A Quiet Place to Kill

2013 italian film culture blogathon

Yes, things look a little different here today. This review is part of The Nitrate Diva’s 2013 Italian Film Culture Blogathon, a celebration of all aspects of Italian film culture. And as such, we’re including a little background information for those readers not accustomed to giallo. Without further ado …

You know, there are directors who achieve fame or notoriety chiefly through a particular work (or even a couple), regardless of how representative it is of their oeuvre. To the general public, Umberto Lenzi likely means nothing, except perhaps, “What gibberish are you talking now?” but to horror fans, Lenzi means Cannibal FeroxNightmare City. Maybe even Eaten Alive! Which are all … decidedly not good. Some might go so far as to call them worthless trash. And that’s a damn shame, because Umberto Lenzi–and he will be the first to tell you this–has made a number of fine films, or at the least, far better ones over the course of his long career. I’d say the majority of his pre-1980 work is better by far, but it’s Lenzi’s curse to be known best as a purveyor of ultraviolent cannibal sleaze.

Lenzi’s strengths lie chiefly in action and exciting set pieces, and accordingly some of his finest work is in the poliziottesco filone–the “tough cop” crime and action flicks of the Seventies inspired by the likes of Dirty HarryLenzi’s poliziotteschi are easily comparable to the best of the filone by acknowledged masters like Di Leo, Dallamano, and Castellari. But before the rise of the poliziottesco, there was the giallo.

For those tyros tuning in Wikipedia can provide a quick background on the giallo; for our purposes, the essentials are that the giallo was a sort of crime thriller popular in the Sixties and Seventies; it was during the latter decade that the genre peaked (about 1972). In 1963’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and 1966’s Blood and Black Lace Mario Bava laid out the general narrative structures and tropes of the filone (later playing with those same generic conventions in a string of ever more experimental gialli), while Dario Argento’s 1970 debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage upped the ante with yet more violence and psychosexual drama–and was an international breakthrough hit. (Note that this film and Bird were released simultaneously, AQP2K coming out one day after Bird.) It is Argento’s work (in the vein of Bava) that is synonymous with the current popular conception of the giallo–complete with elaborate violence, kitschy style, and often impenetrable plotting. Most of the gialli popular today are from the “classic” period of 1970-1975, and therefore are considered direct descendants of Bird, and so the relentless discussion among fans and purists of just what does or does not constitute a “proper” giallo works from Bird’s example. And the Sixties gialli (saving Bava’s work, of course–in MOST instances) often fall victim to the “but really, what IS a giallo!?” nitpickers, particularly the type we’re discussing here, the sexy-thriller lenziani.

(Wait, what? That dude we just mentioned, the one largely reviled by anyone other than ardent gorehounds or fans of Eurocrime ? That guy has like, a film genre filone named after him? Yeah, pretty much. And it’s awesome!)

Differing from the Argento-type gialli in that they’re less mystery thrillers than suspense thrillers, i.e., the killer’s identity isn’t usually a mystery,  but rather the mystery lies in whether the killer will get away with their crime–and sometimes (always?) whether there is yet ANOTHER layer of duplicity. Less Agatha Christie than Hitchcock, these Sixties sexy-thrillers lenziani are also more Clouzot’s Les diaboliques than anything elseThink of the sexy-thriller lenziani as a gorgeous detour on the way from Bava to Argento, one that winds its way through sunny Mediterranean locales populated by the rich and glamorous. Carroll Baker and Jean Sorel will be there, looking fine, and there will be more of the beautiful people–and many of them will be nude! There will be scads of booze and pills, women and song, lies and videotape. We’re going to hop into a sporty little roadster and speed down treacherous serpentine roads until we reach the shocking conclusion of the sexy-thriller lenziani.

sex, lies, & super8

sex, lies, & super8

Paranoia
aka A Quiet Place to Kill
aka Os Ambiciosos Insaciáveis
aka Una droga llamada Helen
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Released: 1970
Starring: Carroll Baker, Jean Sorel, Anna Proclemer, Luis Dávila
Running time: 94 min
Genre: giallo

Women are sometimes silent, but never when there’s nothing to say. Lilian Terry, however, has plenty to say. She begins crooning “You,” the title track to Paranoia, over some Umiliani loungey jazz stylings. As the credits roll, we see  … I don’t even know what, but it sure is exciting! It’s all in Glorious Negativecolor, for one. There are zooms on women walking and staring, and cameras rolling–on us! There are reflections and distortions, rack focusing and women appearing, always staring. There’s a gun! And a crash! And a struggle! There’s running, and slapping, and ominous men in suits! And yet more staring, staring, staring! That dratted camera again! And it’s all tremendously exciting with the crooning the reversed colors and the THINGS HAPPENING. Finally, we see–who? Oh, it’s La Baker, and she’s ready for some Formula 1 fun.

And there we are, transported to a racetrack where Helen is a racecar driver, a veritable Maria Andretti. Only she sees (hallucinates? recalls? envisions? prophesies?) a handsome man (Jean Sorel) standing on the track–all we need now is Mary Weiss shrieking “Look out, look out look out!”–a swerve and a crash! The ambulance rushes the driver away, she goes into surgery, and then it’s … some time later, and Helen’s apparently recovered. Oh, all but her nerves, which are shot per the doctor, she’ll never race again. He also warns her against excitement, sex, smoking and drinking. Allowed to choose one but vice, Helen goes with whiskey, jettisoning playboys and fun. It’s not all so bad, however, as she’s also given a lifetime membership to the Valley of the Dolls–as long as she never takes one on an empty stomach!

Leaving the hospital with her erstwhile flunky/manager/paramour/hair model, Helen gets the bad news that she’s on the hook for MILLIONS (of lira, so who cares, it’s not like it’s real money anyways) for her hospital treatment and stay. Also for even more MILLIONS (see above) for the racecar she wrecked. On the plus side, she’s got a telegram from some well wisher! There’s always a silver lining. Turns out that the telegram is from Helen’s ex-husband Maurice, who’s got a villa in Mallorca, and suggests she visit. Playboy von Glamourhair makes a whiskey stop, and while he’s in the shop, Helen absconds with his sporty little car, headed for Mallorca.

helen was a racecar driver

helen was a racecar driver

you give love a bad name

you give love a bad name

when passion's a prison you can't break free

when passion’s a prison you can’t break free

In sunny Mallorca, however, Helen will find that it was actually Maurice’s WIFE (!!!) Constance who sent the telegram. And though she’s hesitant about joining Maurice and Constance for a little menage, their frolicsome fun in the sun life is just irresistible. As is Maurice. He’s just as deliciously seductive as he was when Helen married him (seriously, have you SEEN Jean Sorel!?), and Helen’s just as much under his spell as she ever was. Also under the influence of a drug called Maurice is Constance–but she yearns to break free. She enlists Helen in the founding chapter of Maurice Anonymous, and under her program the first step is murdering Maurice.

Murder is plotted and a murder occurs, but whose? Will the perpetrators convince the authorities of their story? Was the crime caught on tape? And just what is that untrustworthy nymphette Susan up to? It’s all J&B and jetsetters, women and Wess & the Airedales, upskirts and Umiliani until someone gets hurt–or dead.

A typical European male: selfish amoral, and corrupt. Between Bava and Aregnto there was a school of gialli rather unlike those with which we are more familiar. They are the psycho-sexy thrillers lenziani, and, well, guess who was the master? These gialli by way of Hitchcock and Clouzot–often with a noirish touch–are a breed apart from the post-Argento giallo, although their influence shouldn’t be underestimated.

your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye

your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye

psycho sexy

psycho sexy, qu’est-ce que c’est?

who's the hypotenuse now!?

who’s the hypotenuse now!?

Fisty: Let’s talk negatives first, specifically, that credits sequence. Maybe I suffer from short-term memory loss, but that was one of THE most exciting credit sequences I have ever seen. The first time I watched Paranoia, I remember being so jazzed within thirty seconds that I was jumping up and down, jizzing, texting, and tweeting. Then I tore my hair out. And started scream-crying, like footage of girls seeing The Beatles or Danny Bonaduce in person for the first time. I’m kind of getting the urge to start doing that again right now, actually. The music! The action! The cutaways! The crazy colors! SO. MUCH. EXCITEMENT.

You know, normally we wouldn’t spend so much time, either in the synopsis or the actual review, discussing a credit sequence, but in this case it’s absolutely warranted. The brilliant (yes, I am applying that adjective to Umberto Lenzi, more on that momentarily) thing about the sequence is not only how (incredibly) exciting it is, but the way it–well, I’ll let you take this one, Billy.

Bill: First, let me explain to the readers (as if we have those–HA!) what the hell you’re talking about, in case we aren’t being clear enough.

For anyone that hasn’t seen Paranoia (which I will now begin calling A Quiet Place to Kill or AQP2K for short–I’ll come back to that in a second,) the entire opening credit sequence is a montage of scenes from the movie with the colors reversed or, say it with me, “in NEG-UH-TIVE.” Now go back and read Fisty’s first sentence and laugh at her, because she’s funny. You can always trust her to bring the wits and class. She really was as excited as she claims about that opening sequence, too. That is not hyperbole. Her excitement was warranted though. It really is a kick ass way to open the movie … and kind of brilliant. You see all this struggle and violence and trippy, fun-looking stuff that foreshadows everything you’re about to see, while still keeping you clueless as to which things will be happening to what characters, since it’s so hard to recognize people in negative. Once you have seen the flick and re-watch that part, knowing exactly what you’re seeing in the intro makes it even cooler. One negative about the negative (I stole that from you, Fisty,) it does also tend to make everyone look a bit like poorly done CGI characters when they move. But there’s no way Lenzi could’ve have known that in 1970.

a quiet place to--oh, whatever

a quiet place to–oh, whatever

i play my part and you play your game

i play my part and you play your game

an ideal place to--oh, goddamnit, lenzi!

an ideal place to–oh, goddamnit, lenzi!

Getting back to the title thing … Umberto Lenzi’s Paranoia came out in 1969, starring Carroll Baker only to be followed by Umberto Lenzi’s Paranoia, which came out in 1970 starring Carroll Baker. SAY WHAT?! The ’69 film, known as Orgasmo in Italy, was retitled to Paranoia for international release. The ’70 film, Paranoia–that’s the one we’re doing now–was given the same name as the U.S. re-title of Orgasmo. So, to avoid confusion, they retitled Paranoia as A Quiet Place to Kill internationally. This attempt to avoid confusion has failed. I got confused just writing this. Seriously, what the hell, man? Is the “ridiculous” in our “ridiculous re-titles” tag even a strong enough word for this tomfoolery, Fisty? Do we need a new tag? Maybe something with curse words in it?

Fisty: Dude, it gets better! The title of Lenzi’s 1971 giallo Un posto ideale per uccidere translates to An Ideal Place to Kill, though it was released in the US as both Oasis of Fear and Dirty Pictures. So after releasing Paranoia with the international title A Quiet Place to Kill he released another film with a similar title. AND, his original intent was for Orgasmo to be titled Paranoia. What with the reuse of Wess & the Airedales’ “Just Tell Me” in both Orgasmo and A Quiet Place to Kill, I think Umberto Lenzi gets a wee bit fixated on motifs now and again.

Bill: You don’t say? Could you call filming with a glass of red liquid ruining your shot twenty-eight different times in one movie a motif he was stuck on? If so, then I agree. He is a better filmmaker than most people that know him only for cheap exploitative thrills would probably realize, but in this instance, I have to wonder what he was thinking. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why he would intentionally ruin his shot over and over with the glasses. There’s a few other scenes with, like, planters and vases in the foreground that throw you off, too. Is this some cultural thing that I’m not understanding? Just an eccentricity of Lenzi? Was this movie originally meant to be in 3D (with a funky disco cocaine theme song)?

you promise me heaven then put me through hell

you promise me heaven then put me through hell

quit being a bitch and fill one up

quit being a bitch and fill one up

bill is so pissed

bill is so pissed

Fisty: (Inasmuch as disco’s progenitors include funk, lounge, psychedelica, yes. Sort of.) But no. Those shots are hardly “ruin[ed],” Bill. Your use of “intentional” there should clue you in to what Lenzi was playing at with the different compositions –and AQP2K is indeed chockablock with funky yet elegant shots. Lenzi seems a bit experimental, like he’s playing more with different ways of telling the story visually rather than simply through the narrative, and that the tricks aren’t there just to to heighten dramatic impact. That showy rack focusing you find so distracting? Another way for Lenzi to show how the roles of victims and perpetrators become increasingly blurred and overlapping, the ways in which motives are obscured.

Lenzi also throws a lot of mirrored or double compositions and subjective camera shots into the mix, further playing with notions of just who’s doing what to whom here. Some of my favorites involve Helen and Constance, particularly their first scene (featuring a stunning gold crackle mirror tiled fireplace!), in which they’re both wearing green, establishing their jealous natures. Lenzi plays with color quite a bit, clothing Constance–and in one episode, Helen–literally in gold, symbolizing perhaps a deeper motive, and of course the film is practically awash in the red stuff. No, not blood (these Sixties gialli are rarely bloody), but myriad red libations–what are they, aperitifs? Campari or vermouth? I have no idea. Those little red glasses of SOMETHING potent–that’s important, Bill–are some of the worst offenders in those shots you hate. But Lenzi liberally splashes his film with red, the color of passion, anger, and blood.

Bill: I’m down with all the mirrors and the colors and characters dressing as one another and the flashes of memories and imaginings he uses to keep things twisty-turny and have the audience questioning everything. That’s all done very well. But whatever Lenzi was trying to get across by sticking a bunch of blurry crap in our faces, so we can’t even see the actors, he failed. Sure, you can say he hiding the actors behind a mask of colors that  represent their passions to show how those overpowering emotions are occluding their rational selves or whatever bunk you want throw out about it, but really, he could’ve done that in a much less annoying way. I think he did manage the same thing in other films without making me use my rage face. At least I don’t remember it being as jarring in Orgasmo or So Sweet…  So Perverse. I know Fulci has used similar ideas in, for instance, Perversion Story, but it wasn’t as frequent and it came off as cool, instead of … irritating. I don’t want to say this is because Lenzi is a bad filmmaker. Like I said earlier, he’s better than most give him credit for. I like him. But he is kind of eccentric and, I think, has a harder time pulling off ideas like that in a successful way. Or maybe he’s just a genius and he’s too smart for his own audiences. What do I know? I mostly watch these flicks for the sex and violence.

shot through the heart!

shot through the heart!

no one can save me; the damage is done

no one can save me

the damage is done

the damage is done

Mmmmm, violence. But only some! These lenziani tend to be fairly light on violence compared to other gialli, and that’s why they usually aren’t my favs. They do typically make up for it in other ways, however, like adding plenty of salacious kink,  bodacious style, beautiful locales, and vice vice vice! There’s booze and pills and T&A and sexual sadism, like Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion‘s Minou (who would totally be besties with Helen) in her sexy surrender scene in that movie, or the stylistic brilliance of Fulci filming a sex scene from the POV of a bed in Perversion Story. The pop culture hipness of The Sweet Body of Deborah is the big draw for me there, with a comic book themed nightclub and permanent Twister fixtures in the front yard. And Lenzi’s own Orgasmo keeps me rapt with the psycho-sexual torment a cute young couple put Carroll Baker through. AQP2K tries to make up for its lack of a body count by having Helen be naked pretty much every 10-15 minutes or so, which, believe me, I did appreciate. There’s also a fun club scene with a bitchin’ dancin’ girl upskirt (but, ugh, the song almost ruins it,) a fantastically bizarre cavern club, and some crazy, fun other stuff, like Hitchcock nods, Jean Sorel being ridiculously entertaining, and a scene with a stuffed fox monster … thing. And plenty of lovely decor, sets and artsy scenes, not counting those stupid drinking glass in the foreground ones. But, personally, I don’t think it was enough. I liked it and I certainly was never bored, but I don’t think it rises to the level of the other films I mentioned.

Fisty: I know some of his choices irritate you (though you’re TOTALLY wrong), but it’s important to note that Lenzi’s stylistic choices are used consistently and coherently; the style essentially delineates the text.

now part of this complete breakfast

now part of this complete breakfast

paint your smile on your lips

paint your smile on your lips

ohhhhhhh, you're a loaded gun!

ohhhhhhh, you’re a loaded gun!

For me, AQP2K has an elegance, a neatness, a … well, I’m just going to go ahead and quote Margaret Mitchell here: There was a glamor to it, a perfection and a completeness and a symmetry to it like Grecian art. Some–including Bill here–might argue my use of “perfection,” but when we take the concept of perfection back to it’s origins (sup, Aristotle!), we’re talking about something that is not only the best of its kind, but that is a whole, not missing any of its parts, and that it achieves its purpose. Though it might be argued (okay, is argued here) that AQP2K is not the best of its kind, it’s undoubtedly a consummate sexy thriller lenziano, made up of all the requisite parts. And most importantly for this argument, IT DOES WHAT IT SET OUT TO DO. Or rather, what Lenzi set out to do. To it. With it. Or something. Whatever. AQP2K is sexy, thrilling, and entertaining–and that’s exactly what we ask of gialli, be they in the style of Bava or Argento or Lenzi.

And lest we forget, AQP2K is technically excellent in every respect. The cast nails it; they don’t just hit their marks but inhabit their roles–Sorel and La Baker in particular playing signature character types. The psychology of the characters is credible, particularly Helen’s (and to a lesser degree, Constance’s) embodiment of Carlos Fuentes’ statement “Jealousy kills love, but leaves desire intact.” There’s a rococo look to it as well, from the sunny, golden exteriors in Mallorca to the literally glittering interiors–and costumes. And Piero Umiliani’s loungey score repeats the title theme when apropos, and otherwise provides a pleasantly snazzy background.

Bill: I also ask that they not obscure half of the screen with an out of focus drinking glass, but that’s just me.

Fisty: Boor. Swine. Uncultured lout.

ladies and gentlemen

ladies and gentlemen

home movies

home movies

there's something about maurice

there’s something about maurice

Bill: Snob. Are we finished here? Did we get back to how this is a giallo? Because there are a lot of arguments about that.

Fisty: Oh yeah. You’re right, I’ve seen these arguments come up for well, almost every non-classico giallo, it sometimes seems. We’ve touched on it previously with Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Luciano Ercoli’s 1970 giallo  la femme (that’s not really a thing), and again with Massimo Dallamano’s 1972 schoolgirl giallo What Have You Done to Solange? Along different lines, Luigi Cozzi’s 1973 genre-bender The Killer Must Kill Again labors under the same accusation for different reasons. Shoots, even a prime example of the classico giallo like Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark has had such aspersions cast at it–seriously!–which just goes to show, not only are some people plumb crazy, but the definition of giallo is as nebulous, and ambiguous as the films themselves.

A generic definition that can (debatably) encompass such outliers as Argento’s Suspiria and Phenomena or Fulci’s The New York Ripper can certainly include films of a less fantastical or gruesome nature. But it’s not even about what we can stretch the definition to include, but what films make up an integral core of the filone. In that the Sixties gialli–lenziani or no–tend to be along the lines of the sexy inheritance thriller, referencing noir and Hitchcock and Clouzot, Lenzi’s thrillers absolutely typify this approach. While he did not necessarily innovate–Bill’s BFF Romolo Guerreri busted The Sweet Body of Deborah out in 1968, not to mention Bava’s previous contributions–Lenzi absolutely refined and realized the generic potential of these thrillers when he dominated the filone.

This type would flourish mainly in the Sixties, and the beginning of the Seventies, but would continue to affect the filone even after Bird’s excesses. Later gialli that place the emphasis on suspense as opposed to mystery, the inheritance thriller-type giallo, the gaslight giallo, the intimate giallo based on internal concerns–adultery, incest, etc–instead of the eyewitness, these are all related to the sexy thriller lenziani and its success. I dare say that virtually all of Sergio Martino’s classic gialli bear the imprint of the sexy thriller lenziani, and traces are found throughout many post-Argento films such as Forque’s In the Eye of the Hurricane or Picciolo’s The Flower with Petals of Steel.

probably an entire reel of blurry glass footage

probably an entire reel of blurry glass footage

ring ring ring ring ring ring ring giallo phone!

ring ring ring ring ring ring ring giallo phone!

party time, excellent

party time, excellent

Bill: I really did love The Sweet Body of Deborah. And going back to the cast “inhabit[ing] their roles,” you didn’t mention her, but Marina Coffa as Susan is just perfect. She embodies Susan so well that the second she’s on screen, before she’s even had a chance to act, I knew she was trouble. I’ve never seen her in anything else and I kind of wish she’d done more. Now, about the debt Martino owes Lenzi… Yeah. I can’t deny that. And I love Martino. Everything you’ve said about Lenzi and about this movie is true. I’ve been kind of critical of it and it isn’t my favorite lenziani, or even my favorite of the So Sweet… So Perverse/Orgasmo/Paranoia trilogy–I liked Orgasmo better–but I want to reiterate: I LIKE THIS MOVIE. My criticisms are minor, mostly adding up to, “I think this other movie is better,” and, “Blurry cups!” But just because I don’t consider it perfect, doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It would definitely surprise anyone that only knows Lenzi from his later films. But maybe it shouldn’t. He adapted to smaller budgets and changing audience desires and his later movies, while maybe not showing quite the technical proficiency he does here, are still precisely what he meant them to be and perfectly typify the times in which he made them. I can’t ever remember being bored while watching a Lenzi movie. Bottom line: He’s better than he gets credit for being.

Don’t worry about me, you’re the one sitting in the death seat. Ultimately, A Quiet Place to Kill is a fine film, a perfectly typical sexy thriller lenziani. With fine characterizations perfectly played by its cast, exotic and glamorous locales, a jazzy score, and a delightfully intricate yet tight storyline. While not as bloodily thrilling as later, post-Argento gialli, AQP2K–and others of its type–create a sensual atmosphere brimming with lasciviousness and intrigue. They are dependent upon not only the looks and attitudes of their characters, but also the psychology; instead of witnessing violent tableaux, we explore the ambiguous relations between the characters. The success of the sexy thrillers lenziani lies in the deliciously trashy spectacle of pretty people doing ugly things to one another in glamorous places.

 

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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

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!