Miss Jennifer. Using his influence, Andrea secures the lease on Mizar’s now vacated apartment for Jennifer and Marilyn, and the two are soon creepily ensconced in the murder building, surrounded by elderly voyeurs and a stunning lesbian, stalked by ex-husbands, architects, and faceless killers. With so many red herrings, what more can a girl do but scream helplessly in her fashionable romper and cape ensemble?
A girl could get murdered for no motive at all. What if Seven Blood-Stained Orchids and All the Colors of the Dark had a baby and gave it up for adoption, only to have it raised by Strip Nude for Your Killer? Then you might get something like The Case of the Bloody Iris aka the awkward but infinitely more exciting What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body? (or WaTSDoBDoJB?!). Starring the Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd of giallo, Edwige Fenech and George Hilton; supported by a cast of genre stalwarts such as Luciano Pigozzi, Carla Mancini, and George Rigaud; with a jaunty score by Bruno Nicolai; and written by Ernesto Gastaldi, WaTSDoBDoJB? is a veritable Who’s Who of gialli. Director Giuliano Carnimeo cribs from Sergio Martino while turning the Style up and the Logic down, and the end result is a charmingly sleazy romp.
Fisty: On first viewing, I was actually less than impressed by The Case of the Bloody Iris. I think that had a lot to do with my being super sick and all messed up on cough syrup just like nevermind. I was reluctant to view it again for purposes of reviewing, but once I was able to sit down and peruse it with a clear mind, I was totally hooked. It might not be High Art; it might not be Deep; it might have little to say other than, “Hey, everybody! Let’s have some fun! Check out these titties!” (cue Dr Nick’s voice if you haven’t already), but WaTSDoBDoJB? manages to be utterly shameless without being mean-spirited, and that lends it a certain charm that will likely make it one of my all-time favorite gialli.
Notable among its strengths is giallo‘s golden couple: Edwige Fenech and George Hilton. Carnimeo doesn’t just toss the them onto a set, shout “You better work!,” and start filming, he and cinematographer Stelvio Massi take the time to have the camera make sweet, sweet love to the pair, and Edwige and Hilton have rarely looked better than they do in their capable hands. This was actually his fifth film with the diabolically handsome Hilton (out of a total of eight), and after WaTSDoBDoJB? Edwige and Carnimeo would work on another four films together. And who could blame her? The always alluring Edwige is positively luminous here, whether nude or clothed.
Bill: Or painted! Man, she looks great in body paint. I don’t think it’s possible for her to not look great. You could dress her in clown clothes, with, like, a comically over-sized tie or something, and she’d still make it look sexy. Did you see her in Hostel 2? What was there, almost 40 years between WaTSDoBDoJB? and Hostel 2? And she still looked amazing. It’s downright unnatural. She’s like a dark-haired Galadriel, beautiful and eternal. If I ever meet her, I will ask for one strand of her hair. Then I’ll eat it, just to have her inside of me. Sigh. She really is magical. I haven’t even been alive as many years as there are between those two movies and I’ve looked like shit for a long time now. I’ve already done my “I ❤ Edwige” spiel in an earlier review, so I’ll shut up about Her Mystical Hottiness and we can talk about something that doesn’t look like shit–that thing being, of course, WaTSDoBDoJB? (I love typing that out). Am I right or what?
Fisty: For once you’re right. It’s a great looking film in pretty much every way. Carnimeo pulls out the stops using all kinds of exciting complex compositions to heighten the thrills, from wide angle close-ups and high-angle long shots to exotic angles and increasingly bizarre deep focus shots. Is there no prop too mundane to frame? If I didn’t know any better, I might hazard a guess that Sergio Martino’s hands were all over WaTSDoBDoJB? as Carnimeo’s stylish, thrilling approach channels that master. But considering his work in spaghetti Westerns, including a few of the Sartana flicks, it’s unsurprising that WaTSDoBDoJB? would be so slickly entertaining and attractive. Much like Gianfranco Parolini (originator of Sartana) , Carnimeo’s approach was highly stylized, resulting in eminently consumable, formulaic entries in the “circus” sub-genre, which was heavily influenced by pepla, acrobatic martial-arts movies, and especially the frivolity and sexy time of Bond films. The guiding philosophy behind many of Parolini’s efforts just seems to be “People like this stuff, so let’s throw shit at the screen and see what happens” as opposed to the carefully crafted visions that say, Corbucci or Leone were producing; Carnimeo does him one better without getting too deep. If Martino’s approach was subliminal and Parolini’s super-liminal, then Carnimeo’s is just plain liminal.
That Bondian puerility is manifest in WaTSDoBDoJB?, but that’s exactly what the producers and audience were after, making it a success. Marilyn’s character, played by Paola Quattrini, is one of the most obvious markers of WaTSDoBDoJB?’s puckish nature. She is that cute-funny character so popular as leavening in spaghetti Westerns, like Dusty in If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death; sadly, that character type was one of the markers of decline for that genre, and with its appearance here in WaTSDoBDoJB? heralds the same for giallo. (After all, 1971-72 were the pinnacle of the genre; post-1972 output –with exceptions; we haven’t forgotten Profondo Rosso–tend to fall at the lower end of the spectrum of quality, however entertaining they may be. Of course, that assumes that WaTSDoBDoJB? is a quality film, and well, that’s what we’re exploring here.) Frankly, Marilyn is irritating (much as those characters typically are in spaghetti Westerns), and her cutely ditzy qualities practically scream “MURDER ME PLZ, KTHXBAI” from her very first scene. I still find her bizarre non sequiturs largely funny, to be honest. The same goes for the Dippity Duo of Commisioner and Detective, the latter of whom is comi-tragically terrible at his job, insofar as even random passersby can identify him as an undercover cop. The former of course is awesomely nonchalant, taking the “incompetent cops” trope to amazing new heights of pilfering and sleaze. Need it be said? LOVE him!
Some of the playfulness that makes it so, well, almost innocently sleazy is that sort of deliberate broad humor–the rest seems unintentional and often stems from the gulf of distance between us as viewers and contemporary cinematic values. And though that might drive some people up the proverbial wall, for us as appreciators of sleaze and at a distance of forty years (HOLY SHIT, WAT) it’s just part of the lowest common denominator charm of the giallo. Unlike in say, Martino’s work (the obvious comparison), there’s no subtext about semi-submerged sexual desires, or exploration of repression, it’s just text about tits and ass and good times. As Arthur would say, “Have a drink–there’s cognac, gin, there’s garters, brassieres.”
Bill: Marilyn marks the decline of your ass! Don’t talk poop about her; I like that girl. She’s fun like Shelley from Friday the 13th Part 3, only she’s a girl and she’s cute. I would hang out with her if her chances of getting murdered weren’t astronomically high. (I don’t want to be collateral damage.) But I get what you’re saying: She, and the general silliness of this movie, mark it as being sort of the Jason Takes Manhattan or Leprechaun of gialli, rather than a Halloween or Black Christmas. It’s gonzo porn, just the good stuff, none of the bits you have to sit and think about. That’s what I like most about something like WaTSDoBDoJB? or even SN4YK: they’re straight up, good-time movies for light, breezy viewing. You can watch it and be entertained while doing a bunch of other things and never worry about missing something or not understanding some bit of it if you do miss anything. Even when it pokes at the audience, as when a newsstand proprietor says, “To really like horror tales, you have to be nuts,” it comes off as more of a playful elbow in the ribs from a friend, rather than the kind of indictment you get from something like What Have You Done to Solange?.
I really should make clear, though, that while WaTSDoBDoJB? may be the Evil Toons of giallo, that doesn’t mean it looks as cheap or amateurish as all that. When slashers declined, the quality of the movies overall dropped, while with gialli, even the sillier, almost self-parodic ones still [Fisty: “usually”] had great production values, style, charming actors, great camera work (there’s a neat move during Mizar’s wrestling scene where one of her kicks that knocked her opponent down also knocked the camera on its side, which added impact and energy to the fight, but without being confusing or overly jittery like the shaky cam crap that’s abused in action scenes today) and were still technically accomplished and professional looking films.
Fisty: Pretty sure I already said that, dude, but yes. Good lookin’ movies. As for “light, breezy viewing,” that is exactly how they were intended. One thing that is important (and AWESOME) about Italian vernacular cinema is that it was intended for the unwashed masses, hoi polloi. Gialli–like spaghetti Westerns before them and poliziotteschi after–were released into the terza visione theaters, those largely rural theaters patronized by the working class. Terza visione audiences were more like later television audiences, going to the theater out of habit and treating it as a social occasion, talking, eating, and drinking during the show. Looking the giallo’sdisposition to exciting and elaborate set pieces separated by periods of ignorable exposition would seem to support such behaviors. I mean, I certainly don’t mind grabbing a beer while the detective chats up the newsstand guy.
Where was I going with this? Ummm … maybe I was just restating that WaTSDoBDoJB? is a prime example of giallo as spectacle, and that Carnimeo provides the audience–then and now–with exactly what they desire in the way of fun fashion, thrilling escapades, titillating T&A, and sanguinary kills.
Bill: You know, I like the movies, but I would’ve hated terza visione audiences. They’d probably all have their bright-as-a-million-exploding-suns cellphones out, texting, while I was trying to watch the movie.
Fun fashion, thrilling escapades, titillating T&A and … you forgot, memorably bizarre characters. They might not be quite as out-there as Robert Sacchi as your main cop, but man, are they weirdos. Jennifer herself, other than her clothing choices, isn’t so bad. She has a bad habit of getting sexually assaulted multiple times a day, (which never seems to be a big deal and is usually treated as a preface to someone else trying to get in her pants) but other than that, she’s basically a normal girl. Fisty already talked about ditzy Marilyn and the comic cops that are more interested in stamp collecting and how to file booze in the filing cabinets than murder, but there are so many more: a lecherous lesbian; an architect whose fear of blood has almost nothing to do with anything else in the movie, but is treated like the most important clue ever, even warranting its own flashback; the meanest, nastiest old widow ever; a black Amazon wrestler/model/stripper; a bizarre ancestor to both Bad Ronald and Freddy Krueger; the violinist nut that plays all night long, like some wannabe Erich Zann; and the coolest flamboyantly gay photographer ever, Arthur! Seriously, I love Arthur. Almost all his lines kill.
Fisty: Arthur is great, and he’s got great lines–though I hated him on my first viewing. He is also treated FAIRLY well, hardly tarred with the brush of perversion at all, and sniping and snarking right back at the police for example. And well, he doesn’t die. He gets the better of the giallo‘s usually shitty treatment of homosexuality; he’s neither victim nor killer, but rather comic relief. The Sapphic Sheila however, the predatory lesbian neighbor, receives the usual treatment reserved for lesbians, being a lust object, and also is simultaneously aggressor and victim. Ultimately perversion, or the perception of it, forms the motive for the killings, and WaTSDoBDoJB? doesn’t stray from the herd on finding male homosexuality laughable and female threatening.
They’re just two of a complete cast of whackadoodles, a veritable grotesquerie, wherein character depth is swapped for bizarre hilarity; Bill is correct about WaTSDoBDoJB? being made of up quite the eccentric ensemble. The whole movie is kind of an eccentric ensemble, though, with things like Adam’s free love cult and Mizar’s [exoticism alert!] nightclub act thrown in for the hell of it. That’s how the whole thing is, though; if I were to pick a single adjective to describe WaTSDoBDoJB?, it would be “gratuitous.” Everything in the movie is wildly gratuitous, and as long as you can appreciate that, you should enjoy it.
I guess Jennifer might be “normal” compared to the rest, as normal as a sexually continent English model cum free love cult goddess inhabiting a giallo can be called normal. Her character really plumbs the depths of shallowness, being nothing so much as a walking case of hysterics. She just bounces from scene to scene either being assaulted, fleeing in terror, or having the screaming mimis; she’s very nearly a parody of Jane in AtCotD. Oh, and changing her clothes. Girl has a costume change for every scene and in half of them, I swear. And each outfit is progressively more amazing. Do I love the Thirties gangster-inspired pinstriped romper with ginormous white tie and topped an Indian blanket coat most? Or the Robin Hood-channeling ochre turtleneck beneath green suede vest and hotpants combo with knee high boots and a fuckin’ CAPE? Color me amazed. Just more of that delicious eye candy!
Though there’s not a lot under the surface, there’s still a lot more we could touch on–the apartment building as a scene of the crime, the silly looped ending–but I think we’ve said enough.
A pretty girl is never ridiculous. But The Case of the Bloody Iris–aka What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?–often is. Taking all the best over the top qualities of the genre and still presenting some of the worst, WaTSDoBDoJB? is an exercise in gratuity, with all the T&A, murder, and madness you could desire. It makes a perfect entry point for gialli, giving a new viewer a very good idea of the best and worst to expect while still remaining amusing and never taking itself seriously. In a year which saw the release of so many of the best and/or most notable gialli (heavy hitters like Don’t Torture a Duckling, Who Saw Her Die?, What Have You Done to Solange?, All the Colors of the Dark, Seven Blood-stained Orchids, and Death Walks at Midnight), WaTSDoBDoJB? makes for a delightful amuse bouche. High expectations or a low tolerance for silliness will likely find it irritating or worse, but Carnimeo’s one giallo is mostly harmless and plenty of fun.