Five Dolls for an August Moon

one fanciful title

one fanciful title

5 bambole per la luna d’agosto
aka L’île de l’épouvante
aka Fem lig i fryseren
Director: Mario Bava
Released: 1970
Starring: Ely Galleani, Edwige Fenech, William Berger
Running time: 81 min
Genre: giallo

I’m not a man of thought. I’m a man of action. We open onto a rugged Mediterranean coastline, all sunlight, blue sky, and bluer waters.  The camera follows a blonde nymphet as she prances along, barefoot on the sand, letting wavelets lap at her toes. The sun is setting, and she makes her way over the rocks to a house overlooking a docked yacht. The lighted windows glow in the deepening twilight. Moving into a dark stand of palms, the nymphet tiptoes to the illuminated window for a peep. And the action begins with a record dropping, and segues right into a writhing Edwige Fenech. Sadly, it cuts away almost immediately to a room full of people giving each other mad side-eye, zoom and all. But then she’s back! With the BIGGEST hair! Undulating more madly than ever! She doffs her sequined tunic (the better to display her gold lame bikini top), frugs like a maenad, and then Thurston Howell III ties her up and offers her as a sacrifice to the god Kraal. (Wut.) All the partygoers are handed sharp, stabby implements as he prepares. The lights go out, there’s a scream, and when they come back on–she’s been stabbed! But wait! A shot of soda water, and she’s good as ever! Better, in fact, because now she’s all wet. Funsies!

The next day is a bunch of exposition: Edwige (her character’s name is Marie, but it really doesn’t matter) lolls about on a boat with the houseboy Charles/Jacques; they watch the yacht leave and she exposits about some business meeting. Meanwhile, the other ladies kick it in the kitchen with a truly Lucullan spread; hot redhead Peggy (Helena Ronee) feels a sense of foreboding. Fetching nymphet Isabel pops in to deliver wildflower bouquets to the ladies–and also a prophesy. Even more meanwhile, the gentlemen have cornered Professor Fritz (William Berger), who’s apparently invented some marvelously lucrative formula they all desperately want. It’s very “shut up and take my money!” as they thrust million dollar checks at him. But no! Prof Fritz is a man of SCIENCE! He intends to deliver his formula unto the world, and is not swayed by their filthy lucre.

MEANWHILE … Prof Fritz burns something! Papers!! Of some kind!!! And we learn that Edith and Jill (Ira von Fürstenberg and Edith Meloni, respectively, though it doesn’t really matter) are having a clandestine affair! Because they were lovers!! Lesbian lovers!!! And we see Marie (you’ve already forgotten who that is, haven’t you?) sneaking onto the launch for THEIR clandestine (well, maybe not so much) rendezvous … but Charles/Jacques is DEAD! Stabbed!! With a KNIFE!!! And Marie is off, dashing through the gloaming with yet another doffed tunic clutched to her breasts (boo!). Isabel watches.

villa of bava

villa of bava

why is this not in 3d?

why is this not in 3d?

trudy's choice

trudy’s choice

Concurrently! Several of the guests are sacked out in the lounge, looking for all the world as though they’ve been smoking opium or eating mushrooms, while the camera floats above them as though we were having an out of body experience.

In the meantime! Marie’s husband Nick lolls on the revolving circular bed, smoking and ashing into a giant crystal ashtray, as one does. As Marie washes that man and murder right out of her hair, we learn that: A) Marie is a dirty whore! B) Or a clean one!! C) And sexing houseboys is déclassé!!! D) And that Nick expects to pimps her for their mutual gain!!!! It’s all so very continental.

The houseboy’s body is discovered, traumatizing the Pucci-clad Jill. Of course people immediately begin speculating on who could have done it, but they don’t know yet how murky the mystery will get. When Prof Fritz tries to phone for help, the line is out. That, coupled with there being no boats on the island–because of course, the launch has gone missing–means they’re all stranded there. With a murderer.

You probably think you know what’s going on right now–but you don’t! Because this is the time when they decide to stash Charles/Jacques’ body in the freezer–wrapped in plastic, of course. And as people are picked off one by one, each will end up on ice, dressed like a nightmare version of the housewife dressed in Saran Wrap. Lest you think these people are normal, however, this really doesn’t appear to concern anyone much beyond a little handwringing, and they all largely go back to swilling J&B and vermouth and looking suspicious. Until the finale, the only constants are that you never know who will die next and that Isabel will be flitting about the island peeping at the antics.

pucci wept

pucci wept

the first ever houseboy on ice

the first ever houseboy on ice

a bay of blue

At least now I’ll be a clean whore.  Notoriously disparaged by critics and treated as a joke by Maestro Bava himself, Five Dolls for an August Moon was a quick, commercial affair, one he joined on two days’ notice and shot in just nineteen days. Though some of the seams show, 5D4AAM is still a visual delight and not without darkly comic pleasures.

Fisty: Okay, so it’s essentially pared down Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Ni- Ind- And Then There Were None, but has ATTWN ever been done with such style? Such flair? Has it ever been done with a gold lamé bikini pantsuit (yes, that IS a thing!)–girdling the loins of Edwige Fenech, no less? Or with more zooms than a Mazda commercial? I think not!

Bill: “With such style?” Possibly. “With a gold lamé bikini pantsuit?” Probably not. “With more zooms…?” Oh, hell no, it hasn’t! 5D4aAM packs more zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom than you’d find anywhere outside of a Wreckx-N-Effect song. It’s packed with boom-boom, too. Hello, Edwige! How was George the only person responding to her crazy savage jungle-girl in gold lamé mating dance? Could they not see that her hair was gigantic?! She had to have some weave in there, right? Whatever. I don’t even care how it got like that. I just know it was magnificent.

Edwige is one of the few cast members that really stand out in 5D4aAM. She, of course, stands out just by being her. That woman is like a living stereogram. She pops out at you. She’s a 3D woman in a 2D world. And her Marie is obviously the life of every party. Ely Galleani as Isabel can be remembered without stressing over it. I love her. She’s adorable. Teodoro Corrà’s shady millionaire George (aka Thurston Howell III) and the Professor,  the only non-sleazy man on the island and the only blonde man on the island, are the only men in the movie that I could clearly identify from one another. Everyone else might as well be credited as Skeevy Business Partners 1-3 and Wives 1-3. I just can’t tell them all apart. One drinks heavily, one wears red pants, one cries hysterically, one has red hair, one is a creeper, two were gay for each other, but which trait belongs to which person, what their names are, and who they’re married to is kind of difficult to figure out. I still get confused about which one is Jill and which one is Nick and that’s after seeing the movie three times, talking about who these people are, and consulting IMDB. Figuring this all out is like doing one of those kids puzzles where you have to draw a line from a picture in one column to the related picture in another column, only it’s harder, because no one was nice enough to line all the faces up for you. I think that’s part of why the movie is often looked at unfavorably. Aside from just being confusing, it’s kind of hard to give a shit about who lives or dies and why, when you can’t tell any of them apart.

such laughs!

such laughs!

lamé bikini pantsuit inspector!

lamé bikini pantsuit inspector!

how many d's is a shadow?

how many d’s is a shadow?

Fisty: Ohmygod, yes. The Mouseketeer Roll Call of the first scene (wherein people just keep looking at one another amidst zooms) is repeated a couple of times throughout the movie, and never failed to make me laugh. And every single time it happened, it just heightened my confusion as to who was who and doing what to whom with what in the where. Which … kind of made me not care. About the characters, that is. The film as a whole, I enjoy thoroughly. I know it’s considered the Bava film one must make a special case for, but I just don’t care. It’s so kitschy and kicky and fun. It should play on the walls of nightclubs, while people gyrate to Piero Umiliani’s jazzy grooves.

Did we mention the score yet? Because it is AWESOME. It’s super kicky and catchy, so catchy in fact, that you’ll likely find yourself humming it for days after. (Umiliani,by the by, may be better known to some as the originator of “Mah Nà Mah Nà.”) Perhaps it’s that infectious sound that keeps me interested in the film? That, and all the distracting shiny things to look at. It’s really the mirror image of the “old dark house” movie: A new, modern house on a bright, sunny island, with the jet set roaming about in their Puccis and pantsuits, bikinis and boas. By and large, they’re a comely bunch, too.

The house is very nearly a cast member, and should be appreciated as such. Its clean, modern lines stand in stark contrast to the rocky beach and primal ocean. The interior set is a series of labyrinthine passages and chambers, scattered about with a tasteful/less melange of bohemian bibelots–including one (at the very least) rotating, circular bed. If seeing the decor doesn’t make you want shag, frug, and chug, then there is something deeply wrong with you. I mean, 5D4aAM really is just a delightful visual and aural confection; the only problem is taxing one’s brain with the nonsensicalness of it all.

the swingingest

the swingingest

grooviest

grooviest

pad around

pad around

Bill: The house! Fuck yeah! I mean, sure, the movie is confusing as all hell, but I can forgive a lot of that because of how hip it all is. That house actually has a frosted glass shower that borders the head of the bed so that you can lounge about in comfort while you watch Edwige shower. That is some Doc Brown, slipped-and-hit-your-head-on-the-toilet-level brilliance. It has a bedroom with sliding doors that open onto a lovely poolside area. You can get up straight from having sex and go pee in the pool without ever having to get dressed or bump into anyone on the way there. The living/entertaining area has a bar, enough couches for everyone to lie about on and zoom in on each others eyes from, a reel-to-reel tape player, enough table and counter space for all your girl in gold lamé bikini top dancing needs, and just across from the foot of the stairs, your own lovely jacuzzi.

It’s not just the look of the house or the layout that gives it it’s character either. It’s how Bava uses the house. How he travels through it. He lays the place out for you in your head. He uses the location to its fullest. In one scene, a great one, a struggle upstairs overturns some furniture and leads to some decorative glass spheres spilling across the floor. Rather than stick with the fight, which isn’t particularly important, Bava has us follow those spheres as they roll across the floor and bounce down the stairs (all to a whimsical, magic fairy tinkling sound) and across the floor into the jacuzzi, revealing … something that I’m not going to spoil for you. But it’s a great scene, striking! And it’s a perfect example of how, even when he’s phoning it in, Bava is The Man. Given a little time to shoot and some less than stellar material he doesn’t particularly care about, he can still take a cool location and turn it into a movie that, for all its faults, is still a stunner to look at. This movie may, in fact, be proof that, at least if you’re Mario Bava, you can polish a turd.

oh, balls

oh, balls

lipstick by gillian cosmetics

lipstick by gillian cosmetics

meat's meat, and a man's gotta eat

meat’s meat, and a man’s gotta eat

Fisty: The reveal after the glass ball cascade is one of my favorite images in the film. Following this incredibly contrived yet awesome shot, we find Jill in the Jacuzzi, having taken the Roman way out. Above her on the mirror is her suicide note, written in shocking pink lipstick. The juxtaposition between the deed and the playful note is so marvelously irreverent, but it also seems absolutely apropos. It’s a very Jackie Susann moment. Bava displays more of that mordant humor in the freezer scenes, where the camera lingers on the gently swaying bodies as they hang in that cold, artificial environment, features obscured with plastic. Umiliani flippantly punctuates these scenes with a cheeky carousel tune. Of course, Bava sets us up for this from the opening scene and Marie’s “sacrifice”: When the blood is sprayed off with soda water, we know the whole film will be a colossal joke.

After all, the whodunnit plot is frankly tiresome, and the characters–well, they’re awful. Not simply apparently indistinct (for Trudy and Jill, and Nick and Jack are oddly similar in appearance, adding to the aforementioned confusion–though Peggy stands out from the Wives slightly due to her striking red hair, as well as a certain youthfulness that also lends her a sense of naïveté–more-so even than Isabel. Significance!), but indistinguishable in their concerns: shady business deals, crosses and double crosses, and all things venal, mercenary, and amoral. (Despite all the tomfoolery, sexual liaisons really only seem to interest Marie.) They’re a thoroughly unsympathetic and unpleasant bunch, appearances aside, but for the above exceptions. Without Bava’s humorous direction (and style!), watching them squabble and squawk (and die!) would not be half so entertaining.

dolla dolla bill, y’all

deep freeze peepshow

marie o a

Bill: Oh my god! You spoiling spoiler! Just give away everything about Jill’s death, why don’t you! But, yeah, it is probably the best visual in the whole movie, the meat locker thing being the second. I’m also fond of Isabel on the swing set with the zoom-zoom-zoom, but, generally, I’m just fond of Isabel. Ely Galleani is so cute!

We said the carbon copy characters were likely one of the reasons 5DfaAM gets dissed by a lot of its detractors. I wonder if the tone is another. Yes, it’s sort of a big joke and very irreverent, but it’s seldom really LOL funny.  It just isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, but it’s not anything else enough to be anything else. Strip Nude for Your Killer was kind of the same, but it was more overtly humorous and it had an insane amount of raunch to spice it up. 5DfaAM doesn’t even have that. It’s got a little heat, but only a few scenes ever reach full on hott. Bava did what he could with what he had to work with to make it as enjoyable as he could, but the final result is still just … kind of entertaining. It excels only in style and irreverence and that might not be enough for most people. (I think we’re kind of easy.)

I think that’s all there really is to say about this movie. It’s a stylish, tongue-in-cheek, lackluster mystery, with some lovely women, a cool house, a fun score, and a few striking scenes. It’s definitely not Bava’s best, but better than it would’ve been had he not been involved, and just enough to keep us at Peanut Butter & Gialli entertained. Still, I’m not sure I’d recommend it for everyone.

mario bava's

mario bava’s patented

never replicated

never replicated

drunk-o-vision

drunk-o-vision

Fisty: It’s not a laugh riot, by any means, but more of an archly cynical smirkfest. Virtually everyone and everything is so jaded and tawdry and awful! Though, I do think the end twist is pretty funny (in a ironical, but also vaguely optimistic way, another peek at Bava’s fondness for youth). But then, it IS part of Bava’s “Greed Trilogy” (between Blood and Black Lace and Bay of Blood), so the concern with the ugliness of raw avarice as opposed to psychosexual pathology is only to be expected.

If we consider giallo as less a mode of storytelling and more a succession of striking images, then Five Dolls for an August Moons is undoubtedly successful. However, the striking murder set pieces both Bava and gialli were known for are missing because, despite the high body count, the murders take place offscreen. Another joke on us? Or generic deconstruction? In its absolute refusal to start making sense, 5D4aAM presages the preposterous plotting and arbitrary absurdities that would later trademark the genre.

Notwithstanding his stated dislike for the film, Bava went all out and seems to have had fun with it. The result is a farcically silly murder mystery unhampered by logic or convention and slathered with an orgiastic excess of style (sadly, no literal orgies). No, it’s definitely not for everyone. But giallo completists and kitsch connoisseurs will undoubtedly be delighted.

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The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh

a very, very strange vice

a very, very strange vice

Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh
aka Blade of the Ripper
aka Der Killer von Wien
aka Den djævelske kniv
aka Lâmina Assassina
aka La perversa señora Ward
aka Les nuits folles de Mme Wardh
aka Mannen med rakkniven
aka Next!
aka Szerelmi vérszomj
aka The Next Victim!
aka Uma Faca na Escuridão
Director: Sergio Martino
Released: 1971
Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov, Alberto de Mendoza, Conchita Airoldi
Running time: 98 min
Genre: giallo

Nothing unites people like a vice in common. Poor little nympho Julie Wardh arrives in back in Vienna, a city replete with memories for her. Okay, she’s not a nympho–but it scans well that way!–she enjoys the sexing in a (mostly) healthy fashion, but her amours are central to the storyline. No slut shaming allowed! Moving on, Julie’s husband Neil is a big shot, a very Busy & Important International Power Broker Dude, as demonstrated by the fact that upon their arrival, he immediately takes off to go … do some business. Julie seems to be used to this by now, so she gets a taxi and makes her way to their apartment. Along the way, the taxi is stopped at a roadblock; you see, there’s a crazed killer on the loose in the city. You don’t say…. Immediately following the roadblock, the sound of the wiper blades lulls Julie into a fond remembrance of the last time she was in Vienna … and argued with her lover, who slapped her across the face till her head spun, which was followed by a roadside jolly rogering in the rain. And we’re only four minutes in! Uh-maze-ing.

At her building, Julie makes her way up to their deliriously appointed pied-à-terre, where she promptly doffs her kit and wanders around nude, reflecting on life. Or perhaps she’s thinking about ordering groceries, but I don’t give a rat’s ass because she’s Edwige Fenech and she so fine. Either way, there’s a knock at the door. Donning a robe, she peeps through the peephole and sees a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses standing there. Stunned, she opens the door to discovered the fisheye effect has once more tricked her, and it’s really just a bellboy delivering the flowers. As she closes the door, locking herself back in her the apartment in which she is a stunning jewel, housed in a fabulous reliquary, Julie reads the note enclosed: The worst part of you is the best thing you have and will always be mine–Jean. This is singularly unnerving, for what reason WE DO NOT KNOW! However, we suspect.

Cut to a fabulous party, where Julie exposits on the phone to Neil about how he’s so Busy & Important that he’s only been home one of the three nights since they’ve been in Vienna. (This is important, so pay attention. Not to me, stupid, to the scene, when you watch the movie!) Though Julie’s bummin,’ her old pal Caroll is there to offer distractions and catty bon mots.  Of the former is a particularly delectable item: One Cousin George, fresh in town from Australia, and ripe for the picking. And boy, is he ever. We’re almost done here, but first we must pause a moment for the paper dress catfight.

Giggling at the titties, Julie glances up to see the frighteningly handsome man of her flashback/dream across the crowded room. At his salute, she breaks for the exit, pausing only to chastise careless Caroll. His party pooped, George ponders the pile of panty-pulling coquettes. In the dark street, Julie is confronted by the man she’d fled to avoid: Jean, her former lover whom she wed Neil to escape. His pull is irresistible to Julie; his vice is hers, she feels his jive, she is in his groove, she smells what Jean is cookin,’ she cannot help but orbit his dark star. But NO! This will not happen! Neil pulls up, slaps Jean, and the Wardhs are Audi 5000.

That’s the set-up in a nutshell: There’s a crazed murder stalking the women of Wien, and then there’s Julie Wardh and her men: Neil, her husband to whom she tries to be faithful; George, the hot young stud who can hardly take ‘no’ for an answer; and Jean, malevolently alluring as he stalks her like a stalky-thing. Torn between the three, Julie finds herself at the mercy of a blackmailer–and possibly a murderer. The only certainty in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is that the getting there will be good.

it's been 9 1/2 weeks since you looked at me

it’s been 9 1/2 weeks since you looked at me

cocked your head to the side and said, "slap me"

cocked your head to the side and said, “slap me”

because i'm all about value

because i’m all about value

Only a diplomat’s wife knows how expendable a diplomat really is. The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh was not only the first onscreen pairing of giallo’s Golden Couple Edwige Fenech, but also the debut of the triumphant triumvirate of the Golden Couple working on a giallo under the auspices of director Sergio Martino. (And ably supported by regulars Ivan Rassimov and Albert de Mendoza.) The actors were old hands compared to Martino, for whom this was only the second feature. And what a feature! Filled to the brim with hysteria, paranoia, alluring sensuality, suspenseful architecture, elegant and stunning photography, girdled by a thrilling score, this starter giallo is indeed a perfect starter to the genre.

Bill: Holy crap! Did you see that champagne sex scene? I think it was champagne. It was sparkly. It could’ve been wine, but that seems kind of gross. I’m going with champagne. Crazy, pervy Jean (Ivan Rassimov with a bleach job) pours the bottle out over a supine Julie (Edwige in her now alcohol-soaked clingy dress), then shatters the bottle, throwing sparkly shards of glass all over her. Then he uses the jagged neck of the broken bottle to cut her dress off  before climbing atop her and bumping and grinding all over those glass shards, bleeding all over each other. That is so totally a pre-AIDS crisis sex scene. But bloody and wince inducing or not, hott scene was hott. I didn’t know if I wanted to run for Band-aids and Neosporin or hand lotion and tissues. Does that mean I’m like pretty Mrs. Wardh, whose “strange vice” seems to be hematolagnia. That means she has a blood fetish, in case you didn’t know. I looked it up.

Also, I’m really wondering if George had an Australian accent. I don’t know what an Aussie accent would sound like in Italian. Would I even recognize it? I’m not sure. Fisty?

viennese holiday

viennese holiday

mind-bottlingly hott

mind-bottlingly hott

g is for gigolo

g is for gigolo

Fisty: Dude, I have no idea. When I try to imagine it, it just comes out sounding like the Fonz going “Ehhhhhhhhhh!” Which kind of detracts from George Hilton’s usual suavity. (The Fonz wasn’t actually a sex symbol, was he?) But let’s face it: George’s de-boner self is no match for the flaming hot raw sex in peroxide and shoe leather that is Ivan Rassimov’s Jean. Making Julie’s quandary rather reasonable. After all, while her strange vice is LITERALLY the weird arousal/fainting at blood/violence thing she has going on, FIGURATIVELY it’s another story. The strange vice really comes across as being Julie’s incredible submissiveness toward men, her inability to definitely say no, her predilection for controlling (crazy?men.

But what about Neil? Exactly. She married Neil to get away from Jean; he is the anti-Jean. Except not, as she herself will go on to tell Caroll (and us): “I believed that Neil was quiet, and like a rock. But he’s not.” Lack of resemblance to a Chevy truck notwithstanding, Neil too, is a neurotic, just as Jean is a “pervert,” just lacking the attraction/repulsion that Jean possesses.  He dominates Julie, too, albeit in a different manner than that of Jean, instead going where he likes for as long as he likes, while she waits prettily for him (see the first party scene). George, too, is an alpha male, coming on strong to Julie from the start, and not really taking no for an answer. Though Julie does initially blow him off, notice how in order to do so she basically must flee each time. The scene in which she does finally succumb is a very telling one. George has show her his flat, and she’s turned him down, so they leave. But outside in the street a car drives past–Jean’s car. Already afraid from his pursuit, and anxious over the murders, Julie’s terror mounts to a fever pitch. And thus her dilemma: Maintain her fidelity to Neil and risk death–or worse–at Jean’s hands, or escape Jean in George’s arms. Because there is no way she and George are going back into his flat and not fucking. That will not happen; Julie knows herself and her suitor too well.

In this, Martino’s first (and to my mind best) giallo, he is at his most adroit; sensitive to to the needs of the film, he knows exactly when to let the actors act and writers write, and when to use crazysexycool photography or bizarro visions for emphasis. And this scene, in which Edwige balances it all on a razor’s blade without histrionics, that shows how assured Martino was right out of the gate.

"oh lord, give me chastity and self-restraint--but not yet, lord, not yet!"

“oh lord, give me chastity and self-restraint–but not yet, lord, not yet!”

austrian standoff

austrian standoff

pervert & maniac

pervert & maniac

Bill: That scene is so good, too! Edwige is more than just a pretty face (have you seen her body?!) and she shows her ability in that scene. She’s standing there, George waiting by his door, Jean possibly just around the corner, Neil on her mind, and you can see the gears turning in her head. She’s weighing her fidelity against her fear and the mental teetering is so clear on her face it might as well have been projected on there with one of those neat overhead projectors I made shadow puppets with in school. When we talk about her three men, it makes her sound like she’s more free with the sexings than she is. She really does respect her vows. Even if George is just right, not all fiery, dangerous passion like Jean or cold and boring like Neil, she wants to stay faithful. I really felt bad for her and I felt bad that she was being forced to choose between loyalty and safety. I totally would’ve let her in my house without trying to take advantage of her situation.

Maybe.

If I’d met Jean, I might not have let her in at all, because he is kind of scary. Rassimov doesn’t need his creepy AtCotD contact lenses to be menacing. He does fine here with just a crazy stare and some bleached hair. Even when Neil confronts him and strikes him, I still felt like Jean was the shark that Neil’s boat was not big enough to handle. During this scene, between Neil, Jean, and Julie, just before Neil shows up to confront Jean there’s a nice blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that, like the scene mentioned above, shows how good Edwige is. Jean has Julie by her wrist in the street. She’s struggling with him. and in the second before Neil shows up to rescue her, there’s one tiny fraction of a moment where her struggle changes to submission, she’s giving in, then Neil arrives and it goes away. For that split second, she was again Jean’s. It really drives home Julie’s “incredible submissiveness toward men, her inability to definitely say no, her predilection for controlling (crazy) men.” Jean sure is crazy, too. He laughs in Neil’s face after getting hit and like to poke bats with a stick. He actually owns bats that he pokes with sticks. His house is full of animals to poke. This is a cat who seemingly keeps other giallo titles as pets, probably for poking. When the cops try to question Jean, his pad is filled with iguanas (probably with tongues of fire), lizards (no doubt looking for a woman about a size 14) birds (that didn’t seem to have crystal plumage, but might’ve), and though I didn’t see any black-bellied tarantulas or a cat with a bunch of tails, I’m willing to bet they were there.

u r mah lizard u blong 2 me

u r mah lizard u blong 2 me

shadowy man in a shadowy stairwell

shadowy man in a shadowy stairwell

blade of the ripper

blade of the ripper

Fisty: Maybe. Though, those weren’t out yet. Or is that like, a metaphor? As Bill point out, Strange Vice debuted about a year after Dario Argento’s (game-changing?) The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. There were a number of gialli produced in the period between Mario Bava’s 1963 The Girl Who Knew Too Much and the start of production on Mrs Wardh, and though most aren’t name-checked with the vigor of Blood and Black Lace or Bird, there were several of importance … and we’ll get to those. First, our checklist.

Martino puts Strange Vice through its paces beautifully, like a Lipizzaner performing classical dressage, dexterously touching on the tropes with which we’ve become acquainted: airplanes/ports, exotic locales, suspenseful architecture up to and including stairwells and elevators of doom, the urban apartment building setting, foreigners, fashion, hallucinations/visions, and so on. But he also plays with the un- or less expected ideas–at least for post-Argento viewers at our end of the giallo trajectory–such as an unusual converse to the claustrophobic urban murder setting in a beautifully manicured open park. He also focuses less on the cherished murder setpieces; they’re largely unmemorable, another trademark that would be revisited in Martino’s later gialli. For Martino, the murders are secondary to the importance of the relationships between the characters, those relationships that create the reason for the crimes.

And in Strange Vice, the crimes are again against the grain of the “stereotypical” giallo (although, if one has learned anything from these reviews, it’s likely that there are more things in gialli and filone, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy), as they are not motivated in the same psychosexual trauma or psychopathological manner as many of the post-Argento gialli. Instead, Martino continues the course of Bava’s gialli, using the same motive as would rear its ugly head in other preceding seminal, Hitchockian sexy thriller-type gialli such as Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Lenzi’s Sixties gialli (the two Paranoias–and to a lesser extent So Sweet… So Perverse), and Fulci’s One On Top of the Other.

rendezvous on the edge of the park

rendezvous on the edge of the park

"looking good, louis"

“looking good, billy ray”

"feeling good, louis"

“feeling good, louis”

The motive for the principle crime in Strange Vice (that being the most significant to us as the audience and to Julie Wardh as the protagonist, rather than the most signifi–am I saying too much? I’ll shut up now). Martino would again revisit this emphasis this motive in later works such as All the Colors of the Dark (another giallo with Edwige Fenech in fine form as a histrionic hysteric menaced by Ivan Rassimov and romanced by George Hilton). But! Strange Vice is our concern today, and with Strange Vice, Martino straddles the line of demarcation between the early gialli and the cycle’s peak (not that said line was anything but nebulous).

Bill: Dude, careful! Don’t spoil it. You almost said too much.

We’re getting a little long in here, so I want to just run through a few things about Strange Vice as quick as I can. Nudity. There’s a ton. I couldn’t go without praising the film for that. The paper dress wrestling scene is awesome and I love the way the Psycho shower murder scene is done. Well, really just the shower, with shower curtains hanging everywhere like sheets on a laundry line. You know I appreciate a good shower scene, even if the murder wasn’t too spectacular.  Martino knows suspense and the chases and stalks in Strange Vice are nail biters. I enjoyed the score by Nora Orlandi, especially a Morricone-like take on the movies theme which played over Julie’s rainy slap-and-tickle remembrance. The park where one character is stalked by the slasher is amazing. I could’ve seriously just watched a thirty minute pleasant stroll through the place without ever getting bored of it. In fact, nothing in this movie could be boring. Everything is so visually interesting. Practically every shot is multi-layered and remarkable in depth. If I was ever going to nominate a giallo for a 3-D conversion, it would probably be Strip Nude for Your Killer, because of wiggle-wiggle Femi, but Strange Vice would be my second choice. And, finally, even in a movie where everything is looking fab, the Wardh’s Vienna home still stands out. That place is FAB-FUCKING-TABULOUS! Yes, fabtabulous is the only way to possibly describe that place. I loved it.

i've still got the rug burns on both my knees

i’ve still got the rug burns on both my knees

your parking garage is a locked room and only i have the key

your parking garage is a locked room and only i have the key

tyra mail!

tyra mail!

Fisty: OH MY GOD, YES. Their apartment! When I showed it to my husband and asked whether we could paint our living room like that, he said, “Oh, HELL yes!” Soooooo pretty, and I love how its modernity stands out from the rather baroque interiors and exteriors elsewhere in Wien. (Like Jean’s amazing “I am totally not a sex maniac” flat full of naked women and animals.)

Wardrobe was actually pretty subdued–other than the metallic paper minidresses–but still tastefully swinging. Which is pretty much how I’d describe the movie’s general appearance; while Martino directs stylishly, it’s never so over the top as to be jarring. (I particularly love the ebb and flow in party scenes–also the lovemaking scenes–and how there’s all kinds of distraction around and even in front of the central action, creating this wonderful chaotic feel.) Everything is seamlessly gorgeous and moves naturally along through the story–even the sordid sex scenes work beautifully, whether they were added to up the sleaze factor or not. They’re some of my favorites, really. Because this whole movie is RAD.

Ja, the sex perverts would really get what they deserve! In Strange Vice Martino perfectly balances his technical skill and flair as director with Ernesto Gastaldi’s storyline, as well as with the necessary humanity the actors bring to the table. His imaginative direction is never overly showy or simply for form’s sake, but enhances the story and performances. The lurid, exploitational qualities of the film are the icing on the cake of a neat and highly suspenseful whodunit (or rather, who’sgonnadoit). And not to be missed is Nora Orlandi’s excellent score, plus all the naked time one could want. With its abundant use of giallo motifs, gorgeous looks, and not too convoluted plot (though it teeters on the edge, Gastaldi just manages to get away with it), Strange Vice is one of the very best gialli, and a wonderful introduction to the form.

like sting she's tantric

like sting she’s tantric

Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion

in which nobody is above suspicion

Le foto proibite di una signora per bene
aka The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion
aka Frauen bis zum Wahnsinn gequält
aka Días de angustia
aka Photo interdite d’une bourgeoise
Director: Luciano Ercoli
Released: 1970
Starring: Dagmar Lassander, Nieves Navarro aka Susan Scott, Pier Paolo Capponi, and Simón Andreu
Running time: 93 min
Genre: giallo

You must surrender your mind–and your body. Confirming my own ideas about the inner monologues of women (this is Bill speaking) Minou (Dagmar Lassander) bathes, dresses, paints her toenails, lounges, naps, drinks, pops pills, and obsessively stares at portraits while spending the whole time thinking about how to please, anger, manipulate and make love to Peter. That’s a capital P, sickos. Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi) is her new entrepreneur husband. He’s been away trying to do some hardcore, capitalistic entrepreneuring and she’s doing her best to pass the time until his return.

Taking a break from her internal Peter obsessing and kinda doped up and buzzing, she goes for a late evening walk on the beach. Alone, with no one to call to, she is first spied upon, then stalked by sinister thug on a motorbike (Simón Andreu). He terrorizes and bullies her, using a nightstick with a switchblade tip. He’s going to make her “beg for his kisses,” and then tells her, “No, I’m not going to use force with you.” Nevertheless, he pushes her to the ground and slowly cuts open her clothes. Rapey stuff and, perhaps, murder are imminent. Then he asks about Peter. Does she know what he’s been up to while he’s been away? He tells her that Peter is a fraud. That he’s a murderer. Then he tells her she’s free to go … for now, and leaves her lying there unharmed and mostly unmolested as he rides off. Shaken, she goes to a nearby bar, calls Peter to come for her, and sits and gets plastered with some bossy card players, but doesn’t call the cops because, “The police only make you fill out forms.” Uh …?

Peter is somewhat dismissive of the assault, since the sex killer didn’t really do anything to her, only held her down and threatened her with a knife and cut her clothes mostly off. Uh …? Besides, even if she had been raped, he informs her, he wouldn’t love her any less. Minou, not at all wondering how a sex maniac knew who she was and who her husband is, protects herself from further victimization by donning a curly blonde Femi Benussi wig and going disco dancing. At the club, she bumps into her good friend, the fabulously gorgeous and sexually adventurous Dominique (Nieves Navarro), a former lover of Peter’s (and current lover of peters–zing!), who tells her of the death–maybe suicide, maybe murder–of a man named Dubois. Dubois was a business associate of Peter’s to whom Peter owed quite a bit of money.

Minou reads about Dubois’ death in the paper–he mysteriously died of the bends, a condition that typically afflicts divers that surface too quickly–and she begins to think … something. She discusses her worries and the attack with Dominique, who would, “adore being violated.” Like Peter, Dominique is mostly dismissive of the assault. She’s way more interested in showing Minou her classy porn slideshows and photos and not-so-subtlety coming onto her. While sorting through the porno snaps, Minou finds a picture of the sex maniac from the beach. Having gotten over her fear of filling out forms, an inspector comes to Peter’s office to take a police report from him and Minou. After, Peter tells her about the new deep diving pressure gauge he’s trying to bring to market and she sees the pressure chamber where it’s tested, a room capable of simulating deep diving conditions.

she can’t help thinking about peter: where he is, who he is with, is he thinking of her, and will he ever return to her someday

like a mammal of some sort

my naked pictures, let me show you them

That night, while alone, she receives a phone call from her attacker. He wants to meet with her. He plays her a recording of Peter apparently discussing the murder of Dubois. She must meet him or he’ll turn the tape over to the police. He does not want money. He cannot be bought.  All he wants is Minou. Minou, Minou, Minou! Is Peter really a murderer? How is Dominique involved? Why is Minou a target? Will she willingly give herself to her blackmailer, mind, spirit, and body, to protect her husband? Is any of it even real or is it all in Minou’s tipsy, pill-munching head? Who cares? I just want to see more of her kick ass shoe-stealing, show-stealing, startle-inducing pet turtle. Man, he’s great!

Everyone has his price–even a maniac. Without many of the markers usually ascribed to the giallo, and with a dearth of blood and titties, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion has its share of detractors, those who might call it Giallo Lite–or even not a giallo at all. However Ercoli’s eye, Ernesto Gastaldi’s script, and a score by Ennio Morricone would suggest otherwise. Will they be enough? Does FPoaLAS have enough strengths to refute the deniers?

Fisty: Before I say anything, I have to get something off my chest. I FUCKING LOATHE DAGMAR LASSANDER’S CUNTING SPITCURLS. They really, really irritate me. When I see–or think about–them, my hands curl into fists and I have to resist the urge to reach into the screen and set them afire. Or yank them off. And I’ve only ever seen them on Dagmar, so I am now beginning to hate her for subjecting me to them. I also blame Ercoli and whomever was in charge of hair and make-up for giving them a pass. What fucking lunacy inspired those damn things?

Bill: Go easy on poor Dagmar. They aren’t that bad. Why do you hate the spitcurls? Why are you so passionate about hating them? Did spitcurls anally rape your mother while pouring sugar in your gas tank? Superman has one. He’s famous for it. Do you hate Superman, too? How can you hate  Superman? Do you also hate rock and roll and apple pie? Are you now or have you ever been a part of a communist organization? I actually think they’re kind of cute, especially when her hair is pulled back or when she’s wearing that purple hat while she and Navarro’s characters are at lunch. The only time I take issue with them is when her hair is down and she still has them. Then, they make her hair look kind of messy, but not good messy, just … busy.  Also, I hate Superman. I do not hate Dagmar (or her hair) or Navarro or FPoaLAS. (When I type that, it makes me think of Legolas fapping. I don’t hate that either. I’m not gay.)

Fisty: What the hell. I hate them because they’re hideous. And they’re ALWAYS THERE, regardless of hairstyle: up or down, formal or casual, whatever. Except for the disco scene when she dons her platinum blonde Femi Benussi wig–which I found ultra hot. Now I want a Seventies perm.

see the spitcurls. see fisty’s rage. rage, fisty, rage.

$2.99 for the first three minutes, $0.39 each additional minute

le freak, so chic

HOLY SHIT, that was just ridiculous, and I apologize; I came over all catty all of a sudden. Despite my spitcurl phobia, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is actually one of my favorite gialli. There is so much to love about Ercoli’s wildly entertaining first giallo (among them being: stunning fashion and interior design, hilarious red herrings, gorgeous and sassy actresses–particularly Nieves Navarro–hilarity inducing lines, and so on), but what I find most striking is how essentially feminine a film it is. And no, not simply because the protagonist is a woman–come on, how common is that in gialli?–but because of how Ercoli makes Minou’s feminine concerns central to the film. Basically, Minou is your textbook Lady with the Problem that Has No Name. Lest we forget, this is 1970, and Betty Friedan had been spraying The Feminine Mystiqueall over EVERYTHING for the past few years, and I’m pretty sure it’d hit Europe. In Italy, there were rumblings of their own nascent women’s movement, which would soon explode into battles over divorce, abortion, and other social and political issues.

Ercoli doesn’t sully his giallo with a whole lot of overt politics or preaching, and you won’t even find a plot device with a political subtext a la What Have You Done to Solange? Instead he neatly turns the conventions of the popular cinema inside out, playing with depictions of women in more customary genre films–or is he playing with the way women are treated in 1970 Italy? The hysterical victim or target common to gialli (*cough*EDWIGE*cough*) isn’t unique to the genre, but sadly not an uncommon trope. (Though often used extravagantly there.) When Minou confesses her troubles to Peter and the police, they suggest that the entire  things is simply a fabrication, a repressed fantasy or cry for attention. You women! Even Dominique’s first response on being told of the seaside assault is to quip, “I would have adored being violated!” Oh, misogyny, you so crazy!

Back to Minou, Ercoli’s Lady with the Problem that Has No Name: She’s a naif little homebody, educated simply to catch a husband and now all wrapped up in her devotion to her him and her role as wife. Yet the empty hours she must while away (though not in housework or childcare because after all, this IS a giallo) leave her wanting … more.  Despite her love for Peter, Minou is neurotic and unhappy, self-medicating with ‘ludes and booze–which she’s quitting, she swears, right after this drink/pill–internalizing her anxieties, and seeking fulfillment (which she sees as Peter’s attention) in insipid little sexual adventures that are simply fabrications meant to inspire jealousy in Peter. (Are the cops and Dominique on to something here?) Minou is simply slathered in feminine mystique; the only thing she’s missing is children or at least a meditation on motherhood.

forbidden foto of a very suspicious floozy

let’s make this dress a little less housewifely, shall we?

is that timothy dalton?

Bill: Why would she need children? She has a turtle! I love that turtle.

I totally get what you’re saying about FPoaLAS’s femininity. Maybe I’m reaching a bit, but I also see Navarro/Scott’s Dominique as a kind of embodiment of the porn fantasy woman. She is all about sex. She’s not just permissive, she’s practically predatory. This is a woman that will order a pizza just so she can jump on the delivery boy. She’s beautiful, freaky, likes taking and showing off naked pictures, down for some girl/girl, and she is up for some violation. She is supremely comfortable with her perviness and doesn’t have to sit around making up stories about non-existent love affairs. Dominique is so OTT sexual that, in one scene she uses the police as her personal escort service. And Minou, who is maybe not completely repressed, but is kind of naive and not as confident, knowing Peter was once a lover of Dominique’s and being just a normal woman (except, this being a movie normal is still sickeningly gorgeous), compares herself to the unreal ideal of Dominique. Trying to judge yourself against other normal standards of beauty and sexual adventurousness is hard enough on your ego, but when you’re judging yourself against a perpetually horned up Susan Scott with a massive collection of Copenhagen porno…? There is no way you’re not going to question your own looks and prowess. Or maybe it’s just standard inhibited versus uninhibited stuff and I’m looking at it from too modern a perspective?

Fisty: I don’t know that I get all that from Dominique. She’s definitely an active person as opposed to Minou’s more passive one, and thus walks around acting upon and externalizing everything Minou internalizes and suppresses. In Dominique, the seductive and worldly female type is amped up to eleven to a degree that would be laughable is Navarro’s insouciance didn’t carry it off delightfully. (Okay, it’s still often laughable, but knowingly so; we laugh along with Ercoli et alia instead of at them. This seems to be his MO.) And that’s essentially how Ercoli plays the entire film. The best red herring of all, the turtle jump scare, is one (glaring) example of how Ercoli toys with the audience’s expectations. The title is another, a joke based on the Academy Award-winning Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion–a satiric crime drama that may have influenced Ercoli elsewhere, I do not know. Has anyone seen it?–and of course both titles recall poor Pompeia: Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. Much as Minou is, until she becomes embroiled in suspicious circumstances and realizes that all women are under suspicion to men at all times. And oh my god, how not lurid is the movie, with that title? Oh, Ercoli!

bathtub of the dolls

boy george versus guido the killer pimp

she really likes turtles

Bill: So not lurid! That title makes you expect something really saucy, but compared to a lot of other gialli, it’s pretty tame. The majority of the nudity in the movie is in the form of  photos of Dominique which, by the way, I would totally sell my soul to own. What a collectible those would make. And most of the “love-making” scenes are kind of boring and unsexy, restrained. The only scenes (that don’t involve a naked or flirtatious Dominique) that really get hott (with a double T) and give the movie some naughty appeal are (go ahead and call me a creep!) the scenes of The Blackmailer attacking Minou or coercing her into getting freaky with threats. Those are the scenes that are shot with a real lover’s eye. When he has Minou pinned down on the beach, slowing cutting the strings on her dress, it seemed more like foreplay than an assault. And when Minou decides she’s going to give in to his demands, man, she really goes all in. It’s some straight up 50 Shades of Grey shit, but actually good not lame, and Minou never once mentions her inner goddess or says, “Holy crap.”

It’s not very bloody either. The Blackmailer isn’t particularly violent until much later in the film and the body count in the movie is low, at only three. One of those deaths, the first, doesn’t occur onscreen. The character that dies never even appears onscreen. You’re not even certain it’s a murder at all.

Fisty: Yeah, there’s a lot of ambiguity there, which I really enjoy. You might think you’ve got the scenario figured out, but then along comes another red herring to throw a monkey wrench into the thick of it, mixing metaphors and motives like some kind of mixy-matchy thing. One of my favorite ambiguous scenes is one where at a dinner party, Minou flashes back to scenes of sex–or is it lovemaking?–for at first it is unclear with whom she is having the sex. Ercoli layers the scene in such a way as to suggest a great deal about Minou and her repression, as well as that around her.

The bit of sex that we see are mostly suggested–or even demonstrated secondhand (or is it third when a character watched slideshows of photographs of another’s character’s sex life, and then we watch that?). The violence is largely the same; there are no on-screen deaths until the climax. The exclusion of obvious scene of sex and violence has led to allegations that FPoaLAS is not really a giallo, but rather a murder mystery, which is just silly. Yes, there are certain tropes missing or toned down but if we’ve seen nothing else, it’s that few gialli (outside of perhaps some of the most derivative types), particularly the more noteworthy ones, hit every single marker. The best (I say) play with audience expectations and hallmarks of the genre–and again, we cannot underestimate the fluidity between genres. More importantly, FPoaLAS was released in November of 1970, a mere nine months after Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. (Nine months, hmmm?) Though Bird would become the principal map for gialli, these transitions do take a little time, even in the fast-moving world of Italian movie production circa 1970. Before Bird, it was hardly set in stone that a giallo must linger over elaborate, bloody kills, or be concerned with psychosexual problems, i.e. that the giallo in essence was that kind of violent erotic thriller.

giallo patch kid

dig those crazy digs

you should be paranoid–nothing good could come of this

FPoaLAS channels the claustrophobic paranoia of earlier efforts like Mario Bava’s seminal The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Romolo Guerriri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah. Like the latter, and also like Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, Ercoli’s use of sex is less than overt, if not exactly subtle.  That it doesn’t use the iconography of Blood and Black Lace should not matter, since at this point all the threads that would make up a later understanding of giallo had not yet come together. More than anything else, it resemble’s Umberto Lenzi’s loose “trilogy” of sexy thrillers–Orgasmo, So Sweet … So Perverse, and Paranoia–both in style and substance: the kinky eroticism, the jet-set cocktail crowd, the motive, and the amorality of those in question. But seemingly any giallo that doesn’t closely follow the post-Argento style is considered unusual or questionable, though they might simply hearken back to the earlier style. So it really doesn’t matter whether there is a black-gloved killer and their POV shots, or J&B, or a priest to pin it on. FPoaLAS IS a giallo, and a damn fine one at that. It’s also damn fine looking, like a series of postcards from Jacqueline Susann’s world, right down to glugging liquor and dolls in the bath.

Bill: Mostly, I just like blood and titties–blood, blood, titties, titties, blood and titties–so I tend to prefer the post-Bird, Argento-influenced films. I need constant stimulation or I get bored. Lucky, despite the dearth of bbttb&t in FapKoalas, there’s still plenty for me to enjoy. For instance: The Turtle. This flick has the only jump scare turtle I think I have ever seen on film. No yowling cats jumping out of closets for Ercoli. He uses a turtle with a shoe fetish instead. It’s not even a one off thing, either. It’s established much earlier in the film that Minou has a turtle and we’re shown the kinds of things her turtle likes to do, so it makes sense when it’s used it to freak you out later. Yes, I’m rambling about how much I enjoyed a pet turtle with maybe three scenes in the movie, but I can’t help it. I like turtles. I also like the funky interior design all through the movie.

I love those fantastic 60’s/70’s apartments. The space age pad Minou is in at the beginning of the movie is amazing! It’s all smooth white curves and indirect lighting. Shelving, walls, furniture, all connected, flowing together, seemingly all one connected piece with slanting log rafters for a ceiling, shag carpet, and creepy mannequin heads mounted on the walls as art. It’s probably my favorite locale in the movie, though The Blackmailer’s apartment is easily the second. That place is insane, with creepy hands sticking out at odd angles, heavy red drapes, skylight, weird bamboo screens hanging everywhere, and masked pinned to the stairs with stakes through its eyes. It’s like a bizarre, neo-savage, surrealist, Night Gallery version of an African tribal theme. Dominique’s place is very similar to that first apartment where we see Minou. Minou and Peter’s house is gorgeous. I think Peter’s work office is the only setting that disappoints.

a crime waiting to happen

suggestive

we told you nothing good could come of it

Fisty: Well, his IS the dull masculine world of business. And it could be that his office is a (relatively) sterile environment because it’s outside Minou’s concerns. Now, their home is a cozily stylish pad, all light and bright and chock full o’ the most benignly outré bibelots. The juxtaposition of their effulgent and well-ordered nest with The Blackmailer’s dark and sinister den of debauchery is highly dramatic, but it works; the dramatic contrast is an effective way to telegraph the repression inherent mannered world Minou usually inhabits. Note how Ercoli uses light and shadow: Minou’s world is so artificially bright as to have none, while that of The Blackmailer is positively steeped in shadow. In his introductory scene, before he starts the seaside chase, he turns off the headlight shining on Minou, chasing her into the darkness he negotiates without hesitation. Symbolism! And of course, these exaggerated set designs lend that fantastic giallo style to which we are all accustomed.

The main players are equally decorative. Dagmar Lassender is lovely–spitcurls and all–and Nieves Navarro is stunning in the more playful role of Dominique. The two parade through the film in an ever increasing assortment of extravagant ensembles, from Minou’s housewifely minidress and disco pantsuit to Dominique’s sideless evening gown and Muppet-collared coat. (I used to have that coat, but lavender. I am not ashamed to admit it.) Plus, Minou is never once not wearing turquoise eyeshadow. It’s amazing.  The gentlemen are pretty groovy themselves; I was particularly taken with Peter’s velvet blazer. Pier Paolo Capponi himself is not too exciting, though his bland smarminess is perfect for his ambiguous role as a possibly villainous husband. However, Simon Andreu is saturninely handsome as The Blackmailer, and does a wonderful turn in making him both seductive and frightening.

Bill: I thought Andreu was kind of ugly. COULD WE BE ANY MORE DIFFERENT? (Fisty: Ugly hot!) But you’re right about him being frightening. The Blackmailer is sadistic and psychotic and a damn tricky bastard. That one move he pulls … I don’t want to say exactly what it is and spoil it, but I’ll say that it will give the wiggins to anyone like me that worries about having their feet grabbed as they come up the basement stairs or thinks about the hand coming from under the bed whenever their feet are uncovered. And how awesome is his weapon of choice? It’s not long enough to be a cane, definitely more baton-like, highly polished, a handsome orange wood color, with a small hidden switchblade in the tip. It’s definitely not your typical cinematic murder tool. I want one. The Blackmailer is totally a stalker with character. I keep thinking about how awesome a giallo crossover movie would’ve been, with Andreu’s Blackmailer and Antoine St. John’s Killer, from The Killer Must Kill Again, stalking the same victims. If we can get Django, Sartana, and Trinity crossover movies, then why not?

ugly hot on toast

wait, is that andy samberg?

sir knifes-a-lot

I got carried away on a weird tangent there for a moment. I’m sorry. But  I did bring up The Killer Must Kill Again and I guess I can use that to segue into another thing I liked about FPoaLAS. I’m sure you remember all of my bitching about the slow middle of TKMKA (also an unconventional giallo). I don’t have any of those same complaints about Fotos. It never has a chance to feel slow or get boring.  It’s paced well, regularly showing you a new twist or wrinkle to keep you guessing and questioning things. Whenever you think you have it figured, you get a school of red herrings nibbling at your face like mutated piranha. Actually sensible red herrings, too, not the out of nowhere Leader-of-a-Satanic-Sex-Cult, Murderous-Orangutan-That-Looks-Like-a-Burn-Victim-Gorilla, or Secret-Sex-Killer-That-Happens-to-Live-Next-Door varieties. It’s a well constructed mystery, tricky and unusual enough to avoid being too linear or predictable, but not totally bizarre or nonsensical like a French Sex Murders.

Fisty: Fotos works as a tidy little mystery–almost TOO tidy. Dun dun DUN! It does wrap up very quickly, but I found the plotholes pretty small. Nothing you could drive a truck through. The motive and method are pretty traditional for thrillers, hearkening back to some noir plotlines. There’s a definite Woolrichian feel to Ercoli’s work, perhaps more so in Death Walks at Midnight, but I wouldn’t say Fotos is very far from it–the dilemma of I Married a Dead Man’s finale and that of various short stories is very similar to Minou’s first problem with The Blackmailer. Minou, of course, is The Woman in Peril (Above Suspicion), and Dominique gets to play femme fatale, a role I’m sure she’d relish. It’s a fun connexion to ponder. Maybe another time, because we’ve got pills to pop and cocktails to swill.

Speaking of cocktails, these folks like to party! I think someone is drinking in virtually every scene. I’m particularly fond of the scene just following The Blackmailer’s initial appearance, where Minou goes to some seedy bar, quaffs two brandies, then hangs out with some blue-collar types, guzzling Carlsberg beer till Peter arrives. It’s so bizarre.

as long as we’re breathing, let’s have another drink

this will sober her right up

i like turtles

Bill: There is so much alcoholism in FPoaLAS! It starts with Minou saying she won’t drink, then drinking. Then she’s attacked and goes to the bar. Her husband takes her home where they drink. She goes dancing and everyone drinks. Later she meets with a friend and they drink and then look at porn. Every time any character meets up with another, including, at least once, the cops, they say, “Lets have a drink!” Bottles of booze are prominent in several scenes. At one point, Minou wakes up screaming, freaked out, makes Peter check around, and in the middle of the night, after just waking up, he says, “Well, since we’re up, we might as well have a drink,” and they start swilling booze. I picture them getting up to pee in the middle of the night and saying, “Well, since I’m on my feet, I might as well get plastered.” I think The Blackmailer is the only person that isn’t at least tipsy through the entire movie. Even the turtle seems a bit sluggish and unsteady at times.

Why on Earth should I love you less because of a sex fiend? Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion is essential for any fan of the genre, though it boasts little blood or sex. But Luciano Ercoli’s debut giallo is hardly lacking, as a strong cast, inimitable style, and all the bons mots (and eau de vie!) one could hope for, making for some highly diverting entertainment. Undoubtedly a giallo of the restrained variety, it is still strongly suggestive of the sexuality and cruelty that would later dominate the genre. Plus, a turtle. All in all, it’s a kitschy, kinky little thriller that understands a woman’s needs.

The Screaming Minis: I Start Counting

The Screaming Minis is a new experiment in short (well, shorter) individual reviews, as way for us to talk a little more about the other movies of note we’re watching but without the involved, in-depth discussion delivered as a duo. The name comes from The Screaming Mimi, the 1949 pulp novel by Frederic Brown that inspired Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

i start counting the ways in which this poster deceives

I Start Counting
Director: David Greene
Released: 1969
Starring: Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Simon Ward, Clare Sutcliffe, Gregory Phillips
Running time: 105 minutes
Genre: thriller

Another random recommendation from NFLX Watch Instantly, my watching I Start Counting was a happy accident. David Greene’s decidedly obscure 1969 kitchen sink drama cum thriller recalls the political and social realism of the Sixties while embracing the increasing permissiveness of European exploitation in the Seventies. I Start Counting follows Wynne (Jenny Agutter: Logan’s Run, An American Werewolf in London), a naïf Catholic girl adopted by a working class English family. In the absence of a paterfamilias, Wynne’s eldest brother George (Bryan Marshall: The Witches) is both father figure to her–and imagined lover. Surrendering herself to her incestuous infatuation, Wynne finds less confusion in the simple matter of her first love. Except that it’s not so simple. Wynne is fourteen and George is thirty-two. And her adoptive brother. And he’s got some skeletons in his closet. Oh, and there’s a serial killer stalking the area, and Wynne believes that George could be the culprit.

Greene makes every lovely image count. Wynne’s world is rife–RIFE!–with symbolism, such as the abandoned and soon to be demolished family cottage representing both Wynne’s and Britain’s pasts, and which she cannot stop visiting. There’s also the gritty suburban hell of the family now lives in, and the teeming streets Wynne and her best friend Corinne walk. Corinne is Wynne’s polar opposite, hiding her innocence beneath a brash facade, prancing about in miniskirts and loudly (and falsely) proclaiming her status as a non-virgin. Much as she clings to her beloved stuffed rabbit, Wynne clings to their sheltered schoolgirl world, but Corinne is eager to leave it behind. Their developing social and sexual agency is both threatening and a promise of a rich, albeit permissive future, and the adults seem ready to frustrate the girls at every turn. Wynne longs to protect George, and insists she loves and understands him, her affection only heightened by her suspicions as she conceals any evidence that might link George to the crimes. But Greene mocks the notion of feminine love as a civilizing force with both Wynne’s urgent yet impotent love and George’s own tragic personal life (no spoilers!).

Though dismissed upon initial release as being chiefly notable for featuring a seventeen-year-old Jenny Agutter in her underwear and masturbating (not that that isn’t notable), I Start Counting is deserving of reassessment, being less sexploitation slasher than enchanting, dreamy thriller. I thought it was a really lovely little movie, both charming and moving at times, but also suspenseful. Greene handles the element of suspense well, going places Shadow of a Doubt never dared, while perfectly capturing some of adolescence’s mortifications. It’s also a remarkable snapshot of the period; watch particularly for groovy brother Len’s record shop, a retro futuristic dream come true. Plus, a nearly naked Jenny Agutter, masturbating with a stuffed rabbit.

Some galleries of screencaps are up over at the PB&G Tumblr.

(In the absence of an available trailer, here is the opening sequence.)