Evil Eye

nothing to do with anything?

nothing to do with anything?

Malocchio
aka Eroticofollia
aka Más allá del exorcismo
aka Blutige Magie
Director: Mario Siciliano
Released: 1975
Starring: Anthony Steffen, Jorge Rivero, Pilar Velasquez, Pia Giancaro, Eduardo Fajardo, Richard Conte
Running time: 93 min
Genre: giallo, fantastique

Men like him are certainly in no need of psychiatry. American playboy Peter Crane is living the life of Riley in Rome as King of the Expats, partying by day and orgying by night. One morning he awakens in his nude partygoer-strewn pad to the sound of the telephone ringing. When he answers, it’s his girlfriend Tanya, wondering where the hell he was last night when he stood her up. Oddly, all Peter can remember is the bizarre dream he was having, a dream of a Black Mass and screaming demonic suppliants. Putting that aside, he resolves to get up and face the day, so he puts a funky Stelvio Cipriani record and summons his butler houseboy majordomo Walter (Boris Karloff Walter Vernon Eduardo Farjado) to kick out the jams guests. This is the last coherent scene in the film.

From the opening orgy we follow Peter as jet sets (in a tiny car, natch) off to the fuggest fashion show in all of history. As his girlfriend Tania (Taga? Tarda?) MCs the event, Peter retires to the VIP lounge, where he proceeds to mack the first woman he meets, the piercingly-gazed Yvonne. Quicker than you can say, “Peter Crane will murder you,” he’s hitting on the widowed Yvonne and they meet up for a midnight tête-à-tête at his fly bachelor pad. Mid-grope, however, Peter goes bananas–the statues start moving, doors blow open, things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and he starts throttling Yvonne … and wakes up the next morning as if nothing has happened. Has it?

From this point on, Peter dashes through Rome, trying to figure out just what is going on, and sexing up every woman he meets–and then killing them! Possibly. At least, they end up dead. We think. Statues and other inanimate objects wiggle, ghosts appear, and Peter phlegmatically freaks out. Can the Doctors Stone and Turner help him? Is Dr Turner really Salieri? Will Dr Turner commit a gross ethical violation by sleeping with Peter? (Duh.) As the bodies pile up, can Inspector Ranieri uncover the murderer? Can Peter wear a shirt AND jacket? What does the Black Mass signify? Who was under that pile of bricks? Or on the train tracks? Where did that frog come from? Is it Tania or Taga? Or Tarda?

Tom Jones or Beethoven? Malocchio is Mario Siciliano’s surrealist canoe trip through the nightmare rapids of the mind of a man who is potentially insane, possibly possessed, just maybe haunted, definitely infected with the clap, and … oh, fuck it. We have no idea what’s going on with this movie. Can’t even fake it.

i'm too sexy for your party

i’m too sexy for your party

romper bomper stomper boo

romper bomper stomper boo

peter crane will look through your shirt

i’m too sexy for my shirt

Bill: Fisty got me all excited for this movie. She was talking about ghosts and Pigozzi and likening it to All the Colors of the Dark. She only called it Eroticofollia at first, instead of the much more boring Evil Eye [Fisty: Lies!], and she  showed me posters with red-hooded cult figures and red-eyed wizards throwing up triangle gang signs and she was talking about Guillermo del Toro.  So I was all hyped when I started the movie. I was initially disappointed when the ringing church bells turned out to not be the beginnings of an AC/DC song. Then, later, I was disappointed by almost everything else. Fisty is a dick.

It starts off well enough, with the aforementioned red-hooded Klan figures and red-eyed wizards throwing up triangle gang signs and there’s a bunch of naked people screaming, which is always nice. But this is all a dream? It may not have even happened. It’s the image on the fucking poster and it’s seemingly completely unrelated to anything else in the movie. The red-eyed gangster wizard…? I HAVE NO IDEA WHO HE WAS! The Klan guy in the red hood…? BEATS ME! What does this have to do with Peter other than possibly being a bad reaction to something he ate before passing out? How do I shrug with text? But maybe I’m focusing too much on THE FUCKING POSTER OF THE MOVIE. I mean, at least it was actually a scene in the movie. So it’s not quite as misleading as, say, the They’re Coming to Get You poster for All the Colors of the Dark. But, really, why does the most dominant image in the movie (other than Peter’s bare chest) have nothing to do with anything else?

Wait. Is that a spoiler, revealing that the dream is completely pointless? I’ll tell you: No, it isn’t. I’ll tell you  why it isn’t:  Because I could go minute by minute explaining everything that happens in the entire movie and if you sit down to watch it, you still will have no clue what is happening. To paraphrase the cat from Pet Semetary, “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, basted in confusion and roasted for 93 minutes at FUCK YOU degrees!” Fisty, you are a dick. And I’m pretty sure this movie had no influence on Pan’s Labyrinth.

i'm with the band

i’m with the band

peter crane is my mouth and i must scream

peter crane is my mouth and i must scream

you're tearing me apart!

so sexy it hurts!

Fisty: I didn’t actually say it did! [Bill: You did, too!]

I think we came away from Malocchio with two divergent experiences, because despite the insanity, I enjoyed myself. Yes, it is the kind of movie where, if you nod off unexpectedly for a few minutes, you can’t be entirely sure what was dream and what was film. It’s often brought up that there is a certain amount of incomprehensibility expected of gialli, that their plots are unusually convoluted or even nonsensical. (I’m not going into this in any depth, but there are definitely reasons for that in many cases, beyond the simplistic accusations of shitty film-making, such as the emphasis on character, mood, or sensation above America’s almighty Plot.) But anyone who has ever complained about the impenetrable, labyrinthine plots of gialli should watch Malocchio to really drive it home how easy they’ve had it. It’s really not so much convoluted as it is enigmatically BATSHIT INSANE. Or in less evocative terms, it seems made up of bizarre set pieces, rather than plotted.

But those set pieces are fun! I love orgies (really, who doesn’t?) and Siciliano gives us several. Jorge Rivero isn’t my kind of studmuffin, but I appreciated the devotion Siciliano had to showcashing his chesthair AT ALL TIMES. And though the technique is imperfect, I still enjoyed the Dance of the Inanimate Objects that would occur to signify Strange Happenings. Though often ludicrous, those bits often gave me a little thrill. They were just SO WEIRD. Of course, then it’d get to be a little much and end up looking like the “I Got My Mind Set On You” video. But still!  Admit that that stuff was fun.

stop staring at me as if i were some kind of manimal!

stop staring at me as if i were some kind of manimal!

orgy hijinx

orgy hijinx

peter crane WILL murder you

no way i’m disco dancing!

Bill: I admit nothing!

Okay, I did laugh a bunch of times, because the movie is just totally nuts, but also because of your live-tweeting as you watched it and the texts we were sending back and forth. So maybe I’m exaggerating my annoyance a bit. I like French Sex Murders and really enjoy The Visitor (with Franco Nero as Jesus!) and Malocchio is the same kind of nuts that they are. Those movies, however, seem to have something that Malocchio doesn’t. Charm? Malocchio maybe has some. Stars? Pigozzi does not count as a star. Competence? Oh, there is none of that here. At one point, I thought the guy filming was going to fall down and take the camera with him. A single thread of coherence? Th0se other movies at least try to tie all their crazy together. This movie doesn’t. You might as well just watch a series of bizarre YouTube videos all edited together. They have WTF elements, some WTF setpieces, but this is an entire WTF movie. It never even tries to make sense of anything going on in it. I mistakenly thought it was going to, right up to the end. I was wrong. I was SO wrong. even something like The Beyond, which is meant as a series of nightmare images strung together with minimal to no plot, has more of a cohesive narrative than Malocchio. I don’t need a linear narrative. I don’t need everything to make sense. But it would be nice to have at least one thing in the movie that I understand.

Another problem with Malocchio is that it lacks a decent editor’s sense of time. I didn’t even notice this when I was first watching it, because I was sitting with phone in hand, on Twitter. Later, in trying to explain the movie to someone, I was going through different scenes and, oh god, do they drag! Even the stuff I like, like the crazy dream scene just go on and on. That guy at the very beginning, arms outstretched, listening to the bells, is standing there doing that for, like, three minutes! Peter’s murder scenes cut back and forth from the victim’s face to Peter’s clenching and unclenching hands and staring eyes over and over. Maybe that was Siciliano’s way of trying to build suspense, but it really didn’t work. If you’re not texting and tweeting through these slow, slogging scenes, they are interminable. You can’t dispute that either, because I’m pretty sure you did fall asleep at one point. And I know that there were cultural differences in how the Italians and Americans watched their movies; I know lulls were often intentional, meant to be talked through until the good parts were on screen by people that may come and go without even staying for the entire movie. But when even the good parts drag, you can’t point to that and claim that as an excuse.

fashion by the house of sophia petrillo

fashion by the house of sophia petrillo

i'm too sexy for my shirt

i’m too sexy for my car

will the real inspector ranieri please stand up?

will the real inspector ranieri please stand up?

Fisty: On my second viewing when preparing to write, it actually seemed to go a bit faster. Granted, most people won’t want to wait for the second or third movie for a movie to be intelligible–or entertaining. And well, it was still weirdly interminable.

I agree with it not being the prettiest picture, either. The print on the Grindhouse DVD is pretty awful, but it’s likely the best around. But beyond that, though there are some cool shots and compositions, so much of the movie is just not attractive. The actors were fine, but the clothes and surroundings were unabashedly hideous. Even the giallo stand-by of the fashion house was shockingly unattractive–not outre or unconventional, but actually grotesque. My appreciation for Sixties and Seventies fashion is only lightly flavored with irony, so this was a particular affront to me, though I doubt anyone could even ironically think the red brocade bathrobe gown stylish. The characters’ outfits were usually on the blander end of the offensiveness scale. And other than the fur bedspread (a must for any really swinging bachelor), the interior design was also of the Inelegantly Dull School.

Peter was pretty much the most visually interesting object in the movie (is there a gay subtext we missed?). His were always divinely tasteless; I found his bizarrely-dyed Canadian tuxedo and his shiny tan suit especially enticing. His lustrous hair appeared to move of its own accord, while his chest hair was resplendently luxuriant. I don’t think there are enough adjectives for his chest hair. Body hair, really.

Everyone but Peter kind of blended into the tastelessly beige background. Anthony Steffen’s expression was so masklike that it took me a few scenes to recognize him; I know “wooden” is the usual descriptor for him, but I’ve enjoyed his work in Westerns and thought he was great in An Angel for Satan. Richard Conte looks distractingly like Fred MacMurray’s turn as Salieri. Aside from Lone Fleming (Tombs of the Blind Dead) and her piercing green gaze, hardly any of the actresses stood out to me. They were pretty, sure, but the bad print does them no favors ; also, I could hardly tell them apart, especially Doctor Sarah Turner (Pilar Velázquez) and Tanya (Pia Giancaro). Elizabeth (Daniela Giordano) probably stood out the most to me, not just because she’s lovely and was also in Bava’s Four Times That Night, but she was hilarious as Luciano Pigozzi’s shamelessly amorous wife.

i wish he were too sexy for that phone call

i wish he were too sexy for that phone call

tresemme, tresemme, ooh la la!

tresemme, tresemme, ooh la la!

so, you drive a smartcar?

so, you drive a smartcar?

Bill: I told you! Interminable! If it weren’t for your tweeting and texting, I’d have killed myself.

Some of the women stood out for me more than they did you. I really liked Tanya. She kind of has a ’70s era Daisy Fuentes look that I was very into. And she has no problem with Peter spitting toothpaste spit into her face, which is a good sign. I was also (maybe strangely or surprisingly?) struck by Eva Vanicek, who plays Sonia, though she is only credited on IMDB as, “Not sure.” She had a very atypical, but sexy look and she was just so nice and caring at Robert’s orgy. Maybe they’d have been more memorable for you if they’d had more screen time, but Peter (and Robert) go through the ladies so fast that none of them get to stick around long enough to matter. Most of them are in a couple of scenes, then they’re dead or forgotten and never mentioned again. Tanya just disappears when Peter starts sticking it to the lady doc, despite her supposedly being his “favorite chick.” Actually that happens with the men, too. I still want to know what happens to the cop after his car breaks down. And what’s up with the doctor? Could he perhaps be … Satan? I’ll never know, because they just drop his storyline at the end, too, without fully explaining it. So many loose ends!

As for visually interesting Peter’s awesome, non-chest-covering wardrobe, my favorite piece was his bright yellow Hai Karate pajamas with the kanji on the breast. Even Eduardo Fajado looked spiffy in them. Fact: Inspired by Peter, I almost went to work this week with no undershirt and showing off my chest hair. He really is the sort of guy you want to emulate, you know? Like when he measures time by chain smoking in a hospital. Or when he finds the silver lining in the death of a woman’s husband by telling her that her beloved hubby died so that he could inherit her. That’s sensitivity. Or when a wanton housewife comes onto him, telling him how he was the greatest sensual adventure of her life and he doesn’t even remember her at all. Who doesn’t want to be that guy?!  But none of Peter’s fashionable clothing or entertainingly tactless existence, nor a few pretty girls, and not even the whole mess of crazy WTF-ery in Malocchio was enough to keep it from being a movie that’s funner to talk through and talk about than it is to watch. While not as offensively bad as, say, Don’t Answer the Phone!, I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this one, unless I have someone to watch it with as a goof.

stay close a little longer

stay close a little longer

my hai karate jammies smell too sexy, walter!

my hai karate jammies smell too sexy, walter!

i just washed them, sir!

i just washed them, sir!

Fisty: It was aliens! Maybe? And Stelvio Cipriani’s score wasn’t bad at all, either; I’d even call it pretty good. Not the best–and sadly, it seems to peak in the opening orgy scene (still love it), but it’s usually pretty enjoyable.

Malocchio is really a case of the parts being greater than their whole. Describing any–or several– of the aspects of it (Cipriani score! Peter’s chest hair! Moving statues! Orgies! Tom Jones or Beethoven!) make it sound really, really, REALLY awesome. But all together they end up a mystifying mishmash; instead of a glorious trifle, you’ve got a bowl of salmon, blueberries, chocolate pudding, and rye crackers.

Pure WTFery, Malocchio is no lost gem, but it’s also not without a peculiar charm. Recommended with reservations for the most conscientious of Eurosleaze devotees–or those who want to understand just how good they’ve got it with di Leo, Martino, and Lenzi. 

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What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?

really, what?

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
Released: 1972
Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Paola Quattrini, Annabella Incontrera, Carla Brait
Running time: 94 min
Genre: giallo

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 …

room for one more

good for something

come on, handsome, show your stuff.

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?

figurative bloody iris

literal bloody iris

yet another kind of iris

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.

never not pretty

never not pretty, part the seconde

the equivalent of the entire operation castle test series

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.

architecture!

excitement!

art!

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.”

that’s quirky!

sanguine finger

you made a big mistake going from group sex to a vow of chastity!

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 SN4YKthey’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.

the best a man can get

you’re an object and you belong to me.

maybe it’s maybelline

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.

girl, please

talkin’ ’bout philately

KILLERMAN

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.

suspicious edwige is suspicious

twice as nice

don’t thank me just yet, wait till i try to make it with you–then you’ll see what a bastard i am.

All the Colors of the Dark

how i learned to stop worrying and love satan

Tutti i colori del buio
aka All the Colors of the Dark
aka L’alliance invisible
aka They’re Coming to Get You
aka Toutes les couleurs du vice
aka Day of the Maniac
Director: Sergio Martino
Released: 1972
Starring: George Hilton, Edwige Fenech, Ivan Rassimov, Marina Malfatti, Susan Scott/Nieves Navarro
Running time: 88/94 min
Genre: giallo, occult/supernatural/Satanic thriller, paranoia thriller

Strange men have been following women since the Stone Age. The film opens on what should be a peaceful, bucolic scene, a placid river viewed through a light screen of trees in late afternoon light. But the silence, punctuated by only the faint cries of birds, and the curious darkness combine to unnerve. As the credits flash past, we realize that the scene has been slowly, subtly darkening, until it fades into blackness. Well, at least that’s over; now that the mood has been set, surely we’ll get some exposi–OH DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN, WHAT IS THAT THING?

A hideous cackling hag, dressed as a little girl down to the curly golden Tenniel locks, appears. A naked be-fro’d woman is strapped to a gurney in the lithotomy position. A shrieking nude woman in bed tries to defend herself. The hag-child slowly levitates across the vast black space. A man’s intensely blue eyes. Blood, a clock face, stabbing, screaming, staring. Images whirl past kaleidoscopically. Murder, death. All three women lie dead. A tree-lined road rushes past in negative, and the nightmare comes to a screeching halt, crashing into a tree. The nightmare is over.

And who was experiencing that hideous phantasm? Why, our beloved Edwige Fenech. Thank goodness that’s over, and now we can enjoy the delectable Edwige lolling about in bed. See Jane, see Jane loll. See Jane shower in a thin white shirt. Shower, Jane, shower! I’m sorry; where was I? Oh yes, Edwige is Jane, a young woman tormented by night terrors and frigidity (bummer for her fiancé  Richard [George Hilton]!) ever since a car accident last year that resulted in a miscarriage. In vain, Richard feeds her ominous blue vitamins, but nothing seems to help. Her sister counsels her to seek psychiatric care–which Richard rails against as quackery–and new chum neighbor Mary (Marina Malfatti) advises meeting her own helpful friends, who turn out to be a supercreepy and unattractive Satanic cult. See Jane drink Spot’s blood and participate in a Satanic orgy! See Jane make love to Richard once more! Fuck Jane, fuck! See, Jane, see! See the man with blue eyes stalking! Stalk, man, stalk! See Jane freak out. Funny, funny Jane.

Is the man with blue eyes real? Is he really killing people, and can Jane see the murders happen before they do? Is the Satanic cult real? Did Mary ever exist? Why is Richard adamant that Jane not seek help? Why is her sister adamant that she do? What exactly happened to Jane’s mother to start this whole mess?

i'd freak out i don't even

the bluest eye

the screaming mamas

When you’re hallucinating, having nightmares, and have Satanists chasing you, the only possible way to save yourself is to take your vitamins. In All the Colors of the Dark, Sergio Martino has crafted an fun and stylish hybrid occult giallo. Though clearly inspired by Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, it confidently stands on its own as a surrealist and expressionist thriller, one where the style is never at the expense of the substance, an excellent though not overtly comprehensible entry in the genre.

Bill: What’s with these homies dissin’ Martino? Why do they gotta front? Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a fantastically perverse bit of misogyny and sadism with awesome twists  that leave you questioning who and why you side with the people you do. Torso is just loads nasty, violent fun that also manages to also be tense and suspenseful. And All the Colors of the Dark is … Well, we’re about to tell you all about that. And all of these are sexy, boobie-filled, gems of cinema smut with plenty of bloody bleeding, tasty, tasty red herrings and even art! Yes, they are artful! Maybe not on the same level of an Argento movie, but, man, they do have style. Yet, some folks, so Fisty tells me, have been talking shit about my man, Martino. And the people that haven’t been talking shit about him, aren’t talking about him at all. What’s with the disrespect?

In All the Colors of the Dark, the man uses a sort of pre-Raimi Raimianistic style of shooting certain scenes, full of unconventional angles and twisty camera moves. He really goes to town with a spiral staircase with slowly spinning, descending shots and people stepping right over the camera as they run down the stairs. He makes the most of twisty shots meant to disorient and MY GOD, he knows how to shoot heights! There’s a neat scene of Jane looking out the window possibly getting her first real sense of the Satanic conspiracy around her as she watches Richard leave, sees Mary in another window watching as well, and Richard appearing to look knowingly at Mary. The camera turns and sweeps with her gaze and with the shifting perceptions in the scene and you kind of feel like you’re floating just outside of the building, watching this. But a rooftop struggle that takes place later is way less floaty. A Satanist pushes someone to the edge of the roof and they nearly go over while dude tries to get his strangle on. You feel the danger in that scene. It totally made my stomach lurch.

cultists over london

swirly whirly staircase

borrowing a hammer set

Fisty: Did you mean to get Weezer stuck in my head? Dick.

Though he might not be a genre maker a la Bava or Argento, Martino is certainly a genre master, and deserves acknowledgement of such. And lest we forget, Martino didn’t excel simply with gialli like The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail. His 2019: After the Fall of New York and Mannaja, A Man Called Blade are also movies to make the schlocklover’s heart sing with joy. Like Maestro Bava, Martinoplied his mad skillz across genres to great effect. His movies may not be High Art, but they’re fantastically entertaining and stylish genre films–and here at PB&G, we love those.

As you mentioned, Martino’s use of suspenseful architecture is significant to AtCotD, in the claustrophobic close-ups of interiors and wide frames of London exteriors, juxtaposing the two and underscoring Jane’s isolation in the midst of her urban surroundings by constantly filming from behind objects. (The Tube scene is especially nerve-wracking.) Then there are the jarring camera angles and smooth tracking shots, and occasional frenetic cuts. Those are some of the techniques he uses to make AtCotD such a surrealist nightmare, techniques that may seem rough or primitive forty years later, but are clear progenitors of those used for today’s contemporary mind-bending cinema. Martino toys with our expectations, constantly fluctuating between the liminal borderlands of fantasy and reality for both Jane and the audience, not only expressing but creating the very tenuous hold she has on reality. (Note of awesome: One of his cinematographers on AtCotD is frequent collaborator Giancarlo Ferrando, probably best known as the cinematographer of Troll 2.)

Speaking of toying with expectations, Martino sets most of the deaths either off-screen or in dreams; the only verifiable deaths seem to be the ones caused by Jane or Richard, making AtCotD not only ambiguous, but unusually bloodless for a giallo. Of course, here again we find ourselves in a borderland, as AtCotD is more a hybrid of the supernatural/Satanic thriller, paranoia thriller, and giallo–with a splash of inheritance thriller thrown in later on. I know you were amazed at how easily a giallo crosses the line into inheritance thriller, but really, what are the major motives? Sex/love, revenge, and money.

drinking tea is a social ritual we like, too

trust me. i am super trustworthy.

it's got electrolytes!

Bill: Oddly enough, I didn’t even notice the lack of gore. I’d say that’s another feather in Martino’s cap. AtCotD is entertaining enough that I never felt like I was cheated out of seeing all the graphic violence I crave.  I never even thought of this movie as being near bloodless until you mentioned it. Maybe it’s because the couple or so bloody scenes you do see are so effective. Jane’s dream (or vision or whatever you’d call it) of her mother’s death is pretty striking. It’s not that there’s any effects that are anything special. What you see of the stabbing is so close up that it doesn’t need fancy effects work. But there’s just something about the way the dagger slides in and out in slow motion, thick blood burbling out of the wound, while you hear the lullaby-ish la-la-la music that plays over the scene, that makes it kind of unnerving. The slow stroke of the blade in and out is almost too real for such a surreal scene. Then there’s the puppy murder. The killing of, then onscreen bleeding-out of an adorable puppy dog is pretty hardcore. I mean, even John Carpenter, when deciding to have The Shape kill a dog to really solidify his evil for the audience in Halloween, didn’t show you the poor bleeding doggy corpse afterward.

It’s also possible that I didn’t miss the blood because of all the succulent booby flesh. Did you see what Mary was wearing when she invited Jane for tea?! If Mary (Marina Malfatti from 7 Blood-Stained Orchids and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave) was my neighbor, I would drink so much tea, SO MUCH TEA! Nieves Navarro, who plays Jane’s sister Barbara in this, has a nice boobies in the mirror scene as Barbara gets dressed and flaunts a bit for her sister’s man (like the untrustworthy slut she is). Navarro’s got a lot of nice credits under her belt as Susan Scott, including Emanuelle e Lolita and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, so you know she’s a bit of a looker herself. [Fisty: She’s the contra-Edwige Fenech, taking practically every giallo role Edwige didn’t!] Jane’s dead mom is kinda hot, too. And then, of course, there’s Jane, sweet, sweet Jane … My beloved Edwige. Sigh. She has one of those great “showering in a sheer white top” moments that only seem to happen in movies like this and Toolbox Murders. If you want to destroy my sweater, hold this thread and I’ll go take a shower. I kinda feel like Richard, more than Jane, is the true victim in this movie. Imagine the Hell of Having Edwige Fenech as Your Girlfriend and Her Being Completely Frigid All the Time (Chinese have a lot of hells). I don’t really blame him for constantly shoving those blue roofies – I mean … vitamins – in her face. I’d give her the “vitamins,” too.

we don't understand it, but we'll watch you do it

richard's got the right idea

Fisty: There are a lot of familiar faces, both pretty and … not so pretty. Surely you recall Luciano Pigozzi as Angus in Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes, Cesar in Blood and Black Lace, and Losat in The Whip and the Bodythe guy is all over the genre. And Inspector Smith? That’s Tom Felleghy, whose face might be vaguely familiar in Nightmare City and Strip Nude for Your Killer. Vera Drudi (in Torso, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie), George Rigaud (Death Walks on High Heels, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, The Case of the Bloody Iris), Gianni Pulonne (TCotBI), Carla Mancini (7B-SO, What Have You Done to Solange?), etc. Practically every face in AtCotD (right down to the puppy, I’m sure) was in at least one other giallo, and likely a score of spaghetti Westerns, commedia sexy all’italiana, Decamerotico, poliziotteschi, cannibal films, and so on. And of course there are giants George Hilton and Ivan Rassimov to balance out the lovely ladies of the cast.

Unfortunately, Rassimov doesn’t have a whole lot to do other than lurk menacingly, occasionally grabbing at Jane, but he does just that till the cows come home. And Hilton’s Richard is just suavely creepy enough to create the perfect amount of ambiguity that makes both Jane and us uncertain of who he really is, just a cad or something more. Marina Malfatti is serenely yet poisonously lovely and mysterious, and not a little bit regretful as she subverts Jane, and Nieves Navarro coolly bitchy as only a sister can be. However well-supported she is by the rest of the cast, though, Edwige is truly the star of the show. As Jane, Edwige is absolutely convincing in her fright and vulnerability as Jane’s state of mind becomes ever more precarious and paranoid. Mia Farrow’s got nothing on her.

Bill:  Rosemary who?

who wouldn't trust that sweet face?

sister sister

Fisty: Now, speaking of Satanists, how about them Satanists? Diametrically opposed to Edwige, Marina, and Nieves in terms of hottness, our Satanists are a nasty crew of unkempt, uncouth, and unsavory figures. It’s pretty much the grossest orgy I have ever seen on film–not counting porn. Julián Ugarte’s JP McBrian is nasty from the tippy tips  of his brass claws to his amulet-clad sunken chest. Jane’s disgust is palpable as her eyes roll madly when he mauls her, devouring her face with his goatee, and as the pasty-faced coven members converge upon her, the juxtaposition of Mary and Jane’s beauty (and the latter’s boobies) with the unwashed masses at the Black Mass becomes downright maddening. Adding to the madness is Bruno Nicolai’s superb score (make sure you watch the Italian with English subtitles as the score gets all jacked up in the English dub), which takes an almost incongruously upbeat tenor in this scene, something groovily ominous–though notice that it appropriately builds in intensity as the orgy reaches its climax with Jane’s sublimination and release. As McBrian mounts Jane, blood-smeared teeth and all, her fear escalates until it crosses the threshold into desire, and we get our obligatory kaleidoscopic orgy whirly-vision. Fucking A.

jazzhands for ... SATAN

you've got caninus spiritus in your teeth

mary dispenses a judas kiss

Bill: McBrian actually looks an awful lot like my brother Joe, so, you know… That’s pretty disturbing for me.  One curious note, which is a bit of a spoiler, but I want your view of this, Fisty: In a sense, for Jane, the orgy actually works! Part of Jane’s problem is her frigidity. She fears she’s going to lose Richard, because she can’t bring herself to have sex again after her trauma. This fear of losing him, as much as the nightmares, is what’s driving her to seek help and the Satanists do it. At the height of her horror, in the middle of what is practically a gang rape, the scene shifts and she’s now enjoying herself. She’s back at home, in bed, getting a serious deep Richarding and loving it. She’s still a damaged, fractured, woman, as you see by the multiple reflection shot of her face in the bathroom mirror immediately after the sex, but, goddamn it, she’s got her swerve back.  I’m not sure what to think of that. You?

We’ve made reference to Rosemary’s Baby three times already in this review. It’s inevitable with this movie. Now, while Martino is great, he’s not the equal of Polanski and All the Colors of the Dark is not the equal of Polanski’s movie (except in sexy! Oh yeah!), but one thing is does just as well is show the isolation, paranoia, and loneliness of its star. Jane is apollo sad and Edwige plays her perfectly. You already mentioned how convincing she is, but I really want to drive home just how good she was. Even when she’s in a room with her doctor or Richard or having tea with Mary, walking with her, talking to them, she still seems completely closed off from everyone, desperate for anyone to grab onto, but unable to make a connection. In fact, the only times in the movie that Jane doesn’t seem completely sad and alone are when she’s in danger and terrified. When she  should be alone, you worry that she isn’t, that someone is really there to get her. Part of that is how convincingly terrified and confused Edwige plays it and partly it’s the way Martino films her. I don’t think he ever goes as far as to use a first person POV, but whenever Jane is by herself, the camera sort of stalks her, moving along side, hiding behind the railing on the staircase, watching her from above or below. The camera is a predator and she is always so alone, so vulnerable. And the last part of it is that, of course, usually, there really is someone there to get her. The sinister blue-eyed man is never far away. He’s actually more reliably present, more therefor her than anyone else seems to be and he’s trying to kill her. And you don’t know if he’s even real!

seriously, can i take it back?

goddamn satanists

the three faces of edwige

Fisty: I’m totally with you on the orgy situation, Bill. It’s important that it does work for Jane, helping her free herself, from her insecurities, from her thoughts, from her nightmares, from her moral code, so that she can simply BE with Richard, without fears shadowing every act. (And note that by the second orgy/Satanic ritual–yes, we must experience TWICE the High Octane Nightmare Fuel–Jane is no longer revolted, but an active participant.) Unfortunately, the freedom she gains is ephemeral, and Jane finds that all those colors can get a whole lot darker. She turns up a Time Life Book of the Occult and Supernatural among Richards things, Mary’s motives are revealed and she “disappears,” Richard and the blue-eyed man appear to be in cahoots … and when everything finally comes together, very little is what it seems. Though it makes a great deal of sense in its culmination, the finale and its ambiguity may leave some viewers cold.

I’ve heard complaints about AtCotD, namely the unlikeliness of the Satanic cult aspect, and that’s it’s not really a giallo. Okay, shut up. If I’ve learned anything from the trippy hippy dippy lit of the Seventies and Sarah Lyddon Morrison, it’s that folks were just as likely to drop into a Satanic orgy as they were to drop acid or macrame themselves a plant hanger. As for the giallo elements, AtCotD is just dripping with them. Granted, many of the overt visual signifiers may be missing (black-gloved killer, hello), many of the ultimate threads remain: murder, darkness, mystery, paranoia, eroticism, J&B. Especially in the figure of Jane, whose involvement all stems back to the most classic of giallo tropes, that of the eye-witness. Witnessing her mother’s murder is the fundamental inagural act of the entire plot. Juxtaposed with that, in AtCotD as in gialli in general, is the unreliability of our witnessing. How reliable is the witness? How much of what they saw is filtered through and warped by their personal perceptions? It is from those two cardinal concepts that every action in AtCotD stems, and which we find most conceptually important to the giallo.

can you spots the two giallo icons?

i thought writing on mirrors with make-up was a chick thing

they're coming to get you

Bill: They’re Coming to Get You was the title of the US dubbed version. Not as good a title as All The Colors of the Dark, i’d say, but worth mentioning, because of the awesome poster. It’s a bit misleading, what with those glowy-eyed zombie faces, but oh so freaking cool.

Fisty: Totally misleading.

AtCotD should appeal to both fans of gialli and Seventies occult suspense, though I wouldn’t make it a starting point in either genre. Though the plot wanders and cheats a bit, it’s still a visually striking, effective, and boundary-pushing entry in the giallo canon, and a genuinely suspenseful occult horror film. With oodles of boobies. It’s not his best work, but Martino has made an especially exciting giallo, one that actually maintains a steady pace, briskly forging ahead toward its equivocal conclusion. And the one thing we can be sure of ending up with is a damn good time.

Editing insight:

DoctorKittenYo: i really think we need to make a point about the significance of how that puppy is really cute
living0dead0punk: haha
DoctorKittenYo: hahaha
DoctorKittenYo: that was not the point I meant to make
DoctorKittenYo: but that puppy really IS cute

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes

pet sematary

La morte negli occhi del gatto
aka Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye
aka Seven Dead in the Cat’s Eye
aka Cat’s Murdering Eye
aka Les diablesses
aka Oi eromenes tou Diavolou
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Released: 1973
Starring: Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Françoise Christophe, Venantino Venantini, Doris Kunstmann, Anton Diffring, Dana Ghia, Luciano Pigozzi, Serge Gainsbourg
Running time: 95 minutes
Genre: Gothic, giallo, inheritance thriller

Here, kitty kitty: A choking scream and crimson blood splattering. A straight-razor. A body is dragged and then dropped deep into some catacombs. Rats descend upon the corpse, stripping it of flesh in a matter of moments. A cat is the only witness. So begins Antonio Margheriti’s La morte negli occhi del gatto.

Following her expulsion from convent school, Corringa MacGrieff returns to Dragonstone Castle, her family’s ancestral home for the first time since she was a small girl. In residence at the gloomy castle are her mother Lady Alicia, her aunt Mary, the Dowager Lady MacGrieff, her mad cousin Lord James MacGrieff, a new priest Father Robertson, James’ doctor Franz, and James’ French tutor Suzanne, as well as a full complement of domestics. Oh, and there’s also an orangutan that James rescued from a travelling circus and named … James. Castles are expensive to maintain, what with all those battlements to dust and servants to feed, and Lady MacGrieff is feeling the pinch, and has asked Lady Alicia to Dragonstone to hit her up for some funds. Though denied by her sister (in-law? they look alike, but I’m not sure whether they’re both MacGrieffs by blood or marriage), Lady Mary seizes upon the gamine Corringa as another opportunity: Since Alicia has no money of her own, only Corringa’s inheritance, why not marry off Corringa to her son James? Also eying Corringa’s … assets … is foxy doxy Suzanne, who exhibits an intense interest in Corringa’s playing Claudine at School and stripping down to her skimpy slip while blithely bragging about her convent school escapades and expulsion. “Too many books never did a woman any good,” she announces, as she casts her schoolbooks on the fire–along with her Bible. Whoopsie! That might be an omen.

“too many books never did a woman any good”

At a family dinner, Lord James makes an unexpected–and unwelcome–appearance. Attraction simmers between James and Corringa, until she makes the mistake of mentioning that they had played together as children, along with his sister, you know, the one he accidentally killed. Awkward. James indulges in some witty barbs, retaliating in the only way he can for his emasculation, with um, incivility. Uncomfortable with her sister’s demands and insulted by James, Lady Alicia plans to stay only a few days before taking Corringa back to London, but alas, she is smothered in her bed that same night, with the titular cat as the sole witness. The same night, Corringa is awakened by the yowling of Kitty, and sees Lord James apparently hovering outside her window above a hundred foot drop. Is she dreaming? Following the sound of the cat’s cries, Corringa makes her way deep into the bowels of the castle, stumbling across the mutilated corpse from the beginning and first panics, flips out on some innocent bats, then faints.

When Alicia’s body is discovered, Lady Mary convinces Franz to provide a certificate of natural death, despite all evidence to the contrary. James spies on Alicia’s funeral from the cemetery walls, as does Kitty, who then makes a startling appearance, leaping onto Alicia’s casket. As we all know, this is another terrible omen, and proof of vampirism, and Lady Mary retaliates by ordering Kitty sealed into the family crypt with Alicia. Instead of a wake, the household goes into a bunch of explication, and we discover that some of the household are playing double roles. That night, kindly groundskeeper Angus sneaks back into the cemetery that night to free Kitty, but finds the casket empty. He then pays with his life as the straight-razor makes another appearance. Meanwhile, Kitty watches over a sleeping Corringa as Lady Alicia comes to her in a psychotronic dream, pale and hair blowing, exhorting Corringa to avenge her death. Knowing the family legend, that a MacGrieff murdered by another MacGrieff will become a vampire, Corringa fears the worst. Is she dreaming? Is there something supernatural stalking Dragonstone? Or is there something more venal afoot?

monkey see, monkey … kill?

Half Agatha Christie murder mystery, half giallo, and half Gothic, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye is one and a half hot messes of fun by a master of Italian Gothic horror.

Bill: More of a tepid mess I’d say. Not much heat to go around in this flick. Least ways, not for a fella such as myself. Jane Birkin as Corringa is kind of attractive and has one really promising scene in her sheer slip, but that’s about as good as you’re going to get with her. Doris Kunstmann, playing Suzanne, is sexier, but just as under utilized. When I pop in a giallo, I want to see heat! Passion! … or at least some tits. I don’t need Skinemax softcore, but you have to offer me something! Look at The Whip and the Body, a similar Gothic thriller: no nudity, no graphic love making, but the women are GORGEOUS and photographed beautifully, everyone struggling with volcanic passions barely restrained, every scene smoldering with intense sexuality. Watching The Whip and the Body, I felt like my groin could spontaneously combust at any moment! Watching Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, I didn’t really feel my groin at all. Where’s the heat?! Eh, James was pretty handsome, I guess.

when cousins are two of a kind

Fisty: Amusingly, if you simply Google Jane Birkin, you’ll see her ta-tas at least twice on the first page of results. Its not as though she was shy or assuming artistic pretensions (unlike some modern starlets, you know who you are). And how can you see her without hearing “Je t’aime… moi non plus” playing in your head, Bill? I’d think you’d love that. She does seem a trifle out of place here, though, looking to me so quintessentially Sixties; in the post-Great War world of 7DitCE, she looks awkward and coltish, but also wholesomely pretty, a startling juxtaposition with the elegance and glamour of Doris Kunstmann, Françoise Christophe, and even Dana Ghia. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Despite the red herring of James’ insanity (and the death of his sister), Corringa and James are the Babes in the Wood, innocents in the cynical, dissipated, and decadent world of Dragonstone. Their romance hardly has time to smolder, but instead is the bright sparks of a newly struck flame, a counterpoint to the jaded appetites surrounding them.

And perhaps that’s partly because 7DitCE isn’t saying a whole lot, what you see is what you get. As with the Gothics Margheriti did so well (Danza Macabra, The Virgin of Nuremberg, The Long Hair of Death), 7DitCE is a lot of style, and little to no traditional narrative or plot. The story is fairly silly, and the characters not especially deep–much as we would find in a typical giallo. And should we even mention the Chekhov’s gun of a giallo generic killer? Seriously, nothing prepares us for the reveal of the real killer except that a) he’s in the movie, and so he must have a reason for being there, and b) we’ve seen a few gialli in our time. The motivation for the murders is really completely peripheral to the movie; whodunit or whydunit is of less importance than howdunit–which is of even less importance than how things look at feel. But the setting of a remote castle in a long ago time, and the strange, claustrophobic atmosphere and supernatural events are squarely in the Gothic realm.

this is the cover of a lois duncan novel

Corringa, too, is straight out of the Gothic: a young, unspoiled girl in a gloomy old house. She isn’t exactly the active amateur sleuth of the typical giallo, but more a hapless victim, tormented by the events she’s caught up in–even the killer calls her an innocent and regrets having to kill her. After all, she wasn’t even meant to be there.  Really, almost no effort is made to solve the murders; most characters are just concerned that they not be held responsible, and that their own unrelated plots not be uncovered, and as viewers, we are more concerned with whether the underlying reason is mundane or supernatural. Being the former, we know again that we’re watching a giallo. It’s that racketing between the genres that the problems come in. Ultimately, gialli are stories contemporary to the time in which they were made, and all their accouterments, from motivation to setting ought to be, too. Blending these with the rococo sensibilities and stylings of the Gothic is awkward, especially in the Gothic’s implication of sex and violence, which is inimical to the giallo‘s explicit sex and violence. Viewers can find it difficult to reconcile to two genres, because well, frankly, even Margheriti finds it difficult to balance them.

Bill: Not only are the characters lacking in depth, for me, at least, they were completely uninteresting. I am perfectly fine with characters thin enough to be translucent, so long as I can at least laugh at something they do or say or have even one trait that makes them stand out. Corringa and Suzanne have, like, one good line apiece, but are, otherwise, just as bland as everyone else. The Jameses and the cat  are the only consistently entertaining beings in the movie … and one of them only lasts halfway through the movie.

kitty sees dead people

I don’t think it would’ve been so hard to blend the Gothic and supernatural with the giallo. I think they’d blend perfectly, just like peanut butter and something that goes good with peanut butter, so long as you do it right. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a good example of a movie that does so. Hell, the first few minutes of 7DitCE are a good example! The movie starts off with a lot of promise. The opening scene, so wonderfully described in the synopsis, is great. It’s got flash, pizazz, and it’s got blood. At no other point in the movie, however, is any other death quite so great. I want more rats and razors! A big, dark, Gothic castle is the perfect place for both. I can imagine a fantastic chase through the catacombs beneath Dragonstone, a blade glinting in torchlight, Corringa running in terror in her sexy slip, startled bats taking flight, frightening her into a dark side passage where the killer stalks unseen. Sadly, that scene isn’t in the movie.  Instead, she just walks backwards into the bats and ends up in the kitchen. D’oh!

Fisty: Really? The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave? Are you as high as Scott? Let’s not even go there, dude.

what did mummy tell you about burning bibles?

If you’re looking for pizazz, what about the dream sequence (which, oddly, is subtitled)? It has a wonderfully bizarre and hallucinatory feel reminiscent of Argento, a quality Margheriti excels at in his other works. Though we viewers know there is a mundane force behind the killings (because we’re watching a giallo), that dream sequence, along with the superstitions harbored by virtually everyone in the castle, creates a mood of paranoia and suspicion for Corringa and the others–and even she begins to think she might be going mad. It’s James, the putative madman, who seems to be the only inhabitant of Dragonstone who can think clearly. In fact, he and Corringa take opposing paths, with him being insane at the start and slowly becoming one of the sanest characters, and her driven from normalcy into being unbalanced. Serge Gainsbourg’s Inspector is the only other person who seems to know what’s going on, and he really doesn’t appear to think he ought to let anyone else in on it–till the very end. But it’s all good. After all, though it carries the trappings of a giallo, 7DitCE approximates an Agatha Christie murder mystery, or an inheritance thriller. The actual plot, the motivation, is hardly convoluted. Following the rules of the genres, it’s easy to decipher the killer–though the motive is baffling until the very (abrupt) end.

And though the characters themselves are somewhat flat, the players aren’t. Everyone here seems to know what they’re doing and they go to it with a will, turning in some intensely straight performances just this side of hammy. It’s the only way to handle dialog that is sometimes deliriously overwrought: “You are absolutely on fire tonight, darling! Are you excited by all the blood that has been flowing around here?”  and “Why all these scruples all of a sudden? When you found me, you knew I was a slut!” being two of my favorites.

what more can suzanne do but strip and say, ‘here it is?’

That theatricality goes beautifully with the grand guignol setting, whether the characters are in sumptuous chambers adorned baroque bibelots, or scuttling through darkened catacombs, or meandering in elaborate gardens. There’s some beautiful photography despite the frequent abuse of zoom, and cinematographer Carlo Carlini saturates many of the scenes with an array of gorgeous hues.

Bill: It can be a pretty movie, and you know I love colors. There’s a lamp in the movie that is just outstanding, even when it’s just sitting there, being lampy, doing the sorts of things lamps do. And, yes, the players are better than the characters they play. The sets are great and I love the kitty. I like when he attacks necks. The fact that there are things to like about 7DitCE are part of why I’m so hard on it. It’s not a bad movie! There’s a lot to like about it: a mad orangutan, flesh-eating rats, a possible vampire, secret passages and dark catacombs, a school girl home from school and a self-proclaimed slut and supposed master of seduction … those are a few of my favorite things. This movie should be a lock for me, but they barely utilize any of it. If only they’d let loose, gone a little wild, lost their restraint, went fully over-the-top, and gave me something a little less Murder She Wrote, then I could’ve really enjoyed it. As is, it’s just not enough to keep me from being bored.

this is discretion

Fisty: Okay, your feelings are valid, Bill. Margheriti exercises a lot of restraint; the scenes of seduction and murder are pretty discreet, and I can see how that would tantalize, frustrate, and underwhelm you. I didn’t mind in the least, but thought it both classy and entertaining. And really, this–and pretty much any giallo–is supposed to be just that: entertaining. But for you, I guess it failed, which surprises me because I know how you enjoy Hammer films and gialli, and this channels the spirit of both.

I’m the first to admit that it’s not without flaws. Even tasteful and artistic direction and excellent acting cannot overcome an often (entertainingly) clumsy script and sub-plots and character arcs that dwindle and disappear. The whole mystery of James’ sister’s death–an ACTUAL mystery–is only a red herring, the Inspector hardly makes any appearances till the end, and the ape/orangutan seems significant but … isn’t. Like so much of the story. As Inspector Serge would say, “There’s too much that makes no sense.” But that’s what you get with Margheriti: trippy motifs and themes, not coherent plots.

But I do love the cat motif, how it creates suspense and is actually, you know, relevant. I especially love that he’s a big, fat, fuzzy marmalade boy (he looks just like a cat my mom once had named Teddy Bear), rather than a stereotypical black cat (though I love all kitties). I wonder whether they simply picked the most docile cat they could find … ? And the romance between James and Corringa seems genuinely sweet, and a nice contrast to the otherwise mildly sleazy goings-on. They’re a fairly unusual pair in a giallo, innocent, but not blandly so.

cutest harbinger of death evar

Though it is not an entirely successful Gothic inheritance thriller cum giallo, cleverly reversing the standard Gothic arc, instead going from the supernatural to the mundane, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes skillfully uses tropes  from all three genres to create a diverting exercise in postmodern Nerdrum-esque kitsch.

Bill: Great Gothic setting, but too much Masterpiece Theatre and not enough Joe Bob’s Drive-In for me. …and there was so much potential! It’s like, if a really smelly, ugly girl with zero personality is a vegan, who cares? But if she’s kinda cute, maybe sorta fun to talk to, smells like oranges, and she’s a vegan, it’s sad. Then you’re disappointed. I say, give it a look only if you’ve run out of better giallo to watch, really dig straight up murder mysteries or, like me, need to see every mad monkey/ape movie ever made. And when deciding whose opinion to value more, Fisty’s or mine, keep in mind that she’s the smart one and I love Michael Bay movies and cry during Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech.

who’s a handsome psychopomp? yes you is!