Evil Eye

nothing to do with anything?

nothing to do with anything?

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

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

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

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

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

i'm too sexy for your party

i’m too sexy for your party

romper bomper stomper boo

romper bomper stomper boo

peter crane will look through your shirt

i’m too sexy for my shirt

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

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

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

i'm with the band

i’m with the band

peter crane is my mouth and i must scream

peter crane is my mouth and i must scream

you're tearing me apart!

so sexy it hurts!

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

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

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

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

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

orgy hijinx

orgy hijinx

peter crane WILL murder you

no way i’m disco dancing!

Bill: I admit nothing!

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

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

fashion by the house of sophia petrillo

fashion by the house of sophia petrillo

i'm too sexy for my shirt

i’m too sexy for my car

will the real inspector ranieri please stand up?

will the real inspector ranieri please stand up?

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

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

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

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

i wish he were too sexy for that phone call

i wish he were too sexy for that phone call

tresemme, tresemme, ooh la la!

tresemme, tresemme, ooh la la!

so, you drive a smartcar?

so, you drive a smartcar?

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

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

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

stay close a little longer

stay close a little longer

my hai karate jammies smell too sexy, walter!

my hai karate jammies smell too sexy, walter!

i just washed them, sir!

i just washed them, sir!

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

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

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

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The Initiation of Sarah

the morgan the merrier

 The Initiation of Sarah
aka En lo más profundo de la mente
Director: Robert Day
Released: 1978
Starring:
Kay Lenz, Shelley Winters, Morgan Fairchild, Morgan Brittany, Tisa Farrow
Running time: 96 minutes
Genre: horror, thriller

Whenever you see the word “tact,” replace it with “bitchery.” Two lovely girls–sorry, one mousy girl and one stunning girl–kick it at the beach during what appears to be an eclipse (I have no idea how else to explain the simultaneous brightness and darkness in this scene [Bill: Day for night shooting and a blue filter on the camera? Fisty: All I know is it’s even worse than the opening scene of Dirty Harry.]), listening to some groovy tunes. It’s the last party of the summer, and the mousy blonde frets over going off to college on the morrow. A faceless dude comes up and offers to help our stunning brunette with her breaststroke, and they traipse off into the water, where he proceeds to grope and gnaw her, presumably leading to eventual rape in the ocean in full view of the party. Mousy girl watches in mingled fear and fury, before shrieking “Stop!” as Faceless Rapist falls on his ass into the water. While our stunner gets away, he can barely crawl out of the water. Wait, what just happened?

No matter. It’s the next day now, and our two girls are preparing to drive off to college on a beautiful day that glows in a way only days in the Seventies can. Mom dispenses some advice to the brunette beauty about impressing sorority bitches, gushing over what a wonderful time she wants her to have. “Oh, and you too, Sarah,” she adds. It’s now that we learn that the pair are the Goodwin sisters, half-sisters that is, somehow of the same age. They share a dad, so it’s a safe bet there were some shenanigans about eighteen years ago. The blonde is Sarah, a shy introvert, and the brunette is Patty, who has the world by its tail. That tail starts wagging as soon as the pair arrive at the picturesque liberal arts college campus of Waltham College, where Patty instantly enchants beautiful Bobbie Adams and OH MY GOD, IT’S MORGAN “TURKEY’S DONE” FAIRCHILD. Oh yes, there will be blood.

the turkey is done!

Bobbie reappears in the “freshman dorm” (apparently a quad inhabited by a dozen girls) to explain that tonight’s the big night: All the freshman girls get to go around and introduce themselves at the sorority houses. Once the girls are invited to join a house, they’ll make their choice of one, move in and go through a probationary period before a final Hell Week and initiation. It seems awfully early for that sort of thing–and why even have freshman dorms if practically everyone just moves right into sorority houses?–but I’m not complaining.

Outside the Alpha Nu Sigma house Patty hesitates, wondering whether maybe they shouldn’t forget the whole thing. Is it a sense of foreboding? Whatever, Sarah points out that they’ll just end up living in a dorm if they don’t check it out–oh, so they DO get lived in!–and they enter the Temple of Doom. Morgan Fairchild immediately introduces herself as “Jennifer Lawrence” (nice try!), and though Patty makes an effort to include Sarah, it’s clear that Jennifer is admiring only Patty’s good looks and antecedents. She bears Patty off to meet some actives while minion Kathy shepherds Sarah over to the refreshment table no-man’s-land and abandons her. Seeing Patty surrounded by the Chosen Ones, Sarah makes her way through the crowded room, a goldfish in a school of neon tetras, and awkwardly insinuates herself into the group. As Patty and Sarah excuse themselves, an ANS tactfully suggests they check out PED–Phi Epsilon Delta–a house Jennifer tactfully calls both very old and “intellectual,” then demonstrates yet more tact by “forgetting” Sarah’s name. Once the sisters leave, the ANS girls declare that they’ve got themselves a winner AND a loser. Ouch.

patty - 1, sarah - 0

Outside the PED house, the girls are suddenly menaced by a barking Doberman. While Patty cringes in abject terror, Sarah gives it a meaningful glare, accompanied by intense close ups of her eyes, and the confused canine runs off. The music reaches a crescendo, and we understand that Something has Happened. Inside PED, we find a much different scenario from that of ANS. Though the house is massive, there only seem to be three girls living there: twitchy Mouse, sardonic Allison, and orally-fixated Barbara. When Patty mentions this, Barbara declares that “rushing’s not [their] thing,” and that the others are all out … or busy … or something. Patty demonstrates some ANS-worthy tact by declaring the visit “interesting,” and drags Sarah out, but only after Mouse makes a meaningful connexion with Sarah.

As you might guess, Patty is invited to pledge three sororities, and chooses ANS, while Sarah’s lone invitation is to PED. Though until now Patty has made a determined effort to boost Sarah’s ego, the girls are on their own at this point, with everyone from Mrs Goodwin to ANS promoting the divide. Though Sarah finds real friends in PED, and makes nice with her Psych 101 TA, she’s also hurt by the way ANS forces Patty to disown her, even to announcing, “I will not associate with pigs, elephants, or dogs” right to Sarah’s face. Matters are complicated by Sarah’s growing awareness of her own powers and the involvement of crazy housemother Mrs Hunter, who encourages Sarah to strengthen them, but Sarah has her doubts. Tensions mount, with Sarah and Jennifer facing off publicly. When Sarah comes off the winner, she is motivated to encourage her PED sisters to really become a sorority again. But Jennifer plots to humiliate Sarah, and Patty is torn by her loyalty to her sister and her desire to remain pretty and popular. Mrs Hunter’s machinations, which may have killed a girl once twenty years before, bring this soup to a roiling boil of Mean Girl tact and downtrodden dork uprising with Satanism and witchcraft for some extra goodness.

the watcher on the stairs

An Imitation of Carrie? In the Seventies, you hardly had to see a movie in the theater, because sooner or later one of the networks would release a copycat right onto the airwaves for free. The Initiation of Sarah was ABC’s answer to Carrie, and remains a memorable example of that Seventies boom. Populated by pretty faces of the day (the dueling Morgans and Kay Lenz), featuring the late, great Shelley Winters, and helmed by capable director Robert Day, TIoS is a nifty little knock off that reminds you just how cool made for TV movies could be before Lifetime and Syfy cornered the market on them.

Bill: The Bermuda Depths, Don’t Go to Sleep, The Day After, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Satan’s School for Girls, The Initiation of Sarah… Man, the ’70s and ’80s kicked some made-for-TV ass. They used to pop out some fun little thrillers. The closest we get to quality TV flicks like those now are shitty TV remakes, whatever “mega reptile versus giant amphibian” movie Syfy can find a desperate enough has been to star in, and, of course, Lifetime movies starring Markie Post. I mean, I love the shitty Syfy originals and there’s occasionally something good that comes out around Halloween on, say, ABC Fam (who premiered the “reimagined” TIoS) but they are never quite as great as they used to be in pre-cable TV days.  It’s a shame, because I love the format. There’s just something so dramatically perfect about the music-cued fade to black followed by a fade in, book-ending the commercial breaks. Even without the commercials, they’re just perfect, like reaching the end of a chapter in a book and turning the page.

this is my scanner face

Fisty: And speaking of books, you left out Stranger in Our House, aka Summer of Fear, by the queen of Seventies/Eighties YA girl horror, Lois Duncan. (Note that Stranger was directed by Wes Craven and starred Linda Blair!) That’s a big fat FUCK YEAH because no one does scary for pre-teen girls like Duncan: Summer of Fear, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Stranger with My Face, Daughters of Eve, Killing Mr Griffin, Down a Dark Hall, the list just goes on and on. Seriously, you ought to check them out. Maybe it’s the adaptation of several of her suspense novels into tv movies, or maybe it’s just that overall spooky Seventies vibe, but TIoS has a distinctly Lois Duncan feel to me, which helps it to stand out as not just another piece of Carriesploitation.

Also great about made for TV movies are the familiar faces, from television stalwarts to new up and comers. In TIoS you’ll find Shelley Winters reprising her blowzy dame role as the creepy Mrs Hunter, the antithesis of cheerful tippler Mrs Mac in Black Christmas, blithely planning ritual sacrifices to SATAN. We’ve also got two of the most beautiful and famous faces of the Seventies, Morgan Fairchild and Brittany Morgan, the former demonstrating her usual porcelain bitch-goddess character, while the latter is just luminous as the has-it-all-yet-is-sensitive-too Patty. Also familiar are TV movie and show staples Talia Balsam and Nora Heflin, Airplane!‘s Robert Hays–oh! And did we mention TISA FUCKING FARROW? You know, Anne from Zombie?!

you got me on my knees, sarah

Farrow, by the way, is nearly unrecognizable as Mouse, whom she plays very twitchy and high-strung. And lest we forget, Sarah herself is played by Kay Lenz, who somehow buries her own usual radiant, if Gelfling-like beauty behind Sarah’s diffident loner mannerisms. Kay Lenz was absolutely a star in the television firmament, bringing home two Emmys and marrying the likes of David Cassidy (when he was all that and a bag of chips), not to mention her appearance in House. What does this all mean? In a nutshell, we’ve got an experienced cast who really sell their roles, every one of them, from the most silent ANS minion to the frat boy girl raters. It also means we’ve got some of the prettiest faces ever all collected in one neat package. I’d kill for Morgan Brittany’s hair. IT’S SO BOUNCY.

Bill: Robert Hays! He’s so great. It was nice that his character actually had a conscience, too. He totally faced that bitch Jennifer, and walked away rather than let her lead him around by the johnson.

"pinch hitting for pedro barbon..."

All I know about frats and sororities, I learned from watching movies. They can’t really be like that, can they? No one short of Joan Collins can bitch it up like Fairchild and she makes this Jennifer Lawrence person so cunty as to be near inhuman. Why would anyone want to be “sisters” with her?! Ugh. I’d much rather hang with the Omega Mu Phi Epsilon Delta girls, especially Barbara. Hellooooo, Barbara! Are TV movies supposed to be so obviously erotic? But, yes… Why would anyone want to be an ANS? Blah. Though, as we saw in the opening near-rape, Patty can be pretty naive. I mean, she all but climbed onto a pinball machine and did a Jodie Foster impersonation. If Sarah hadn’t been there … So, I suppose I can see her buying into Jennifer’s “charm.” It’s kind of funny that Sarah, who is supposed to be the socially awkward of the two, seems to have a much better idea of the nature of the people she meets than Patty. She even seems to try to shield Patty from the reality of how  snooty the ANS girls are, knowing that that sorority means a lot to her.

Fisty: See, what’s so great about La Fairchild as Jennifer Lawrence is that she actually DOES fake being human sometimes, like when she offers a pseudo-heartfelt apology to Sarah. Most movie sorority bitch stock characters wouldn’t bother, but she can and does. She knows that the only way to maintain a high level of bitchdom is to fake humanity. It’s easy to imagine her being super nice–as long as you’re not ugly and don’t cross her. That’s one of the nice things about what the writers for TIoS did with it, they really created solid characters from classic examplars of high school and college movies, from our beautiful mean girl Jennifer to rejected introvert Sarah. Day and Ingalls et alia focus on these strong characters and the atmosphere and story–without relying on clunky exposition, we never do quite get how the Goodwin family dynamic formed, and it’s only implied that Mrs Hunter is *ahem* more than she seems with respect to Sarah–rather than effects-driven scares, a strength that makes TIoS still a damn effective little movie thirty-odd years later.

solid character

Now, speaking of Carrie … though Brian de Palma’s film really laid out the foundations of the downtrodden-nerd-rises-up-and-has-revenge-with-possibly-tragic-consequences genre, none of the imitators have ever really come close. And not because it’s a perfect film (it’s not), but in part because of the intensity of the awfulness, the real tragedy of the story, they pale in comparison. That doesn’t mean they’re terrible (they’re not), and sometimes they’re much more, well, real in a weird way. In TIoS, Sarah isn’t really an outcast. Yes, she’s a shy loner, and her mother doesn’t really like her, but she isn’t the victim of unceasing torment and humiliations like little Carrie White. (Which, incidentally, cheapens the rip-off Carrie moment when Sarah is pelted with mud and garbage.) She’s not popular, but she does have friends in the PED girls, especially Mouse, but most importantly in Patti. Where TIoS is strongest is in the relationship between Patti and Sarah, a story as old as any in the Judeo-Christian world–after all, are not siblings born to squabble? With sisters, too, you always have the hot versus the not, the smart versus the dumb’; we love to dichotomize sisters (or brothers), to separate and pigeonhole into neat little categories. And it sometimes damages both individuals. Yet these two are close; Patti does her best to look out for Sarah and care for her, and if her love is tinged by pity, it is still love. And that Carrie White never, ever had.

sisters

TIoS is at its best when it’s about their relationship, which is tested by their entry into a foreign, adult world of college. And if Patti does something shameful, well, she isn’t alone in that. Who doesn’t have something for which they are ashamed? It’s an understandable mistake on her part, she wants to be accepted by her new ‘family,’ and by strangers, to prove her worth in the outside world, and Sarah is a vestige of her childhood. But in the end it comes back to the love between them. Sisterhood in general is central to TIoS, though. Sarah’s acceptance in PED, the way she ultimately strengthens their ties to one another, and the juxtaposition of their sorority to the toxic relations of ANS, the pretty hate machine all serve as the central motifs of Sarah’s story. And lest we forget, the longing glances shared between Mouse and Sarah speak of yet ANOTHER sisterhood.

Bill:Yes, it’s a damn effective little flick, but not perfect. I agree about the great way they handle the less-is-more style, like with the Goodwin-Hunter backstory you mentioned, and the is-Mouse-gay? subtext. (She is REALLY into Sarah, and that might explain her suicidal history. And there are a lot of longing glances getting thrown around between these girls.)

did somebody say, "subtext?"

But then there are a few silly moments of irrational behavior and general WTFness that could have an excitable person yelling at their screen. I refuse to believe anyone would actually let that creepy Mrs Hunter teach any class, let alone a class on Ritualistic Magic Among Primitive Peoples. Sometimes it seems like none of these people ever even go to classes. Or do any school work. I also doubt the guys hoisting a piano up on a string are going to be stupid enough to let people just wander around under it, much less loiter under there, looking like fucking Tanooki Mario pulling his statue routine. How retarded is Patty?! She just stands there with Damocles’ Piano hanging over her head, waiting on her sister to psychic that shit down on her. Everyone does that! They just stand still and wait as Sarah psycho-stares them in the face.  She’s not scanning them. No heads are going to explode. She’s not exactly Carrie, who didn’t have to stare at something for 5 minutes to get an effect, so anyone that knows about her power, like, say, HER SISTER, could just step out of the way when she’s aiming her psycho-glare. And why does no one except Mrs Hunter react to this girl’s power? You’d think Jennifer, having been forcefully knocked through the air by an invisible force after pissing Sarah off, would then cut her some slack rather than seek revenge and humiliate the girl that has deadly super mind powers.

what could possibly go wrong?

Fisty: Yeah, there’s definitely too much standing and waiting for those powers to get going. I love that piano gag, though, because it’s right up there with guys carrying an giant glass pane across a street: SOMEONE is going through that glass, just like SOMEONE’S gonna be under that piano. So dumb, but so funny. It’s not just people affected by Sarah, though, it’s Sarah too. Like when she’s getting humiliated outside the PED house–why doesn’t she just run back in? No, she just stands there screaming like a banshee. Nobody does that.

And the fresh meat playing backgammon in the first dorm scene? I have never in my life seen ANYONE play a game of fucking backgammon, nevermind any eighteen-year old girls on their first night at college. The whole college thing is pretty unrealistic–these writers were going on some aging Fifties memories, I’m guessing. I’m not sure how much of that is clumsiness, and how much is perhaps deliberate anachronism, with that peculiar love for the Fifties they had in the Seventies. But I won’t argue with with Mrs Hunter’s class, which I have totally seen in course catalogs. I’m just not sure why she’d be teaching it since she doesn’t even have a doctorate, unless it were Waltham Community College. Those are some pretty minor quibbles, though, and they even lend to a certain enjoyment of the film. (Bill: Amen. I only “quibbled” at all so that no humorless, stick-in-the-mud  can say we misrepresented the movie in our review.) I can revel in that sort of silliness, while also enjoying its good qualities. (Bill: “We,” Fisty, “We can revel in it!”) TIoS is really kind of a perfect nostalgia flick–even for a time I never experienced.

nostalgic ... for SATAN?!?

Unfortunately, due to the ephemeral nature of television commercials (trailers  for made for TV movies falling straight into that category), we’ve been unable to locate a trailer for The Initiation of Sarah. Rather than head into questionable territory by linking to scenes up on YouTube (they’re there if you look, or you can catch the whole thing on Netflix Watch Instantly), here are some authentic commercials from January 1978, just before TIoS premiered, to get you in the mood. You never saw cotton-reinforced crotches looking so good. 

Black Christmas

all is calm, all is dead

Black Christmas
aka Silent Night, Evil Night
aka Stranger in the House
aka Noël tragique
aka Un Natale rosso sangue
Director: Bob Clark
Released: 1974
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, John Saxon
Running time: 98 minutes
Genre: horror, slasher

Co-eds dying near an open fire: It’s time for Christmas break, and none too soon. The sisters of the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority are celebrating with a post-finals and pre-break party, all unawares of the mumbling creep climbing a trellis into their attic. While they cozily guzzle cocktails and discuss plans for a Christmas charity event the next day, the mysterious stranger stumbles through an attic filled with childhood debris and makes his way into the house proper.

Downstairs, Jess answers a prank call from The Moaner and calls most of the ladies over to listen.  The caller says a lot of filthy things and, after some verbal pwnage from Barb, ends his call with a dead serious, “I’m going to kill you.”  Professional virgin Clare, upset by Barb’s constant razzing and cavalier attitude toward the rape of a local girl, and provocation of the nasty caller (and unaware of the nutter hiding upstairs,) breaks off from the rest of the girls and heads to her room to finish packing.  The rest of the sorority, making merry and bestowing gifts on the housemother, Mrs MacHenry, don’t hear a thing as the attic mumbler Laura Palmer-izes Clare and carries her corpse into the attic.

Clare’s disappearance is discovered the next day when her father looks for her at the sorority house after she fails to show up when he was supposed to meet her.  They head to the police station for help, where Barb mocks a lunkheaded cop with sexual innuendos while some townie woman reports her 13 year-old daughter missing.  Their efforts aren’t taken seriously until the tween’s body is found in a nearby park, and the capable Lieutenant Fuller takes over. With more prank calls coming in, a rape, a missing girl, and one dead body already found, the police connect the dots and tap the sorority house phones. It’s beginning to look a lot like Jess’ intense pianist boyfriend, Peter, might be unhinged and violently upset after she reveals to him that she’s pregnant and wants to get an abortion.  In the midst of all this and unknown to everyone, the murderer is already in the house and he’s going to kill every single one of the Pi Kappa Sigmas.

all bobby wants for christmas is agnes

Extremely influential, with some interesting characters and subplots, loaded with booze and wicked laughs,  a healthy mean streak and enough suspense to make Bumble piss himself, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas holds up well even today and is still a disturbing little package of holiday fear for any of us weirdos from The Island of Misfit Horror Hounds.

Bill: Black Christmas was a landmark in the development of the Slasher subgenre.  Without it, there would be no Halloween, no Friday the 13th or The Burning.  Now, I could explain the why and how of that, and Fisty and I will likely do so in a minute or two, but first, I’d like to talk about dirty words.  Filthy, nasty, deliciously perverted words.

“ho, ho, FUCK”

Sometimes, when I’ve got a few movies lined up that I’ve never seen, I’ll glance at the parental advisory notes on imdb to help me decide what I want to watch.  I’ll compare the amount of nudity, violence, gore, rape, alcohol and drug references and watch whatever has the most (or the most creative,) because I love all that stuff.  I know, however, that no matter how nude the nakedness and how bushy the bush and how bloody the bodies and violent the violence, it won’t be anything that I haven’t seen before in, like, over 9000 other flicks.  However, movies that are willing to go all out with their language are a little more uncommon.  I’m not talking about shit and fuck.  That’s nothing.   No, fuck is boring.  I’m talking about real raunch.  It may be common in certain areas of the internet, among your friends, sometimes (if you’re lucky) in the bedroom (though, even there you occasionally have problems with blushing, downward glances and mumbling,) and on Deadwood, but non-pornographic, cinematic raunch talk is a little more rare.  That’s probably why it still packs a bit of a punch and can be so memorable, maybe even more so now, than it would’ve been, since the P.C. Armies have sterilized the entire country.  Think of Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant demanding, “Show me how you suck a guy’s cock,” or Clarice explaining to Dr. Lector that Miggs said, “I can smell your cunt,” in Silence of the Lambs, or little possessed Regan in The Exorcist saying, “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras.”  It can be jarring for the audience as well as the characters in a movie.  It even works in comedies, like Clerks, with Randall’s video ordering scene.  So it’s great when The Moaner busts out a few phrases that even make the girls in the ribald Pi Kappa Sigma house think he’s a creep.  This guy isn’t just breathing heavy or asking if they have Prince Albert in a can, he’s saying things like, “I’ll stick my tongue up your pretty pussy!”  Fuck yeah!  Even if Black Christmas weren’t the suspenseful, influential shocker that it is, I’d still have to give thanks to Bob Clark for giving us a horror movie that uses the line, “Let me lick your pretty piggy cunt!”  That’s good stuff.

“you fucking CREEP!”

Fisty: Speaking of cunts, lets talk characters. Barb is going to get a lot of attention for being a Grade A cunt at least for the line, “Darling, you can’t rape a townie,” but she’s really not that bad. Sure, she’s outrageous, but thanks to her convo with her skank mother, we know she’s just acting out because she feels unloved and alone, hence her forlorn bid for company in inviting her sorority sisters to go skiing with her. Though she seems to be alienating First Girl Clare with her vulgarity, Barb also invites her along skiing because she’s desperate for affection; she’s a classic Poor Little Rich Girl. Notice the dichotomy between Barb’s room and Clare’s: Barb’s is almost a little girl’s room, abundant in flounces, purple, and crystal animals, while Clare’s features rock posters, alcohol, and sexual permissiveness–all the things her daddy dreads about college and growing up. Who is really the professional virgin here? Despite Clare’s shyness about some things, Barb appears emotionally stunted in contrast, a bratty little girl drunkenly spewing profanity at the dinner table, but a sad and pathetic one, too.

twelve ladies of pi sigma kappa

Bill: I liked Barb quite a bit.  She’s probably the deepest character in the movie and Kidder absolutely gives the best performance.  She’s a hoot, too.  I’d totally hang out with Barb.  She and Future Barb, aka Mrs. Mac, who is my second favorite alcoholic in the film, both kind of reminded me of Fisty.  Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but I was secretly hoping that Mrs. M and Clare’s father would get it on.

Fisty: I am SO flattered.

Notwithstanding Barb’s barbs at Clare (haHA!), something I dig about the Pi Kappa Sigmas is how they really do have a sororal feeling. Too often a slasher set in a sorority house or other all-female environment is an excuse for boobs n’ butts, and a showcase for the worst possible catty female behavior. But Barb’s an equal opportunity needler, digging in on anyone within range, and she does harbor some affection for Claire. All the other sisters still in the house seem to genuinely like one another, and don’t sink into a mire of bitchery when the going gets tough.

Maybe because it’s an ur-slasher, Black Christmas features a pretty wide range of developed characters, 3D all the way (no glasses required). Outside the world of Black Christmas, they could be in other movies, other stories–shit, they could be real. The sole exception to that, though, is our Final Girl, Olivia Hussey’s Jess. Is it Hussey’s odd lock-jawed, Gloria Upson-esque delivery? Or her expressionless face? Is it just that Jess is kind of a bore, other than the abortion subplot? I just don’t know.

“and she STEPPED on the BALL”

Bill: Oh god, The Abortion!  As any American fan of Degrassi knows, Canadians aren’t afraid to address the abortion issue in entertainment the way Americans are.  When it’s mentioned that Debbie is pregnant in Friday the 13th Part 3, rather that explore that and find out more about it, whether she wants the baby or not, flesh out the character, and turn it into the highly dramatic subplot it deserves to be, they instead completely dropped anything else about it from the rest of the movie, because that is way too potentially offensive of a topic to deal with in a movie that is ABOUT BRUTAL SPREE MURDERS!  Ugh.  Thankfully, even though it came six years earlier, Black Christmas doesn’t do the same.

Fisty: No, Clark dives right in, but without sensationalizing it. Let us recall that Roe v. Wade was hardly a year old when Clark started work on Black Christmas, yet he resists the urge to make Jess’ pregnancy a moralizing force in the movie. Her pregnancy has no bearing on whether she lives or dies, and only she and Crazy Peter give a shit about it. It’s refreshing to see abortion not take over the entire film (perhaps Steve Miner was taking notes, Bill?).

i’m crazy sensitive, and i will MAKE you love me

Bill: Nah, he was just pussying out.

Fisty: You’re probably right; I mean, it came up like, zero times after it was mentioned. What the hey?

Now, I debated with myself whether the abortion thing might be some of why I don’t like Jess, and I don’t feel that it is. After all, who am I to judge; I did the same myself at her age. She comes across as cold not because she knows she doesn’t have her shit together enough to bring a baby into the world, or because she dismisses Peter’s frankly hysterical and unbalanced reaction, but because she’s a total snore of a person and Olivia Hussey was replaced by a mannequin for this role.

However, Jess’ plight is actually important to the movie. It’s symbolic of that of all the killer’s victims: They are young women venturing out into the great wide world for the first time, and they have a great deal to overcome. Second-wave feminism and women’s lib had young women not simply translating themselves from their parents’ home to that of their husbands, but making their own ways. Instead of the working on their Mrs, the girls of Pi Kappa Sigma have plans for careers–one of the reasons Jess refuses to give in to Peter’s demands (and my god, it is a relief to not see some “trapping a man with pregnancy” thing come up). But because they’re out in the world, in the public sphere, they are also endangered, and that’s the crux of Black Christmas. It juxtaposes the coziness of a family- and hearth-oriented holiday like Christmas with the cold, unreasoning brutality of the Killer. Notice how in virtually every scene there is a nod to the season: crackling fires, candles, wreaths, snow, twinkling lights and decor. The domestic sphere is where he strikes the Pi Kappa Sigmas, and that is where they’ll die; they aren’t hothouse flowers too delicate to survive  outside, but rather a leggy species that thrives on neglect and withers under too much attention. At Christmastime, when other families cozy up and love one another, the Pi Sigma Kappas die in their home, together.

death by unicorn

Where are the Pis (heh heh) threatened and killed? In their home. What is central to the Christmas holiday? Being home. It’s not because they’re out in the world that these girls die; it’s not that they’re being strong, adventurous, or sexually liberated that kills them. They die because we all can die, anywhere and at any time. That’s just how the world is, my friend.

Bill: The Pis manage to die pretty well.  Plastic bags (with the vacuum-sealed corpse placed by an attic window for creepy effect), metal hooks to the face, crystal unicorn stabbings…  It’s creative stuff.  They tend to stick with the Texas Chainsaw model of onscreen murder, using very little blood and gore (or nudity *pout*), instead letting the twisted nature of the killings creep you out rather than gross you out.  In a lesser movie, this might disappoint me, since I love the red stuff, but BC is a solid flick, suspenseful, and works just the way it is.   I’d have loved to have seen Margot’s tatas though …  Sigh.

I want to talk a bit about the end of the movie, so, for those that haven’t seen it or hate spoilers:

LOOK AWAY NOW!  SPOILERS! SPOILERS FOLLOW HERE!

Bill: They use Peter as the big red herring of the movie, but, in fact, he just ends up another victim.  The identity of the real killer, Billy, if what he says can be believed, is never revealed.  You never see his face.  You never learn his motives or what he’s talking about when he mentions Agnes or what he and Agnes did.    It’s never even clear if the rape of the townie or the murder of the tween in the park are even related to him at all.  Billy, maybe even more so than The Shape from my lord and savior’s Halloween, is the perfect faceless bogeyman.  He’s crazy and he kills and he’s still out there and that is all there is to it, no spoon-fed explanatory (or even worse, justifying) backstory about flesh-eating bacteria on his face or a vulgar stripper mama.  In the real world, crazy doesn’t always have a reason, killing doesn’t always have a purpose and survivors don’t always get closure.  That, to me, is way scarier than an over-explained, cliche revenge motive.

Fisty: When I first saw Black Christmas back in high school, I wasn’t terribly impressed. In fact, I was infuriated and found it aggravating, in large part due to the ending. It seemed totally ridiculous to me that everyone would just wander off and leave Jess like that–and with The Killer still in the house! I must have been mental, though, because as an adult, it makes perfect sense and that ambiguity works for me. It works HARD. After all, Lt Fuller and the rest of The Authorities have every reason to believe there are no further threats; Peter was evidently the killer, and he’s dead. The doctor states that he’ll stay with Jess until her parents arrive (and presumably Chris, too–there always seems to be a little more going on there than is ever stated), but Mr Harrison’s sudden collapse necessitates his being borne away by the doc and Chris for medical attention. As the camera pans out on the now silent and peaceful house–inhabited by only an unconscious Jess and a Killer–we see a lone police officer standing guard on a Christmas light-festooned porch. The Authorities are doing their job, see? That phone ringing? (He must have made a phone call after each murder.) Nothing to worry about … all is calm, all is bright.

away in a sorority house

Watching that final shot now, as the credits start to roll, I get chickenskin every time. Every. Time.

OK, YOU CAN LOOK NOW!  NO MORE SPOILERS!  LOOK NOW!

Bill: Oh, we were supposed to talk about all of that early slasher groundbreaking stuff that everyone else has already said, huh?

Fisty: Pioneering killer POVs, discordant slasher soundtracks, undiscriminating and incomprehensible killers, Black Christmas deserves its reputation as one of the ur-slashers, and makes a delightful seasonal entertainment. It’s smart, cunningly photographed, and genuinely disturbing, and with some of the most iconic images and tropes in American horror, etc etc etc.

Bill: Wow.  You’re good at that.

Fisty: I’m hoping if I get better, I’ll get to bone John Saxon.

sergeant nash, lieutenant fuller, and officer chuckles

Happy Christmas and Merry New Year, everyone!

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