The Ghost

not to be confused with the royal trux song

not to be confused with the royal trux song

Lo spettro
aka The Ghost
aka Le spectre du Dr. Hichcock
aka The Spectre
Director: Riccardo Freda
Released: 1963
Starring: Barbara Steele, Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta, Harriet Medin, Umberto Raho
Running time: 96 min
Genre: Gothic horror

Don’t move, darling, or I’ll cut you. Doctor John Hichcock is half the man he used to be. Struck down by a wasting disease and confined to a wheelchair, he has only death to look forward to. That and tormenting his beautiful young wife, Margaret. It’s whispered that Hichcock’s illness is just retribution for his weird and unnatural medical experiments, the devilish rites being held in the house of evil, crippled Doctor Hichcock. Regardless, he continues with those evil ways, subjecting both Margaret and his old friend Doctor Charles Livingstone to séances with his childhood nurse-cum-housekeeper Catherine, and also subjecting his body to daily injections of poison. Whether those injections are really meant to kill or cure, only Hichcock could say.

Margaret, however, has something to say, and it goes a little something like, “If you don’t kill him, I will!” After all, she’s the lovely young thing tethered to a hateful, too-slowly dying old man. Forced to play nurse as well as wife , Margaret has turned to the young and virile Charles for comfort. Animal comfort. Conservatory floor comfort. Driven to hate by Hichcock’s cruelty, Margaret insists they do away with their impediment to happiness–and wealth. And after all, wouldn’t it be better for Hichcock, too? To no longer suffering as a living corpse? It’s for the best, really.

But once the deed is done, things begin to go awry. Hichcock’s hound howls ceaselessly,  his wheelchair perambulates of its own accords, and Catherine channels Hichcock in her sleep, his spectral voice calling for Margaret. Then the will is read, and things go from bad to worse as Margaret and Charles discover that Hichcock’s cruelty extends beyond the grave, leaving Margaret the house and estate (on condition that she employ Catherine for the rest of her days) and one-third the contents of his safe. The other two-thirds go to the Home for Indigent Orphans run by Canon Owens. WHAT THE FUCK, thinks Margaret. The missing safe key seems to be yet more abuse from the malign Doctor Hichcock, but perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. She and Charles immediately plan to find the key and get into that safe, robbing it just a little before it’s opened by officials, one-upping both the deceased Doctor Hichcock and the greasy Canon Owens in one fell swoop.

they both took the hypocritic oath

they both took the hypocritic oath

flowers make me feel like a cripple

flowers make me feel like a cripple

why does this gin taste like cripple?

why does this gin taste like cripple?

But first  they have got to find that damnable key. Increasingly frantic, Margaret and Charles search for the key beneath Catherine’s intrusive nose. On top of that, Margaret must countenance gossip in the village, for after all, it’s Scotland in 1910, and a handsome young man staying with the recently bereaved lady doesn’t look quite right. Nor does Margaret seem like a grief-stricken widow, even to staying away from the memorial service. But who cares when there’s a fortune to be found? Especially when they think they know where to find it: Catherine claims to have seen him put it in his vest pocket–of the suit he was buried in. Well, it’s off to the tomb to investigate, but not before the spectral visitations kick in, and the blood starts to flow, and suspicions grow like worms.

That wonderful inspiration that will save the lives of millions of poor cripples! While not quite as darkly thrilling or subtly perverse as The ‘orrible doctor ‘ichcock, Lo spettro is a fine example of the color Italian Gothic, featuring Barbara Steele at her most stunning and delightfully pernicuous.

Fisty: My two main issues with Lo spettro are a) I keep conflating the English and Italian titles of its predecessor L’orribile segreto del Doctor Hichcock, and calling it The ‘orrible Doctor ‘ichcock. Which is kind of weird. And also, I’ve been calling it Lo spettro because that has a much less generic and more suggestive sound to it than the US title of The Ghost. Even the more literal translation of The Spectre  would be an improvement. But really, those are my main complaints.

Bill: I have a complaint! There’s a small stretch of the film, from just before the murder to shortly after, before the weird things start happening, that is just a tad boring.  I don’t know what could’ve been done about that, really, since there are things happening, necessary things, they’re just not terribly exciting. This is maybe, at most, ten minutes of the movie and a pretty minor thing to bitch about, since the rest is pretty damn good.

watch it, sister

watch it, sister

oh, i will show you some cares

oh, i will show you some cares

just no

just no

Oh! One other issue I have is with the confusing fuckery that is the credit for the film’s score. The music is credited to Franck Wallace, a pseudonym, but it doesn’t seem quite clear who, in this case, was using the name. I think it was likely Franco Mannino, since Wallace was a name he used and that’s what got put in the credits. However, Francesco De Masi, who supposedly provided his own score at Freda’s request after Freda decided he didn’t like Mannino’s work, gets sole credit on some surviving tapes that were found. (You can find all this junk on IMDB.) This leaves me scratching my head and wondering who provided the haunting, creepy, yet so, so pretty music box waltz  that is used so effectively throughout the movie. I love it! So it kind of sucks that I don’t know who actually wrote it or even what the name of that piece is. I spent a good two hours trying to find a version of it online that didn’t have dialog from the movie over it, but I never was able to find it. In the film, in possibly the best, most intense scene, when Barbara Steele is shaving a nostalgic Hichcock, and considering murdering him, it plays on Hichcock’s music box and he refers to it only as a Viennese waltz. I can’t know if this was a pre-existing piece of music used in the movie, whether it was written for the movie or, if it was, who then actually wrote it. Gah!

Fisty: Okay. I’m with you on the shaving scene, though. It’s excellent foreshadowing, and builds to a wonderful intensity. It also hints at currents beneath the surface, like with the way Margaret pauses when Hichcock refers to her as a “beautiful penniless young thing, not a care in the world.” When he says that, she stops as if transfixed, razor to his throat, and her stillness stretches out till it calls Hichcock’s awareness to her. That pause is so evocative, hinting at a past that–for Margaret, at least–is not so lovely as Hichcock would remember it. It is significant in how it suggests some of the difficulties of Margaret’s position: Coming up from poverty, a poverty that was hardly so carefree as he would call it, to the heights of respectable marriage to a wealthy, respected doctor, and then descending into the misery of life as a nurse to a hateful, dying cripple. Because let’s face is, Hichcock is a dick. And a half. A life with Charles is for Margaret a fresh start: She’s thirtyish now, but with a virile young man she can begin again, have a family, possibly children, things that are beyond her reach as long as the horrible Hichcock is in the picture. So her desperation is palpable.

legitimate drape

legitimate drape

who died and made you widow?

who died and made you widow?

my hand smells like cripple!

my hand smells like cripple!

Not to downplay Margaret’s darkness; no, one of Lo spettro‘s strengths is Steele’s weird beauty and her capacity for bitchiness while still communicating vulnerability. Often this was simplified in the dual roles she was famed for (eg, Asa/Katia in Black Sunday, Muriel/Jenny in Nightmare Castle, even Harriet/Beatrice in An Angel for Satan), and those are a great use of her. But I do prefer Margaret for Steele, as she wonderfully creates a decidedly bad lady who is both cruel and conflicted. Not all witch  and while certainly not innocent in the least, still invested with a little pathos. Shades of Francesca Annis in Polanski’s MacBeth, but in gorgeous Edwardian gowns.

Bill: No downplaying for her darkness! She had Livingstone shoot a dog for making noise! Everyone in the movie (except for Canon Owens, who I think just wants the best for his orphans) is pretty dickish, but when Margaret and Charles start killing dogs, no matter how nuanced, layered or conflicted they are, I start thinking they deserve what’s coming. Cruel, horrible Hichcock, as really the only true sadist in the movie, is still King Dick and the absolute worst of the bunch. He’s exactly the kind of prick that you could believe would come back from the other side to troll you from beyond the grave, but at least he wasn’t killing doggies over a little bit of  howling.

Fisty: You know I don’t ever condone wanton killing of animals, but I think that was used to show a tinge of madness in Margaret, how unstable she is. There’s wonderful use of the dog’s incessant mournful howling, and I think that scene nicely underscores how inhumane Margaret and Charles are in their uncharity, especially when compared to a dumb animal. So though it makes me have a sad, it’s absolutely a useful scene. And a really good one, too.

But Canon Owens, you are totally insanely wrong about. The man is a cold, slimy fish. When the will is read, the camera lingers on his mug as he goes from smug, to greedy, and back to complacent once more. It’s nicely telling. Those orphans aren’t getting much from Doctor Hichcock, but Canon Owens will be lining his pocket with silk and velvet.

i'm not always crippled, but when i am, i torment my wife

i’m not always crippled, but when i am, i torment my wife

have a nice funeral, babs, dr hichcock will pay

have a nice funeral, babs, dr hichcock will pay

going bump in the night?

going bump in the night?

Bill: That wasn’t greed, it was joy for all the good things he’ll be able to do for his orphans.  (Fisty: Ha!) Or to them. I’ll admit, he was a little sketchy in that scene and he probably is just as slimy as everyone else in the movie. You have to wonder if Hichcock surrounds himself with shitters or if he finds good folk and shapes them into the nasty people he wants them to be. Charles seems like he may have been okay at one time. There are definitely some moments where some inner decency shines through in him. I could see Hichcock actually planning and secretly facilitating the affair between Charles and Margaret just to tarnish them both and allow him to punish them for the transgressions he orchestrated. I like that even a straightforward, evil character like Hichcock has some wiggle room in just how wicked he is because of the complexity of the characters. Maybe he was jealous of Charles’ youth and virility or maybe he was surprised and upset by the affair or maybe he just wanted to fuck with some people to get his rocks off and they were unlucky enough to be the people he had around. There’s room for interpretation. Though, if his portrait is an accurate depiction of his soul, I’d have to say it’s the last one and that Doctor Hichcock’s wickedness is absolute, because that was one freaky, ugly painting.

Watching Lo spettro, there were three authors that I was reminded of. One of them, Shakespeare, I can’t talk too much about for fear of spoilers, but there were some aspects of the dénouement that felt like a twisted, convoluted riff on Romeo and Juliet. Way more than Billy Shakes however, I was reminded of Poe and of Cornell Woolrich. There are some very “Tell-Tale Heart”-like moments in the film and one particular twist that is almost identical to the Woolrich story “Post Mortem.” I’m trying to talk Fisty into writing a piece about Woolrich, btw, so anyone reading this, let her know she needs to do that.

Fisty: When we’re on a regular schedule, then maybe I’ll have a minute to do it!

haaaaands holding haaaaaaands

haaaaands holding haaaaaaands

mecca lecca hi, mecca hichcock ho

mecca lecca hi, mecca hichcock ho

will all great neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my snuffbox?

will all great neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my snuffbox?

I got a lot of the same references, though maybe a little differently. “Post Mortem” is so obvious that there was never any question about it. With regards to Shakespeare, though, I think I mentioned MacBeth, by way of Margaret’s wickedness, and Charles’ suggestibility into knavery, as well as the imagery of blood on the hands. The lovers are certainly star-crossed in the traditional sense, though, much as Romeo and his fair Juliet are. I got Poe more by way of Roger Corman, specifically the dénouement of The Pit and the Pendulum. (These movies are over fifty years old; are we concerned about spoilering them? Shouldn’t it be “spoiling,” not “spoilering?” Why are we saying that?) And I see a lot of noir allusion, especially with the destructiveness of the star-crossed lovers once greed and guilt get out of control. The relationship between Charles and Margaret also references the way that the shared knowledge and responsibility for a crime spells an inevitable demise for their love.  There’s also Hichcock’s impotence as the husband, symbolized by the wheelchair, and the marriage’s subsequent childlessness. Also, the stifling entrapment Margaret feels, which Freda masterfully implies in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Hichcock domicile. Virtually every member of this ghastly household is perpetrating an assault upon the conventions of family, hearth, and home.

The way Freda has Hichcock’s scheme play out really poses the question of who the true villain is. Margaret is A villain, yes–and to a lesser degree, Charles–but is she THE villain? Or is it Hichcock, and does he go to a fitting doom? While Lo spettro is not as enigmatical as The Horrible Doctor Hichcock, there is still some ambiguity.

babs steele, tomb raider

babs steele, tomb raider

the 'orrible doctor 'ichcock

the ‘orrible doctor ‘ichcock

profondo rosso

profondo rosso

Bill: And the movie is just that much better for it.

Honestly, I agreed to review this one without checking it out first. I’d never seen this or The Horrible Doctor Hichcock. When I first looked at it, I was expecting it to be kind of boring. I figured we’d have a rehash of the 7DitCE review, with you (meaning Fisty, not you, good reader) raving and me snoring. Aside from a few slow minutes, however, I was totally wrong. I got sucked into the movie–so much so that I forgot to take any notes–then spent the two hours after I watched it still caught up in it and yapping to someone about it on Facebook. So … very much NOT boring. I liked it a lot. I loved some of it. In addition to the shaving scene we talked about before, there’s another really great scene (that also involves that same razor) later in the film. There’s a brutal slashing with this brilliant *svip svip svip* sound for each slash. One character is standing outside of the room where the murder takes place and you just hear that *svip svip svip* noise again and again. It cuts back to the murder itself, into what I suppose would be a victim’s POV shot, and as the razor flies, the blood literally runs down the lens of the camera. The murderer’s face is tinted red by the blood covered lens in what is a very, very Sam Raimi-ish scene in a year when Sam Raimi would’ve been about four years-old. Another really creepy scene features a supernaturally propelled wheelchair at the top of a set of  stairs that so perfectly prefigures some of the most memorable scenes from The Changeling that I have to wonder if Medak wasn’t influenced by Lo spettro. If he was, he has good taste.

Fisty: Let’s go ahead and just say that watching and enjoying this film is indicative of good taste.

Chockablock with neuroses, murder, drugs, and adultery, Freda’s Lo spettro is an elegant and colorful Gothic thriller rich with characterization and tension. High production values highlight Barbara Steele’s weird beauty just as a strong script by Ernesto Gastaldi and expert direction from Freda use her witchlike persona to great effect. It’s one of her strongest perfomances, and she’s ably supported by Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta, Harriet Medin, and Umberto Raho, not to mention beautifully framed by the budget luxe sets and costuming. A lean, mean treat for fans of the Italian Gothic.

this one just makes us laugh

this one just makes us laugh

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.

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids

rendezvous in bloodstain

Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso
aka Seven Blood-Stained Orchids
aka Das Rätsel des silbernen Halbmonds
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Released: 1972
Starring: Antonio Sabato, Uschi Glas, Pier Paolo Capponi, Marina Malfati, Rossella Falk
Running Time: 92 minutes
Genre: giallo, krimi

What Happens: The only clue in an apparently random series of brutal murders is a crescent medallion left at the scene of each crime. When one of the intended victims, Giulia (Uschi Glas), survives an attack in a train compartment on her honeymoon, she and her new husband, fashion designer Mario (played with wonderfully cock-swinging arrogance by Antonio Sabato) work first with the police (who put it about that Giulia didn’t survive the attack in order to flush out the killer), then on their own to solve the mystery of who is killing these women and why. The pair soon discover that what the victims and Giulia had in common is their presence at a hotel on the same date several years earlier. They immediately begin trying to track down the other women there on that fateful day, but the killer always seems to be one step ahead. To identify him, Giulia and Mario must discover what happened that day that would drive someone to kill. Features a full complement of incompetent polizia, hippies, and boobs.

And?: Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is an exemplary giallo from the height of the genre’s popularity, and–for some–a surprising turn from Umberto Lenzi, often remembered for classy flicks like Eaten Alive!, Nightmare City, and of course, Video Nasty Cannibal Ferox. It begins very nicely, with Riz Ortolani’s sexy score promising plenty of sleaze and a classic killer POV, black gloves and all, and manages two murders within the first five minutes.

Bill: The first is reminiscent of the killers POV from Black Christmas and Halloween, which I loved seeing in a movie older than either of those.  And the second is deliciously trashy, a lovely prostitute from Hooker Beach whose bare breasts wiggle tantalizingly as she’s clubbed to death.  That’s a great opening.

Most of the other on screen murders are pretty decent, too.  There’s a drill scene that calls to mind Fulci’s style of bloody murder and a very well done, complicated, artful murder of an artist that reminds me of Argento’s brand of pretty violence.

Fisty: Marina Malfati’s murder scene is stylish as all hell–and plenty suspenseful. Okay, I’m fond of cats (I love kitties!), but when she finds her cats poisoned, the fright builds palpably as she searches her studio/apartment, the piteous mewlings of a cat echoing in the dark. It’s incredibly disturbing, but impossible not to watch. Also to watch for are the celebrated drill scene and Rossella Falk’s darkly comic turn as a mental patient, but none of the murders are dissatisfying. More subtle than say, Argento, but with an inevitability that pushes them to horrific heights.

everyone's a critic

everyone’s a critic

Bill: The open eyes of Falk are creepy, though it would’ve been nice to see some nudity in that kill.  Actually, it would’ve been nice to see more nudity all together.  Uschi Glas is gorgeous, but we never even get a tease.  Maybe Edwige Fenech has me spoiled.  More gore would’ve worked, too.  Or more artsy murders.  You really only get a little of any of it.  It ends up being like an assorted giallo sampler.  There’s a little sleaze, a little gore, a little disturbing imagery and a little fancy art, but not enough of any of them to stand out, in any one way, enough to really be great.

Fisty: I don’t quite agree. I’d call it more giallo-by-numbers, maybe. Though it has all the trademarks of the genre post-Argento while retaining style and originality, it’s also a far cry from Lenzi’s early sexy thriller gialli like Orgasmo and Paranoia. You are right in that it seems restrained, never going over the top with any of the elements that make for good trash or sleaze. That’s not a BAD thing, but I can see where it would disappoint total gorehounds. But Lenzi still keeps it just trashy enough for highbrow disdain, and just bloody enough to please all but the most ardent horror buffs (Plus, they can trace the evolution of certain kills–Driller Killer, anyone?). 7B-SO sustains the tension from its promising start, though the middle drags a bit, when it flirts with Eurocrime and gets bogged down by uninteresting policework–I honestly could have gone to wash the dishes, and not really missed anything–but that’s a common misdemeanor for gialli.

I have to say, I loved to look at 7B-SO. Everything looks damn fine, especially our two leads. Sabato is a fine-ass motherfucker, if wooden, and Glas is adorable (despite the stupid hairstyle). And their house was a hyper-cool mod marvel–I would move in to it in a heartbeat. The whole thing looked the way I imagine Jackie Susann’s Once is Not Enough, when January Wayne’s mind gets blown by swinging NYC. Hott women in wildly impractical costumes, beautiful sets, sexy-ass music. I loved it.

The style isn’t just on set or in wardrobe, either. Lenzi, though not with quite the baroque presence of genre masters like Bava or Argento, gives 7B-SO a style all his own, with plenty of wit and verve.

it's murder on the water bill

it’s murder on the water bill

Bill: There are two areas where the movie stands out for me.  Music and story.

Boom-boooom-buh-doo-duhm-boooom.  This main theme of 7B-SO is going to be in my head every time I click-clack my platform shoes down the street in my black and white, tiger-striped leisure suit with the oversized collar, snapping my fingers and bobbing my head, for the rest of my life.  If I were a pimp, it would be my theme music.  It is amazingly funky and smooth.

As for the twisty-turny, red herring-scattered plot, it …  it makes sense.  The motivations, the actions of the killer, even the awesome title of the movie, all come together nicely and make perfect sense, even to me and my hopelessly non-European brain.  It’s a nice little mystery whose pieces all fit together well.  Er…  Mostly fit together well.  The killer does seem able to magically appear anywhere and has magically complete knowledge of where his victims will be at any and all times–unless he already thinks them dead or they have a twin.  He can also make ceilings collapse and doors slam with the power of his mind when he isn’t even anywhere near the area, but, hey, those are the kind of things I’m willing to accept from a movie without question.  I’m easy like that.

Fisty: Yeah, instead of the usual twisting and turning like some kind of twisty-turny thing for which there is no rational excuse, 7B-SO actually is pretty well plotted; you can follow along and even figure out what’s going on without relying simply on genre conventions or random chance–even the red herrings make sense! That is probably the only way it’s really reminiscent of his pre-Argento gialli. Which brings us to my favorite thing about 7B-SO: While Orgasmo and Paranoia (and to a lesser extent, So Sweet, So Perverse) were inspired by Celle qui n’était plus, for 7B-SO, Lenzi was inspired by and (very) loosely based the plot upon a Cornell Woolrich novel, Rendezvous in Black. If you know anything about RiB, then you know that’s a huge spoiler, but unfortunately, Woolrich doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves, so I’m giving it a shout-out. I found it gratifying to watch the post-film interview on the DVD, in which Lenzi explicitly states his inspiration lay in Rendezvous–like I’ve been saying for years, Europe loves Woolrich! (The interview is also worth seeing for Lenzi’s insistence of his own grandeur and superiority to other directors, all but accusing them of ripping off his work. So rad.) Interestingly, 7B-SO was an Italian/German co-production, and the last of the Edgar Wallace krimi–though the screenplay was one of those “inspired by the works of” types. Huh. I don’t know enough about krimi to comment. But from what I do know, the Glas-Sabato husband and wife team as protagonists probably owes its inception to krimi.

Bill: Another thing. Those cops are woefully inept, but infinitely entertaining.  “What do the victims have in common?”  “They were both found half naked?”  Genius.  I can understand why Mario  wouldn’t bother going to the police with half of his discoveries in the case. Is Acropolis the answer to that crossword?  “Can’t be Acropolis.  The second letter has to be a C.”  More geniuser.   Mario calls to inform them of a new lead?  They ignore then hang up on him, “He confessed.”  Click. Of course, they beat a confession out of the poor sap.  Poor Raoul.  Do you remember Raoul?  No, of course not.  You never met him.  It’s easy to believe Inspector Vismara when he says, “I don’t think anything.”  But, at least they don’t kowtow to bureaucracy over in italy.  This may be one of my favorite moments in any film, ever:

Alright, break it down.
Without a search warrant, sir?
Yes, I’ll get one tomorrow. Hurry up.

But in spite of that “Git R Done” initiative, Mario is much better at polizing than the polizia.  He tirelessly tracks down leads and isn’t afraid to get a bit rough.  “I don’t feel like messing around and I haven’t got time to smash your face in, so give it to me straight!”  He’s also, for a fashion designer, one hell of a police sketch artist.  He manages to get a panhandler to recognize a suspect by showing an abstract line drawing of Bob Hoskins to a bunch of artists, hippies and vagabonds.  The world would be better off if there were more fashion designer/amateur detectives, I think.

one of mario's many talents

one of mario’s many talents

Fisty: Well, that police ineptitude is a classic hallmark of the giallo. Better use could have been made of Glas (why does Mario get to have all the fun?), but all in all, a good-looking,  inoffensive flick from Lenzi, who demonstrates a restraint and style largely lacking in the later horror films he’s best known for. That is, if you see little to no redeeming value in films like Cannibal Ferox. Those only familiar with Lenzi’s work in the Italian cannibal sub-genre will undoubtedly be surprised by 7B-SO (and should probably check out his other work, especially 70s crime flicks). As a giallo, it’s a good example without being too … out there. If you want MORE gore, MORE outlandishness, MORE sleaze, you might be better off with another, but Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a happy medium.

Bill: While Seven Blood-Stained Orchids may not be the goriest, or sexiest, or prettiest, and while it does drag at times, it’s still pretty fun.  Mostly because of the cops, a handful of interesting murders and Mario, who taught me that women without scarves look like call girls.  If you aren’t too picky about your gialli, you just might enjoy this, for all its faults.

Important editorial discussion:

living0dead0punk: I wouldn’t call [Sabato] wooden.  Just… chiseled.
Doctor Kitten Yo: sculpted
living0dead0punk: Yes! Whittled. Ok, maybe he is kind of wooden.
Doctor Kitten Yo: yes. but pretty