Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion

in which nobody is above suspicion

Le foto proibite di una signora per bene
aka The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion
aka Frauen bis zum Wahnsinn gequält
aka Días de angustia
aka Photo interdite d’une bourgeoise
Director: Luciano Ercoli
Released: 1970
Starring: Dagmar Lassander, Nieves Navarro aka Susan Scott, Pier Paolo Capponi, and Simón Andreu
Running time: 93 min
Genre: giallo

You must surrender your mind–and your body. Confirming my own ideas about the inner monologues of women (this is Bill speaking) Minou (Dagmar Lassander) bathes, dresses, paints her toenails, lounges, naps, drinks, pops pills, and obsessively stares at portraits while spending the whole time thinking about how to please, anger, manipulate and make love to Peter. That’s a capital P, sickos. Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi) is her new entrepreneur husband. He’s been away trying to do some hardcore, capitalistic entrepreneuring and she’s doing her best to pass the time until his return.

Taking a break from her internal Peter obsessing and kinda doped up and buzzing, she goes for a late evening walk on the beach. Alone, with no one to call to, she is first spied upon, then stalked by sinister thug on a motorbike (Simón Andreu). He terrorizes and bullies her, using a nightstick with a switchblade tip. He’s going to make her “beg for his kisses,” and then tells her, “No, I’m not going to use force with you.” Nevertheless, he pushes her to the ground and slowly cuts open her clothes. Rapey stuff and, perhaps, murder are imminent. Then he asks about Peter. Does she know what he’s been up to while he’s been away? He tells her that Peter is a fraud. That he’s a murderer. Then he tells her she’s free to go … for now, and leaves her lying there unharmed and mostly unmolested as he rides off. Shaken, she goes to a nearby bar, calls Peter to come for her, and sits and gets plastered with some bossy card players, but doesn’t call the cops because, “The police only make you fill out forms.” Uh …?

Peter is somewhat dismissive of the assault, since the sex killer didn’t really do anything to her, only held her down and threatened her with a knife and cut her clothes mostly off. Uh …? Besides, even if she had been raped, he informs her, he wouldn’t love her any less. Minou, not at all wondering how a sex maniac knew who she was and who her husband is, protects herself from further victimization by donning a curly blonde Femi Benussi wig and going disco dancing. At the club, she bumps into her good friend, the fabulously gorgeous and sexually adventurous Dominique (Nieves Navarro), a former lover of Peter’s (and current lover of peters–zing!), who tells her of the death–maybe suicide, maybe murder–of a man named Dubois. Dubois was a business associate of Peter’s to whom Peter owed quite a bit of money.

Minou reads about Dubois’ death in the paper–he mysteriously died of the bends, a condition that typically afflicts divers that surface too quickly–and she begins to think … something. She discusses her worries and the attack with Dominique, who would, “adore being violated.” Like Peter, Dominique is mostly dismissive of the assault. She’s way more interested in showing Minou her classy porn slideshows and photos and not-so-subtlety coming onto her. While sorting through the porno snaps, Minou finds a picture of the sex maniac from the beach. Having gotten over her fear of filling out forms, an inspector comes to Peter’s office to take a police report from him and Minou. After, Peter tells her about the new deep diving pressure gauge he’s trying to bring to market and she sees the pressure chamber where it’s tested, a room capable of simulating deep diving conditions.

she can’t help thinking about peter: where he is, who he is with, is he thinking of her, and will he ever return to her someday

like a mammal of some sort

my naked pictures, let me show you them

That night, while alone, she receives a phone call from her attacker. He wants to meet with her. He plays her a recording of Peter apparently discussing the murder of Dubois. She must meet him or he’ll turn the tape over to the police. He does not want money. He cannot be bought.  All he wants is Minou. Minou, Minou, Minou! Is Peter really a murderer? How is Dominique involved? Why is Minou a target? Will she willingly give herself to her blackmailer, mind, spirit, and body, to protect her husband? Is any of it even real or is it all in Minou’s tipsy, pill-munching head? Who cares? I just want to see more of her kick ass shoe-stealing, show-stealing, startle-inducing pet turtle. Man, he’s great!

Everyone has his price–even a maniac. Without many of the markers usually ascribed to the giallo, and with a dearth of blood and titties, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion has its share of detractors, those who might call it Giallo Lite–or even not a giallo at all. However Ercoli’s eye, Ernesto Gastaldi’s script, and a score by Ennio Morricone would suggest otherwise. Will they be enough? Does FPoaLAS have enough strengths to refute the deniers?

Fisty: Before I say anything, I have to get something off my chest. I FUCKING LOATHE DAGMAR LASSANDER’S CUNTING SPITCURLS. They really, really irritate me. When I see–or think about–them, my hands curl into fists and I have to resist the urge to reach into the screen and set them afire. Or yank them off. And I’ve only ever seen them on Dagmar, so I am now beginning to hate her for subjecting me to them. I also blame Ercoli and whomever was in charge of hair and make-up for giving them a pass. What fucking lunacy inspired those damn things?

Bill: Go easy on poor Dagmar. They aren’t that bad. Why do you hate the spitcurls? Why are you so passionate about hating them? Did spitcurls anally rape your mother while pouring sugar in your gas tank? Superman has one. He’s famous for it. Do you hate Superman, too? How can you hate  Superman? Do you also hate rock and roll and apple pie? Are you now or have you ever been a part of a communist organization? I actually think they’re kind of cute, especially when her hair is pulled back or when she’s wearing that purple hat while she and Navarro’s characters are at lunch. The only time I take issue with them is when her hair is down and she still has them. Then, they make her hair look kind of messy, but not good messy, just … busy.  Also, I hate Superman. I do not hate Dagmar (or her hair) or Navarro or FPoaLAS. (When I type that, it makes me think of Legolas fapping. I don’t hate that either. I’m not gay.)

Fisty: What the hell. I hate them because they’re hideous. And they’re ALWAYS THERE, regardless of hairstyle: up or down, formal or casual, whatever. Except for the disco scene when she dons her platinum blonde Femi Benussi wig–which I found ultra hot. Now I want a Seventies perm.

see the spitcurls. see fisty’s rage. rage, fisty, rage.

$2.99 for the first three minutes, $0.39 each additional minute

le freak, so chic

HOLY SHIT, that was just ridiculous, and I apologize; I came over all catty all of a sudden. Despite my spitcurl phobia, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is actually one of my favorite gialli. There is so much to love about Ercoli’s wildly entertaining first giallo (among them being: stunning fashion and interior design, hilarious red herrings, gorgeous and sassy actresses–particularly Nieves Navarro–hilarity inducing lines, and so on), but what I find most striking is how essentially feminine a film it is. And no, not simply because the protagonist is a woman–come on, how common is that in gialli?–but because of how Ercoli makes Minou’s feminine concerns central to the film. Basically, Minou is your textbook Lady with the Problem that Has No Name. Lest we forget, this is 1970, and Betty Friedan had been spraying The Feminine Mystiqueall over EVERYTHING for the past few years, and I’m pretty sure it’d hit Europe. In Italy, there were rumblings of their own nascent women’s movement, which would soon explode into battles over divorce, abortion, and other social and political issues.

Ercoli doesn’t sully his giallo with a whole lot of overt politics or preaching, and you won’t even find a plot device with a political subtext a la What Have You Done to Solange? Instead he neatly turns the conventions of the popular cinema inside out, playing with depictions of women in more customary genre films–or is he playing with the way women are treated in 1970 Italy? The hysterical victim or target common to gialli (*cough*EDWIGE*cough*) isn’t unique to the genre, but sadly not an uncommon trope. (Though often used extravagantly there.) When Minou confesses her troubles to Peter and the police, they suggest that the entire  things is simply a fabrication, a repressed fantasy or cry for attention. You women! Even Dominique’s first response on being told of the seaside assault is to quip, “I would have adored being violated!” Oh, misogyny, you so crazy!

Back to Minou, Ercoli’s Lady with the Problem that Has No Name: She’s a naif little homebody, educated simply to catch a husband and now all wrapped up in her devotion to her him and her role as wife. Yet the empty hours she must while away (though not in housework or childcare because after all, this IS a giallo) leave her wanting … more.  Despite her love for Peter, Minou is neurotic and unhappy, self-medicating with ‘ludes and booze–which she’s quitting, she swears, right after this drink/pill–internalizing her anxieties, and seeking fulfillment (which she sees as Peter’s attention) in insipid little sexual adventures that are simply fabrications meant to inspire jealousy in Peter. (Are the cops and Dominique on to something here?) Minou is simply slathered in feminine mystique; the only thing she’s missing is children or at least a meditation on motherhood.

forbidden foto of a very suspicious floozy

let’s make this dress a little less housewifely, shall we?

is that timothy dalton?

Bill: Why would she need children? She has a turtle! I love that turtle.

I totally get what you’re saying about FPoaLAS’s femininity. Maybe I’m reaching a bit, but I also see Navarro/Scott’s Dominique as a kind of embodiment of the porn fantasy woman. She is all about sex. She’s not just permissive, she’s practically predatory. This is a woman that will order a pizza just so she can jump on the delivery boy. She’s beautiful, freaky, likes taking and showing off naked pictures, down for some girl/girl, and she is up for some violation. She is supremely comfortable with her perviness and doesn’t have to sit around making up stories about non-existent love affairs. Dominique is so OTT sexual that, in one scene she uses the police as her personal escort service. And Minou, who is maybe not completely repressed, but is kind of naive and not as confident, knowing Peter was once a lover of Dominique’s and being just a normal woman (except, this being a movie normal is still sickeningly gorgeous), compares herself to the unreal ideal of Dominique. Trying to judge yourself against other normal standards of beauty and sexual adventurousness is hard enough on your ego, but when you’re judging yourself against a perpetually horned up Susan Scott with a massive collection of Copenhagen porno…? There is no way you’re not going to question your own looks and prowess. Or maybe it’s just standard inhibited versus uninhibited stuff and I’m looking at it from too modern a perspective?

Fisty: I don’t know that I get all that from Dominique. She’s definitely an active person as opposed to Minou’s more passive one, and thus walks around acting upon and externalizing everything Minou internalizes and suppresses. In Dominique, the seductive and worldly female type is amped up to eleven to a degree that would be laughable is Navarro’s insouciance didn’t carry it off delightfully. (Okay, it’s still often laughable, but knowingly so; we laugh along with Ercoli et alia instead of at them. This seems to be his MO.) And that’s essentially how Ercoli plays the entire film. The best red herring of all, the turtle jump scare, is one (glaring) example of how Ercoli toys with the audience’s expectations. The title is another, a joke based on the Academy Award-winning Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion–a satiric crime drama that may have influenced Ercoli elsewhere, I do not know. Has anyone seen it?–and of course both titles recall poor Pompeia: Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. Much as Minou is, until she becomes embroiled in suspicious circumstances and realizes that all women are under suspicion to men at all times. And oh my god, how not lurid is the movie, with that title? Oh, Ercoli!

bathtub of the dolls

boy george versus guido the killer pimp

she really likes turtles

Bill: So not lurid! That title makes you expect something really saucy, but compared to a lot of other gialli, it’s pretty tame. The majority of the nudity in the movie is in the form of  photos of Dominique which, by the way, I would totally sell my soul to own. What a collectible those would make. And most of the “love-making” scenes are kind of boring and unsexy, restrained. The only scenes (that don’t involve a naked or flirtatious Dominique) that really get hott (with a double T) and give the movie some naughty appeal are (go ahead and call me a creep!) the scenes of The Blackmailer attacking Minou or coercing her into getting freaky with threats. Those are the scenes that are shot with a real lover’s eye. When he has Minou pinned down on the beach, slowing cutting the strings on her dress, it seemed more like foreplay than an assault. And when Minou decides she’s going to give in to his demands, man, she really goes all in. It’s some straight up 50 Shades of Grey shit, but actually good not lame, and Minou never once mentions her inner goddess or says, “Holy crap.”

It’s not very bloody either. The Blackmailer isn’t particularly violent until much later in the film and the body count in the movie is low, at only three. One of those deaths, the first, doesn’t occur onscreen. The character that dies never even appears onscreen. You’re not even certain it’s a murder at all.

Fisty: Yeah, there’s a lot of ambiguity there, which I really enjoy. You might think you’ve got the scenario figured out, but then along comes another red herring to throw a monkey wrench into the thick of it, mixing metaphors and motives like some kind of mixy-matchy thing. One of my favorite ambiguous scenes is one where at a dinner party, Minou flashes back to scenes of sex–or is it lovemaking?–for at first it is unclear with whom she is having the sex. Ercoli layers the scene in such a way as to suggest a great deal about Minou and her repression, as well as that around her.

The bit of sex that we see are mostly suggested–or even demonstrated secondhand (or is it third when a character watched slideshows of photographs of another’s character’s sex life, and then we watch that?). The violence is largely the same; there are no on-screen deaths until the climax. The exclusion of obvious scene of sex and violence has led to allegations that FPoaLAS is not really a giallo, but rather a murder mystery, which is just silly. Yes, there are certain tropes missing or toned down but if we’ve seen nothing else, it’s that few gialli (outside of perhaps some of the most derivative types), particularly the more noteworthy ones, hit every single marker. The best (I say) play with audience expectations and hallmarks of the genre–and again, we cannot underestimate the fluidity between genres. More importantly, FPoaLAS was released in November of 1970, a mere nine months after Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. (Nine months, hmmm?) Though Bird would become the principal map for gialli, these transitions do take a little time, even in the fast-moving world of Italian movie production circa 1970. Before Bird, it was hardly set in stone that a giallo must linger over elaborate, bloody kills, or be concerned with psychosexual problems, i.e. that the giallo in essence was that kind of violent erotic thriller.

giallo patch kid

dig those crazy digs

you should be paranoid–nothing good could come of this

FPoaLAS channels the claustrophobic paranoia of earlier efforts like Mario Bava’s seminal The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Romolo Guerriri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah. Like the latter, and also like Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, Ercoli’s use of sex is less than overt, if not exactly subtle.  That it doesn’t use the iconography of Blood and Black Lace should not matter, since at this point all the threads that would make up a later understanding of giallo had not yet come together. More than anything else, it resemble’s Umberto Lenzi’s loose “trilogy” of sexy thrillers–Orgasmo, So Sweet … So Perverse, and Paranoia–both in style and substance: the kinky eroticism, the jet-set cocktail crowd, the motive, and the amorality of those in question. But seemingly any giallo that doesn’t closely follow the post-Argento style is considered unusual or questionable, though they might simply hearken back to the earlier style. So it really doesn’t matter whether there is a black-gloved killer and their POV shots, or J&B, or a priest to pin it on. FPoaLAS IS a giallo, and a damn fine one at that. It’s also damn fine looking, like a series of postcards from Jacqueline Susann’s world, right down to glugging liquor and dolls in the bath.

Bill: Mostly, I just like blood and titties–blood, blood, titties, titties, blood and titties–so I tend to prefer the post-Bird, Argento-influenced films. I need constant stimulation or I get bored. Lucky, despite the dearth of bbttb&t in FapKoalas, there’s still plenty for me to enjoy. For instance: The Turtle. This flick has the only jump scare turtle I think I have ever seen on film. No yowling cats jumping out of closets for Ercoli. He uses a turtle with a shoe fetish instead. It’s not even a one off thing, either. It’s established much earlier in the film that Minou has a turtle and we’re shown the kinds of things her turtle likes to do, so it makes sense when it’s used it to freak you out later. Yes, I’m rambling about how much I enjoyed a pet turtle with maybe three scenes in the movie, but I can’t help it. I like turtles. I also like the funky interior design all through the movie.

I love those fantastic 60’s/70’s apartments. The space age pad Minou is in at the beginning of the movie is amazing! It’s all smooth white curves and indirect lighting. Shelving, walls, furniture, all connected, flowing together, seemingly all one connected piece with slanting log rafters for a ceiling, shag carpet, and creepy mannequin heads mounted on the walls as art. It’s probably my favorite locale in the movie, though The Blackmailer’s apartment is easily the second. That place is insane, with creepy hands sticking out at odd angles, heavy red drapes, skylight, weird bamboo screens hanging everywhere, and masked pinned to the stairs with stakes through its eyes. It’s like a bizarre, neo-savage, surrealist, Night Gallery version of an African tribal theme. Dominique’s place is very similar to that first apartment where we see Minou. Minou and Peter’s house is gorgeous. I think Peter’s work office is the only setting that disappoints.

a crime waiting to happen

suggestive

we told you nothing good could come of it

Fisty: Well, his IS the dull masculine world of business. And it could be that his office is a (relatively) sterile environment because it’s outside Minou’s concerns. Now, their home is a cozily stylish pad, all light and bright and chock full o’ the most benignly outré bibelots. The juxtaposition of their effulgent and well-ordered nest with The Blackmailer’s dark and sinister den of debauchery is highly dramatic, but it works; the dramatic contrast is an effective way to telegraph the repression inherent mannered world Minou usually inhabits. Note how Ercoli uses light and shadow: Minou’s world is so artificially bright as to have none, while that of The Blackmailer is positively steeped in shadow. In his introductory scene, before he starts the seaside chase, he turns off the headlight shining on Minou, chasing her into the darkness he negotiates without hesitation. Symbolism! And of course, these exaggerated set designs lend that fantastic giallo style to which we are all accustomed.

The main players are equally decorative. Dagmar Lassender is lovely–spitcurls and all–and Nieves Navarro is stunning in the more playful role of Dominique. The two parade through the film in an ever increasing assortment of extravagant ensembles, from Minou’s housewifely minidress and disco pantsuit to Dominique’s sideless evening gown and Muppet-collared coat. (I used to have that coat, but lavender. I am not ashamed to admit it.) Plus, Minou is never once not wearing turquoise eyeshadow. It’s amazing.  The gentlemen are pretty groovy themselves; I was particularly taken with Peter’s velvet blazer. Pier Paolo Capponi himself is not too exciting, though his bland smarminess is perfect for his ambiguous role as a possibly villainous husband. However, Simon Andreu is saturninely handsome as The Blackmailer, and does a wonderful turn in making him both seductive and frightening.

Bill: I thought Andreu was kind of ugly. COULD WE BE ANY MORE DIFFERENT? (Fisty: Ugly hot!) But you’re right about him being frightening. The Blackmailer is sadistic and psychotic and a damn tricky bastard. That one move he pulls … I don’t want to say exactly what it is and spoil it, but I’ll say that it will give the wiggins to anyone like me that worries about having their feet grabbed as they come up the basement stairs or thinks about the hand coming from under the bed whenever their feet are uncovered. And how awesome is his weapon of choice? It’s not long enough to be a cane, definitely more baton-like, highly polished, a handsome orange wood color, with a small hidden switchblade in the tip. It’s definitely not your typical cinematic murder tool. I want one. The Blackmailer is totally a stalker with character. I keep thinking about how awesome a giallo crossover movie would’ve been, with Andreu’s Blackmailer and Antoine St. John’s Killer, from The Killer Must Kill Again, stalking the same victims. If we can get Django, Sartana, and Trinity crossover movies, then why not?

ugly hot on toast

wait, is that andy samberg?

sir knifes-a-lot

I got carried away on a weird tangent there for a moment. I’m sorry. But  I did bring up The Killer Must Kill Again and I guess I can use that to segue into another thing I liked about FPoaLAS. I’m sure you remember all of my bitching about the slow middle of TKMKA (also an unconventional giallo). I don’t have any of those same complaints about Fotos. It never has a chance to feel slow or get boring.  It’s paced well, regularly showing you a new twist or wrinkle to keep you guessing and questioning things. Whenever you think you have it figured, you get a school of red herrings nibbling at your face like mutated piranha. Actually sensible red herrings, too, not the out of nowhere Leader-of-a-Satanic-Sex-Cult, Murderous-Orangutan-That-Looks-Like-a-Burn-Victim-Gorilla, or Secret-Sex-Killer-That-Happens-to-Live-Next-Door varieties. It’s a well constructed mystery, tricky and unusual enough to avoid being too linear or predictable, but not totally bizarre or nonsensical like a French Sex Murders.

Fisty: Fotos works as a tidy little mystery–almost TOO tidy. Dun dun DUN! It does wrap up very quickly, but I found the plotholes pretty small. Nothing you could drive a truck through. The motive and method are pretty traditional for thrillers, hearkening back to some noir plotlines. There’s a definite Woolrichian feel to Ercoli’s work, perhaps more so in Death Walks at Midnight, but I wouldn’t say Fotos is very far from it–the dilemma of I Married a Dead Man’s finale and that of various short stories is very similar to Minou’s first problem with The Blackmailer. Minou, of course, is The Woman in Peril (Above Suspicion), and Dominique gets to play femme fatale, a role I’m sure she’d relish. It’s a fun connexion to ponder. Maybe another time, because we’ve got pills to pop and cocktails to swill.

Speaking of cocktails, these folks like to party! I think someone is drinking in virtually every scene. I’m particularly fond of the scene just following The Blackmailer’s initial appearance, where Minou goes to some seedy bar, quaffs two brandies, then hangs out with some blue-collar types, guzzling Carlsberg beer till Peter arrives. It’s so bizarre.

as long as we’re breathing, let’s have another drink

this will sober her right up

i like turtles

Bill: There is so much alcoholism in FPoaLAS! It starts with Minou saying she won’t drink, then drinking. Then she’s attacked and goes to the bar. Her husband takes her home where they drink. She goes dancing and everyone drinks. Later she meets with a friend and they drink and then look at porn. Every time any character meets up with another, including, at least once, the cops, they say, “Lets have a drink!” Bottles of booze are prominent in several scenes. At one point, Minou wakes up screaming, freaked out, makes Peter check around, and in the middle of the night, after just waking up, he says, “Well, since we’re up, we might as well have a drink,” and they start swilling booze. I picture them getting up to pee in the middle of the night and saying, “Well, since I’m on my feet, I might as well get plastered.” I think The Blackmailer is the only person that isn’t at least tipsy through the entire movie. Even the turtle seems a bit sluggish and unsteady at times.

Why on Earth should I love you less because of a sex fiend? Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion is essential for any fan of the genre, though it boasts little blood or sex. But Luciano Ercoli’s debut giallo is hardly lacking, as a strong cast, inimitable style, and all the bons mots (and eau de vie!) one could hope for, making for some highly diverting entertainment. Undoubtedly a giallo of the restrained variety, it is still strongly suggestive of the sexuality and cruelty that would later dominate the genre. Plus, a turtle. All in all, it’s a kitschy, kinky little thriller that understands a woman’s needs.

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All the Colors of the Dark

how i learned to stop worrying and love satan

Tutti i colori del buio
aka All the Colors of the Dark
aka L’alliance invisible
aka They’re Coming to Get You
aka Toutes les couleurs du vice
aka Day of the Maniac
Director: Sergio Martino
Released: 1972
Starring: George Hilton, Edwige Fenech, Ivan Rassimov, Marina Malfatti, Susan Scott/Nieves Navarro
Running time: 88/94 min
Genre: giallo, occult/supernatural/Satanic thriller, paranoia thriller

Strange men have been following women since the Stone Age. The film opens on what should be a peaceful, bucolic scene, a placid river viewed through a light screen of trees in late afternoon light. But the silence, punctuated by only the faint cries of birds, and the curious darkness combine to unnerve. As the credits flash past, we realize that the scene has been slowly, subtly darkening, until it fades into blackness. Well, at least that’s over; now that the mood has been set, surely we’ll get some exposi–OH DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN, WHAT IS THAT THING?

A hideous cackling hag, dressed as a little girl down to the curly golden Tenniel locks, appears. A naked be-fro’d woman is strapped to a gurney in the lithotomy position. A shrieking nude woman in bed tries to defend herself. The hag-child slowly levitates across the vast black space. A man’s intensely blue eyes. Blood, a clock face, stabbing, screaming, staring. Images whirl past kaleidoscopically. Murder, death. All three women lie dead. A tree-lined road rushes past in negative, and the nightmare comes to a screeching halt, crashing into a tree. The nightmare is over.

And who was experiencing that hideous phantasm? Why, our beloved Edwige Fenech. Thank goodness that’s over, and now we can enjoy the delectable Edwige lolling about in bed. See Jane, see Jane loll. See Jane shower in a thin white shirt. Shower, Jane, shower! I’m sorry; where was I? Oh yes, Edwige is Jane, a young woman tormented by night terrors and frigidity (bummer for her fiancé  Richard [George Hilton]!) ever since a car accident last year that resulted in a miscarriage. In vain, Richard feeds her ominous blue vitamins, but nothing seems to help. Her sister counsels her to seek psychiatric care–which Richard rails against as quackery–and new chum neighbor Mary (Marina Malfatti) advises meeting her own helpful friends, who turn out to be a supercreepy and unattractive Satanic cult. See Jane drink Spot’s blood and participate in a Satanic orgy! See Jane make love to Richard once more! Fuck Jane, fuck! See, Jane, see! See the man with blue eyes stalking! Stalk, man, stalk! See Jane freak out. Funny, funny Jane.

Is the man with blue eyes real? Is he really killing people, and can Jane see the murders happen before they do? Is the Satanic cult real? Did Mary ever exist? Why is Richard adamant that Jane not seek help? Why is her sister adamant that she do? What exactly happened to Jane’s mother to start this whole mess?

i'd freak out i don't even

the bluest eye

the screaming mamas

When you’re hallucinating, having nightmares, and have Satanists chasing you, the only possible way to save yourself is to take your vitamins. In All the Colors of the Dark, Sergio Martino has crafted an fun and stylish hybrid occult giallo. Though clearly inspired by Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, it confidently stands on its own as a surrealist and expressionist thriller, one where the style is never at the expense of the substance, an excellent though not overtly comprehensible entry in the genre.

Bill: What’s with these homies dissin’ Martino? Why do they gotta front? Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a fantastically perverse bit of misogyny and sadism with awesome twists  that leave you questioning who and why you side with the people you do. Torso is just loads nasty, violent fun that also manages to also be tense and suspenseful. And All the Colors of the Dark is … Well, we’re about to tell you all about that. And all of these are sexy, boobie-filled, gems of cinema smut with plenty of bloody bleeding, tasty, tasty red herrings and even art! Yes, they are artful! Maybe not on the same level of an Argento movie, but, man, they do have style. Yet, some folks, so Fisty tells me, have been talking shit about my man, Martino. And the people that haven’t been talking shit about him, aren’t talking about him at all. What’s with the disrespect?

In All the Colors of the Dark, the man uses a sort of pre-Raimi Raimianistic style of shooting certain scenes, full of unconventional angles and twisty camera moves. He really goes to town with a spiral staircase with slowly spinning, descending shots and people stepping right over the camera as they run down the stairs. He makes the most of twisty shots meant to disorient and MY GOD, he knows how to shoot heights! There’s a neat scene of Jane looking out the window possibly getting her first real sense of the Satanic conspiracy around her as she watches Richard leave, sees Mary in another window watching as well, and Richard appearing to look knowingly at Mary. The camera turns and sweeps with her gaze and with the shifting perceptions in the scene and you kind of feel like you’re floating just outside of the building, watching this. But a rooftop struggle that takes place later is way less floaty. A Satanist pushes someone to the edge of the roof and they nearly go over while dude tries to get his strangle on. You feel the danger in that scene. It totally made my stomach lurch.

cultists over london

swirly whirly staircase

borrowing a hammer set

Fisty: Did you mean to get Weezer stuck in my head? Dick.

Though he might not be a genre maker a la Bava or Argento, Martino is certainly a genre master, and deserves acknowledgement of such. And lest we forget, Martino didn’t excel simply with gialli like The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail. His 2019: After the Fall of New York and Mannaja, A Man Called Blade are also movies to make the schlocklover’s heart sing with joy. Like Maestro Bava, Martinoplied his mad skillz across genres to great effect. His movies may not be High Art, but they’re fantastically entertaining and stylish genre films–and here at PB&G, we love those.

As you mentioned, Martino’s use of suspenseful architecture is significant to AtCotD, in the claustrophobic close-ups of interiors and wide frames of London exteriors, juxtaposing the two and underscoring Jane’s isolation in the midst of her urban surroundings by constantly filming from behind objects. (The Tube scene is especially nerve-wracking.) Then there are the jarring camera angles and smooth tracking shots, and occasional frenetic cuts. Those are some of the techniques he uses to make AtCotD such a surrealist nightmare, techniques that may seem rough or primitive forty years later, but are clear progenitors of those used for today’s contemporary mind-bending cinema. Martino toys with our expectations, constantly fluctuating between the liminal borderlands of fantasy and reality for both Jane and the audience, not only expressing but creating the very tenuous hold she has on reality. (Note of awesome: One of his cinematographers on AtCotD is frequent collaborator Giancarlo Ferrando, probably best known as the cinematographer of Troll 2.)

Speaking of toying with expectations, Martino sets most of the deaths either off-screen or in dreams; the only verifiable deaths seem to be the ones caused by Jane or Richard, making AtCotD not only ambiguous, but unusually bloodless for a giallo. Of course, here again we find ourselves in a borderland, as AtCotD is more a hybrid of the supernatural/Satanic thriller, paranoia thriller, and giallo–with a splash of inheritance thriller thrown in later on. I know you were amazed at how easily a giallo crosses the line into inheritance thriller, but really, what are the major motives? Sex/love, revenge, and money.

drinking tea is a social ritual we like, too

trust me. i am super trustworthy.

it's got electrolytes!

Bill: Oddly enough, I didn’t even notice the lack of gore. I’d say that’s another feather in Martino’s cap. AtCotD is entertaining enough that I never felt like I was cheated out of seeing all the graphic violence I crave.  I never even thought of this movie as being near bloodless until you mentioned it. Maybe it’s because the couple or so bloody scenes you do see are so effective. Jane’s dream (or vision or whatever you’d call it) of her mother’s death is pretty striking. It’s not that there’s any effects that are anything special. What you see of the stabbing is so close up that it doesn’t need fancy effects work. But there’s just something about the way the dagger slides in and out in slow motion, thick blood burbling out of the wound, while you hear the lullaby-ish la-la-la music that plays over the scene, that makes it kind of unnerving. The slow stroke of the blade in and out is almost too real for such a surreal scene. Then there’s the puppy murder. The killing of, then onscreen bleeding-out of an adorable puppy dog is pretty hardcore. I mean, even John Carpenter, when deciding to have The Shape kill a dog to really solidify his evil for the audience in Halloween, didn’t show you the poor bleeding doggy corpse afterward.

It’s also possible that I didn’t miss the blood because of all the succulent booby flesh. Did you see what Mary was wearing when she invited Jane for tea?! If Mary (Marina Malfatti from 7 Blood-Stained Orchids and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave) was my neighbor, I would drink so much tea, SO MUCH TEA! Nieves Navarro, who plays Jane’s sister Barbara in this, has a nice boobies in the mirror scene as Barbara gets dressed and flaunts a bit for her sister’s man (like the untrustworthy slut she is). Navarro’s got a lot of nice credits under her belt as Susan Scott, including Emanuelle e Lolita and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, so you know she’s a bit of a looker herself. [Fisty: She’s the contra-Edwige Fenech, taking practically every giallo role Edwige didn’t!] Jane’s dead mom is kinda hot, too. And then, of course, there’s Jane, sweet, sweet Jane … My beloved Edwige. Sigh. She has one of those great “showering in a sheer white top” moments that only seem to happen in movies like this and Toolbox Murders. If you want to destroy my sweater, hold this thread and I’ll go take a shower. I kinda feel like Richard, more than Jane, is the true victim in this movie. Imagine the Hell of Having Edwige Fenech as Your Girlfriend and Her Being Completely Frigid All the Time (Chinese have a lot of hells). I don’t really blame him for constantly shoving those blue roofies – I mean … vitamins – in her face. I’d give her the “vitamins,” too.

we don't understand it, but we'll watch you do it

richard's got the right idea

Fisty: There are a lot of familiar faces, both pretty and … not so pretty. Surely you recall Luciano Pigozzi as Angus in Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes, Cesar in Blood and Black Lace, and Losat in The Whip and the Bodythe guy is all over the genre. And Inspector Smith? That’s Tom Felleghy, whose face might be vaguely familiar in Nightmare City and Strip Nude for Your Killer. Vera Drudi (in Torso, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie), George Rigaud (Death Walks on High Heels, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, The Case of the Bloody Iris), Gianni Pulonne (TCotBI), Carla Mancini (7B-SO, What Have You Done to Solange?), etc. Practically every face in AtCotD (right down to the puppy, I’m sure) was in at least one other giallo, and likely a score of spaghetti Westerns, commedia sexy all’italiana, Decamerotico, poliziotteschi, cannibal films, and so on. And of course there are giants George Hilton and Ivan Rassimov to balance out the lovely ladies of the cast.

Unfortunately, Rassimov doesn’t have a whole lot to do other than lurk menacingly, occasionally grabbing at Jane, but he does just that till the cows come home. And Hilton’s Richard is just suavely creepy enough to create the perfect amount of ambiguity that makes both Jane and us uncertain of who he really is, just a cad or something more. Marina Malfatti is serenely yet poisonously lovely and mysterious, and not a little bit regretful as she subverts Jane, and Nieves Navarro coolly bitchy as only a sister can be. However well-supported she is by the rest of the cast, though, Edwige is truly the star of the show. As Jane, Edwige is absolutely convincing in her fright and vulnerability as Jane’s state of mind becomes ever more precarious and paranoid. Mia Farrow’s got nothing on her.

Bill:  Rosemary who?

who wouldn't trust that sweet face?

sister sister

Fisty: Now, speaking of Satanists, how about them Satanists? Diametrically opposed to Edwige, Marina, and Nieves in terms of hottness, our Satanists are a nasty crew of unkempt, uncouth, and unsavory figures. It’s pretty much the grossest orgy I have ever seen on film–not counting porn. Julián Ugarte’s JP McBrian is nasty from the tippy tips  of his brass claws to his amulet-clad sunken chest. Jane’s disgust is palpable as her eyes roll madly when he mauls her, devouring her face with his goatee, and as the pasty-faced coven members converge upon her, the juxtaposition of Mary and Jane’s beauty (and the latter’s boobies) with the unwashed masses at the Black Mass becomes downright maddening. Adding to the madness is Bruno Nicolai’s superb score (make sure you watch the Italian with English subtitles as the score gets all jacked up in the English dub), which takes an almost incongruously upbeat tenor in this scene, something groovily ominous–though notice that it appropriately builds in intensity as the orgy reaches its climax with Jane’s sublimination and release. As McBrian mounts Jane, blood-smeared teeth and all, her fear escalates until it crosses the threshold into desire, and we get our obligatory kaleidoscopic orgy whirly-vision. Fucking A.

jazzhands for ... SATAN

you've got caninus spiritus in your teeth

mary dispenses a judas kiss

Bill: McBrian actually looks an awful lot like my brother Joe, so, you know… That’s pretty disturbing for me.  One curious note, which is a bit of a spoiler, but I want your view of this, Fisty: In a sense, for Jane, the orgy actually works! Part of Jane’s problem is her frigidity. She fears she’s going to lose Richard, because she can’t bring herself to have sex again after her trauma. This fear of losing him, as much as the nightmares, is what’s driving her to seek help and the Satanists do it. At the height of her horror, in the middle of what is practically a gang rape, the scene shifts and she’s now enjoying herself. She’s back at home, in bed, getting a serious deep Richarding and loving it. She’s still a damaged, fractured, woman, as you see by the multiple reflection shot of her face in the bathroom mirror immediately after the sex, but, goddamn it, she’s got her swerve back.  I’m not sure what to think of that. You?

We’ve made reference to Rosemary’s Baby three times already in this review. It’s inevitable with this movie. Now, while Martino is great, he’s not the equal of Polanski and All the Colors of the Dark is not the equal of Polanski’s movie (except in sexy! Oh yeah!), but one thing is does just as well is show the isolation, paranoia, and loneliness of its star. Jane is apollo sad and Edwige plays her perfectly. You already mentioned how convincing she is, but I really want to drive home just how good she was. Even when she’s in a room with her doctor or Richard or having tea with Mary, walking with her, talking to them, she still seems completely closed off from everyone, desperate for anyone to grab onto, but unable to make a connection. In fact, the only times in the movie that Jane doesn’t seem completely sad and alone are when she’s in danger and terrified. When she  should be alone, you worry that she isn’t, that someone is really there to get her. Part of that is how convincingly terrified and confused Edwige plays it and partly it’s the way Martino films her. I don’t think he ever goes as far as to use a first person POV, but whenever Jane is by herself, the camera sort of stalks her, moving along side, hiding behind the railing on the staircase, watching her from above or below. The camera is a predator and she is always so alone, so vulnerable. And the last part of it is that, of course, usually, there really is someone there to get her. The sinister blue-eyed man is never far away. He’s actually more reliably present, more therefor her than anyone else seems to be and he’s trying to kill her. And you don’t know if he’s even real!

seriously, can i take it back?

goddamn satanists

the three faces of edwige

Fisty: I’m totally with you on the orgy situation, Bill. It’s important that it does work for Jane, helping her free herself, from her insecurities, from her thoughts, from her nightmares, from her moral code, so that she can simply BE with Richard, without fears shadowing every act. (And note that by the second orgy/Satanic ritual–yes, we must experience TWICE the High Octane Nightmare Fuel–Jane is no longer revolted, but an active participant.) Unfortunately, the freedom she gains is ephemeral, and Jane finds that all those colors can get a whole lot darker. She turns up a Time Life Book of the Occult and Supernatural among Richards things, Mary’s motives are revealed and she “disappears,” Richard and the blue-eyed man appear to be in cahoots … and when everything finally comes together, very little is what it seems. Though it makes a great deal of sense in its culmination, the finale and its ambiguity may leave some viewers cold.

I’ve heard complaints about AtCotD, namely the unlikeliness of the Satanic cult aspect, and that’s it’s not really a giallo. Okay, shut up. If I’ve learned anything from the trippy hippy dippy lit of the Seventies and Sarah Lyddon Morrison, it’s that folks were just as likely to drop into a Satanic orgy as they were to drop acid or macrame themselves a plant hanger. As for the giallo elements, AtCotD is just dripping with them. Granted, many of the overt visual signifiers may be missing (black-gloved killer, hello), many of the ultimate threads remain: murder, darkness, mystery, paranoia, eroticism, J&B. Especially in the figure of Jane, whose involvement all stems back to the most classic of giallo tropes, that of the eye-witness. Witnessing her mother’s murder is the fundamental inagural act of the entire plot. Juxtaposed with that, in AtCotD as in gialli in general, is the unreliability of our witnessing. How reliable is the witness? How much of what they saw is filtered through and warped by their personal perceptions? It is from those two cardinal concepts that every action in AtCotD stems, and which we find most conceptually important to the giallo.

can you spots the two giallo icons?

i thought writing on mirrors with make-up was a chick thing

they're coming to get you

Bill: They’re Coming to Get You was the title of the US dubbed version. Not as good a title as All The Colors of the Dark, i’d say, but worth mentioning, because of the awesome poster. It’s a bit misleading, what with those glowy-eyed zombie faces, but oh so freaking cool.

Fisty: Totally misleading.

AtCotD should appeal to both fans of gialli and Seventies occult suspense, though I wouldn’t make it a starting point in either genre. Though the plot wanders and cheats a bit, it’s still a visually striking, effective, and boundary-pushing entry in the giallo canon, and a genuinely suspenseful occult horror film. With oodles of boobies. It’s not his best work, but Martino has made an especially exciting giallo, one that actually maintains a steady pace, briskly forging ahead toward its equivocal conclusion. And the one thing we can be sure of ending up with is a damn good time.

Editing insight:

DoctorKittenYo: i really think we need to make a point about the significance of how that puppy is really cute
living0dead0punk: haha
DoctorKittenYo: hahaha
DoctorKittenYo: that was not the point I meant to make
DoctorKittenYo: but that puppy really IS cute

The Toolbox Murders

there isn't a single thing wrong with this poster

The Toolbox Murders
aka Der Bohrmaschinenkiller
aka La masacre de toolbox
aka Lo squartatore di Los Angeles
Director:
Dennis Donnelly
Released: 1978
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure, Tim Donnelly, Aneta Corsaut, Kelly Nichols (as Marianne Walter)
Running time: 93 minutes
Genre: exploitation, slasher, thriller, psychodrama, video nasty

“If I had a hammer…”: Toolbox Murders shows its giallo roots in an extended opening credit sequence of a black-gloved killer driving though darkened city streets. Only, instead of a pimptastic score by the likes of Riz Ortolani, we hear a more generic thriller/psychodrama piano score, overlaid with the sounds of a hellfire n’ brimstone preacher on the car radio. The vehicle cruises smoothly along, but then FREEZEFRAME! The sound of screeching tires! Illuminated by arc-sodium lights, a car has crashed on the side of the road. A young girl tumbles out of the passenger side door. A crowd gathers as paramedics place her on a stretcher. She’s young, blonde, with a bloodied face and staring eyes. Her hand falls limply off the stretcher as they cover her face. Something Significant has happened. Cruising resumes, and the Mercedes pulls up outside El Patio del Sequoia apartments, and a man with a toolbox gets out and enters the complex. Once inside, he cuts a gruesome swath through the apartment’s female residents, beginning with faded beauty and lush Mrs Andrews. Though surprised by the killer’s appearance, she clearly knows him … . Finishing her off with his powerdrill, our skimasked killer hums a little tune and contemplates his work.

the toolbox murders - killer

ineffective mask wearing 101

Meanwhile young divorcée Debbie arrives home and–in one of the least logical sequences in movie history–prepares to take a shower fully dressed, for the sole reason of creating a wet shirt effect and leading to a lengthy change of clothes. Fortunately, boobage redeems the scene. Debbie evidences poor decision-making skills when she pops into the apartment hallway in her underclothes to pick up some … debris left outside the door? Fortunately, our killer happens upon her and, popping her on the chin in a singularly goony moment, renders her unconscious and bears her off to the firestairs, where she is summarily dispatched with the claw end of a hammer. He then removes her corpse from the stairwell and carries it BACK to her apartment (and we thought only Debbie was crazy!), where he lays her out on the floor only to be interrupted by roommate Maria. Pissed at Debbie for leaving trash in the hallway, Maria is both shocked and saddened by her grisly discovery, then surprised by our killer. The shock renders the poor sap apparently speechless, and when the slayer slaughters her with a screwdriver, it’s all Maria can do to sum up a sorry little scream. (That was excessive, and I am sincerely sorry!) The killer then takes a moment to spy upon the neighboring Camelot Apartments, where a temptress gyrates in her underwear before a wide open window, while one floor below an innocent schoolgirl chats on the phone. His bloodlust not yet sated, the killer ventures back into the hallway, where he opens a door and glimpses a couple discussing the merits of drugstore wine. Discouraged by the presence of a man, the killer leaves and the killing stops … for the evening.

The next morning briefly introduces us to the Ballard family: Matriarch and alcoholic B-girl Joanne, perky teenager Laurie (Pamela Ferdin, also the voice of Charlotte’s Web‘s Fern Arable and Charles Schultz’s Lucy van Pelt!), and older brother Joe.

Evening falls again, and we meet Dee Ann (played by Penthouse Pet and future porn star Kelly Nichols!), the window siren from the previous night. As she all unknowing draws herself a bath, the Toolbox Murderer approaches the Camelot Apartments, eponymous toolbox in tow. What follows is surely one of the most gratuitous nude/masturbation scenes in all slasherdom as Dee Ann soaps up an lets Calgon take her away to her special place to the dulcet tones of George Deaton & Terry Stubbs’ “Pretty Lady.” After she achieves orgasm, Dee Ann comes out of her stupor to the sound of the killer’s humming. As suits her more sexually forthright character, when faced with his nailgun Dee Ann not only actively tries to evade him, but also fights back, scrambling around her apartment naked and wet as a frog and tossing vases. She feigns submission, offering him “anything,” but tries to run again, finally catching a nail to the abdomen. The killer props her up beneath a nude poster of herself, then nails her right through the head. End “Pretty Lady.”

get out of the way, mr bubble!

Finished with the whores of the world–for now–the killer sneaks downstairs to the Ballard apartment, where Laurie is again demonstrating her virtue by refusing to sneak out (presumably with a boy). After all, she doesn’t want to end up like her mother said, “either divorced or with a bunch of kids and a crappy job like [hers].” Who knows how she’ll end up, however, since the killer kidnaps her. At least she isn’t dead yet! When Joe gets home late that night, he finds the security chain cut and Laurie missing. Jo Ann stumbles in moments later, and orders Joe to go looking for his sister–and that’s when we hear the shrieks from the discovery of Dee Ann.

Convinced that Laurie’s disappearance is related to the murders, Joe pleads for help from the police, who are content to dismiss her as a typical runaway teen. Total Dick in Charge of the case Sergeant Cameron scoffs at Joe’s concerns, mocking the poor guy, who departs in a huff, vowing to find his sister himself. Sgt Cameron is no Lt Fuller. Armed with earnestness, Joe goes to El Patio del Sequoia looking for clues, and meets up with the super’s nephew Kent. Kent enlists Joe’s help to clean up the bloodied apartments, and Joe in turn enlists Kent in the search for Laurie. With the murders largely over at thirty minutes in, and the murderer revealed to the audience at fifty minutes (for any halfwits who haven’t yet figured it out), The Toolbox Murders takes a sharp turn into psychodrama as the young men investigate Laurie’s disappearance, and scenes of their search alternate with Laurie’s plight as a captive, leading up to a truly bizarre dénouement.

fern shouldn't have tried to leave wilbur

Banned in the UK as a Video Nasty, The Toolbox Murders is preceded by a reputation for unmitigated sleaze–a reputation that’s not entirely undeserved. But the low budget, competing storylines, and pedestrian direction give it the feel of a made-for-TV movie.

Fisty: Holy shit. TTM exceeded my expectations in so many ways. It’s so very, very sleazy, and so very, very nasty, and so very, very bad. It’s a home run of fucking trashy-ass, exploitative cinema. It’s easy to see how it earned its spot on the Video Nasties list; the first thirty minutes is almost nothing but violent murder and nudity. But then after that bang up start the movie settles into a curious police procedural thriller format that, for all its smuttiness–and yes, it is still very sordid if you’ve got the eyes to see it–it very draggy and uninteresting but for the scenes of Cameron Mitchell’s (Blood and Back Lace) lunacy and Ferdin’s terror. Only in the final fifteen minutes does violence appear once more, and it’s of an entirely different breed. By then, many of even the most dedicated horror fans and gorehounds may have passed out from sheer boredom. It takes a certain amount of patience–and attention span–to appreciate TTM’s tacky charms.

sailing the good ship lollipop to crazyland

Speaking of tacky charms, I did love the look of the movie. I know it’s ugly in that special 70s Saturday Night Special Movie way, but it had a certain nostalgic charm for me. It looked like shitty movies I grew up watching in school (though I grew up in the 80s, it was in Hawai’i, where the 70s had a long reach–especially in the school system). The California setting was probably a big part of it: so sunny, so squalid, so semi-suburban. There are still tacky apartment open-air buildings like the Camelot and El Patio del Sequoia all over the West, and I’ve lived in a few of them.

Bill: It took me three tries to get through the whole movie.  Though, admittedly, I made the first two attempts when it was late and I was tired, so it probably had more to do with my condition than the drag in the middle of the flick.  I was even dozing a bit during the first thirty minutes and there is nothing sleep inducing in that bit of film.  Boner inducing, sure, but sleep? I think, maybe, I could’ve been lulled further into a restful state by that made-for-TV movie quality it has. Kind of like what happens when I watch Matlock, except Matlock is usually less bewildering.  There are whole segments in TTM that make no sense, like the coffee scene. The cop offers Laurie’s brother some coffee, the kid declines, then the cop goes to get some for himself, but the pot is empty, so he puts the glass down and that’s it. What the hell was the purpose of that? Then there’s the odd fruit-throwing bit that I suppose was meant to show the siblings as playfully close, but just seems awkward. And just why do the cops let all the neighbors stand around looking at all the naked corpses?

debbie's dead

Other parts are just painfully obvious and unnecessary. Like trying to establish the innocence of Laurie by having her do the exact opposite of gyrating DeeAnn? But I do appreciate the seminude dancing.

Fisty: Yeah, the director, Dennis Donnelly pretty much just did TV; this was his sole feature film–and it shows. Too much exposition, weird experimental editing, problems with pacing …

Bill: Who the fuck was in the car that wrecked?

Fisty: Oh my god, Bill. It was Cathy. Dude’s daughter/other dude’s lover.

Bill: But it seemed like she died way before then. Didn’t it seem like he started killing the women right after the girl in the car died? Like, the same night?

Fisty: How could there be flashback shots from her funeral interposed with shots of him entering the building to START the killing spree if she died that night?

Bill: I know the funeral shots were flashbacks, but there’s no break between driving and killing, it all looks the same. Donnelly could have made that a lot clearer. But my framerate was stuttering a bit at the start, so …

Fisty: And you’re abominably literal sometimes … but I suppose if one were drunk, it could be confusing. The editing is mostly shit.

Bill: Debbie’s shower scene is the most bizarre that I have ever seen.  She puts on a shower cap while fully dressed, turns on the water, sees her dress hanging in the shower, steps in still fully dressed, presumably to get her little black dress before it’s soaked, but then doesn’t even touch the dress, steps out and takes her shower cap off!  I am fully convinced that this was originally meant to be a normal, typical shower scene, but they rewrote it into absurdity, just for that wet shirt yumminess, after seeing how hott Debbie the braless wonder looked in her sheer white top.

Fisty: That’s one of my favorite parts–teeth-gnashingly aggravating (as I shriek, “Why? Why are you getting in the shower fully dressed? Why aren’t you even bathing and just putting on a succession of shirts and then removing your pants? WHY?!?” at the television screen) and unintentionally hilarious as it is. I also love the way she goes down like a ton of bricks from the most ineffectual right hook I’ve ever seen. Pretty much all the victims except Dee Ann are ineffective wimps.

not the best place to hide from someone with a drill

Purists will declare that TTM isn’t a slasher, and I’m with them on that. Like Don’t Go in the House, it’s a curious blend of genres, teetering as it does on the edge of sleazy 70s psycho-thrillers and gleefully self-aware by-the-numbers 80s slashers, and coming down straight in the exploitation zone. After the gialli-inspired opening and kills that seem to promise an endless parade of titties and blood, TTM downshifts into an amateur detective psychodrama, a confusing change for many viewers. Though one might argue that amateurs investigating crimes in the face of an inept police force is a clear marker of a giallo, it seems just as likely that Joey and Kent’s sleuthing owes as much to Donnelly’s directing credits in TV–including an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. (And many episodes of Adam-12, Emergency!, Hart to Hart, Charlie’s Angels, The A-Team, Simon & Simon … is a pattern developing? To be fair, most of those were post-TTM, but I think it shows a decided slant.) Knocking any confusion about the killer’s identity out of the way lets the film settle in on the bewilderment of the bereaved on one side, and the suffering of the victim and the lunatic on the other.

Bill: I think the movie may’ve benefited from being more slasher-like.  As much as I’d hate to see a dilution of the concentrated sleaze at the start of the flick, it would’ve been nice to have some tits & murder interludes tossed in somewhere during the Hardy Boys episode in the middle.  That really is the weakest part of the movie.  I mean, you can only get so much entertainment from watching skeevy cops hit on the mother of a missing girl. He really was kind of sleazy. “Look, your daughter is missing and maybe we’ll find her but, in the meantime, can I give you another?”

Fisty: Damn it, I LOVE that singles bar scene! That fucking cop is a real piece of work. And the way Joanne shuts him down? Masterful!

dude, no

Speaking of which, Aneta Corsaut (The Blob) is magnificent as Joanne.  The rest of the casting is pretty spot-on, too: Ferdin evokes pathos as the victimized Laurie, Mitchell–though no longer the hottie of the How to Marry a Millionaire days–chews up the scenery like it’s Red Man.

Its greatest strength is its greatest weakness: The Toolbox Murders makes for a primo exploitation experience because that’s all it was ever meant to be. Tony DiDio reportedly saw a reissue of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre four years after its initial release and said to himself (and his team), “I want to cash in on that.” (My paraphrase.) Don’t go into it looking for subtext on the alienation of the American family in the juxtaposition of an affectionate but struggling family with a highly dysfunctional yet loving one. Don’t look beneath the sleaze for something less sleazy, because it’s sleaze all the way down.

Bill: I think there is one area where it under-sleazes:  The climax of the film.  There’s some real frying pan/fire jumping at the end, but, while you know Laurie goes through a wicked nasty ordeal, they don’t show any of it.  It’s a big change from the beginning of the movie, where everything was very in-your-face.  I guess Donnelly felt he had to be respectful when it comes to letting us know what happened to this sweet, virginal character, but the other victims were just dirty sluts, so their pain doesn’t matter.  Damn it, I want to see the nice girl’s pain and degradation, too!  Eh, it was a true story, according to the bit of text that flashes on the screen at the end, so maybe he was just trying to protect the real Laurie, in case she ever watched the movie.  (My eyes are rolling so hard that I just got dizzy.)

true story, fer sher

Fisty: Can we recommend The Toolbox Murders? Though it at times reminded me of bad 70s afterschool specials in which someone ruined their life by sniffing goofballs in a ditch, I’m going to go ahead and say yes. Though it doesn’t live up to its reputation of relentless blood n’ smut, it has some solid splatter moments, oodles of titties n’ bush, and pure insanity–and all in the first half hour. (Bill: And you really don’t want to be the only one of your friends to have missed seeing that beginning.) Plus, there are tons of familiar TV faces from shows like Emergency!, Land of the Lost, and The Andy Griffith Show–and fucking FERN from CHARLOTTE’S WEB!!! Even the dreck is worth sitting through for Mitchell’s scenery-gnawing performance and Ferdin’s understated terror, a few genuinely chilling moments, as well as an ending that will not only surprise the hell out of most viewers, but will also have them running for the shower. Just remember to take your clothes off before getting in the tub.

Did anyone else notice that the victims in the trailer in no way match up with those in the movie?

PROTIP: Order a pizza just before pressing play.  Your pie will arrive just as the movie slows down, giving you something extra to chew on while you sit through the downtime in the middle of the flick.

The Toolbox Murders is available to Watch Instantly on Netflix!