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.)

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

really, what?

Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?
aka What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?
aka Why Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?
aka The Case of the Bloody Iris
aka Das Geheimnis der blutigen Lilie
aka Las lágrimas de Jennifer
aka Les rendez-vous de Satan
aka Rendez-vous avec la mort
aka Erotic Blue
Director: Giuliano Carnimeo
Released: 1972
Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Paola Quattrini, Annabella Incontrera, Carla Brait
Running time: 94 min
Genre: giallo

The neighbors were almost unanimous that she wasn’t a nice girl. At a payphone, a call is made. A woman answers, telling the beautiful blonde in the phonebooth to “Come on up.” Hanging up, she saunters through the busy city to Bruno Nicolai’s sweetly jazzy score, a bright spot of mauve on a grey and taupe street. She arrives at a building and joins the throng entering the elevator. As the crowded elevator ascends, no one seems much interested in anyone else. As it rises, stopping to let off and take on passengers, someone in black surreptitiously dons brown rubber gloves. At the unlucky thirteenth floor, all but one passenger and blonde exit, and as the doors close, the other passenger turns to her, quickly muffling her with a cloth. He whips out a small blade, and stabs her! Twice in the belly, then a slice across her slender throat, and the unbelieving girl collapses, dead. At the sixteenth floor, the killer leaves, but not before sending the elevator up to the twentieth floor, where she’s found by a curious trio of residents: Mizar Harrington, Professor Isaacs, and Mrs Moss. The three have a common bond in living on the top floor of the building, but are otherwise near strangers.

Wanting to avoid trouble, Mizar and Mrs Moss vamoose before the police arrive, leaving the professor to make a statement. Elsewhere, the de-boner architect Andrea (George Hilton!) and nebbish yet ultra-campy photographer Arthur discuss advertising theory and exoticism in the latter’s studio. While Arthur suggests the “black but not too black” Mizar as perfect to advertise Andrea’s new slumapartment building, Andrea’s attention is caught by the luminous Jennifer (Edwige Fenech!) and her groovy bodypaint. Though Arthur dismisses models Jennifer and Marilyn as “good for certain things,” Andrea can’t help but wonder …

room for one more

good for something

come on, handsome, show your stuff.

Later that evening, we spot Andrea in the crowd at a nightclub, sampling the exotic entertainment: Mizar’s sexual wrestling act, chock full o’ gymnastics,  innuendo, and torn off clothing. Andrea displays his love of chivalry, impressing Mizar and scoring a clandestine appointment with her. Back at the studio, Jennifer and Arthur are working on a clearly haute couture spread–the old mattress she’s rolling around on in her sheer negligee is a dead giveaway. But in the midst of her fierce smizing, Jennifer catches a glimpse of her ex-husband Adam, sending her into a flashback of his free love cult and kaleidoscopic orgies, and she collapses in hysteria. Even later that night, Mizar arrives home and sensibly decides to take the stairs up to her flat. Only when she gets there, it seems there’s someone else already home, and that they don’t have good intentions. A chase ensues in the darkened apartment, and the undefeated Mizar is hog-tied, stripped, and then left in a filling bathtub to drown.

A random elevator murder is one thing, but another murder the same night, in the same building, of the first person on the scene to the previous murder, and well, even the lackadaisical detectives in Italy are interested. More-so in philately, but you take what you can get these days, eh? The police commissioner and his assistant begin poking around the building and examining Mizar’s acquaintances, searching for a connexion between the two women other than approximate geographical location at the time of death. Soon enough the shiftily suave Andrea comes to their attention, but his attention is all on Miss Jennifer. Using his influence, Andrea secures the lease on Mizar’s now vacated apartment for Jennifer and Marilyn, and the two are soon creepily ensconced in the murder building, surrounded by elderly voyeurs and a stunning lesbian, stalked by ex-husbands, architects, and faceless killers. With so many red herrings, what more can a girl do but scream helplessly in her fashionable romper and cape ensemble?

figurative bloody iris

literal bloody iris

yet another kind of iris

A girl could get murdered for no motive at all. What if Seven Blood-Stained Orchids and All the Colors of the Dark had a baby and gave it up for adoption, only to have it raised by Strip Nude for Your Killer? Then you might get something like The Case of the Bloody Iris aka the awkward but infinitely more exciting What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body? (or WaTSDoBDoJB?!). Starring the Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd of giallo, Edwige Fenech and George Hilton; supported by a cast of genre stalwarts such as Luciano Pigozzi, Carla Mancini, and George Rigaud; with a jaunty score by Bruno Nicolai; and written by Ernesto Gastaldi, WaTSDoBDoJB? is a veritable Who’s Who of gialli. Director Giuliano Carnimeo cribs from Sergio Martino while turning the Style up and the Logic down, and the end result is a charmingly sleazy romp.

Fisty: On first viewing, I was actually less than impressed by The Case of the Bloody Iris. I think that had a lot to do with my being super sick and all messed up on cough syrup just like nevermind. I was reluctant to view it again for purposes of reviewing, but once I was able to sit down and peruse it with a clear mind, I was totally hooked. It might not be High Art; it might not be Deep; it might have little to say other than, “Hey, everybody! Let’s have some fun! Check out these titties!” (cue Dr Nick’s voice if you haven’t already), but WaTSDoBDoJB? manages to be utterly shameless without being mean-spirited, and that lends it a certain charm that will likely make it one of my all-time favorite gialli.

Notable among its strengths is giallo‘s golden couple: Edwige Fenech and George Hilton. Carnimeo doesn’t just toss the them onto a set, shout “You better work!,” and start filming, he and cinematographer Stelvio Massi take the time to have the camera make sweet, sweet love to the pair, and Edwige and Hilton have rarely looked better than they do in their capable hands. This was actually his fifth film with the diabolically handsome Hilton (out of a total of eight), and after WaTSDoBDoJB? Edwige and Carnimeo would work on another four films together. And who could blame her? The always alluring Edwige is positively luminous here, whether nude or clothed.

never not pretty

never not pretty, part the seconde

the equivalent of the entire operation castle test series

Bill: Or painted! Man, she looks great in body paint. I don’t think it’s possible for her to not look great. You could dress her in clown clothes, with, like,  a comically over-sized tie or something, and she’d still make it look sexy. Did you see her in Hostel 2? What was there, almost 40 years between WaTSDoBDoJB? and Hostel 2? And she still looked amazing. It’s downright unnatural. She’s like a dark-haired Galadriel, beautiful and eternal. If I ever meet her, I will ask for one strand of her hair. Then I’ll eat it, just to have her inside of me. Sigh. She really is magical. I haven’t even been alive as many years as there are between those two movies and I’ve looked like shit for a long time now. I’ve already done my “I ❤ Edwige” spiel in an earlier review, so I’ll shut up about Her Mystical Hottiness and we can talk about something that doesn’t look like shit–that thing being, of course, WaTSDoBDoJB? (I love typing that out). Am I right or what?

Fisty: For once you’re right. It’s a great looking film in pretty much every way. Carnimeo pulls out the stops using all kinds of exciting complex compositions to heighten the thrills, from wide angle close-ups and high-angle long shots to exotic angles and increasingly bizarre deep focus shots. Is there no prop too mundane to frame? If I didn’t know any better, I might hazard a guess that Sergio Martino’s hands were all over WaTSDoBDoJB? as Carnimeo’s stylish, thrilling approach channels that master. But considering his work in spaghetti Westerns, including a few of the Sartana flicks, it’s unsurprising that WaTSDoBDoJB? would be so slickly entertaining and attractive. Much like Gianfranco Parolini (originator of Sartana) , Carnimeo’s approach was highly stylized, resulting in eminently consumable, formulaic entries in the “circus” sub-genre, which was heavily influenced by pepla, acrobatic martial-arts movies, and especially the frivolity and sexy time of Bond films. The guiding philosophy behind many of Parolini’s efforts just seems to be “People like this stuff, so let’s throw shit at the screen and see what happens” as opposed to the carefully crafted visions that say, Corbucci or Leone were producing; Carnimeo does him one better without getting too deep. If Martino’s approach was subliminal and Parolini’s super-liminal, then Carnimeo’s is just plain liminal.

architecture!

excitement!

art!

That Bondian puerility is manifest in WaTSDoBDoJB?, but that’s exactly what the producers and audience were after, making it a success. Marilyn’s character, played by Paola Quattrini, is one of the most obvious markers of WaTSDoBDoJB?’s puckish nature. She is that cute-funny character so popular as leavening in spaghetti Westerns, like Dusty in If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death; sadly, that character type was one of the markers of decline for that genre, and with its appearance here in WaTSDoBDoJB? heralds the same for giallo. (After all, 1971-72 were the pinnacle of the genre; post-1972 output –with exceptions; we haven’t forgotten Profondo Rosso–tend to fall at the lower end of the spectrum of quality, however entertaining they may be. Of course, that assumes that WaTSDoBDoJB? is a quality film, and well, that’s what we’re exploring here.) Frankly, Marilyn is irritating (much as those characters typically are in spaghetti Westerns), and her cutely ditzy qualities practically scream “MURDER ME PLZ, KTHXBAI” from her very first scene.  I still find her bizarre non sequiturs largely funny, to be honest. The same goes for the Dippity Duo of Commisioner and Detective, the latter of whom is comi-tragically terrible at his job, insofar as even random passersby can identify him as an undercover cop. The former of course is awesomely nonchalant, taking the “incompetent cops” trope to amazing new heights of pilfering and sleaze. Need it be said? LOVE him!

Some of the playfulness that makes it so, well, almost innocently sleazy is that sort of deliberate broad humor–the rest seems unintentional and often stems from the gulf of distance between us as viewers and contemporary cinematic values. And though that might drive some people up the proverbial wall, for us as appreciators of sleaze and at a distance of forty years (HOLY SHIT, WAT) it’s just part of the lowest common denominator charm of the giallo. Unlike in say, Martino’s work (the obvious comparison), there’s no subtext about semi-submerged sexual desires, or exploration of repression, it’s just text about tits and ass and good times. As Arthur would say, “Have a drink–there’s cognac, gin, there’s garters, brassieres.”

that’s quirky!

sanguine finger

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

Bill: Marilyn marks the decline of your ass! Don’t talk poop about her; I like that girl. She’s fun like Shelley from Friday the 13th Part 3, only she’s a girl and she’s cute. I would hang out with her if her chances of getting murdered weren’t astronomically high. (I don’t want to be collateral damage.) But I get what you’re saying: She, and the general silliness of this movie, mark it as being sort of the Jason Takes Manhattan or Leprechaun of gialli, rather than a Halloween or Black Christmas. It’s gonzo porn, just the good stuff, none of the bits you have to sit and think about. That’s what I like most about something like WaTSDoBDoJB? or even SN4YKthey’re straight up, good-time movies for light, breezy viewing. You can watch it and be entertained while doing a bunch of other things and never worry about missing something or not understanding some bit of it if you do miss anything. Even when it pokes at the audience, as when a newsstand proprietor says, “To really like horror tales, you have to be nuts,” it comes off as more of a playful elbow in the ribs from a friend, rather than the kind of indictment you get from something like What Have You Done to Solange?.

I really should make clear, though, that while WaTSDoBDoJB? may be the Evil Toons of giallo, that doesn’t mean it looks as cheap or amateurish as all that. When slashers declined, the quality of the movies overall dropped, while with gialli, even the sillier, almost self-parodic ones still [Fisty: “usually”] had great production values, style, charming actors, great camera work (there’s a neat move during Mizar’s wrestling scene where one of her kicks that knocked her opponent down also knocked the camera on its side, which added impact and energy to the fight, but without being confusing or overly jittery like the shaky cam crap that’s abused in action scenes today) and were still technically accomplished and professional looking films.

Fisty: Pretty sure I already said that, dude, but yes. Good lookin’ movies. As for “light, breezy viewing,” that is exactly how they were intended. One thing that is important (and AWESOME) about Italian vernacular cinema is that it was intended for the unwashed masses, hoi polloi. Gialli–like spaghetti Westerns before them and poliziotteschi after–were released into the terza visione theaters, those largely rural theaters patronized by the working class. Terza visione audiences were more like later television audiences, going to the theater out of habit and treating it as a social occasion, talking, eating, and drinking during the show. Looking the giallo’sdisposition to exciting and elaborate set pieces separated by periods of ignorable exposition would seem to support such behaviors. I mean, I certainly don’t mind grabbing a beer while the detective chats up the newsstand guy.

the best a man can get

you’re an object and you belong to me.

maybe it’s maybelline

Where was I going with this? Ummm … maybe I was just restating that WaTSDoBDoJB? is a prime example of giallo as spectacle, and that Carnimeo provides the audience–then and now–with exactly what they desire in the way of fun fashion, thrilling escapades, titillating T&A, and sanguinary kills.

Bill: You know, I like the movies, but I would’ve hated terza visione audiences. They’d probably all have their bright-as-a-million-exploding-suns cellphones out, texting, while I was trying to watch the movie.

Fun fashion, thrilling escapades, titillating T&A and … you forgot, memorably bizarre characters. They might not be quite as out-there as Robert Sacchi as your main cop, but man, are they weirdos. Jennifer herself, other than her clothing choices, isn’t so bad. She has a bad habit of getting sexually assaulted multiple times a day, (which never seems to be a big deal and is usually treated as a preface to someone else trying to get in her pants) but other than that, she’s basically a normal girl. Fisty already talked about ditzy Marilyn and the comic cops that are more interested in stamp collecting and how to file booze in the filing cabinets than murder, but there are so many more: a lecherous lesbian; an architect whose fear of blood has almost nothing to do with anything else in the movie, but is treated like the most important clue ever, even warranting its own flashback; the meanest, nastiest old widow ever; a black Amazon wrestler/model/stripper; a bizarre ancestor to both Bad Ronald and Freddy Krueger; the violinist nut that plays all night long, like some wannabe Erich Zann; and the coolest flamboyantly gay photographer ever, Arthur! Seriously, I love Arthur. Almost all his lines kill.

Fisty: Arthur is great, and he’s got great lines–though I hated him on my first viewing. He is also treated FAIRLY well, hardly tarred with the brush of perversion at all, and sniping and snarking right back at the police for example. And well, he doesn’t die. He gets the better of the giallo‘s usually shitty treatment of homosexuality; he’s neither victim nor killer, but rather comic relief. The Sapphic Sheila however, the predatory lesbian neighbor, receives the usual treatment reserved for lesbians, being a lust object, and also is simultaneously aggressor and victim. Ultimately perversion, or the perception of it, forms the motive for the killings, and WaTSDoBDoJB? doesn’t stray from the herd on finding male homosexuality laughable and female threatening.

girl, please

talkin’ ’bout philately

KILLERMAN

They’re just two of a complete cast of whackadoodles, a veritable grotesquerie, wherein character depth is swapped for bizarre hilarity; Bill is correct about WaTSDoBDoJB? being made of up quite the eccentric ensemble. The whole movie is kind of an eccentric ensemble, though, with things like Adam’s free love cult and Mizar’s [exoticism alert!] nightclub act thrown in for the hell of it. That’s how the whole thing is, though; if I were to pick a single adjective to describe WaTSDoBDoJB?, it would be “gratuitous.” Everything in the movie is wildly gratuitous, and as long as you can appreciate that, you should enjoy it.

I guess Jennifer might be “normal” compared to the rest, as normal as a sexually continent English model cum free love cult goddess inhabiting a giallo can be called normal. Her character really plumbs the depths of shallowness, being nothing so much as a walking case of hysterics. She just bounces from scene to scene either being assaulted, fleeing in terror, or having the screaming mimis; she’s very nearly a parody of Jane in AtCotD. Oh, and changing her clothes. Girl has a costume change for every scene and in half of them, I swear. And each outfit is progressively more amazing. Do I love the Thirties gangster-inspired pinstriped romper with ginormous white tie and topped an Indian blanket coat most? Or the Robin Hood-channeling ochre turtleneck beneath green suede vest and hotpants combo with knee high boots and a fuckin’ CAPE? Color me amazed. Just more of that delicious eye candy!

Though there’s not a lot under the surface, there’s still a lot more we could touch on–the apartment building as a scene of the crime, the silly looped ending–but I think we’ve said enough.

A pretty girl is never ridiculous. But The Case of the Bloody Iris–aka What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?–often is. Taking all the best over the top qualities of the genre and still presenting some of the worst, WaTSDoBDoJB? is an exercise in gratuity, with all the T&A, murder, and madness you could desire. It makes a perfect entry point for gialli, giving a new viewer a very good idea of the best and worst to expect while still remaining amusing and never taking itself seriously. In a year which saw the release of so many of the best and/or most notable gialli (heavy hitters like Don’t Torture a Duckling, Who Saw Her Die?, What Have You Done to Solange?, All the Colors of the Dark, Seven Blood-stained Orchids, and Death Walks at Midnight), WaTSDoBDoJB? makes for a delightful amuse bouche. High expectations or a low tolerance for silliness will likely find it irritating or worse, but Carnimeo’s one giallo is mostly harmless and plenty of fun.

suspicious edwige is suspicious

twice as nice

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

What Have You Done to Solange?

really, what?

Cosa avete fatto a Solange?
aka Das Geheimnis der grünen Stecknade
aka Terror in the Woods
aka The School That Couldn’t Scream
aka The Secret of the Green Pins
aka Who’s Next?
Director: Massimo Dallamano
Released: 1972
Starring: Fabio Testi, Cristina Galbó, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger, Camille Keaton
Running time: 103 min
Genre: giallo, krimi

Now you just think about screwing and grit your teeth. Proper Rape Vans being in short supply in ’70s London, the incredibly handsome and exquisitely bearded Italian Professor Enrico Rosseni drifts lazily along a wooded shore in his “Free Candy” boat, making time with Elizabeth, one of his young students from St. Mary’s Catholic College for Girls. Breaking from his embrace, Elizabeth claims to have seen someone being chased through the woods and the flash of a knife. Pretty sure that she’s just making up excuses to delay their inevitable sexin’ and just a bit irate that she’s not giving in so easily to his lovely beard, Rosseni gets snippy and rows them to the shore, to prove to her that there is no madman in the woods chasing anyone down. (Clearly, he needs to watch more movies.) When Elizabeth begins crying, he realizes that while he may be molesterific, being a dick on top of that is in bad form, and so he agrees to leave.

The next morning Rosseni, while getting dressed and being hostile to his Teutonically stern and beautiful wife Herta, hears a radio broadcast describing the grisly discovery of a murdered girl on the banks of the Thames. Curious, he heads back to the spot Elizabeth claimed to have seen the flashing blade and finds it crawling with cops. She was right! Arriving at the school, he’s greeted by even more police. It seems the murdered girl was one of his students, one of his young lover’s friends. Elizabeth wants to help the police, but Enrico convinces her that doing so would reveal their illicit affair, so they keep their secret. Inspector Barth, the lead investigator on the case, knows Rosseni is hiding something. And with Rosseni’s pen being found near the murdered girl and his appearance there during the initial crime scene investigation, he becomes the prime suspect.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth continues to pick at her memories of the day, piecing together a better image of the killer. Was he … a priest? Why target “innocent” schoolgirls? The killer keeps on doin’ what he do and kills more girls from the school and begins stalking Elizabeth. Herta grows more suspicious of her husband. The girls take a lot of awesome communal showers in front of a peephole and there are priests and naughty schoolgirls aplenty as Rosseni races to find the killer with only a tantalizing clue: Who is Solange … and what was done to her?

They knew the score–you know, sex, man. Despite the sordid topics touched on (abortion, naughty schoolgirls, pervert priests, statutory rape, adultery, etc), Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? manages to be one of the least sleazy gialli. Instead of splashing the red stuff around in elaborate kill scenes, Dallamano sticks with one profoundly grisly modus operandi used judiciously. Add thoughtfully developed characters and plot, and only a dash of sex, and it makes for an unusually sensitive, chaste, and even poignant giallo.

not a little bit sleazy

the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist

the hip bone’s connected to the  …

Bill: Man, what a fantastic confluence of talent in this flick. Dallamano, directing here,  is best known as the cinematographer on A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. Joe D’Amato, who made, like, five million filthy movies, does the cinematography here. It’s got a score by Ennio “Even John Williams Wishes He Could Be Me” Morricone. And it co-stars Cristina Galbó from Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and The Killer Must Kill Again (still not giving it up, the prude) and  none other than rape/revenge superstar, Camille Keaton, famous for her role in I Spit on Your Grave, as Solange!

Fisty: Yeah, thanks to Dallamano’s work with D’Amato/Aristide Massaccesi, WHYDtS? is a gorgeous movie, even without the operatic, (overly) theatrical approach of Argento, or the hallucinatory jewel tones of Bava. And Morricone’s score is appropriately romantic and jangling as the situation calls for, his usual excellent work. And let’s give some kudos to co-writer Bruno Di Geronimo, because without the coherent storyline, Solange would have been that much less effective.

And we’ve got talented and pretty faces in this Italian-West German co-production: krimi stalwart Joachim Fuchsberger and cinematic workhorse Karin Baal, familiar Italian faces like Vittorio Fanfoni (Who Saw Her Die?, Trinity is STILL My Name), and of course Italo-superstar Fabio Testi (The Big Racket, Four of the Apocalypse) and scream queen Cristina Galbó. Well, maybe scream princess or duchess. Seriously though, we see her boobs, but does she ever give it up?

never gonna give it up

enrico’s angels

where angels go, trouble follows

Bill: No. No she does not (that I can recall.) Here we are, a movie removed, in a completely different review, and I’m still bitching about her not giving up the booty. If Margot Kidder were here, she’d be on my side. She totally knows  a professional virgin when she sees one. WHYDtS? doesn’t even have a Femi to fall back on for some sex. Consequently, as mentioned earlier, this ends up being fairly chaste for a giallo. Galbo’s Elizabeth always stops prior to actual intercourse. Enrico and Herta, even when they are working as a team, never get it on. The girls at St. Mary’s are supposed to be real turned-on chicks, swingers, man. And into lesbian orgies. You never see any of that, however. It’s mentioned, but never shown. And even when talking about what crazy little sexpots they all were, the hepcat Rosseni is pumping for information clarifies that they never do any real screwing, not with guys.

This puritanical streak is damn near American. It might be the most “American” giallo I’ve seen. It’s very polished. It was filmed in English. The plot is pretty straight forward, coherent, with no super secret inheritance or other crazy, out-of-left-field motivations popping up at the last second. You don’t get the surreal, sometimes nonsensical, nightmare imagery that Argento and imitators’ flicks are known for.  The movie isn’t particularly concerned with style, architechture (though, there are some really neat shots of a the inside of the school), design, or fashion. Hell, Enrico’s sweater is actually really freakin’ ugly. Bill Cosby wouldn’t wear the thing.  WHYDtS?almost feels like it could’ve come out of Hollywood. If you had a friend that had never seen a giallo and you wanted to ease them into the genre, rather than just dunk them, this would be the movie to do it with. I read that this movie got wider States-side distribution than a lot of other gialli. I can see why that would be. This one could actually have a bit of appeal for a general American audience. Though, I’m not sure how well the killer’s preferred method of murder would play to them. Yikes.

you really don’t want to see this

you want to put what where?

the creepy doll just turns this up to eleven

Fisty: I’d like to say here that I think it’s kind of hilarious that you ascribe a more chaste or “puritanical” film to an American perspective, especially in light of brouhahas over sex n’ violence in film. But I totally get it.

Solange stands out in a genre known for sex, violence, and campiness because it is so conspicuously lacking in all three respects. As Bill mentioned, pretty much all the sexing is talked about and not something we see onscreen (though we do get some cunning linguistics between Enrico the Italian teacher and Elizabeth the student). The violence–though effective and distinctly unsettling– is mostly offscreen as well, left to our imaginations, and we see only the effects of the horribly brutal MO. And the camp stylings are very sedate, limited mostly to the sexy, sexy photographer and his milkmaid. For crying out loud, despite Enrico’s omnipresent chic turtleneck, his sweater is 100% Rufus Humphrey–ugh. So that brings us to the question: If it doesn’t look like a duck, swim like a duck, or talk like a duck, is it still a duck? I’ll hazard the answer “yes.” And no, it’s not recondite to make a genre film that doesn’t use the genre tropes when the tropes of which we speak are superficial markers and not the main concerns of gialli. Obscured by elaborate murder set pieces, sexy sexiness, and ludicrous maccaroni fashions is a concept that makes up the very bones of the giallo (all the way back to Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much aka The Evil Eye and Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), that of the eye-witness.

There are reminders of the importance of, as well as the sometimes fallible and sometimes delusive nature of witnessing scattered throughout WHYD2S?. Enrico’s friend–the only witness to a very shocking murder (Seriously, I did not see that murder coming, and it threw me for a loop. It’s City of the Dead mind-bottling.)–cannot possibly identify the killer in a police line-up because he is bewildered by the killer’s masquerade and he can barely think (or see) straight. (Of course, the murderer is disguised in order to obfuscate any potential witnesses.) Phil the hottie photographer (a profession by its very nature concerned with observation and seeing) provides Enrico with the most important clues to the mystery of Solange and the secret world of the naughty schoolgirls. When Enrico arrives at Phil’s houseboat, he is spied upon by the model, and when Phil and Enrico converse, Phil is initially in the extreme foreground (HOTNESS), using his camera as he relates his observations of the girls to Enrico. The girls are spied upon in the showers and in the confessional too, in both instances their most private, vulnerable places.

two turned-on dudes

i always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me

beautiful girl or candlestick?

Of course, from the very opening scene Elizabeth is the primary eye-witness; though she barely knows what she saw, she did see it, and she saw more than she realizes, hence her later recollections in dreams and visions, mediums that are normally highly suspect but common to the giallo. Her witnessing of the murder runs so deep that she may well be linked somehow to the killer, and that lies in her being witness to the events that started the mystery to begin with: what was done to Solange. So too are the girls witnesses, for though they may be in a sense peripheral to what was done because of their role as spectators, all but two of them were more deeply involved in placing Solange in those circumstances. However, the two girls who were ONLY spectators bear equal responsibility–according to the killer, who has them on his naughty list–thus placing the emphasis again on the eye-witness.

Bill: I initially thought you were crazy–and reaching–but you may be on to something. The idea of spectators being equally responsible may even extend to the viewer. The movie uses the killer’s POV several times, most fantastically in a fisheye shot of the killer sneaking into an apartment to commit a hella shocking murder. Those POV shots shift the audience from just watching the killings to actually participating, making us–as the sickos that want to see this crap–just as guilty as the murderer in the movie. If this is one of those movies that gives its fans the stink-eye for getting their kicks from this kind of sick exploitation and violence, that might explain why the movie doesn’t revel in those aspects of the giallo. It makes me wonder what Dallamano might have thought about the popularity of the genre. It would also make for some tasty irony if a movie that sought to condemn its audience for being sickos played a bigger role in the evolution of the slasher than a lot of other, more trashy gialli.

Everyone knows that Twitch of the Death Nerve was a huge influence on the Friday the 13th movies and that gialli, in general, were, at the least, the slasher’s cool uncle with a bitchin’ bachelor pad and a different girlfriend every visit. And everyone knows that Black Christmas was a pretty big deal as a proto slasher, begetting Halloween which, in turn, beget Friday the 13th and so on and on and on. I’m wondering if WHYDtS? might not have been a huge influence on Black Christmas. I don’t know if Bob Clark ever saw Solange?, but the movies share a whole lot of similarities: Plot aspects dealing with abortion, a group of school girlfriends as the primary victims, a matronly figure to the girls who may not be the ideal role model (also a victim), phone stalking by the killer, the use of the killer’s POV, which was considered a big deal in Black Christmas and then later Halloween and …

Fisty: Dude in a turtleneck! How could you miss dude in the turtleneck?

feel free to admire my turtleneck and cardigan

then who was shovel?

it is better to have shoveled and lost, than never to have shoveled at all

Bill: It’s so obvious! You can even find some shots with similar composition in both films. And WHYDtS? does eschew the typically more adult world of the average giallo for a younger victim pool of nubile teens, something that became common for slashers. You can interpret a moralistic bent to the murders in Solange, as well, similar to the drink/fuck/smoke=death trend people often attribute to slashers. The similarities between BC and WHYDtS? make a pretty solid bridge between their respective genres.

Fisty: But I so did not see that connection between the two, and it makes a lot of sense in retrospect. But we can’t ask Bob Clark, damn it! There are a few differences, however, which largely highlight some of the changes in the shift from giallo to slasher. Motivation is a big one: Most slasher villains are just fucking nuts without real motives. Clearly some do have them (Mrs Voorhees, Cropsy, etc), but many do not (Michael Myers, Russ Thorn, etc). There’s also the MO, which tends to be pretty consistent, or have a consistency about it, in gialli, whereas unless there’s a weapon of choice, many slashers are opportunistic hello, Jason!). Solange‘s killer uses the truly demented vaginal stabbing (Bill:ICK!) in every case but one, that exception being the TRULY SHOCKING MURDER mentioned above. And there are good reasons for that–though I might argue over them. But they’re relevant, and the imagery is striking, especially in light of later revelations.

There’s a lot more we could touch on, like the youth culture explosion Dallamano explores, the  morality of the various situations, and how Solange addresses female sexual agency, but we’ve blathered enough at this point. We also agreed that there are a few things we don’t want to spoiler in this one (though other reviews cheerfully do so, so beware), which kind of hinders some further discussion.

headed for cat-astrophe

csi: london, 1972

now that you’ve found love

Bill: Wait! We’re done?! We didn’t even talk about how blindingly, flawlessly handsome Enrico is. Or how characters and relationships that you expect to be shallow or harsh end up being sweet and genuine. You never talked about the cute scene you like where Enrico drives alongside Elizabeth on her bike, honking his horn at her and smiling, like a big sixteen-year-old. I didn’t even talk about the communal showers and that nude photo model’s milky titties!

Fisty: Ohmahgawd, Enrico is pants-droppingly fine! (Even in that fug sweater!) And yes, the relationships (I touched on this) and characters are often surprising (I think that one we’re talking around, not about, is a krimi thing, but I’m not familiar with those, so I’m not sure. Anyone know this?) I know you wanted to mention Herta, and what an awesome character she is. And yes! That scene! I think that one is the clincher for me that makes Enrico’s relationship with Elizabeth seem much more of a real thing, not a sordid affair but rather a genuine (if inappropriate) romance. Cutely creepy.  It’s part of the surprising depth Dallamano gives the characters; though on the surface his relationship with Elizabeth, his student, is sleazy (more so today than then, I think), it’s also poignantly romantic. We also see surprising sweetness in his often strained relations with Herta, a sweetness that suggests an emotional depth and a neediness outside the realm of the usual machismo (I’m looking at you, Carlo). Gah, so much to touch on! If we don’t stop, this’ll be a ten thousand word entry!

mmmm, your hair smells of youth and impropriety

nothing’s sexier than a man who listens

in german you say “no no,” in italian we hear “yes yes”

What Have You Done to Solange? is a must-see giallo and should be on every checklist of essential gialli. Dallamano et alia have created a good-looking thriller that works for both mainstream audiences and giallo/krimi aficionados, one that focuses on people and relationships, substance over style. Touching on feminism, youth culture, and anti-clericalism, Dallamano has made a genre flick where the exploitation is incidental to the plot and characters. Solange has its share of brutal, deeply visceral violence, but it is packaged in beautiful cinematography, with beautiful faces and music, creating a palatable vision of despair. Plus, boobies n’ bush. 

French Sex Murders

better than portuguese handjob assaults

Casa d’appuntamento
aka The French Sex Murders
aka Das Auge des Bösen
aka La brigada del inspector Bogart
aka Maison de rendez-vous
aka The Bogeyman and the French Murders
Director: Ferdinando Merighi
Released: 1972
Starring: Anita Ekberg, Rosalba Neri, Evelyne Kraft, Barbara Bouchet, Howard Vernon, and Robert Sacchi
Running time: 83 minutes
Genre: giallo, exploitation

It all began on the last day of Carnival: The silhouette of a man leaps from the Eiffel Tower! Cut to the base of the Tower, where a man dashes toward it from one direction, while several cars full of men and gendarmes pull up from assorted directions. Then HUMPHREY FREAKING BOGART jumps out of a car, and they all give chase up the Tower! Upon reaching the observation deck, the man/silhouette leap (again), and Bogey lights a cigarette, then looks pensively down. A noir-ish voiceover tells us when it all began …

Jewel thief Antoine leaves the scene of the crime to shower baubles on his favorite hooker, Francine (Bouchet), at Madame Colette’s House of Ill Repute. Unfortunately, the very concept of a hooker doesn’t seem to sit well with the deranged Antoine, and he smacks his bitch up upon realizing that she does indeed make the sex with other men. Antoine is clearly crazy and a dick. He absconds, and her body is found bludgeoned to death. It seems obvious that Antoine is the killer, and he is pursued accordingly by Bogey–sorry, Inspector Pontaine (Sacchi). Antoine goes to his ex-wife Marianne (Neri) for help, but she and her lover/manager Pepi want none of that, and the hapless schmuck is soon caught, protesting his innocence all the while. Upon his arrest and sentencing, Antoine vows revenge upon all those who helped to convict an innocent–albeit derange and woman-beating–man. To further his vendetta, Antoine escapes prison and flees, only to be decapitated in a grisly motorbike accident. His head is handed over to the creepy Dr Waldemar (Vernon) for some totally pointless “experiments,” and we’re briefly distracted by some intrigue between Waldemar’s assistant Roger and his daughter Leonora (Kraft) before the Inspector pronounces the case closed.

death stalks la ville-lumière

Everyone can rest easy now, right?

Since this is a exploitation murder mystery, no. People continue to die right and left, all with a connexion–sometimes so entirely tangential as to appear invisible–to Madame Colette’s House of Happy Endings. Who could the killer be? Is it the pipe-smoking Professor of Prostitution? A hooded Satanic cabal? The Killer Nun–err, Madame Colette–herself? Could it be sleazy Roger? Or even Boris Karloff–I mean, Doctor Waldemar? Who knows? Merighis sure doesn’t seem to! We will visit scene after scene, murder after muder, and the cast will drop like flies until someone realizes a murder mystery requires a killer–and all will be revealed, culminating in the final chase we … already saw. Twice.

Play it again, Samuele: Not all gialli were created equal, and French Sex Murders is one of the most disadvantaged orphans of the genre. It has none of the style or visual flair key to stars in the giallo firmament, nor any suspense, and not very much gore. The plot is more confused than convoluted, and makes even less sense than that of most gialli. But a cast that’s a virtual Who’s Who of Eurocult cinema, a swinging score by Bruno Nicolai, insane edits by Bruno Mattei, and the nonsensical gimmick of a Humphrey Bogart-lookalike make it a worthwhile diversion for the (very) tolerant fan.

when worlds collide

Bill: Remember that awesome scene in Point Break, when Johnny Utah is chasing a president through back yards and alleys and they’re leaping fences and throwing a dog around and it’s exciting and fast-paced and gets you all pumped? French Sex Murders starts off exactly like that scene, only it’s not awesome and it doesn’t have the same excitement and action or even a dog, but it does have some cops making a big deal of jumping over a chain that was so low they could’ve easily stepped over it. Oh, and Johnny Utah is Humphrey Bogart and the man in the president mask is a cartoon silhouette. Yes, Humphrey Bogart. Or, rather the man with Bogart’s face, Robert Sacchi. He’s not the only familiar face. Just as Point Break had an awesome cast of recognizable actors (at least to mainstream American audiences,) FSM’s cast, while maybe not the Eurosleaze all-star team, could definitely be the Eurosleaze all-stars B or C-team. This cast, the complete absurdity of the movie, and some laughably inept acting, however, are all the movie has going for it. French Sex Murders, I mean, not Point Break.

Fisty: I especially like the cast credits over the laissez-faire chase scene; excitement is created by all the infamous names flashing by, but not by the chase itself. It’s a very subtle way to distract viewers’ attentions from the many shortcomings of not only the opening scene, but the entire film. After all, one can coast on the pleasure of seeing Evelyne Kraft, Rosalba Neri, or Barbara Bouchet for quite a while–or Howard Vernon if that’s your bag.

"oh, nothing much. 'sup with you, girl?"

That amazing cast influences the wacky plot, too. Apparently, it was common practice to feature alternate edits–sometimes differing wildly–for different countries, often focusing on a star who was particularly popular in a given country. A cheap exploitation flick like French Sex Murders (I’ll never make an initialism of that title because I enjoy saying it too much) would milk that dodge for all it was worth, as you can see if you try to follow along with French Sex Murder‘s plot. The good folks at Mondo Macabro took practically every inch of footage from every version, stringing it all together in what is touted as the longest, most complete version of French Sex Murders ever distributed, but whether that creates any clarity in the storyline, I’ll leave as an exercise for your divertissement.

Basically, nothing in French Sex Murders makes much sense. I know, I know, you’re saying, “But Fisty, how often do gialli make sense?” Yes, yes, as a genre, gialli do not have a reputation for being sensical. With all the red herrings flying about like fish at the Pike Place Market, and the boobies, and the psychedelica and the camp, the gore and the boobies, the crazy visual style and editing tricks, well … the actual story can get lost. But most have at least a pretext of plot, and the greats have more. French Sex Murders is not one of those. Everything in it is a red herring for exploitation’s sake, until they decided to just wrap it up already.

i'm not crying, i'm wondering about tony. wondering where he could be, who he is with, what he's thinking, whether he's thinking of me, and whether he'll ever return someday.

Ordinarily, you’ve got some amateurs investigating a murder (or murders), hindered by the hilariously incompetent police force. French Sex Murders has no amateurs doing anything at all but wandering around living their varied lives: Leonora and Roger have their affair and worry over it, Marianne sings and worries over her cheatin’ man, Waldemar messily mashes up a sheep’s eye for no particular reason, etc. Inspector Fontaine wrapped up the case after Antoine died, so he’s really not doing a whole lot after that other than the occasional narration, other than looking uncannily like a cross between Bogey, Nixon (Bill: like in Point Break!,) and my ex Sean. Ugh. People die. This isn’t even really explained as subplots, because they’re just the faintest traces of such. It’s more like the bare bones of five different movies (read: familiar and/or pretty faces) are all tossed together haphazardly till they stick in a semblance of a story. Mostly, people die that you’re expecting to die, so there’s not a lot of tension because, well, you’re already expecting it. Occasionally, someone else of no apparent import dies. Even the murders themselves are pretty tame, too, with some laughable effects, so the payoff for waiting and watching is insignificant.

it's a sexy party at madame colette's!

Bill: Antoine’s escape from the law is possibly the most useless twist in the film. He’s captured and tried and sentenced to die by the guillotine, which, shockingly, France was still using until 1977. I looked it up. This all seems to happen in, like, a day, by the way, with the trial – a murder trial with no real witnesses and a man’s life on the line – lasting all of two minutes! Nice courts, dick. Anyway, he lays a curse of revenge on everyone that allowed an innocent woman-beating thief to be executed for Francine’s death. This is cool. An innocent man is put to death, swears revenge and people start dying. I can dig that, only, in the next scene, you’re being informed that he’s escaped. They don’t show you this happening. They tell you with a news report. One second he’s screaming about a curse and the next, he’s on the loose. Now the supposed killer is on the loose and ready to carry out his revenge for the beheading he escaped. Fine.  Not as good of a story, but I’m still down. Only, then, they cut to him running from the cops. He steals a motorcycle and we get a really shitty motorbike chase with the cops that ends with him getting in an accident and losing his head.

WHY?!

If they were going to cut off his head anyway, why not just do it with the guillotine? Why was this chase even necessary? All his escape did was lessen the impact of his curse rant, make for even more of a convoluted plot and pad the run time with boring scenes of Antoine riding a motorcycle. Did Dick Randall just show up on set one day and demand a motorbike chase? (Fisty: Yes.) Did they not have a kung fu professor handy to shoehorn in that day? “Hey, Merighi, someone’s letting me borrow a motorcycle, write it in.” I mean, I could at least understand it if Martellanza was the kind of actor you just wanted to see more of, but he’s not. He’s terrible! His dick-flappingly angry explosion of man on woman violence against Francine should have been upsetting, but he’s so outrageously bad that the scene becomes unintentionally hilarious.

pb&g does not condone woman-beating, ever. unless she's really uppity.

Fisty: As a card-carrying humorless feminist who likes to shriek, “Misogyny” whenever she gets the chance, I must say that it is amazing how woman-beating becomes high comedy in the hands of skilled artisans. I love that Merighi keeps Bouchet fully dressed while Antoine’s willy waves in the wind–and that Martellanza desperately tries to keep it covered. His performance is nothing short of uh, remarkable. French Sex Murders is full of moments like that.

Bill: Like when one girl is accosted and all but raped in the club, and Marianne and Pepi just watch. And when Pepi finally does step up to stop the guy, Marianne interprets it as a sign of infidelity! And seduction in French Sex Murders seems to boil down to snatching a bitch up by the arm, spinning her around and slamming faces together, busting her lips with your teeth. I am surprised everyone walked away with all their teeth intact. There really is a lot of crazy to laugh at in this flick. We did mention that, right? Every murder flashes over in rainbow colors, like some twisted Skittles commercial. The courtroom scene flashes to negative. At one point, while the aging judge is on the verge of collapsing, looking like he’s having a heart attack, Waldemar, the DOCTOR, just suggests he go home and have a shot of Cognac. Alcoholism is the BEST heart medicine!

But it’s Bogey that really takes the prize. Inspector Pontaine just has to be the wackiest thing in the whole movie. One of these things is not like the other. He feels like he was snatched out of a completely different movie and dropped into this. It’s like having a Ru Paul impersonator play Gary Busey’s part in Point Break.  Even his dialog is out of place, with lines like, “You run a tight ship, Pepi. Better keep it on an even keel.” He just does not fit in this movie. Whoever had the idea to cast Sacchi and use him like this (probably Randall) is either completely mental or a true visionary. Either way, the total nuttiness of French Sex Murders is the saving grace of an otherwise stupid giallo that, despite its cast, can’t even manage to be sexy.

Fisty: Whoa, whoa, WHOA. Brandy IS medicinal, Bill. And lest we forget as Dr Johnson said, “Claret is the drink for boys, port for men, but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” Clearly, Waldemar is a hero. Acting out a Donkey-Skin fantasy, but a hero nonetheless.

definitely not an oedipal reference

I want to get back to where you were going with sex and the French murders. Considering it’s a giallo set in part in a brothel (and ostensibly named for it), French Sex Murders isn’t seductive in the least. There isn’t much nudity or sex–comparatively speaking. Merighi also keeps the focus largely on male characters; though the camera does follow Marianne and Leonora around for a while, it’s content to chase others as well. It’s an interesting turnabout from a more usual female-centric giallo, where a woman is an integral part of a sleuthing duo, or the main character. Rather than dissecting the male gaze upon women as in films like Blood and Black Lace–or even Strip Nude for Your Killer–Merighi seems more interested in gazing upon males and their activities; women are only incidental. They’re on par with the hideous faux rococo knickknacks scattered around the sets to class up the place.

Bill: Ugh, I know. All that eye candy and no one bothers to take the wrappers off. Neri may be your girl, but I am all about Evelyne Kraft. She was stunning as Leonora, way hotter than stupid old Lori Petty was in Point Break. But sadly she isn’t given a whole lot to do in the movie and Roger can never seal the deal (not surprising, considering he pronounces Roger ROH-jhay,) so she never sheds her kit. The second half of the movie is a bit spicier, however, including the sex scene where we get to see Doris’ magnificent pit-crops hanging like the damp black hair on a pair of Japanese ghost girls’ heads. Typically underarm ‘fro on a girl is something I’d complain about, but here, it adds some extra hilarity to a sex scene that was already made pretty funny by her bearded hippy man’s lovemaking style. It kind of looks like he’s in a wrestling match that he can only win by climbing over her and licking her shoulder blade.

oh my god, i left the baby on the bus!

Fisty: I might venture that the main failing of French Sex Murders is that it doesn’t fetishize anything at all; not the blood or kills, not the mystery, not the women or even the sex (and if you can’t fetishize sex, what fun are you?). Even with all its myriad faults, look at how another purely exploitational giallo like  SN4YK worshipped its women; they were stunning and active–look at the camera’s love for Femi Benussi; she exists to be sexy and beautiful (which is likely sexist, but who doesn’t enjoy watching that woman walk? or move? or breathe?), her introductory scene is a paean to the confident and sexually liberated woman. There is no woman like that in French Sex Murders. And the sex is perfunctory, like they realized they were over halfway through the movie with barely any action, and so they threw in a sweaty sex scene.

With such flaws, can we still call it a giallo? Sure, why the hell not? It nominally features many genre conventions: Black-gloved killer, psychosexual motivation for the murders, murders that re-enact or compulsively repeat a trauma, camp fashion, incompetent cops, red herrings, casual sex, etc. We’ve got a ludicrous narrative, staccato editing, tacky settings, and performances that vacillate between labored and melodramatic, but we also have a film that is rarely dull due to its defiance of conventional (or good) filmmaking. Dick Randall (look for his cameo as a few-wearing sheikh!) et alia set out to make a campy and preposterous exploitation giallo, and they did just that.

If you’re looking for middle-brow Art or intelligence, you won’t find it in French Sex Murders. You won’t find much sexiness or style, either, or even blood, but you will find total absurdity.

Bill: It’s no Point Break, but it’s ok for a watch with some MST3K style ribbing.

they're all going to laugh at you