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

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Evil Eye

nothing to do with anything?

nothing to do with anything?

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

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

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

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

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

i'm too sexy for your party

i’m too sexy for your party

romper bomper stomper boo

romper bomper stomper boo

peter crane will look through your shirt

i’m too sexy for my shirt

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

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

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

i'm with the band

i’m with the band

peter crane is my mouth and i must scream

peter crane is my mouth and i must scream

you're tearing me apart!

so sexy it hurts!

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

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

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

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

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

orgy hijinx

orgy hijinx

peter crane WILL murder you

no way i’m disco dancing!

Bill: I admit nothing!

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

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

fashion by the house of sophia petrillo

fashion by the house of sophia petrillo

i'm too sexy for my shirt

i’m too sexy for my car

will the real inspector ranieri please stand up?

will the real inspector ranieri please stand up?

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

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

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

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

i wish he were too sexy for that phone call

i wish he were too sexy for that phone call

tresemme, tresemme, ooh la la!

tresemme, tresemme, ooh la la!

so, you drive a smartcar?

so, you drive a smartcar?

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

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

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

stay close a little longer

stay close a little longer

my hai karate jammies smell too sexy, walter!

my hai karate jammies smell too sexy, walter!

i just washed them, sir!

i just washed them, sir!

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

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

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

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th, Part VI

NOT IN 3D

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th, Part VI
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Released: 1986
Starring: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen
Running time: 86 minutes
Genre: horror, slasher

Maybe “lives” isn’t really the best word. There is only one thing that Tommy Jarvis fears … Jason. Tommy convinces his Sweat Hog friend Hawes from the group home (he’s still there?) that he has to face that fear, Maury-style. They road trip to Jason’s burial site in the small, rural community of Forest Green (formerly Crystal Lake). Tommy, however, plans on doing more than just confronting his fear: He plans to murder it by torching Jason’s corpse. After digging up the grave, seeing Jason in the casket triggers one of Tommy’s violent episodes and he repeatedly stabs the body with an iron rod, reliving his boyhood trauma of killing Jason. After the cathartic stabby-stabby, he leaves the rod in Jason’s chest and goes for the can of gas, but a sudden blast of lightning strikes the iron pole, Number-5ing Jason back to a semblance of life. Hawes becomes the first of J’s post-life victims, but Tommy escapes, heading into town to warn the people of Crystal Lake Forest Green that Jason is back and more dangerous than ever!

Naturally, when the survivor of two previous mass murders in the area with a common MO bursts into the Crystal Lake Forest Green police station, screaming at the cops about a killer on the loose, back up is called and they investigate immediately. NOT! Sheriff Garris and his deputy (probably Holocaust deniers) dismiss Tommy as a nut, informing him that they changed the name of the town to put all that Jason crap behind them, and then they lock him up for the night. Meanwhile, Jason is killing the shit out of random people on his way back to the camp, which is just about to open for the season.

The next morning Megan Garris shows up at the station with her friends Sissy, Paula, and Cort to ask her dad to look for a couple counselors (dead, d-e-d dead) that never showed up when they were supposed to. Tommy, still in the cell, not being a complete idiot like the CLFGPD, connects the dots and tries to warn them about Jason.  Megan takes notice of how cute the psycho in the cell is, but her dad shoos her and her crew away. He and Deputy Cologne escort Tommy out of town and send him on his  way, warning him not to come back. But Jason is out there and the body count isgrowing. Kids are showing up at the camp. Megan’s friends (and a bunch of other people) are dying. Only Tommy believes. And only Tommy can stop Jason and save those lives, but the authorities are sure that Tommy himself is the killer and none of his books on the occult will help him if he’s locked in a cell or shot full of holes. “He picked the right day to pull this shit. Happy Friday the 13th.”

never a good idea

number 5’s alive!

this should be a tip off for what to expect

Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment. A crowning moment in the series, IV is arguably one of the very best Friday the 13ths. Production values are high, there’s talent on screen and off, and a charming self-awareness. Presaging the meta stylings of New Nightmare and Scream by nearly a decade, Jason Lives reinvigorated a series ailing from slasher ennui and the vitriolic reactions to A New Beginning. It also classes up the joint, sadly being the first Friday the 13th to not suffer cuts due to an X rating, and also being totally lacking in boobs. You win some, you lose some.

Bill: I wonder if any of the post-A New Beginning movies actually happened or if they’re just the increasingly bizarre nightmares of an insane Tommy Jarvis. That would actually explain a lot. The facts in Jason Lives aren’t consistent with the previous movies in the series. Jason is said to have killed Tommy’s mother and friends, but the people that Jason killed in The Final Chapter could hardly be called Tommy’s friends and there is no mention at all of his sister. Oddly, there’s no Mention of Roy-Jason either when Tommy’s history comes up.

Fisty: It basically retcons the end of ANB, dropping the idea that Tommy could be the new killer. And Tommy kind of implies that Jason really did drown way back in the long long ago and has always been supernatural, and not a baghead feral mountain man-child. Plus, they claimed Jason had been cremated in ANB.

Bill: The timing doesn’t add up either. Tommy has aged at least ten years, but Jason’s corpse doesn’t seem to have been in the ground for nearly that long. And, though the age difference between Tommy and Megan and her friends isn’t that great–handful of years, maybe–Megan acts as if the children of Crystal Lake Forest Green were raised believing that Jason was just a legend, despite the presence of an actual grave with a headstone marked “Jason Voorhees,” and the previous films showing TV coverage and newspaper stories about his killing spree(s). Jason Lives fits so poorly with what we know came before that Fisty was wondering whether Jason Livescould be classified as a reboot of the series. But I’m going with dream, not reboot.

lightning is striking again and again and again and again

do i offend?

trailer or carbonite?

Jason Lives starts out with what is essentially a fleshed out rehash of Tommy’s dream of Jason’s resurrection from ANB. What brings Jason back? Lightning. Does that make any sense? Not really. Does it matter? Not really. It was good enough for Frankenstein and Short Circuit, so it’s good enough for Friday the 13th. Undead Jason then starts doing some really amazing things, like punching his fist through torsos and tearing arms off, folding people in half backwards. I guess he was always strong, what with his being able to smoosh people’s heads (he does some more of that in this one, too) and pop their eyeballs out and whatnot, so maybe that isn’t that unusual for him. Dropping down out of the trees like a hockey ninja, however, is definitely new and very un-Jason-like. Oh, and that one kill that always bugs me: Jason smashes someone’s face into the wall of a motor home and, rather than nose breaking, lips pulping, teeth shattering inward, the victims face makes a perfectly intact face-shaped indentation in the metal of the vehicle. (Lightning resurrection? I’m all in, but my suspension of disbelief stops at face-molds.) But if this is all in Tommy’s head as he sits around in a straightjacket somewhere, drooling, then the non-smooshy face-smoosh doesn’t bother me so much.

Fisty: Okay, I’ll give you the Tommy’s Dream theory, which goes a long way toward explaining the rest of the franchise. Despite the presence of the supernatural, this is the last of the “natural” Friday the 13ths, and it very neatly nails shut the coffin of the Tommy Jarvis Trilogy as well as the Wild Child Jason Hexalogy, while opening the door to the Killing Machine Super Jason as Myth Pentalogy … though if we agree with Horace (“Five acts a play must have, nor more nor less.”) then the franchise is off-kilter. Most fans would blame A New Beginning due to it’s Jason-less status, but I would argue that F13 is rather two pentalogies linked by a standalone episode, that being Jason Lives. “What the fuck are you on, Fisty,” you ask? Hormones and classics, my friends. But really, taking a step back and examining this installment and the franchise as a whole from a distance provides some clarity.

F13P1 through P5 chart the development of Jason, and later Tommy Jarvis. It’s the story of how a lovable little mongo kid drowned, his mother took revenge by murdering those she held responsible, and when she in turn was killed, her wild child takes his turn at vengeance, only to be brought down by an intended victim, little Tommy Jarvis, who then himself suffers the consequences of violence and takes refuge in insanity, even possibly becoming a killer himself and continuing the cycle. Again, this is all very classical, with Jason’s saga recalling The Oresteia (I was always kind of pissed that SPOILER Orestes got away with it; Clytemnestra is a much more sympathetic character to my mind).

stroke for bloody stroke

a mask tells us more than a face

going mano a mano

Bill: Whoosh! Right over my head! I get what you’re saying about the linked pentalogies, but I don’t think you can really break the series down that way. For one, you can’t really consider Jason Lives a standalone movie. It would have to be part of the Killing Machine Super Jason cycle and that would throw off your numbers. Plus, wtf? You’re counting Jason X and Freddy Versus Jason? You can’t count those. Neither of them are by title Friday the 13th movies. Jason X is still great and sure the X can mean ten, but it’s still more of a spin off movie than truly part of the F13 series, a Laverne and Shirley to the Happy Days of F13. And lets just ignore FvJ. Seriously, Jason’s afraid of water now? Fuck that movie. That leaves us with nine movies. Traditionally,  they’re broken down into two bookend standalone flicks, Mother at one end and Parasite at the other, with three overlapping trilogies between them, being comprised of One Weekend (2-4), Tommy Jarvis (4-6), and Zombie Jason (6-8). That works, but, if you really wanted to simplify it, I think it makes more sense to break the franchise down into two tetralogies, an ascending tetralogy and a descending tetralogy linked by ANB as the apex movie.

Now, I don’t pick ANB as the standalone because it’s not really Jason, but because it comes between Jason’s death and rebirth, when he existed purely as legend, as a boogeyman to be mimicked, as a sort of Candyman to refer back to one of the captions from our review of ANB. The Ascending Cycle begins in a pre-Jason era with Pamela, has Jason taking the murder-reins from her, moving out into a wider world away from the lake in P3 (IN 3D!!!) and the beginning of The Final Chapter, then returning  to die and become true legend. Then, after A New Beginning, the series begins to move in reverse back to the beginning, although in a more exaggerated way. Jason returns to life, after a movie or so in the immediate area of the lake, goes back out into the world, returns to a child state, then a practically fetal state, and eventually passing into non-existence/Hell and leaving a Jason-less world. And Jason Lives, as the first movie of the Descending Cycle, perfectly signifies this switch into reverse, as it’s basically all of the previous movies played backwards: Tommy comes back to CLFG from Pinehurst, Jason starts off dead and unmasked, returns to life, remasks himself at the beginning of the movie, (Fisty: Notice also that he starts out by killing random folks, then moves on to counselors), the camp opens and Jason ends up in the lake. And, from what I read about what was removed from the script but left in the novelization, Jason’s parent, his father this time, would’ve appeared at the end of the movie.

Fisty: Sooo, Jason is Orpheus? (Bill: No, but he was an Argonaut! *ba-dum-tish*) And wait a minute, they don’t overlap as trilogies, only as tetralogies. Not by my reckoning of the franchise timeline. And even then it doesn’t come out even because you’re jettisoning Jason X. I count what I count! PLUS, FIVE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER. Damn it, math is hard. I have to move on because all these numbers are blowing my mind.

One thing that’s a bit puzzling is the presence of the Jason as Myth in Crystal Lake Forest Green. After all, 2 through 4 went down what, ten years ago? That’s a pretty short timespan for culling a murderous episode from a town’s history (how very NoES) to the point that no one believes it ever happened. How is it that all of the kids were raised on the Jason as Myth and Camp Blood Legend, yet don’t remember any of the news reports of that era? And how do they not even remember that the town was called Crystal Lake only a decade previous? I guess that could be more support for the Telekinetic Tommy Jarvis Dream Theory, since dreams have their own logic and that logic only needs to meet minimum requirements to keep the story rolling. Like how Jason’s grave is different in both ANB and Jason Lives–though I will grant you the former as clearly being a dream gravesite–and especially how Jason in Jason Lives is granted a plot in a fancypants cemetery, while Pamela Voorhees is relegated to a plot on the side of the road in The Final Chapter. Dream logic! Or gaping holes in continuity! You decide!

say, what?

he is risen

this book reads like stereo instructions

Bill: What? Of course the trilogies overlap. But don’t yell at me about them! That’s not my idea! I just mentioned them as  that’s how I’ve seen the series broken down by other people. I like my Ascending/Apex/Descending idea better, mostly because it gives ANB more of the respect and importance that it deserves in the franchise. Five is the magic number, as in PART 5!

I touched on the timing of that Jason as Myth thing a bit before.  It really doesn’t add up.

Fisty: No, it doesn’t. Let me put it to you like this: Jason as Myth is not the same as the Telekinetic Tommy Jarvis Dream Theory (or TTJDT), but is the STORY of Jason that emerges following the events of The Final Chapter, after Jason the Feral Murderous Man-Child is killed by Tommy Jarvis the Civilized Murderous Man-Child (Wait–is Jason Enkidu? Can we really afford another digression?). Once he”s dead, whether it’s his legend being used by Roy or his reanimated bad self slaughtering the innocents, it is Jason-as-Myth, the Jason of legend and folklore, from the mouths of babes. Ten years is not adequate time for Jason the Fact to be erased and replaced by the legend.

Bill: So, if I go by your Jason as Myth theory, does that mean everything from A New Beginning on are just Jason’s legend, stories told around the campfire? Are the further sequels just the increasingly exaggerated re-tellings of Paul’s campfire story from The Final Chapter from after the real Wild-Child Jason’s death? (Hey, whatever happened to Paul?) Wow. That’s like Frank Miller framing 300 as an oral, fireside tale so he can trick out the history however he chooses. And I think it works even better than my TTJDT (Telekinetic Tommy Jarvis Dream Theory).

Honestly, I don’t really think it was a dream or anything like that, just bad continuity. The series has always been pretty shitty at keeping the story straight. That doesn’t really bother me. This movie is probably the worst of the bunch in that regard and it’s full of silliness, like the face smoosh I mentioned earlier. I don’t care. I still adore it. It’s a good thing we spent so long talking about the franchise as a whole because really, I could never review Jason Lives with any kind of objectivity. My attachment to it is even greater than my attachment to The Final Chapter. This movie started getting heavy rotation on cable at just around the time I moved beyond needing someone to watch a scary movie with me. I had seen all the other movies in the series, but I’d watched them with my sisters or my mom or my brothers. I was finally old enough to sit and watch them by myself and BAM! Jason Lives is on every other night. So I watched it every other night. And it’s so damn fun. And so funny! This was also about the time I started buying Gorezone and Fangoria, a very special time in my life.

he’s everywhere you want to be

darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter

rising up to the challenge of his rivals

Fisty: I would love to take this all the way back to Paul. (What happened to him!?) But why do you keep shooting down your own crackpot theories?!

Bill: Because I keep having new ones! Just wait until I suss out my ideas on this new Crystal Lake as a Static Pool in the River of Time/Jason as Nexus of All Realities theory I’m developing.

Fisty: Well, I care not for other crackpot theories on the F13 timeline, and before we spend the entire review arguing over it (seriously, you cannot separate 1 from 2! CANNOT!), we need to move on.

Jason Lives is fun because it’s so self-aware. McLoughlin knows he’s making a movie for horror fans, and that they have certain expectations, so he lives up to them while playing with them. From nods to Universal horror, to breaking the fourth wall, to metareferences like Lizabeth’s “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly,” the film is peppered with meta. Everyone–except perhaps the principals of Tommy, Megan, the Sheriff, and perhaps Jason–is aware of being in a slasher.

McLoughlin takes the humor over the top, bringing the film into parodic territory. The silly face smoosh you mentioned is just one of those ridiculous moments, like the smiley face kill. Personally, they take it a little too far; I don’t think kills have to be silly in order to be funny, and these are points against Jason Lives in my book. But McLoughlin recovers with the other jokes; I was especially fond of the campers themselves (is this the only F13 to actually feature kids at camp?). The comics and Sartre and No Future boys are probably my favorites. “What did you want to be when you grew up?” They’re no Reggies, but they’re cool little dudes.

we could’ve gone to camp north star, but no

reading material for the cool

reading material for the uncool

Bill: “I think we’re dead meat.” I love those two! And that comic the one sleeping kid has is actually an issue of Heroes for Hire featuring Power Man and Iron Fist, two of the coolest superheroes ever, inspired by Blaxploitation and Kung-Fu movies, respectively. The kids in this (and I think they are the first kids we’ve seen since the first movie) have better taste in reading material than the counselors do. Sissy is reading some lame Men at Play magazine? That’s not nearly as cool as Debbie and her issue of Fango from Part 3. Still, I like Sissy. I liked all of Megan’s group. Cort, especially, got some laughs out of me. Oh, and Nikki … there may not be any noodz in Jason Lives, not even during the sex scene, but a quick google titty search of Darcy DeMoss will be very rewarding. Sadly there’s nothing out there for Jennifer Cooke or Renée Jones. And I liked Farthead Martin, too, even if he isn’t quite as cool as Crazy Ralph.

I didn’t mind the smiley face kill. So the guy’s face just happened to land on a smiley face. So what? At least it didn’t leave a face-shaped impression in the tree. Stupid RV death, ugh. Besides, while there are a few silly kills, you do get some good ones, like the back-crack and a full-on, Zito-style window smash. (Two windows broken and two people defenestrated in Jason Lives, and one exploded door. Perhaps it should be titled Zito Lives?) And Lizabeth’s death (that’s the girl with the VW) is, I think, one of the most upsetting in the franchise. The way she futilely offers Jason her money and credit cards to spare her just makes me really sad. I did miss Jason’s creative body arrangements from the previous films. He did have the presence of mind to stick one head in a parked car, but that’s nothing compared to his old pop-up corpse shenanigans. Though, I suppose, in this movie, no body he left behind could be as gross and gnarly as his own. Ugh, there’s a scene in this sequel that might be, to me, the grossest thing in the franchise. Jason himself gets hit with a boat propeller and the result is that the water looks like bloody, chunky, rotten Jason stew and it always skeeves me out. I’m getting sick just thinking about it and I don’t get sick easily. Maybe I’m weird. Fisty, is that as gross to you? Anyway, I guess that makes up for the lack of gouged eyes and stacked bodies.

have a nice day

don’t leave home without it

does she or doesn’t she?

Fisty: All lakes are gross to me; I just don’t trust water that doesn’t flow. It’s the island girl in me, I guess.

I can’t believe you didn’t mention “The Man Behind the Mask,” though! For what, the first time ever a Friday the 13th movie has a decent soundtrack!? And it’s ALICE COOPER!? Hells to the yeah!

Jason Lives is one of the last hurrahs of the slasher genre before its final, inevitable decline. Though the peak was past, films like Jason Lives  and the same year’s April Fool’s Day played with the audience’s familiarity with the genre. Though its parodic elements may turn off some fans, its reputation as a fan favorite stems from the humor just as much as it does the slick direction and photography, and a talented cast, things that also made it one of the slashers most accessible to non-fans. The climax of an ailing franchise, Jason Lives effectively (though briefly) rejuvenated a dying genre. And it’s just plain fun. 

The Killer Must Kill Again

because if he didn't, there wouldn't be a movie

 L’assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora
aka Il ragno
aka Matador Implacável
aka The Dark Is Death’s Friend
aka The Killer Must Kill Again
aka The Killer Must Strike Again
Director: Luigi Cozzi
Released: 1975 (filmed 1973)
Starring: George Hilton, Antoine Saint-John (as Michel Antoine), Femi Benussi, Cristina Galbó
Running time: 86 min
Genre: giallo, suspense thriller

Divorce Italian-style. A gaunt figure carries what appears to be a sleeping woman toward a car with its engine running and lights on. It’s dark out, and the pair could be a groom and his new bride for all the tenderness he shows as he gently places her into the car’s passenger seat. But when he enters the driver’s seat and tenderly strokes her hair and face, we see by her waxen pallor that this woman is no longer living. The gaunt figure abruptly becomes sinister, then shocking as he suddenly gropes the dead woman’s breast. His long, slim fingers tense as he gazes upon his handiwork, and then he turns and drives toward us, and into the night. The screen goes black, illuminated by only a tracery of red spiderweb as the ominous music kicks in. We are watching The Killer Must Kill Again.

The movie resumes, this time on a quiet city street, perhaps even on that very night? It’s dark and peaceful, and the only person we see is an anonymous man strolling his bicycle down the sidewalk. But as the camera pans across the boulevard, zooming in on a lit window, we hear the angry voices of a domestic argument. The camera dissolves into a shockingly AWESOME yellow (GET IT?) apartment, and here we are introduced to Norma, who may or may not be stupid or hysterical. Seated on the genuine Muppethide sofa is Giorgio (George Hilton, of All the Colors of the Dark, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, etc), sporting silver wings in his hair that give him the air of an elder statesman Lothario. From their bickering we come to understand that it’s Norma who holds the pursestrings in their marriage, and that she’s sick of Giorgio’s shit. Women calling day and night and talking in sexy voices, lies, debts … Though he denies the shenanigans, citing “business” and “clients,” Norma is through with him. She’s closing his bank account, cutting him off with a mere ten thousand dollars. Enraged, he calls her sick in the head and tells her he’s leaving. As he storms out, he asks her to tell that woman who’s been calling that he’s on his way. SICK BURN.

To calm himself, Giorgio drives through the city, ending up at a payphone, where he parks and tries calling Frederica, the putative sexy-voiced woman. After leaving a message with her roommate, Girorgio looks out over the water to reflect. In the distance is a red Beetle, and Giorgio notices our sinister gaunt figure. Without even checking that the coast is clear, our dear killer arranges his victim in the driver’s seat, then casually rolls the Beetle into the water. Our Dear Killer pauses to enjoy the sensation of a job haphazardly done–and the refreshing flavor of Marlboro Country: Where the flavor is–and it’s then that we really get a good look at this curiosity. Our Dear Killer is long, tall, and ugly, one of the oddest faces in film, one that only a mother–or casting agent–could love.  Antoine Saint-John’s (The BeyondMy Name is Nobody) features are both skeletal and simian, and they are brutally shocking when Cozzi finally reveals them. Giorgio, however, knows a good thing when he sees one. Approaching ODK like a playboy would an ingenue, Giorgio takes ODK’s lighter, offering him a light–WITH HIS OWN LIGHTER. And then he makes an offer ODK cannot refuse.

They discuss the arrangement in what may be the world’s only late-night ice skating rink: ODK will murder Norma and dispose of her in such a way as to suggest that she’s been kidnapped. Giorgio will collect a ransom, which he will pay to ODK for his help, and the two will part ways, ODK to continue molesting dead women and disposing of them in a slipshod fashion, and Girogio to spend his dead wife’s inheritance and talking to sexy-voiced women. The perfect plan, yes? No! This being a thriller, nothing will go quite the way it should, and both Giorgio and ODK will play their own individual games of cat and mouse with a wily police detective and two joyriding teens, Luca and Laura. There’s a Woolrichian twist, and suddenly Giorgio must scramble to protect his hoax, while ODK pursues Luca and Laura, perhaps for his own reasons. Round and round it goes; where it stops, nobody knows.

a cunning place to hide a murder car

paradise by the dashboard lights

they say i'm ugly but it just don't phase me

What you are is an hysterical lunatic! Not only is The Killer must Kill Again (henceforth referred to as TKMKA) a taught thriller by any standards, it is also a unique giallo, one that upends genre conventions and alternates between asking hard questions and reveling in black humor. It’s a must-see for your gialli checklist. Or is it? Do its antecedents blind the viewer (read: Fisty) to its flaws?

Bill: Oh, man, I gotta say, I love how sleazy this one starts out. You have to admire a film that has Skeletor feeling up a dead slut in a red (the color of sluts) Volkswagen before you even see the title screen. Kind of a bad choice of car for aqueous body disposal, however, as Fisty has told me they float. Well, Beetles anyway. I don’t know if just any Volkswagon would float. Fisty?

Fisty: As far as I know, Bill, it’s just the old Beetles that were airtight. When I was little, we were driving my stepsister to her mom’s house in Ewa Beach, which still had a lot of undeveloped (read: dirt n’ gravel) streets when we came to an intersection that was one giant puddle. I mean, the ENTIRE intersection. My mom kept driving her ’78 Beetle Cabriolet through, and midway across we began to float. Fortunately, we had enough momentum so that the tires hit ground after a few minutes, and we continued on our merry way.

Enough digression! The Killer Must Kill Again! By the way, that’s kind of a terrible title, even in a genre known for bizarre international retitles and generally obscure titling practices. Actually, so is the original Italian title, Il Ragno, The Spider (which explains the title sequence). Well, it’s not great; perhaps something referring to the constant cat and mouse games would be better. I suppose the killer must indeed kill again, not only because he is apparently driven by unknown forces to kill, but also to cover his and Giorgio’s tracks. Our Dear Killer is not only a Man Without a Name–perhaps the initials DA on the lighter are his, or perhaps it belonged to a victim, we’ll never know more than Cozzi’s allusion to mentor Dario Argento–but also a Man Without an Apparent Motive. We learn nothing about him, not even in the film’s coda, but that he is driven to kill and that he makes what legions of my past arithmetic teachers would call “careless mistakes.” (I especially love the twist sequence, when he’s cleaning up after himself post-Norma and leaves … well, you’ll see.) Most gialli make at least a nod to compensating the audience’s interest in knowing the the motive, the why, the reason everything happened. In TKMKA we understand Giorgio’s motive–a wonderful spur of the moment one, and very mercenary too, also contra to the usual elaborate and long-cherished giallomotive–but never ODK’s. And Antoine Saint-John, what a great killer. He could just rely on his bone structure to sell the inscrutable murderer, but he never does. His body language, his eyes, they sell his role. Even in moments when he doesn’t speak a word–a particular one we’ll discuss later–he communicates an essential humanity. And damn, he is funky looking.

Saint-John and Hilton really carry the film. Not that the rest of the cast sucks, by any means. No, Cozzi assembled a band of professionals. I find Cristina Galbó’s (What Have You Done to Solange?Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) Laura a bit too passive a nonentity but fine, and Alessio Orano (Lisa and the Devil) is competent with his slimy Luca (and he really looks weirdly familiar to me; perhaps he just looks like he could be hanging out on the North Shore–I don’t know). Femi is Femi, god love her. Tere Velázquez’ (The Night of a Thousand Cats) Norma is well-played, taut and histrionic. And of course veteran villain Eduardo Fajardo (DjangoThe MercenaryCompañeros) has a good time with his clever police inspector role. BUT! The bulk of the movie concentrates on Giorgio and ODK; in fact, we presume that Giorgio is the protagonist, only to discover with a Cornell Woolrich-worthy twist that ODK is the real heart of the movie–in more ways than one. Hilton’s Giorgio is the framing story, though he does end up being the baddest of the bad men, and a cold motherfucker, too; despite his extramarital affairs, he lusts only for money. We even see him tenderly caressing the filthy lucre at one point. His motive for doing away with Norma has nothing to do with the other (sexy-voiced) women, but is all about the Benjamins. I daresay he married her for it, after all. ODK, on the other hand, is a man consumed by his passions. Granted, those passions amount to rape and murder–not always in that order–but his is the emotional core of the movie. He kills because he is driven to it for whatever reason, and is shocked and exhausted by his biggest murder scene, while Giorgio calculatedly kills because he wants to, because it gains him something. He is the really nasty one.

they've got GIALLO FEVER

protip: killers cannot afford monograms

the dynamic supertrustworthy duetto

The two have a strange relationship, with a kind of a maybe gay subtext. Look at how they meet, Giorgio picking up ODK like a john with a streetwalker, particularly the very sexually charged gesture of lighting ODK’s cigarette, WITH HIS OWN LIGHTER. (I cannot emphasize that enough. Where are my ULTRACAPS?) Now, moving along, when they first hash out The Plan, it’s an the all-night ice skating rink, a date location. And Cozzi treats us to some splendid play on the male gaze and class consciousness with his featuring an ice skater throughout their conversation; there are some really nifty edits here, too. Their second date is in a movie theater (Fun fact: The movie playing is The Tunnel Under the World, Cozzi’s indie first project.), where they all but hold hands as they finalize their plans. And lest we forget, all Giorgio can think about while making love to Norma is ODK (and The Plan, yes yes, I know). This is not unfamiliar territory for Hilton, who played with gay subtext in several of his spaghetti Westerns (see Every Man for Himself and Fulci’s Massacre Time), and he is the essence of all that is smooth whether with the ladies or the gents. As per uszh, amirite? Though ODK also is hetero-not-so-normative is his attentions to women, he is easily seduced into Giorgio’s plan, because it is something he’s into all along. Both men are flexible, able to insinuate themselves into whatever role is necessary.

They’re both devious, and fiends in their own ways, ODK somewhat less so. But so are all the men in the movie. They’re all liars, intent on playing their games with each other, and the women are merely the means to their ends. Giorgio toys with ODK, who toys with Norma, then Luca and Laura. Luca plays with Laura, and the Inspector plays with Giorgio. (Another upending of genre convention: The police inspector knows all along what kind of game Giorgio is playing, he’s just cynically setting a trap for him. Not so much the bumbling polizia of other films.) Every woman is a hapless victim and sexual object; interestingly, they all outrank the men with whom they are paired, too. Sexual and class warfare mingle in a commentary on contemporary Italian society.

Bill: Digression? Moi? No way, Mrs. Homo-Subtext. I was totally giving you an in to talk about all the killery blunders, like trying to dispose of a body in a car that’s still going to be visible at the surface of the water days later without even looking around to see that some dude is watching you. Like you said, however, despite his “careless mistakes,” ODK is a great baddy. I love that we never get to know his story. He is a total old school mystery murderer, like The Shape or Leatherface or Billy from Black Christmas. Why does he kill? Because he does and that’s all you need to know.  One little action of his, even more than the killing and corpse groping, provides some meat for your ‘magination about just how ‘”off” he is, and maybe why, and that’s the way he tenderly, even believably, professes to love one of his victims as he’s brutally attacking her. Man, what a creep! And, yeah, he looks like an emaciated Seal in whiteface, which helps.

Fisty: Now, I gotta stop for a moment, and call your attention to something. I’m not sure you realize how AMAZING it is that TKMKA is so good. Because it is, if you have a passing knowledge of its director, Luigi Cozzi. You see, Cozzi is perhaps most well known for his Video Nasty, the inoffensive Alien meets Zombie sci-fi schlocker Contamination. He also did Starcrash and some Hercules flicks, among others. What these later films have in common is that they’re all pretty bad. Fun, incoherent, harmlessly silly entertainment for devotees of Italian genre films, and MST3K fodder. Even knowing that he worked with Argento on Four Flies on Gray Velvet, among other projects, seeing his name attached to a giallo, and then discovering that the film in question is undeniably GOOD would be like finding out that Chris Sivertson directed Silence of the Lambs. Which he did not. Because he makes not good movies. Get it?

step off, i'm doin' the hump

oh yes, ladies, i'm really being sincere

i get laid by the ladies, ya know i'm in charge

Bill: Dude. You forgot to mention the Italian Godzilla. How could you forget to mention Cozzilla?

Fisty: One way in which TKMKA is dissimilar to other gialli is the style. Simply put, TKMKA is somewhat lacking in that department. Not to say that it’s ugly, not at all. But it has far fewer of the striking (and campy) fashion and set dressing to which I am accustomed from other notable gialli. One exception is the Mainardi’s giallo apartment–which isn’t a set, but someone’s actual living space! It’s amazing, a swankily tacky modernist’s tacky dream/nightmare, all glossy surfaces odd angles. The low budget precluded a lot of elaborate sets, and Cozzi sets most of the action in the apartment, or the stolen car, or at a few random locales like the canal. The only other noteworthy location is the seaside villa, which is not so much stylish as ominously bizarre. Did Hieronymous Bosch decorate?

Fashion-wise, there are only two ensembles I even remember: ODK’s and Femi’s. The former is a sleek, all black bell-bottomed look, later accented by the classy Mercedes he drives–the one L&L steal. ODK has a low-key luxe air, which sharply contrasts with Giorgio’s antiseptic tastelessness. I only noted Femi’s because it was reminiscent of her police interview ensemble in Strip Nude for Your Killer–but less slutty. So TKMKA strays from the giallo mold (ha!) in making stylishness part of the landscape, rather than a focus.

I had about enough digression earlier, but I’m gonna digress again over here for a minute. It’s still blowing my mind a little about Cozzi making TKMKA. I’m fascinated by how a director with such an assured, skillful film debut could have gone on to a career like his. If I’d never heard of Cozzi, or seen anything else by him, and had only seen TKMKA, I would expect him to either have a lot of genre output like most other directors of the period, but specializing in horror or thrillers (Bava, Martino, Lenzi, etc). or to have stayed within the horror/thriller genre, rather than going on to science fiction, fantasy with science fiction flava, or horror with science fiction flava. But after seeing him interviewed on the DVD, I now understand. Cozzi is a thougtful, intelligent, well-spoken … fanboy. A sci-fi fanboy like whoa. And unfortunately, he was a) plagued by too many grandiose ideas on too-small budgets, and secondly, not good at that thing he loves. Which is sad. If only he’d continued with gialli

i'd like some water...with a side of MURDER

showdown at the ok giallo

who is your daddy and what does he do?

Bill: Enough about enough digression! I think your familiarity with Cozzi’s other work is leading you to over-praise TKMKA a bit. Yes, it’s a good movie, Saint-John is great, Hilton is great, but it does have a really big flaw: The middle third of the movie is BORING! The first third is great, introducing you to a charmingly amoral husband, a creepily creepy killer, and a sort of Hitchcockian, Strangers on a Trainish plot that’s pretty unique for a giallo. The last third, starting with a nasty rape/murder scene that is intercut with some fun car sex (the standout scene in the movie,) is pretty great, too. In between, however, is a lengthy stretch of teen carfeefs, Luca and Laura, just driving and not having sex and talking and not having sex and going to the beach and not having sex and exploring an old villa and not having sex and trying to make the place comfy and not having sex and being hungry and OH MY FUCKING GOD, LAURA, WOULD YOU JUST GIVE IT UP ALREADY! The movie is only 86 minutes long, for fuck’s sake!

Exhale. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. … Ok. I’m fine now.

So, yeah, TKMKA is kind of like The Toolbox Murders in that regard. It’s not ruined by the slow crawl through the middle, but it is kept from being really great.

Fisty: I think you’re being a little hard on it. Yes, it does drag a bit, but less than a lot of gialli that are too busy throwing red herrings around and showing how stupid the polizia are and how clever the general public in comparison. And I feel Cozzi actually keeps moving things along during that section: Though I  give a rip neither about Laura putting out and Luca being a steaming turd of a person, nor the subtext of those things, we’ve got Giorgio and the police inspector’s amusing little cat and mouse game going on, and Cozzi using ODK’s search for Luca and Laura to slowly amp up the suspense. We know he will have to find them, and that SOMETHING will happen when he does, but Cozzi stretches out that suspense unbearably; the whole reason things slow there is to increase the tension. And this is a remarkably tense thriller.

And it’s funny you should mention Hitchcock. Like the Master, Cozzi eschews the surprise factor so integral to the giallo, to the mystery, and concentrates on the suspense in the story, playing with our expectations as the maestro would. After all, as I’ve previously mentioned: For the most part, we know what will happen in TKMKA. We just don’t know how. Cozzi slowly increases the tension steadily throughout, sustaining and building on everything prior until we reach that final, standout scene. Norma is particularly useful for that. First there’s the scene where ODK comes to kill her. We know why he’s there, though she doesn’t, but she senses the inherent wrongness in ODK. Her nerves, and the way he toys with her makes the scene incredibly creepy–and in sometimes unexpected ways. When she returns from fetching him a drink, she doesn’t see him. But it’s not because he’s no longer in the room, or is sneaking up behind her, he’s simply moved elsewhere, throwing her off balance (along with our expectations).

they once got busy in a burger king bathroom

not quite general hospital

"murder house DOES sound like a nice place to stay."

Her corpse provides more of that unexpected tension. There are so many near misses, moments when you’re just SURE she’s going to pop out of the trunk, changing the game … but she doesn’t. It’s only at the final act that Femi Benussi, in her role of “Dizzy Blonde” (And oh, is she dizzy. And irritating.), FINALLY opens the trunk and Norma is FINALLY discovered. ODK appears just then, and Femi is just stricken. You see a glimmer of suspicion, but she wants to believe ODK too much, and she goes with him into the villa to her doom. It’s an absolutely riveting moment in all its inevitability. From the moment we met Femi, we knew she would die, that it was foreordained and only a matter of when and how. But standing there on that grey, beach, before that decayed villa, Femi is so glowingly vital and alive and–despite her irritating character–so human that it’s almost unbearable to see her go off to her end, especially when it seems that she is unconsciously aware that it IS her end. But the movie doesn’t end there, and we get no relief from the tension.

Bill: Luca isn’t that bad. He’s very patient with Laura, even when she’s yammering on at him about the rich dudes that take her out joyriding in their daddy’s cars, knowing that poor Luca has to steal a car, just to take her out. And he always stops to help stranded motorists. Especially ones he wants to have sex with behind his girl’s back. Or in a threesome with his girl, who he will leave behind if she doesn’t consent. Okay, the guy’s a turd. But at least he’s handsome. He  looks kind of like that Jordan Catalano kid would if Jared Leto had darker hair and was male.

Anyway… I still think the movie needed a little something extra–some titties? some murder?–some kind of action to liven up the plodding middle. The worlds slowest car chase and the world’s most laid back cop just weren’t cutting it. Sure, the ever-threatening to pop out Norma corpse adds some suspense, but that wasn’t enough to keep me fully engaged. While you’re spot on about the stalking/slayings of Dizzy Blonde and Norma being tense stuff and way more competently handled than you’d expect, given Cozzi’s other flicks, those scenes are at opposite ends of the film and probably have a good hour between them. And, a minor gripe: In the aftermath of the attack on Dizzy Blonde, Cozzi did linger a bit too long on Femi continuing to breathe after she was supposed to have been dead. I got a laugh out of that.

We’ve got ahead of ourselves though. We’re talking about the Femi stalk and discovery of bodies already, when we’ve only passingly mentioned the roughest, most vile, most powerful scene in the movie. After taking forever to get there, ODK finally comes into contact with our trio of young innocents and you get to see how really depraved the skull-faced bastard is. He spouts off about “love” while brutally attacking and raping one crying girl. That’s bad enough, but the scene isn’t just played out straight. Instead, it’s interspersed with scenes of a different couple having empty, carefree, backseat sex in a car parked just off of a nearby road. I’m trying not to spoil too much of the movie, so it’s hard to talk about this scene and how it will make you feel for the victim and what it will make you think, besides just yo-yoing you between titilation and revulsion. It’s this scene that kicks off the violent climax of the movie and has you retracting your wishes from just a few moments before, that something would happen already. Now you feel bad for, and are praying for mercy for, characters that you were previously annoyed with.

the humpty dance

just grab 'em in the biscuits

femi shows laura some of her "groovy tricks"

Fisty: The last thing TKMKA needs is more murder, and I’d usually grant you the titties on general principle, but in this case, I just can’t. One of the reasons the finale is so effective is because when the killing suddenly begins, it is shocking because we suddenly realize how little blood we’ve seen so far. And since we as viewers of gialli have expectations about the amount and type of gore and violence we will see, it is especially disconcerting, adding to the shock value of the finale.

The rape scene is nasty, powerful stuff, one of the grimmest scenes in a often grim genre. I’ve seen a lot of rape scenes in movies, and this is perhaps the worst of all. Not necessarily because it’s explicit–no, Cozzi is extremely circumspect. It’s because the rape scene is the apogee of a technique and idea Cozzi has been using to toy with us, the viewers, throughout the entire film. Or, depending on your perspective, it’s the absolute nadir.

Now, I’mma back up here for a minute. Cozzi uses a cross-cut technique several times in TKMKA, including in the rape scene, and always to great and disturbing effect. After Giorgio and ODK make their plans, Giorgio returns home, well pleased with himself, and proceeds to take an essential step: Making nice with Norma. In order to allay suspicions and especially to prevent her from making any financial changes to his detriment, he must seduce his wife all over again. And, being George Sexy Motherfucker Hilton, he does. But all the while, as Giorgio makes sweet, sweet love to Norma, Cozzi cross-cuts to the previous scene with OH NO, NOT THAT FACE ODK. Cozzi juxtaposes Giorgio’s outward and inward feelings, the passionate lovemaking and the calculated plans for murder, and it’s extremely disquieting. Cozzi further plays on our feelings of unease during Norma’s murder, cross-cutting again, this time between ODK toying with and then killing her and Giorgio setting his alibi, partying and laughing it up with friends. Then, ages after those sequences, nearing the finale, we’re suddenly assaulted by another cross-cut, this time of the rape/lovemaking scene Bill mentioned above.

On the one hand there’s Luca and Femi going at it with sensual abandon, and it’s good stuff to look at: sexy, beautiful, fun. And on the other there’s Saint-John’s harsh, impassive features and Laura’s eyes streaming tears–which is about as much as we ever see of the rape, which is neither exploitative nor explicit. But her terror and pain is so explicit, and the humanity Saint-John projects so pitiful, that the brutality is heightened to an unbearable degree. Thanks to superb direction and editing on Cozzi’s part, and Saint-John’s acting, ODK is implicitly human; this savage rape is as close to a normal human interaction as he is capable of, and perhaps the only way he can feel feeeeelings. In contrast, Luca’s essential vapidity, callousness, and lack of humanity makes his lovemaking with Femi empty and shallow. Who is the real monster, ODK or Luca, the little Giorgio in training? And beneath even that is Cozzi’s great joke on us all: As spectators, we can enjoy neither the sex nor the violence we came to see and take pleasure in, and furthermore, we are complicit in the crimes by our very act of watching.

Cozzi knows his audience, the giallo‘s audience. Not looking so much for art or story, they/we came for shocks, style, sex, and violence. Hence the beefing up of so many gialliwith red herrings and drawn out, ever increasingly gory and elaborate murder sequences and nudity. Hell, some movies were only made to surround the murder setpieces someone conceived of beforehand. I’m not looking at anyone in particular, DA. Cozzi throws those expectations out with the bathwater and implicates the spectators in the violence in TKMKA.

yo ladies, oh how i like to funk thee

Bill: Ahem. “Then, ages after those sequences…” Exactly my point. The majority of the praise you’re heaping on the movie is for scenes at the beginning of the flick and at the very end. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like TKMKA. A lot. Every nice thing you’ve said about it is spot on. THIS IS A REALLY GOOD MOVIE. Bold. Underlined. I just think the pacing was a little off, the middle a little too slow. It’s not a long movie. It doesn’t need any cuts, but just a tad something extra to pump you up when it lags. Now I’m harping on the problem, like it’s the worst fucking thing ever. It’s not, it just seems that way, because I don’t have anything else to bitch about, because, again, it’s a good movie. It’s got savage violence, a menacing baddie, suspense in excess, a few fun, unintentional laughs, and an original plot. Great at both ends and okay in the middle.

Oh, and one last thing from me: That Giorgio may be one scummy fuck, but he sure knows how to handle himself with class, even when he’s backed into a corner.

Fisty: He’s Beverly Hills classy.

Also: YOU’RE NOT LISTENING. But, I’m done. There’s so much we barely touched on, but we’ll leave that for someone’s dissertation.

I think it’s safe to say we agree that The Killer Must Kill Again is a bravura giallo, worth your time and consideration. Luigi Cozzi demonstrates surprising mastery of the genre, jettisoning many tropes and deconstructing its ass off, occasionally even outdoing his mentor, Dario Argento. Clever use of a low budget, skillful photography and editing, subtle direction, a good soundtrack, and excellent performances all make for a gripping and merciless thriller, with nods to Hitchcock, Leone, Tourneur, Truffaut, roman noir, and Universal horror, among other allusions. The only real disappointment for me is that Cozzi did no more. Perhaps if it had been released when it was made at the height of the giallo craze we would have seen more fine work from him in that genre. Oh well, at least we have Cozzilla.