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.




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


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.

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.


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

Strip Nude for Your Killer

are you ready for this giallo?

 Nude per l’assassino
Director: Andrea Bianchi
Released: 1975
Starring: Nino Castelnuovo, Edwige Fenech, Femi Benussi, Solvi Stubing, Franco Diogene, Amanda
Running time: 98 minutes
Genre: giallo, sex comedy?

Naked time!: When a fashion model dies unexpectedly during a backroom abortion, the doctor and the friend who arranged the illegal operation for her cover up the accident. Her body is left in her bathtub, water running, as though she suffered a heart attack while bathing, and the police are non the wiser. But when the doctor is brutally murdered and mutilated, it seems as though someone knows what happened–and is out for revenge.

At the Albatross Modeling Agency, no one takes much notice of a seedy doctor’s murder. Head photographer Carlo (Castelnuovo) is too busy cruising health clubs in his bananahammock, picking up hot chicks and pretending he can make them Milan’s Next Top Model. It’s at the health club that he encounters the luscious Lucia (Benussi), first seducing her in a sauna, then taking her back to Albatross. Art director Magda (Fenech) doesn’t think much of Lucia’s ample charms, but everyone else at the agency is delighted. Working late, Magda surprises Carlo with a display of her own wares–set off by a black lace garterbelt and stockings, naturally. Delighted by Magda’s heretofore unplumbed depths, Carlo offers only token resistance–for her own good, the sole non-chauvinistic moment he has in the film–before succumbing, and the two begin a torrid affair.

Meanwhile, Mario, back at the studio, makes a new print of an Albatross Agency staff photo, showing all the main players of the agency – Mario himself, Magda and Carlo, mustachioed Stefano and his lady Doris, Doris’ tubby admirer Maurizio, husband of Gisella Montani, the agency owner, as well as poor deceased Evelyn.  He leaves, going back to his apartment, unaware that the killer, identity hidden with a motorcycle helmet, is following him.   Before he’s even settled in at home, there’s a knock at the door.  It’s the killer!  … and Mario opens the door and invites the fellow, now only carrying the helmet, in.  OH MY GOD, he knows the killer!  One unexpected (at least by Mario) knifing later, the killer leaves with the print Mario had made at the killer’s request, a handy checklist of people to murder.  The doctor, then Mario, and soon everyone in that photo will, one by one (except for that one twofer), become the victims of a brutal killer’s gory, switchblade revenge.

making a list, checking it twice …

Vehicular attacks, meaningless strangulation, secret lesbian affairs, marital infidelity, attempted rape, a blow-up doll, implied lesbian incest, sexual mutilation, botched abortion, stabbings, stabbings, stabbings, and slicings, more naughty bits than you’ve ever seen in your life, Carlo’s theories on why coffee is better with milk (“It’s bigger molecules. That’s physics.”), and, of course, inept cops … That’s some of the trashy fun gleefully thrown together in Strip Nude for Your Killer, a VERY sleazy giallo/borderline sex comedy by Andrea Bianchi, the director of the horrendously, hilariously bad zombie non-epic Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror.   Unlike Burial Ground, however, most of the fun in Strip Nude is intentional. We think.

Bill: I love Edwige Fenech.  We’re friends on the Facebook, she and I.  Not that that amounts to much.  Everything she posts is in Italian, so I can’t even comment on it, not knowing what she’s even saying.  Stupid, cock-blocking language barrier.  Still, I love her just the same.  I first saw her in Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, where she could only be described, as I read in a book once, as a “calamitous beauty.”  Seeing her in The Case of the Bloody Iris and All the Colors of the Dark really cemented my smittenness with her.  Then I saw Strip Nude for Your Killer. Wowza!  She hadn’t exactly been bashful in those other flicks, but she was so tantalizingly nekkid so frequently in this one that, even though I like her hair less in it and, consequently, don’t think she’s at her hottest, I still spend most of the movie frothing at the mouth.  I pee a little when I think of how many more gialli and sex comedies she’s been in that I’ve still yet to see.  Believe me when I say that Sexy Susan Sins Again and A Police Woman on the Porno Squad are on my list of must-see films.  Edwige, I love you!  … but I still don’t know how to pronounce your name.

i’m a detective!

Fisty: I’d tell you, but I wouldn’t want to lessen her mystery for you. There was a lot of hott nudity in SN4YK. Eli and I knew it was going to be amazing when the DVD menu populated with a topless Edwige, lingerie-clad Amanda (playing Gisella, the agency boss lady), and a totally NUDE Femi Benussi (as luscious Lucia). Titties before the movie even begins to play are always a good sign. The movie is chock full o’ pretty faces and bodies, like Carlo himself, played by Nino Castelnuovo (best known in the States for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), and the lovely Solvi Stubing, known at the time for her Peroni commercials (though somehow she is often so poorly filmed as Patrizia that she looks terrible and horsey–how is that even possible?). Not everyone is pretty, however. For comic relief we’ve got the portly Maurizio (Franco Diogene)–and yes, we get to see him nude, too.

see? maurizio!

Now while Billy Boy waxes poetic about genre stalwart Edwige Fenech, allow me to call your attention to the delectable Femi Benussi, who we and Carlo first encounter at the health club, moving like the proverbial Jell-O on springs. You might recognize Femi from Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Pasolini’s The Hawks and the Sparrows, as well as any number of sex comedies, gialli, and even spaghetti Westerns. I want to make sure to talk my girl here up–not that she doesn’t get enough screentime in SN4YK. Lucia’s a busy little bee; though she seems pretty hapless when she’s picked up by Carlo, she also moves through the ranks pretty quickly at Albatross, leaping from Carlo to Gisella to further her career.

Speaking of Femi, there’s some really fun costuming in SN4YK. Femi’s one of my faves, as when she’s actually wearing clothes (which isn’t that often), she looks as though she’s about to spontaneously burst out of them, like they can hardly contain her Cinerama T&A. Shirts about to slide off, skirts unbuttoned up to her crotch so she can give the police inspectors a little red panty peepshow, it’s all good. Everyone else is largely stylish, too, alternating between big, furry coats and barely there lingerie. And did you check out the killer’s superchic tight black jumpsuit a la What Have They Done to Your Daughters?

how to dress for a police interview

Bill: Oh, yes, Femi is gorgeous.  Her naked lesbian abuse scene with Amanda is fantastic!  And she never puts on any clothes for all the rest of her time in the movie.  I have to wonder if the folks that remade My Bloody Valentine were watching this as inspiration, since that is the only recent movie that I can think of that goes as full out with gratuitous nudity as SN4YK.  The Femi abuse/stalking scene from this and the Betsy Rue sex/stalk/kill scene from MBV3d are actually very similar, though Femi’s body is way better.  Her sauna scene with Carlo made me want to buy a camera and pretend it’s broken.  That Carlo sure is a genius.

Fisty: Carlo is something all right. I’m pretty sure he’s had sex with everyone at Albatross, maybe in Milan, just as a matter of course. Male and female. He’s so ludicrously chauvinistic that he’s impossible to take seriously–and with the way Bianchi veers wildly back and forth between giallo and sex comedy, you never have to.


Bill: Carlo’s funny as hell. And a dick. I’m pretty sure Carlo is just as fucked up as Date Rapist Rick (more Italian inspiration in F13!). I mean, you know it was him that knocked the one girl, Evelyn, up and started the whole mess in the first place, but he just dismisses it.

Fisty: He was not!

Bill: Totally was him, and the killer thinks so too.  He was just the guy whose dick was in EVERYONE.  And he’s even practically accused of being responsible when he brings Lucia and her goodies back to the agency; Patrizia says something about “the other girl” being his fault, too. Plus, look at the other guys at the agency: Mario was gay and Maurizio couldn’t perform.

Fisty: You’re SUCH a literalist. They’re hardly the only men in Milan. I mean, I can see how it could have been Carlo, because after all, his dick IS in EVERYONE. But on the other hand, he’s also totally someone who’d hook a girl up with an abortionist even if he didn’t impregnate her. And he’s such a cockswinging dude that I have a hard time seeing him not boasting about his virility, and being all, “Yeah, I knocked her up–how about I knock you up now, baby?” And when he tells Evelyn’s story he says, “She got herself knocked up.” Of course, there’s a whole lot of feminist dialog you could get into there about the ultimate responsibility for a pregnancy, and misogyny in placing blame upon the woman and not the man as well, etc. And that phrasing could be Carlo deliberately absolving himself of actual responsibility and distancing himself from a situation in which he was intimately involved. But I don’t think that’s where Bianchi is going with this. I don’t think even Bianchi knows where he’s going.

Now, I watched the special feature, Strip Nude for Your Giallo, so I know Massimo Felisatti had a somewhat different movie in mind when he wrote SN4YK, one that Bianchi took and ran with, but in a completely different sleazy sexy comedy direction. But the bones of Felisatti’s story are all there in the plot, providing the subtext to Bianchi’s sleaze. Perhaps Carlo brought Evelyn to the agency, discovering her as he did Lucia, and that’s why he was a particular target for the killer, because he introduced her to the model’s life, putting her in danger from people wanting to use her in various ways. And that’s why the killer is taking revenge upon the entire agency, because it’s the life of a model in the public gaze (male gaze!) that killed Evelyn. That’s Felisatti’s story right there.

her corpsuckles are leaking!

Bill: I’m dancing around here, trying not to reveal too much of the killer or the killer’s reasoning, but remember what someone said at the end about betrayal being part of the motivation?  Who else but Carlo could move a woman like Evelyn to the betrayal that is implied?  That man could probably make my panties drop.

Fisty: Bologna! You have no idea what you’re talking about!

Bill: As for Bianchi, having seen this and Burial Ground–which features a little person of some type playing a small child, suckling at his mother’s teat and trying to bone her out of jealousy over her lover–I’m pretty sure the guy is insane.  Or, at the least, is incapable of any type of sleaze filtering when it comes to his work.  In spite of his craziness though, and regardless of how bad Burial Ground is, I have nothing bad to say about SN4YK.  I mean, I know it’s not, like, high art.  This is not award winning film-making, but for what it is, I have no complaints about it at all.  It’s just really damn fun.  The comedic stuff never fails to get a bit of a chuckle, some of the gore is really nice, especially when it’s on a naked torso (which is more often than not – this film’s name really fits), the direction isn’t that bad at all and Berto Pisano’s music can be happily funky.  I especially loved the piece you hear as the killer drives to the doctor’s house at the beginning.  It reminded me of the pimptastic opening of Seven Blood-Stained Orchids.   And the sexy stuff really opens up your corpsuckles, as Carlo would say.  Even the way the movie flashes to Evelyn, dead in the tub, every time you hear or see a liquid flowing is fine with me.  Just as it begins to get annoying, they do it again and again, then again three more times, until it’s so silly that it becomes comical.  It becomes like the horses whinnying whenever they hear, “Frau Blucher,” in Young Frankenstein.

it’s ART

Fisty: Yeah, I have no complaints about SN4YK; it satisfied every sordid desire I had, and went a little above and beyond in some respects. Tawdry sex and nudity, bloody murders, plenty of eye candy, a little pseudo pathos, and even a somewhat coherent plot (thanks in part to Signor Felisatti). I mean, one can actually follow along and deduce the killer’s identity before  anyone in the film stumbles upon it–though it is just as likely that simple familiarity with gialli makesit easy to deduce. The opening credit music is definitely right behind 7BSO’s in sordid charm, as is the rest of the score. Let’s be honest, though: Most of what makes SN4YK enjoyable is cribbed directly from a dozen other gialli or directors, from vague themes down to plot points, just all mixed up with EVEN MORE gratuitous nudity, sleaze, and silly sex comedy stylings. If there ever were a pastiche of gialli, this is it. It’s not original, but hey, it’s fun.

Actually, my one complaint might lie in the overall look of the movie, which is a little schizophrenic. At times it was great–nothing can top Lucia’s costuming (er, costume, as she was nude pretty much the entire film, God love her), or the seamy glow of the nightclub. But then come moments of horrendously tacky avocado and beige wallpaper freakout in Magda’s apartment. (That flat was pretty nifty in layout, and built out of solid Hideous Kinky.) Bianchi also seems to be leaning toward a color-coded film in places: the blue wash over the abortion death scene and cover-up and blue tints that show up in a few early scenes, contrasting with a vivid scarlet glow in others (though not so much in Carlo’s brightly lit DARKROOM), but the two vivid colors are drowned in the flood of wintry, washed-out greys and beiges of a Milan winter. It would have been nice if the experiment had been carried out to the fullest, but it’s a minor quibble. Besides, I don’t think Bianchi was capable of more. 

a cozy little design horror

Bill: It’s a movie that begins with a botched abortion and cover up and ends with surprise buttsex.  Who could complain about that?  Oh!  Me.  Because I do have one issue with the movie.  My lady, Edwige, plays Magda and Magda, according to Felisatti, was meant to be the lead in this film, but Carlo totally overshadows her.  She’s forced to be the Penny to Carlo’s Inspector Gadget.  It would’ve been nice to see her stand out a little more.

Fisty: To be fair, very few thespians wouldn’t be outshone by Castelnuovo’s Carlo. The dude is happening. But yeah, it’s a shame Edwige’s Magda was so often relegated to an accessory status, a cute girl along for the ride and to add comic relief and titties. Like that scene where she gets tangled up taking off her babydoll chemise. To be fair, I’ve gotten stuck pulling a shirt off before, but there’s really no point to that bit but a snicker and some boobies. And how about the strangling, “Oh, sorry” scene? BUT! We’re over it! We love Strip Nude for Your Killer! And that’s our final word!

surprise chauvinism!

A peek behind the scenes of PB&G’s editorial process:

living0dead0punk: Every time I see it, I hear that silly clang sound effect you hear just before she gasps.
Doctor Kitten Yo: i know!
living0dead0punk: It sounds like a little metal fetus fell out.
Doctor Kitten Yo: it’s like a weird slapstick noise
living0dead0punk: It is!
Doctor Kitten Yo: i expect to hear curly doing that whoopwhoop thing
living0dead0punk: That has got to be the strangest choice of sound effect ever.    we didn’t even mention it.  haha
Doctor Kitten Yo: i know! we’re IDIOTS!

The Whip and the Body

it’s whipping time

La Frusta e il Corpo
aka What!?
aka Night is the Phantom
aka Son of Satan
aka The Body and the Whip
aka Der Dämon und die Jungfrau
aka The Whip and the Flesh
Mario Bava
Daliah Lavi, Christopher Lee, Evelyn, Stewart, Tony Kendall, Ida Galli
Running time:
91 minutes
Gothic horror, spaghetti gothic, Italian horror, erotic horror

What!?:Prodigal son Kurt Menliff returns to his family’s ancestral home, only no one is happy to see him. Kurt had previously left under terrible circumstances, banished and disinherited by his father the count for his infamous and cruel behavior, and the actions that caused a young woman to kill herself. Disgusted with the vagabond life of a pariah, Kurt seeks to wreak vengeance upon everyone from his past life: his father who cast him out, his brother Christian who has the inheritance that is rightfully his, beautiful Nevenka who was once his fiancée but who is now married to Christian, even the servant Georgia who festishistically prays to the dagger with which her daughter Tanya killed herself after Kurt’s desertion. Kurt begins his enterprise when he encounters Nevenka on an isolated strand below the Menliff castle, and the two are irresistibly drawn to one another, just as they were before his banishment. When Nevenka resists, Kurt savagely whips her, a beating that ends in abandoned seduction. Afterward, Kurt returns to the castle, where the family begins searching for the missing Nevenka. While alone in his rooms, he hears a voice calling and approaches the window. The wind blows the curtains around him, and when Kurt emerges from the swirling fabric, the same dagger that killed Tanya is buried in his throat. Though not grief-stricken, save for perhaps the too quiet Nevenka, the family is understandably disquieted by Kurt’s murder. Someone among them must have done it, but who? Lord Menliff, to punish his son for returning? Giorgia, in revenge for Tanya’s death? Christian, to secure his inheritance? Or even Tanya herself, from beyond the grave? Nothing is certain but that death and madness stalk the Menliff castle as the murders continue and Nevenka is haunted by Kurt’s memory–or perhaps his ghost. In solitude she revisits the ecstasy they shared while Cousin Katia seeks refuge in Christian’s arms from the evil and insanity permeating the House of Menliff.

fall of the house of menliff

fall of the house of menliff

Seriously, What?!: When The Whip and the Body was distributed in the US, censors went nuts, and the cuts they made rendered the movie totally incomprehensible. Fittingly, it was retitled What?! for the 1965 US distribution; shockingly, it was not well received. But Bava’s tale of terror and desire is a stunningly sensual and moving Italian Gothic–and it is Christopher’s Lee favorite of all his Italian work.

Fisty:This is one of the most sumptuously beautiful movies to look at that I have ever seen. Christopher Lee was once a Grade A, stone cold hottie, and Daliah Lavi is no slouch herself, eerily resembling Italo-Gothic stalwart Barbara Steele. The two and their dueling cheekbones drenched in Bava’s luscious colors and lights would be a delight to watch under any circumstances.

kurt versus nevenka: cheekbone battle royale

kurt versus nevenka: cheekbone battle royale

Bill: I’d say she’s no slouch!  In one scene, the camera slowly revolves around her as she plays piano, lit just perfectly to show off her beauty.  She’s stunning.  By that point, you’d already seen her getting off on a lashing she was given down on the beach, too.  So hott.  I have never wanted, so badly, to flog a European girl as I did watching this movie.  And don’t even get me started on her ecstatic, hand biting scene. As for those “luscious colors and lights,” I’ll put my geek hat on and say that, watching this, I was reminded of the Marvel superhero trading cards that the Brothers Hildebrandt painted back in the mid-’90s.  All the lasers and explosions and energy blasts that go along with superheroes made for plenty of  interesting light sources and contrasting colors for the Hildebrandts to play with in their art, which they did with gorgeous results.  The crew behind The Whip and the Body did the same thing (only without the superheroes), creating a movie where almost every frame is like a vibrantly-colored painting.  It’s especially refreshing to watch a movie like this after the last two decades full of films with muted and washed out colors.  I think some of today’s filmmakers need to give this flick a look and see how amazing movies can be when you add a little color to them.

Hey!  Wait a minute!  What’s all this Bava talk, Fisty?  I paid attention to the credits and it said this was directed by John M. Old.  You mean the movie lied?!

Fisty: Well no, not really, Bill. Bava used a pseudonym. You see, it was once fairly common practice to replace overtly “foreign”-sounding names with Anglicized ones to make them more palatable to overseas (American) audiences. Bava used “John M. Old” for TWatB, as well as the spaghetti Western I coltelli del vendicatore (The Road to Fort Alamo), and the similar sounding “John Hold” for a writing credit on I coltelli del vendicatore (Knives of the Avenger). Both actors and crew did this; in TWatB you will find Gustavo de Nardo and Luciano Pigozzi masquerading as “Dean Ardow” and “Alan Collins,” respectively. And then you will also sometimes find actors or directors using pseudonyms to differentiate certain genres of their work (Joe d’Amato is an excellent example of this practice).

Bill:Oh.  I suppose that makes sense.  Oh well.  At least Christopher Lee didn’t use an assumed name.  He was all Christopher Lee, all the time. You know, even though he was used as the main antagonist of the movie, I found him more relate-able than any of the other characters. I didn’t really even see him as a villain, in spite of his sadism.

is he a bad boy, or really just a sad boy?

is he a bad boy, or really just a sad boy?

Fisty: That’s because he’s totally not the villain, or even a sadist. It’s all about Nevenka. Nevenka, Nevenka, Nevenka! Now, Kurt IS a cad and a bounder, and he probably always was a bit of a jerk, but I am willing to bet good money that he’s hardly the monster the others make him out to be. He was the favorite before he left, which hardly would have been the case had he always been the “serpent” the Count refers to him as. The Count, now, he is all kinds of jerk–and he taught Kurt everything he knew. Kurt says to his father, “You showed me the way,” referring not to just literally the secret passages, but also the way to behave, to act. Kurt is maddened by his father’s hypocrisy, especially in light of the count’s relations with Nevenka.

Bill: And man, was Kurt’s brother living in his shadow or what.  Constantly talking about how he’s not afraid of him.

Fisty: I wouldn’t be surprised if even Tanya wasn’t the innocent victim Giorgia made her out to be. Perhaps she was scheming to compromise Kurt and force him to marry her, and when her plan failed, she killed herself because she had few options. And her mother might even know that, it could be part and parcel of her hatred for Kurt, that she resents how he didn’t fall into their trap!

Bill: Maybe so. Everyone in that place was fucked, even the servants: “Hello, lady, how about you clean your daughter’s blood off the dagger, you morbid old hag?”

Fisty:I know, right? But back to Nevenka, because after all, she’s the star of the whole show. Kurt only returns home because he is fascinated by her, and he wants his place–including her by his side–back. She is in control the whole time–he even refers to her as his master. In the beach scene, Nevenka strikes him first, spurring him into the games they once played together. When he whips her, he does it for her gratification, not just his own–most unlike your classical sadist. “You always loved violence,” he says, tipping us off that this isn’t something new, that their relationship was always founded on this dynamic. He is neither punishing her, nor revenging himself on her for remaining at Castle Menliff or for her marriage to Christian, instead he is giving her the pleasure she has been denied, both by her surroundings and herself. It is through this release that Nevenka achieves sexual fulfillment. (And notice how, when he first manifests to her, before whipping her and giving her that release, Kurt’s first instinct is tenderness.)

nevenka loving it

nevenka loving it

Bound tightly in her small, claustrophobic world, Nevenka is relegated to the position of a decoration, nothing more is required of her than to look lovely, dress prettily, sew, play piano, and then eventually provide an heir for the Menliff family. Whatever desires she may have are thwarted by her position, and by her innocent husband, whose boyish charms leave her cold. (And there’s the small matter of Christian’s longing for Cousin Katia; as a younger son, Christian could have married Katia, but once Kurt left and he became the heir instead, he could hardly marry a penniless relative, so it’s was Kurt’s bride he married.) As a woman in nineteenth century umm, wherever they are in Europe (somewhere with Orthodox Christianity and a seacoast, Romania? Croatia? Ukraine?), trapped in a crumbling castle with only a clueless husband, insane servingwoman, resentful poor relation, and a pervy father-in-law, Nevenka has few ways to exercise power or express her desires, and this imprisonment maddens her. Nevenka can sink into quiet passivity and let things unfold around her, or she can burst forth, like a phoenix–risking castigation and the condemnation of society. Though not a jaded libertine, Nevenka is so wrapped in passivity and boredom that she requires something more to stimulate her, and Kurt provides that for her–at her wish. But since she didn’t and can’t, she passionately hates this aspect of herself. She cannot be both Kurt’s lover and Christians’ wife, but neither can she be happy with the one knowing the other exists, and this is the central conflict of TWatB. If Nevenka had married Kurt, then perhaps she would have been able to fully express her desires. Perhaps–I HAVE GOT TO SHUT UP ABOUT THIS STUFF.

only the shadow knows

only the shadow knows

When Kurt seems to be haunting the castle–has he returned from beyond the grave? Or is he simply a manifestation of Nevenka’s desires? The further she sinks into a morass of hallucinatory terror, the more we doubt what we’ve seen. What is going on? So much crazy ass SUBTEXT! The Whip and the Body, despite some terrible dubbing (it is surely a crime to not have Christopher Lee dub his own voice in English?) is a masterpiece of color and shadow, a moody and atmospheric Gothic mystery absolutely worth seeing. Though it looks like one of Corman’s Poe thrillers, it is a psychologically compelling film that meditates on obsession and feminine desire. We didn’t even go into all the symbolism with the colors (watch for blue and then red)–not to mention the rose, the whip, and the dagger. We suck.

Bill: What?!  That wasn’t Christopher Lee’s voice?!