A Quiet Place to Kill

2013 italian film culture blogathon

Yes, things look a little different here today. This review is part of The Nitrate Diva’s 2013 Italian Film Culture Blogathon, a celebration of all aspects of Italian film culture. And as such, we’re including a little background information for those readers not accustomed to giallo. Without further ado …

You know, there are directors who achieve fame or notoriety chiefly through a particular work (or even a couple), regardless of how representative it is of their oeuvre. To the general public, Umberto Lenzi likely means nothing, except perhaps, “What gibberish are you talking now?” but to horror fans, Lenzi means Cannibal FeroxNightmare City. Maybe even Eaten Alive! Which are all … decidedly not good. Some might go so far as to call them worthless trash. And that’s a damn shame, because Umberto Lenzi–and he will be the first to tell you this–has made a number of fine films, or at the least, far better ones over the course of his long career. I’d say the majority of his pre-1980 work is better by far, but it’s Lenzi’s curse to be known best as a purveyor of ultraviolent cannibal sleaze.

Lenzi’s strengths lie chiefly in action and exciting set pieces, and accordingly some of his finest work is in the poliziottesco filone–the “tough cop” crime and action flicks of the Seventies inspired by the likes of Dirty HarryLenzi’s poliziotteschi are easily comparable to the best of the filone by acknowledged masters like Di Leo, Dallamano, and Castellari. But before the rise of the poliziottesco, there was the giallo.

For those tyros tuning in Wikipedia can provide a quick background on the giallo; for our purposes, the essentials are that the giallo was a sort of crime thriller popular in the Sixties and Seventies; it was during the latter decade that the genre peaked (about 1972). In 1963’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and 1966’s Blood and Black Lace Mario Bava laid out the general narrative structures and tropes of the filone (later playing with those same generic conventions in a string of ever more experimental gialli), while Dario Argento’s 1970 debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage upped the ante with yet more violence and psychosexual drama–and was an international breakthrough hit. (Note that this film and Bird were released simultaneously, AQP2K coming out one day after Bird.) It is Argento’s work (in the vein of Bava) that is synonymous with the current popular conception of the giallo–complete with elaborate violence, kitschy style, and often impenetrable plotting. Most of the gialli popular today are from the “classic” period of 1970-1975, and therefore are considered direct descendants of Bird, and so the relentless discussion among fans and purists of just what does or does not constitute a “proper” giallo works from Bird’s example. And the Sixties gialli (saving Bava’s work, of course–in MOST instances) often fall victim to the “but really, what IS a giallo!?” nitpickers, particularly the type we’re discussing here, the sexy-thriller lenziani.

(Wait, what? That dude we just mentioned, the one largely reviled by anyone other than ardent gorehounds or fans of Eurocrime ? That guy has like, a film genre filone named after him? Yeah, pretty much. And it’s awesome!)

Differing from the Argento-type gialli in that they’re less mystery thrillers than suspense thrillers, i.e., the killer’s identity isn’t usually a mystery,  but rather the mystery lies in whether the killer will get away with their crime–and sometimes (always?) whether there is yet ANOTHER layer of duplicity. Less Agatha Christie than Hitchcock, these Sixties sexy-thrillers lenziani are also more Clouzot’s Les diaboliques than anything elseThink of the sexy-thriller lenziani as a gorgeous detour on the way from Bava to Argento, one that winds its way through sunny Mediterranean locales populated by the rich and glamorous. Carroll Baker and Jean Sorel will be there, looking fine, and there will be more of the beautiful people–and many of them will be nude! There will be scads of booze and pills, women and song, lies and videotape. We’re going to hop into a sporty little roadster and speed down treacherous serpentine roads until we reach the shocking conclusion of the sexy-thriller lenziani.

sex, lies, & super8

sex, lies, & super8

Paranoia
aka A Quiet Place to Kill
aka Os Ambiciosos Insaciáveis
aka Una droga llamada Helen
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Released: 1970
Starring: Carroll Baker, Jean Sorel, Anna Proclemer, Luis Dávila
Running time: 94 min
Genre: giallo

Women are sometimes silent, but never when there’s nothing to say. Lilian Terry, however, has plenty to say. She begins crooning “You,” the title track to Paranoia, over some Umiliani loungey jazz stylings. As the credits roll, we see  … I don’t even know what, but it sure is exciting! It’s all in Glorious Negativecolor, for one. There are zooms on women walking and staring, and cameras rolling–on us! There are reflections and distortions, rack focusing and women appearing, always staring. There’s a gun! And a crash! And a struggle! There’s running, and slapping, and ominous men in suits! And yet more staring, staring, staring! That dratted camera again! And it’s all tremendously exciting with the crooning the reversed colors and the THINGS HAPPENING. Finally, we see–who? Oh, it’s La Baker, and she’s ready for some Formula 1 fun.

And there we are, transported to a racetrack where Helen is a racecar driver, a veritable Maria Andretti. Only she sees (hallucinates? recalls? envisions? prophesies?) a handsome man (Jean Sorel) standing on the track–all we need now is Mary Weiss shrieking “Look out, look out look out!”–a swerve and a crash! The ambulance rushes the driver away, she goes into surgery, and then it’s … some time later, and Helen’s apparently recovered. Oh, all but her nerves, which are shot per the doctor, she’ll never race again. He also warns her against excitement, sex, smoking and drinking. Allowed to choose one but vice, Helen goes with whiskey, jettisoning playboys and fun. It’s not all so bad, however, as she’s also given a lifetime membership to the Valley of the Dolls–as long as she never takes one on an empty stomach!

Leaving the hospital with her erstwhile flunky/manager/paramour/hair model, Helen gets the bad news that she’s on the hook for MILLIONS (of lira, so who cares, it’s not like it’s real money anyways) for her hospital treatment and stay. Also for even more MILLIONS (see above) for the racecar she wrecked. On the plus side, she’s got a telegram from some well wisher! There’s always a silver lining. Turns out that the telegram is from Helen’s ex-husband Maurice, who’s got a villa in Mallorca, and suggests she visit. Playboy von Glamourhair makes a whiskey stop, and while he’s in the shop, Helen absconds with his sporty little car, headed for Mallorca.

helen was a racecar driver

helen was a racecar driver

you give love a bad name

you give love a bad name

when passion's a prison you can't break free

when passion’s a prison you can’t break free

In sunny Mallorca, however, Helen will find that it was actually Maurice’s WIFE (!!!) Constance who sent the telegram. And though she’s hesitant about joining Maurice and Constance for a little menage, their frolicsome fun in the sun life is just irresistible. As is Maurice. He’s just as deliciously seductive as he was when Helen married him (seriously, have you SEEN Jean Sorel!?), and Helen’s just as much under his spell as she ever was. Also under the influence of a drug called Maurice is Constance–but she yearns to break free. She enlists Helen in the founding chapter of Maurice Anonymous, and under her program the first step is murdering Maurice.

Murder is plotted and a murder occurs, but whose? Will the perpetrators convince the authorities of their story? Was the crime caught on tape? And just what is that untrustworthy nymphette Susan up to? It’s all J&B and jetsetters, women and Wess & the Airedales, upskirts and Umiliani until someone gets hurt–or dead.

A typical European male: selfish amoral, and corrupt. Between Bava and Aregnto there was a school of gialli rather unlike those with which we are more familiar. They are the psycho-sexy thrillers lenziani, and, well, guess who was the master? These gialli by way of Hitchcock and Clouzot–often with a noirish touch–are a breed apart from the post-Argento giallo, although their influence shouldn’t be underestimated.

your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye

your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye

psycho sexy

psycho sexy, qu’est-ce que c’est?

who's the hypotenuse now!?

who’s the hypotenuse now!?

Fisty: Let’s talk negatives first, specifically, that credits sequence. Maybe I suffer from short-term memory loss, but that was one of THE most exciting credit sequences I have ever seen. The first time I watched Paranoia, I remember being so jazzed within thirty seconds that I was jumping up and down, jizzing, texting, and tweeting. Then I tore my hair out. And started scream-crying, like footage of girls seeing The Beatles or Danny Bonaduce in person for the first time. I’m kind of getting the urge to start doing that again right now, actually. The music! The action! The cutaways! The crazy colors! SO. MUCH. EXCITEMENT.

You know, normally we wouldn’t spend so much time, either in the synopsis or the actual review, discussing a credit sequence, but in this case it’s absolutely warranted. The brilliant (yes, I am applying that adjective to Umberto Lenzi, more on that momentarily) thing about the sequence is not only how (incredibly) exciting it is, but the way it–well, I’ll let you take this one, Billy.

Bill: First, let me explain to the readers (as if we have those–HA!) what the hell you’re talking about, in case we aren’t being clear enough.

For anyone that hasn’t seen Paranoia (which I will now begin calling A Quiet Place to Kill or AQP2K for short–I’ll come back to that in a second,) the entire opening credit sequence is a montage of scenes from the movie with the colors reversed or, say it with me, “in NEG-UH-TIVE.” Now go back and read Fisty’s first sentence and laugh at her, because she’s funny. You can always trust her to bring the wits and class. She really was as excited as she claims about that opening sequence, too. That is not hyperbole. Her excitement was warranted though. It really is a kick ass way to open the movie … and kind of brilliant. You see all this struggle and violence and trippy, fun-looking stuff that foreshadows everything you’re about to see, while still keeping you clueless as to which things will be happening to what characters, since it’s so hard to recognize people in negative. Once you have seen the flick and re-watch that part, knowing exactly what you’re seeing in the intro makes it even cooler. One negative about the negative (I stole that from you, Fisty,) it does also tend to make everyone look a bit like poorly done CGI characters when they move. But there’s no way Lenzi could’ve have known that in 1970.

a quiet place to--oh, whatever

a quiet place to–oh, whatever

i play my part and you play your game

i play my part and you play your game

an ideal place to--oh, goddamnit, lenzi!

an ideal place to–oh, goddamnit, lenzi!

Getting back to the title thing … Umberto Lenzi’s Paranoia came out in 1969, starring Carroll Baker only to be followed by Umberto Lenzi’s Paranoia, which came out in 1970 starring Carroll Baker. SAY WHAT?! The ’69 film, known as Orgasmo in Italy, was retitled to Paranoia for international release. The ’70 film, Paranoia–that’s the one we’re doing now–was given the same name as the U.S. re-title of Orgasmo. So, to avoid confusion, they retitled Paranoia as A Quiet Place to Kill internationally. This attempt to avoid confusion has failed. I got confused just writing this. Seriously, what the hell, man? Is the “ridiculous” in our “ridiculous re-titles” tag even a strong enough word for this tomfoolery, Fisty? Do we need a new tag? Maybe something with curse words in it?

Fisty: Dude, it gets better! The title of Lenzi’s 1971 giallo Un posto ideale per uccidere translates to An Ideal Place to Kill, though it was released in the US as both Oasis of Fear and Dirty Pictures. So after releasing Paranoia with the international title A Quiet Place to Kill he released another film with a similar title. AND, his original intent was for Orgasmo to be titled Paranoia. What with the reuse of Wess & the Airedales’ “Just Tell Me” in both Orgasmo and A Quiet Place to Kill, I think Umberto Lenzi gets a wee bit fixated on motifs now and again.

Bill: You don’t say? Could you call filming with a glass of red liquid ruining your shot twenty-eight different times in one movie a motif he was stuck on? If so, then I agree. He is a better filmmaker than most people that know him only for cheap exploitative thrills would probably realize, but in this instance, I have to wonder what he was thinking. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why he would intentionally ruin his shot over and over with the glasses. There’s a few other scenes with, like, planters and vases in the foreground that throw you off, too. Is this some cultural thing that I’m not understanding? Just an eccentricity of Lenzi? Was this movie originally meant to be in 3D (with a funky disco cocaine theme song)?

you promise me heaven then put me through hell

you promise me heaven then put me through hell

quit being a bitch and fill one up

quit being a bitch and fill one up

bill is so pissed

bill is so pissed

Fisty: (Inasmuch as disco’s progenitors include funk, lounge, psychedelica, yes. Sort of.) But no. Those shots are hardly “ruin[ed],” Bill. Your use of “intentional” there should clue you in to what Lenzi was playing at with the different compositions –and AQP2K is indeed chockablock with funky yet elegant shots. Lenzi seems a bit experimental, like he’s playing more with different ways of telling the story visually rather than simply through the narrative, and that the tricks aren’t there just to to heighten dramatic impact. That showy rack focusing you find so distracting? Another way for Lenzi to show how the roles of victims and perpetrators become increasingly blurred and overlapping, the ways in which motives are obscured.

Lenzi also throws a lot of mirrored or double compositions and subjective camera shots into the mix, further playing with notions of just who’s doing what to whom here. Some of my favorites involve Helen and Constance, particularly their first scene (featuring a stunning gold crackle mirror tiled fireplace!), in which they’re both wearing green, establishing their jealous natures. Lenzi plays with color quite a bit, clothing Constance–and in one episode, Helen–literally in gold, symbolizing perhaps a deeper motive, and of course the film is practically awash in the red stuff. No, not blood (these Sixties gialli are rarely bloody), but myriad red libations–what are they, aperitifs? Campari or vermouth? I have no idea. Those little red glasses of SOMETHING potent–that’s important, Bill–are some of the worst offenders in those shots you hate. But Lenzi liberally splashes his film with red, the color of passion, anger, and blood.

Bill: I’m down with all the mirrors and the colors and characters dressing as one another and the flashes of memories and imaginings he uses to keep things twisty-turny and have the audience questioning everything. That’s all done very well. But whatever Lenzi was trying to get across by sticking a bunch of blurry crap in our faces, so we can’t even see the actors, he failed. Sure, you can say he hiding the actors behind a mask of colors that  represent their passions to show how those overpowering emotions are occluding their rational selves or whatever bunk you want throw out about it, but really, he could’ve done that in a much less annoying way. I think he did manage the same thing in other films without making me use my rage face. At least I don’t remember it being as jarring in Orgasmo or So Sweet…  So Perverse. I know Fulci has used similar ideas in, for instance, Perversion Story, but it wasn’t as frequent and it came off as cool, instead of … irritating. I don’t want to say this is because Lenzi is a bad filmmaker. Like I said earlier, he’s better than most give him credit for. I like him. But he is kind of eccentric and, I think, has a harder time pulling off ideas like that in a successful way. Or maybe he’s just a genius and he’s too smart for his own audiences. What do I know? I mostly watch these flicks for the sex and violence.

shot through the heart!

shot through the heart!

no one can save me; the damage is done

no one can save me

the damage is done

the damage is done

Mmmmm, violence. But only some! These lenziani tend to be fairly light on violence compared to other gialli, and that’s why they usually aren’t my favs. They do typically make up for it in other ways, however, like adding plenty of salacious kink,  bodacious style, beautiful locales, and vice vice vice! There’s booze and pills and T&A and sexual sadism, like Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion‘s Minou (who would totally be besties with Helen) in her sexy surrender scene in that movie, or the stylistic brilliance of Fulci filming a sex scene from the POV of a bed in Perversion Story. The pop culture hipness of The Sweet Body of Deborah is the big draw for me there, with a comic book themed nightclub and permanent Twister fixtures in the front yard. And Lenzi’s own Orgasmo keeps me rapt with the psycho-sexual torment a cute young couple put Carroll Baker through. AQP2K tries to make up for its lack of a body count by having Helen be naked pretty much every 10-15 minutes or so, which, believe me, I did appreciate. There’s also a fun club scene with a bitchin’ dancin’ girl upskirt (but, ugh, the song almost ruins it,) a fantastically bizarre cavern club, and some crazy, fun other stuff, like Hitchcock nods, Jean Sorel being ridiculously entertaining, and a scene with a stuffed fox monster … thing. And plenty of lovely decor, sets and artsy scenes, not counting those stupid drinking glass in the foreground ones. But, personally, I don’t think it was enough. I liked it and I certainly was never bored, but I don’t think it rises to the level of the other films I mentioned.

Fisty: I know some of his choices irritate you (though you’re TOTALLY wrong), but it’s important to note that Lenzi’s stylistic choices are used consistently and coherently; the style essentially delineates the text.

now part of this complete breakfast

now part of this complete breakfast

paint your smile on your lips

paint your smile on your lips

ohhhhhhh, you're a loaded gun!

ohhhhhhh, you’re a loaded gun!

For me, AQP2K has an elegance, a neatness, a … well, I’m just going to go ahead and quote Margaret Mitchell here: There was a glamor to it, a perfection and a completeness and a symmetry to it like Grecian art. Some–including Bill here–might argue my use of “perfection,” but when we take the concept of perfection back to it’s origins (sup, Aristotle!), we’re talking about something that is not only the best of its kind, but that is a whole, not missing any of its parts, and that it achieves its purpose. Though it might be argued (okay, is argued here) that AQP2K is not the best of its kind, it’s undoubtedly a consummate sexy thriller lenziano, made up of all the requisite parts. And most importantly for this argument, IT DOES WHAT IT SET OUT TO DO. Or rather, what Lenzi set out to do. To it. With it. Or something. Whatever. AQP2K is sexy, thrilling, and entertaining–and that’s exactly what we ask of gialli, be they in the style of Bava or Argento or Lenzi.

And lest we forget, AQP2K is technically excellent in every respect. The cast nails it; they don’t just hit their marks but inhabit their roles–Sorel and La Baker in particular playing signature character types. The psychology of the characters is credible, particularly Helen’s (and to a lesser degree, Constance’s) embodiment of Carlos Fuentes’ statement “Jealousy kills love, but leaves desire intact.” There’s a rococo look to it as well, from the sunny, golden exteriors in Mallorca to the literally glittering interiors–and costumes. And Piero Umiliani’s loungey score repeats the title theme when apropos, and otherwise provides a pleasantly snazzy background.

Bill: I also ask that they not obscure half of the screen with an out of focus drinking glass, but that’s just me.

Fisty: Boor. Swine. Uncultured lout.

ladies and gentlemen

ladies and gentlemen

home movies

home movies

there's something about maurice

there’s something about maurice

Bill: Snob. Are we finished here? Did we get back to how this is a giallo? Because there are a lot of arguments about that.

Fisty: Oh yeah. You’re right, I’ve seen these arguments come up for well, almost every non-classico giallo, it sometimes seems. We’ve touched on it previously with Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Luciano Ercoli’s 1970 giallo  la femme (that’s not really a thing), and again with Massimo Dallamano’s 1972 schoolgirl giallo What Have You Done to Solange? Along different lines, Luigi Cozzi’s 1973 genre-bender The Killer Must Kill Again labors under the same accusation for different reasons. Shoots, even a prime example of the classico giallo like Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark has had such aspersions cast at it–seriously!–which just goes to show, not only are some people plumb crazy, but the definition of giallo is as nebulous, and ambiguous as the films themselves.

A generic definition that can (debatably) encompass such outliers as Argento’s Suspiria and Phenomena or Fulci’s The New York Ripper can certainly include films of a less fantastical or gruesome nature. But it’s not even about what we can stretch the definition to include, but what films make up an integral core of the filone. In that the Sixties gialli–lenziani or no–tend to be along the lines of the sexy inheritance thriller, referencing noir and Hitchcock and Clouzot, Lenzi’s thrillers absolutely typify this approach. While he did not necessarily innovate–Bill’s BFF Romolo Guerreri busted The Sweet Body of Deborah out in 1968, not to mention Bava’s previous contributions–Lenzi absolutely refined and realized the generic potential of these thrillers when he dominated the filone.

This type would flourish mainly in the Sixties, and the beginning of the Seventies, but would continue to affect the filone even after Bird’s excesses. Later gialli that place the emphasis on suspense as opposed to mystery, the inheritance thriller-type giallo, the gaslight giallo, the intimate giallo based on internal concerns–adultery, incest, etc–instead of the eyewitness, these are all related to the sexy thriller lenziani and its success. I dare say that virtually all of Sergio Martino’s classic gialli bear the imprint of the sexy thriller lenziani, and traces are found throughout many post-Argento films such as Forque’s In the Eye of the Hurricane or Picciolo’s The Flower with Petals of Steel.

probably an entire reel of blurry glass footage

probably an entire reel of blurry glass footage

ring ring ring ring ring ring ring giallo phone!

ring ring ring ring ring ring ring giallo phone!

party time, excellent

party time, excellent

Bill: I really did love The Sweet Body of Deborah. And going back to the cast “inhabit[ing] their roles,” you didn’t mention her, but Marina Coffa as Susan is just perfect. She embodies Susan so well that the second she’s on screen, before she’s even had a chance to act, I knew she was trouble. I’ve never seen her in anything else and I kind of wish she’d done more. Now, about the debt Martino owes Lenzi… Yeah. I can’t deny that. And I love Martino. Everything you’ve said about Lenzi and about this movie is true. I’ve been kind of critical of it and it isn’t my favorite lenziani, or even my favorite of the So Sweet… So Perverse/Orgasmo/Paranoia trilogy–I liked Orgasmo better–but I want to reiterate: I LIKE THIS MOVIE. My criticisms are minor, mostly adding up to, “I think this other movie is better,” and, “Blurry cups!” But just because I don’t consider it perfect, doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It would definitely surprise anyone that only knows Lenzi from his later films. But maybe it shouldn’t. He adapted to smaller budgets and changing audience desires and his later movies, while maybe not showing quite the technical proficiency he does here, are still precisely what he meant them to be and perfectly typify the times in which he made them. I can’t ever remember being bored while watching a Lenzi movie. Bottom line: He’s better than he gets credit for being.

Don’t worry about me, you’re the one sitting in the death seat. Ultimately, A Quiet Place to Kill is a fine film, a perfectly typical sexy thriller lenziani. With fine characterizations perfectly played by its cast, exotic and glamorous locales, a jazzy score, and a delightfully intricate yet tight storyline. While not as bloodily thrilling as later, post-Argento gialli, AQP2K–and others of its type–create a sensual atmosphere brimming with lasciviousness and intrigue. They are dependent upon not only the looks and attitudes of their characters, but also the psychology; instead of witnessing violent tableaux, we explore the ambiguous relations between the characters. The success of the sexy thrillers lenziani lies in the deliciously trashy spectacle of pretty people doing ugly things to one another in glamorous places.

 

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What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?

really, what?

Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?
aka What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?
aka Why Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?
aka The Case of the Bloody Iris
aka Das Geheimnis der blutigen Lilie
aka Las lágrimas de Jennifer
aka Les rendez-vous de Satan
aka Rendez-vous avec la mort
aka Erotic Blue
Director: Giuliano Carnimeo
Released: 1972
Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Paola Quattrini, Annabella Incontrera, Carla Brait
Running time: 94 min
Genre: giallo

The neighbors were almost unanimous that she wasn’t a nice girl. At a payphone, a call is made. A woman answers, telling the beautiful blonde in the phonebooth to “Come on up.” Hanging up, she saunters through the busy city to Bruno Nicolai’s sweetly jazzy score, a bright spot of mauve on a grey and taupe street. She arrives at a building and joins the throng entering the elevator. As the crowded elevator ascends, no one seems much interested in anyone else. As it rises, stopping to let off and take on passengers, someone in black surreptitiously dons brown rubber gloves. At the unlucky thirteenth floor, all but one passenger and blonde exit, and as the doors close, the other passenger turns to her, quickly muffling her with a cloth. He whips out a small blade, and stabs her! Twice in the belly, then a slice across her slender throat, and the unbelieving girl collapses, dead. At the sixteenth floor, the killer leaves, but not before sending the elevator up to the twentieth floor, where she’s found by a curious trio of residents: Mizar Harrington, Professor Isaacs, and Mrs Moss. The three have a common bond in living on the top floor of the building, but are otherwise near strangers.

Wanting to avoid trouble, Mizar and Mrs Moss vamoose before the police arrive, leaving the professor to make a statement. Elsewhere, the de-boner architect Andrea (George Hilton!) and nebbish yet ultra-campy photographer Arthur discuss advertising theory and exoticism in the latter’s studio. While Arthur suggests the “black but not too black” Mizar as perfect to advertise Andrea’s new slumapartment building, Andrea’s attention is caught by the luminous Jennifer (Edwige Fenech!) and her groovy bodypaint. Though Arthur dismisses models Jennifer and Marilyn as “good for certain things,” Andrea can’t help but wonder …

room for one more

good for something

come on, handsome, show your stuff.

Later that evening, we spot Andrea in the crowd at a nightclub, sampling the exotic entertainment: Mizar’s sexual wrestling act, chock full o’ gymnastics,  innuendo, and torn off clothing. Andrea displays his love of chivalry, impressing Mizar and scoring a clandestine appointment with her. Back at the studio, Jennifer and Arthur are working on a clearly haute couture spread–the old mattress she’s rolling around on in her sheer negligee is a dead giveaway. But in the midst of her fierce smizing, Jennifer catches a glimpse of her ex-husband Adam, sending her into a flashback of his free love cult and kaleidoscopic orgies, and she collapses in hysteria. Even later that night, Mizar arrives home and sensibly decides to take the stairs up to her flat. Only when she gets there, it seems there’s someone else already home, and that they don’t have good intentions. A chase ensues in the darkened apartment, and the undefeated Mizar is hog-tied, stripped, and then left in a filling bathtub to drown.

A random elevator murder is one thing, but another murder the same night, in the same building, of the first person on the scene to the previous murder, and well, even the lackadaisical detectives in Italy are interested. More-so in philately, but you take what you can get these days, eh? The police commissioner and his assistant begin poking around the building and examining Mizar’s acquaintances, searching for a connexion between the two women other than approximate geographical location at the time of death. Soon enough the shiftily suave Andrea comes to their attention, but his attention is all on Miss Jennifer. Using his influence, Andrea secures the lease on Mizar’s now vacated apartment for Jennifer and Marilyn, and the two are soon creepily ensconced in the murder building, surrounded by elderly voyeurs and a stunning lesbian, stalked by ex-husbands, architects, and faceless killers. With so many red herrings, what more can a girl do but scream helplessly in her fashionable romper and cape ensemble?

figurative bloody iris

literal bloody iris

yet another kind of iris

A girl could get murdered for no motive at all. What if Seven Blood-Stained Orchids and All the Colors of the Dark had a baby and gave it up for adoption, only to have it raised by Strip Nude for Your Killer? Then you might get something like The Case of the Bloody Iris aka the awkward but infinitely more exciting What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body? (or WaTSDoBDoJB?!). Starring the Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd of giallo, Edwige Fenech and George Hilton; supported by a cast of genre stalwarts such as Luciano Pigozzi, Carla Mancini, and George Rigaud; with a jaunty score by Bruno Nicolai; and written by Ernesto Gastaldi, WaTSDoBDoJB? is a veritable Who’s Who of gialli. Director Giuliano Carnimeo cribs from Sergio Martino while turning the Style up and the Logic down, and the end result is a charmingly sleazy romp.

Fisty: On first viewing, I was actually less than impressed by The Case of the Bloody Iris. I think that had a lot to do with my being super sick and all messed up on cough syrup just like nevermind. I was reluctant to view it again for purposes of reviewing, but once I was able to sit down and peruse it with a clear mind, I was totally hooked. It might not be High Art; it might not be Deep; it might have little to say other than, “Hey, everybody! Let’s have some fun! Check out these titties!” (cue Dr Nick’s voice if you haven’t already), but WaTSDoBDoJB? manages to be utterly shameless without being mean-spirited, and that lends it a certain charm that will likely make it one of my all-time favorite gialli.

Notable among its strengths is giallo‘s golden couple: Edwige Fenech and George Hilton. Carnimeo doesn’t just toss the them onto a set, shout “You better work!,” and start filming, he and cinematographer Stelvio Massi take the time to have the camera make sweet, sweet love to the pair, and Edwige and Hilton have rarely looked better than they do in their capable hands. This was actually his fifth film with the diabolically handsome Hilton (out of a total of eight), and after WaTSDoBDoJB? Edwige and Carnimeo would work on another four films together. And who could blame her? The always alluring Edwige is positively luminous here, whether nude or clothed.

never not pretty

never not pretty, part the seconde

the equivalent of the entire operation castle test series

Bill: Or painted! Man, she looks great in body paint. I don’t think it’s possible for her to not look great. You could dress her in clown clothes, with, like,  a comically over-sized tie or something, and she’d still make it look sexy. Did you see her in Hostel 2? What was there, almost 40 years between WaTSDoBDoJB? and Hostel 2? And she still looked amazing. It’s downright unnatural. She’s like a dark-haired Galadriel, beautiful and eternal. If I ever meet her, I will ask for one strand of her hair. Then I’ll eat it, just to have her inside of me. Sigh. She really is magical. I haven’t even been alive as many years as there are between those two movies and I’ve looked like shit for a long time now. I’ve already done my “I ❤ Edwige” spiel in an earlier review, so I’ll shut up about Her Mystical Hottiness and we can talk about something that doesn’t look like shit–that thing being, of course, WaTSDoBDoJB? (I love typing that out). Am I right or what?

Fisty: For once you’re right. It’s a great looking film in pretty much every way. Carnimeo pulls out the stops using all kinds of exciting complex compositions to heighten the thrills, from wide angle close-ups and high-angle long shots to exotic angles and increasingly bizarre deep focus shots. Is there no prop too mundane to frame? If I didn’t know any better, I might hazard a guess that Sergio Martino’s hands were all over WaTSDoBDoJB? as Carnimeo’s stylish, thrilling approach channels that master. But considering his work in spaghetti Westerns, including a few of the Sartana flicks, it’s unsurprising that WaTSDoBDoJB? would be so slickly entertaining and attractive. Much like Gianfranco Parolini (originator of Sartana) , Carnimeo’s approach was highly stylized, resulting in eminently consumable, formulaic entries in the “circus” sub-genre, which was heavily influenced by pepla, acrobatic martial-arts movies, and especially the frivolity and sexy time of Bond films. The guiding philosophy behind many of Parolini’s efforts just seems to be “People like this stuff, so let’s throw shit at the screen and see what happens” as opposed to the carefully crafted visions that say, Corbucci or Leone were producing; Carnimeo does him one better without getting too deep. If Martino’s approach was subliminal and Parolini’s super-liminal, then Carnimeo’s is just plain liminal.

architecture!

excitement!

art!

That Bondian puerility is manifest in WaTSDoBDoJB?, but that’s exactly what the producers and audience were after, making it a success. Marilyn’s character, played by Paola Quattrini, is one of the most obvious markers of WaTSDoBDoJB?’s puckish nature. She is that cute-funny character so popular as leavening in spaghetti Westerns, like Dusty in If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death; sadly, that character type was one of the markers of decline for that genre, and with its appearance here in WaTSDoBDoJB? heralds the same for giallo. (After all, 1971-72 were the pinnacle of the genre; post-1972 output –with exceptions; we haven’t forgotten Profondo Rosso–tend to fall at the lower end of the spectrum of quality, however entertaining they may be. Of course, that assumes that WaTSDoBDoJB? is a quality film, and well, that’s what we’re exploring here.) Frankly, Marilyn is irritating (much as those characters typically are in spaghetti Westerns), and her cutely ditzy qualities practically scream “MURDER ME PLZ, KTHXBAI” from her very first scene.  I still find her bizarre non sequiturs largely funny, to be honest. The same goes for the Dippity Duo of Commisioner and Detective, the latter of whom is comi-tragically terrible at his job, insofar as even random passersby can identify him as an undercover cop. The former of course is awesomely nonchalant, taking the “incompetent cops” trope to amazing new heights of pilfering and sleaze. Need it be said? LOVE him!

Some of the playfulness that makes it so, well, almost innocently sleazy is that sort of deliberate broad humor–the rest seems unintentional and often stems from the gulf of distance between us as viewers and contemporary cinematic values. And though that might drive some people up the proverbial wall, for us as appreciators of sleaze and at a distance of forty years (HOLY SHIT, WAT) it’s just part of the lowest common denominator charm of the giallo. Unlike in say, Martino’s work (the obvious comparison), there’s no subtext about semi-submerged sexual desires, or exploration of repression, it’s just text about tits and ass and good times. As Arthur would say, “Have a drink–there’s cognac, gin, there’s garters, brassieres.”

that’s quirky!

sanguine finger

you made a big mistake going from group sex to a vow of chastity!

Bill: Marilyn marks the decline of your ass! Don’t talk poop about her; I like that girl. She’s fun like Shelley from Friday the 13th Part 3, only she’s a girl and she’s cute. I would hang out with her if her chances of getting murdered weren’t astronomically high. (I don’t want to be collateral damage.) But I get what you’re saying: She, and the general silliness of this movie, mark it as being sort of the Jason Takes Manhattan or Leprechaun of gialli, rather than a Halloween or Black Christmas. It’s gonzo porn, just the good stuff, none of the bits you have to sit and think about. That’s what I like most about something like WaTSDoBDoJB? or even SN4YKthey’re straight up, good-time movies for light, breezy viewing. You can watch it and be entertained while doing a bunch of other things and never worry about missing something or not understanding some bit of it if you do miss anything. Even when it pokes at the audience, as when a newsstand proprietor says, “To really like horror tales, you have to be nuts,” it comes off as more of a playful elbow in the ribs from a friend, rather than the kind of indictment you get from something like What Have You Done to Solange?.

I really should make clear, though, that while WaTSDoBDoJB? may be the Evil Toons of giallo, that doesn’t mean it looks as cheap or amateurish as all that. When slashers declined, the quality of the movies overall dropped, while with gialli, even the sillier, almost self-parodic ones still [Fisty: “usually”] had great production values, style, charming actors, great camera work (there’s a neat move during Mizar’s wrestling scene where one of her kicks that knocked her opponent down also knocked the camera on its side, which added impact and energy to the fight, but without being confusing or overly jittery like the shaky cam crap that’s abused in action scenes today) and were still technically accomplished and professional looking films.

Fisty: Pretty sure I already said that, dude, but yes. Good lookin’ movies. As for “light, breezy viewing,” that is exactly how they were intended. One thing that is important (and AWESOME) about Italian vernacular cinema is that it was intended for the unwashed masses, hoi polloi. Gialli–like spaghetti Westerns before them and poliziotteschi after–were released into the terza visione theaters, those largely rural theaters patronized by the working class. Terza visione audiences were more like later television audiences, going to the theater out of habit and treating it as a social occasion, talking, eating, and drinking during the show. Looking the giallo’sdisposition to exciting and elaborate set pieces separated by periods of ignorable exposition would seem to support such behaviors. I mean, I certainly don’t mind grabbing a beer while the detective chats up the newsstand guy.

the best a man can get

you’re an object and you belong to me.

maybe it’s maybelline

Where was I going with this? Ummm … maybe I was just restating that WaTSDoBDoJB? is a prime example of giallo as spectacle, and that Carnimeo provides the audience–then and now–with exactly what they desire in the way of fun fashion, thrilling escapades, titillating T&A, and sanguinary kills.

Bill: You know, I like the movies, but I would’ve hated terza visione audiences. They’d probably all have their bright-as-a-million-exploding-suns cellphones out, texting, while I was trying to watch the movie.

Fun fashion, thrilling escapades, titillating T&A and … you forgot, memorably bizarre characters. They might not be quite as out-there as Robert Sacchi as your main cop, but man, are they weirdos. Jennifer herself, other than her clothing choices, isn’t so bad. She has a bad habit of getting sexually assaulted multiple times a day, (which never seems to be a big deal and is usually treated as a preface to someone else trying to get in her pants) but other than that, she’s basically a normal girl. Fisty already talked about ditzy Marilyn and the comic cops that are more interested in stamp collecting and how to file booze in the filing cabinets than murder, but there are so many more: a lecherous lesbian; an architect whose fear of blood has almost nothing to do with anything else in the movie, but is treated like the most important clue ever, even warranting its own flashback; the meanest, nastiest old widow ever; a black Amazon wrestler/model/stripper; a bizarre ancestor to both Bad Ronald and Freddy Krueger; the violinist nut that plays all night long, like some wannabe Erich Zann; and the coolest flamboyantly gay photographer ever, Arthur! Seriously, I love Arthur. Almost all his lines kill.

Fisty: Arthur is great, and he’s got great lines–though I hated him on my first viewing. He is also treated FAIRLY well, hardly tarred with the brush of perversion at all, and sniping and snarking right back at the police for example. And well, he doesn’t die. He gets the better of the giallo‘s usually shitty treatment of homosexuality; he’s neither victim nor killer, but rather comic relief. The Sapphic Sheila however, the predatory lesbian neighbor, receives the usual treatment reserved for lesbians, being a lust object, and also is simultaneously aggressor and victim. Ultimately perversion, or the perception of it, forms the motive for the killings, and WaTSDoBDoJB? doesn’t stray from the herd on finding male homosexuality laughable and female threatening.

girl, please

talkin’ ’bout philately

KILLERMAN

They’re just two of a complete cast of whackadoodles, a veritable grotesquerie, wherein character depth is swapped for bizarre hilarity; Bill is correct about WaTSDoBDoJB? being made of up quite the eccentric ensemble. The whole movie is kind of an eccentric ensemble, though, with things like Adam’s free love cult and Mizar’s [exoticism alert!] nightclub act thrown in for the hell of it. That’s how the whole thing is, though; if I were to pick a single adjective to describe WaTSDoBDoJB?, it would be “gratuitous.” Everything in the movie is wildly gratuitous, and as long as you can appreciate that, you should enjoy it.

I guess Jennifer might be “normal” compared to the rest, as normal as a sexually continent English model cum free love cult goddess inhabiting a giallo can be called normal. Her character really plumbs the depths of shallowness, being nothing so much as a walking case of hysterics. She just bounces from scene to scene either being assaulted, fleeing in terror, or having the screaming mimis; she’s very nearly a parody of Jane in AtCotD. Oh, and changing her clothes. Girl has a costume change for every scene and in half of them, I swear. And each outfit is progressively more amazing. Do I love the Thirties gangster-inspired pinstriped romper with ginormous white tie and topped an Indian blanket coat most? Or the Robin Hood-channeling ochre turtleneck beneath green suede vest and hotpants combo with knee high boots and a fuckin’ CAPE? Color me amazed. Just more of that delicious eye candy!

Though there’s not a lot under the surface, there’s still a lot more we could touch on–the apartment building as a scene of the crime, the silly looped ending–but I think we’ve said enough.

A pretty girl is never ridiculous. But The Case of the Bloody Iris–aka What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?–often is. Taking all the best over the top qualities of the genre and still presenting some of the worst, WaTSDoBDoJB? is an exercise in gratuity, with all the T&A, murder, and madness you could desire. It makes a perfect entry point for gialli, giving a new viewer a very good idea of the best and worst to expect while still remaining amusing and never taking itself seriously. In a year which saw the release of so many of the best and/or most notable gialli (heavy hitters like Don’t Torture a Duckling, Who Saw Her Die?, What Have You Done to Solange?, All the Colors of the Dark, Seven Blood-stained Orchids, and Death Walks at Midnight), WaTSDoBDoJB? makes for a delightful amuse bouche. High expectations or a low tolerance for silliness will likely find it irritating or worse, but Carnimeo’s one giallo is mostly harmless and plenty of fun.

suspicious edwige is suspicious

twice as nice

don’t thank me just yet, wait till i try to make it with you–then you’ll see what a bastard i am.

French Sex Murders

better than portuguese handjob assaults

Casa d’appuntamento
aka The French Sex Murders
aka Das Auge des Bösen
aka La brigada del inspector Bogart
aka Maison de rendez-vous
aka The Bogeyman and the French Murders
Director: Ferdinando Merighi
Released: 1972
Starring: Anita Ekberg, Rosalba Neri, Evelyne Kraft, Barbara Bouchet, Howard Vernon, and Robert Sacchi
Running time: 83 minutes
Genre: giallo, exploitation

It all began on the last day of Carnival: The silhouette of a man leaps from the Eiffel Tower! Cut to the base of the Tower, where a man dashes toward it from one direction, while several cars full of men and gendarmes pull up from assorted directions. Then HUMPHREY FREAKING BOGART jumps out of a car, and they all give chase up the Tower! Upon reaching the observation deck, the man/silhouette leap (again), and Bogey lights a cigarette, then looks pensively down. A noir-ish voiceover tells us when it all began …

Jewel thief Antoine leaves the scene of the crime to shower baubles on his favorite hooker, Francine (Bouchet), at Madame Colette’s House of Ill Repute. Unfortunately, the very concept of a hooker doesn’t seem to sit well with the deranged Antoine, and he smacks his bitch up upon realizing that she does indeed make the sex with other men. Antoine is clearly crazy and a dick. He absconds, and her body is found bludgeoned to death. It seems obvious that Antoine is the killer, and he is pursued accordingly by Bogey–sorry, Inspector Pontaine (Sacchi). Antoine goes to his ex-wife Marianne (Neri) for help, but she and her lover/manager Pepi want none of that, and the hapless schmuck is soon caught, protesting his innocence all the while. Upon his arrest and sentencing, Antoine vows revenge upon all those who helped to convict an innocent–albeit derange and woman-beating–man. To further his vendetta, Antoine escapes prison and flees, only to be decapitated in a grisly motorbike accident. His head is handed over to the creepy Dr Waldemar (Vernon) for some totally pointless “experiments,” and we’re briefly distracted by some intrigue between Waldemar’s assistant Roger and his daughter Leonora (Kraft) before the Inspector pronounces the case closed.

death stalks la ville-lumière

Everyone can rest easy now, right?

Since this is a exploitation murder mystery, no. People continue to die right and left, all with a connexion–sometimes so entirely tangential as to appear invisible–to Madame Colette’s House of Happy Endings. Who could the killer be? Is it the pipe-smoking Professor of Prostitution? A hooded Satanic cabal? The Killer Nun–err, Madame Colette–herself? Could it be sleazy Roger? Or even Boris Karloff–I mean, Doctor Waldemar? Who knows? Merighis sure doesn’t seem to! We will visit scene after scene, murder after muder, and the cast will drop like flies until someone realizes a murder mystery requires a killer–and all will be revealed, culminating in the final chase we … already saw. Twice.

Play it again, Samuele: Not all gialli were created equal, and French Sex Murders is one of the most disadvantaged orphans of the genre. It has none of the style or visual flair key to stars in the giallo firmament, nor any suspense, and not very much gore. The plot is more confused than convoluted, and makes even less sense than that of most gialli. But a cast that’s a virtual Who’s Who of Eurocult cinema, a swinging score by Bruno Nicolai, insane edits by Bruno Mattei, and the nonsensical gimmick of a Humphrey Bogart-lookalike make it a worthwhile diversion for the (very) tolerant fan.

when worlds collide

Bill: Remember that awesome scene in Point Break, when Johnny Utah is chasing a president through back yards and alleys and they’re leaping fences and throwing a dog around and it’s exciting and fast-paced and gets you all pumped? French Sex Murders starts off exactly like that scene, only it’s not awesome and it doesn’t have the same excitement and action or even a dog, but it does have some cops making a big deal of jumping over a chain that was so low they could’ve easily stepped over it. Oh, and Johnny Utah is Humphrey Bogart and the man in the president mask is a cartoon silhouette. Yes, Humphrey Bogart. Or, rather the man with Bogart’s face, Robert Sacchi. He’s not the only familiar face. Just as Point Break had an awesome cast of recognizable actors (at least to mainstream American audiences,) FSM’s cast, while maybe not the Eurosleaze all-star team, could definitely be the Eurosleaze all-stars B or C-team. This cast, the complete absurdity of the movie, and some laughably inept acting, however, are all the movie has going for it. French Sex Murders, I mean, not Point Break.

Fisty: I especially like the cast credits over the laissez-faire chase scene; excitement is created by all the infamous names flashing by, but not by the chase itself. It’s a very subtle way to distract viewers’ attentions from the many shortcomings of not only the opening scene, but the entire film. After all, one can coast on the pleasure of seeing Evelyne Kraft, Rosalba Neri, or Barbara Bouchet for quite a while–or Howard Vernon if that’s your bag.

"oh, nothing much. 'sup with you, girl?"

That amazing cast influences the wacky plot, too. Apparently, it was common practice to feature alternate edits–sometimes differing wildly–for different countries, often focusing on a star who was particularly popular in a given country. A cheap exploitation flick like French Sex Murders (I’ll never make an initialism of that title because I enjoy saying it too much) would milk that dodge for all it was worth, as you can see if you try to follow along with French Sex Murder‘s plot. The good folks at Mondo Macabro took practically every inch of footage from every version, stringing it all together in what is touted as the longest, most complete version of French Sex Murders ever distributed, but whether that creates any clarity in the storyline, I’ll leave as an exercise for your divertissement.

Basically, nothing in French Sex Murders makes much sense. I know, I know, you’re saying, “But Fisty, how often do gialli make sense?” Yes, yes, as a genre, gialli do not have a reputation for being sensical. With all the red herrings flying about like fish at the Pike Place Market, and the boobies, and the psychedelica and the camp, the gore and the boobies, the crazy visual style and editing tricks, well … the actual story can get lost. But most have at least a pretext of plot, and the greats have more. French Sex Murders is not one of those. Everything in it is a red herring for exploitation’s sake, until they decided to just wrap it up already.

i'm not crying, i'm wondering about tony. wondering where he could be, who he is with, what he's thinking, whether he's thinking of me, and whether he'll ever return someday.

Ordinarily, you’ve got some amateurs investigating a murder (or murders), hindered by the hilariously incompetent police force. French Sex Murders has no amateurs doing anything at all but wandering around living their varied lives: Leonora and Roger have their affair and worry over it, Marianne sings and worries over her cheatin’ man, Waldemar messily mashes up a sheep’s eye for no particular reason, etc. Inspector Fontaine wrapped up the case after Antoine died, so he’s really not doing a whole lot after that other than the occasional narration, other than looking uncannily like a cross between Bogey, Nixon (Bill: like in Point Break!,) and my ex Sean. Ugh. People die. This isn’t even really explained as subplots, because they’re just the faintest traces of such. It’s more like the bare bones of five different movies (read: familiar and/or pretty faces) are all tossed together haphazardly till they stick in a semblance of a story. Mostly, people die that you’re expecting to die, so there’s not a lot of tension because, well, you’re already expecting it. Occasionally, someone else of no apparent import dies. Even the murders themselves are pretty tame, too, with some laughable effects, so the payoff for waiting and watching is insignificant.

it's a sexy party at madame colette's!

Bill: Antoine’s escape from the law is possibly the most useless twist in the film. He’s captured and tried and sentenced to die by the guillotine, which, shockingly, France was still using until 1977. I looked it up. This all seems to happen in, like, a day, by the way, with the trial – a murder trial with no real witnesses and a man’s life on the line – lasting all of two minutes! Nice courts, dick. Anyway, he lays a curse of revenge on everyone that allowed an innocent woman-beating thief to be executed for Francine’s death. This is cool. An innocent man is put to death, swears revenge and people start dying. I can dig that, only, in the next scene, you’re being informed that he’s escaped. They don’t show you this happening. They tell you with a news report. One second he’s screaming about a curse and the next, he’s on the loose. Now the supposed killer is on the loose and ready to carry out his revenge for the beheading he escaped. Fine.  Not as good of a story, but I’m still down. Only, then, they cut to him running from the cops. He steals a motorcycle and we get a really shitty motorbike chase with the cops that ends with him getting in an accident and losing his head.

WHY?!

If they were going to cut off his head anyway, why not just do it with the guillotine? Why was this chase even necessary? All his escape did was lessen the impact of his curse rant, make for even more of a convoluted plot and pad the run time with boring scenes of Antoine riding a motorcycle. Did Dick Randall just show up on set one day and demand a motorbike chase? (Fisty: Yes.) Did they not have a kung fu professor handy to shoehorn in that day? “Hey, Merighi, someone’s letting me borrow a motorcycle, write it in.” I mean, I could at least understand it if Martellanza was the kind of actor you just wanted to see more of, but he’s not. He’s terrible! His dick-flappingly angry explosion of man on woman violence against Francine should have been upsetting, but he’s so outrageously bad that the scene becomes unintentionally hilarious.

pb&g does not condone woman-beating, ever. unless she's really uppity.

Fisty: As a card-carrying humorless feminist who likes to shriek, “Misogyny” whenever she gets the chance, I must say that it is amazing how woman-beating becomes high comedy in the hands of skilled artisans. I love that Merighi keeps Bouchet fully dressed while Antoine’s willy waves in the wind–and that Martellanza desperately tries to keep it covered. His performance is nothing short of uh, remarkable. French Sex Murders is full of moments like that.

Bill: Like when one girl is accosted and all but raped in the club, and Marianne and Pepi just watch. And when Pepi finally does step up to stop the guy, Marianne interprets it as a sign of infidelity! And seduction in French Sex Murders seems to boil down to snatching a bitch up by the arm, spinning her around and slamming faces together, busting her lips with your teeth. I am surprised everyone walked away with all their teeth intact. There really is a lot of crazy to laugh at in this flick. We did mention that, right? Every murder flashes over in rainbow colors, like some twisted Skittles commercial. The courtroom scene flashes to negative. At one point, while the aging judge is on the verge of collapsing, looking like he’s having a heart attack, Waldemar, the DOCTOR, just suggests he go home and have a shot of Cognac. Alcoholism is the BEST heart medicine!

But it’s Bogey that really takes the prize. Inspector Pontaine just has to be the wackiest thing in the whole movie. One of these things is not like the other. He feels like he was snatched out of a completely different movie and dropped into this. It’s like having a Ru Paul impersonator play Gary Busey’s part in Point Break.  Even his dialog is out of place, with lines like, “You run a tight ship, Pepi. Better keep it on an even keel.” He just does not fit in this movie. Whoever had the idea to cast Sacchi and use him like this (probably Randall) is either completely mental or a true visionary. Either way, the total nuttiness of French Sex Murders is the saving grace of an otherwise stupid giallo that, despite its cast, can’t even manage to be sexy.

Fisty: Whoa, whoa, WHOA. Brandy IS medicinal, Bill. And lest we forget as Dr Johnson said, “Claret is the drink for boys, port for men, but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” Clearly, Waldemar is a hero. Acting out a Donkey-Skin fantasy, but a hero nonetheless.

definitely not an oedipal reference

I want to get back to where you were going with sex and the French murders. Considering it’s a giallo set in part in a brothel (and ostensibly named for it), French Sex Murders isn’t seductive in the least. There isn’t much nudity or sex–comparatively speaking. Merighi also keeps the focus largely on male characters; though the camera does follow Marianne and Leonora around for a while, it’s content to chase others as well. It’s an interesting turnabout from a more usual female-centric giallo, where a woman is an integral part of a sleuthing duo, or the main character. Rather than dissecting the male gaze upon women as in films like Blood and Black Lace–or even Strip Nude for Your Killer–Merighi seems more interested in gazing upon males and their activities; women are only incidental. They’re on par with the hideous faux rococo knickknacks scattered around the sets to class up the place.

Bill: Ugh, I know. All that eye candy and no one bothers to take the wrappers off. Neri may be your girl, but I am all about Evelyne Kraft. She was stunning as Leonora, way hotter than stupid old Lori Petty was in Point Break. But sadly she isn’t given a whole lot to do in the movie and Roger can never seal the deal (not surprising, considering he pronounces Roger ROH-jhay,) so she never sheds her kit. The second half of the movie is a bit spicier, however, including the sex scene where we get to see Doris’ magnificent pit-crops hanging like the damp black hair on a pair of Japanese ghost girls’ heads. Typically underarm ‘fro on a girl is something I’d complain about, but here, it adds some extra hilarity to a sex scene that was already made pretty funny by her bearded hippy man’s lovemaking style. It kind of looks like he’s in a wrestling match that he can only win by climbing over her and licking her shoulder blade.

oh my god, i left the baby on the bus!

Fisty: I might venture that the main failing of French Sex Murders is that it doesn’t fetishize anything at all; not the blood or kills, not the mystery, not the women or even the sex (and if you can’t fetishize sex, what fun are you?). Even with all its myriad faults, look at how another purely exploitational giallo like  SN4YK worshipped its women; they were stunning and active–look at the camera’s love for Femi Benussi; she exists to be sexy and beautiful (which is likely sexist, but who doesn’t enjoy watching that woman walk? or move? or breathe?), her introductory scene is a paean to the confident and sexually liberated woman. There is no woman like that in French Sex Murders. And the sex is perfunctory, like they realized they were over halfway through the movie with barely any action, and so they threw in a sweaty sex scene.

With such flaws, can we still call it a giallo? Sure, why the hell not? It nominally features many genre conventions: Black-gloved killer, psychosexual motivation for the murders, murders that re-enact or compulsively repeat a trauma, camp fashion, incompetent cops, red herrings, casual sex, etc. We’ve got a ludicrous narrative, staccato editing, tacky settings, and performances that vacillate between labored and melodramatic, but we also have a film that is rarely dull due to its defiance of conventional (or good) filmmaking. Dick Randall (look for his cameo as a few-wearing sheikh!) et alia set out to make a campy and preposterous exploitation giallo, and they did just that.

If you’re looking for middle-brow Art or intelligence, you won’t find it in French Sex Murders. You won’t find much sexiness or style, either, or even blood, but you will find total absurdity.

Bill: It’s no Point Break, but it’s ok for a watch with some MST3K style ribbing.

they're all going to laugh at you

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes

pet sematary

La morte negli occhi del gatto
aka Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye
aka Seven Dead in the Cat’s Eye
aka Cat’s Murdering Eye
aka Les diablesses
aka Oi eromenes tou Diavolou
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Released: 1973
Starring: Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Françoise Christophe, Venantino Venantini, Doris Kunstmann, Anton Diffring, Dana Ghia, Luciano Pigozzi, Serge Gainsbourg
Running time: 95 minutes
Genre: Gothic, giallo, inheritance thriller

Here, kitty kitty: A choking scream and crimson blood splattering. A straight-razor. A body is dragged and then dropped deep into some catacombs. Rats descend upon the corpse, stripping it of flesh in a matter of moments. A cat is the only witness. So begins Antonio Margheriti’s La morte negli occhi del gatto.

Following her expulsion from convent school, Corringa MacGrieff returns to Dragonstone Castle, her family’s ancestral home for the first time since she was a small girl. In residence at the gloomy castle are her mother Lady Alicia, her aunt Mary, the Dowager Lady MacGrieff, her mad cousin Lord James MacGrieff, a new priest Father Robertson, James’ doctor Franz, and James’ French tutor Suzanne, as well as a full complement of domestics. Oh, and there’s also an orangutan that James rescued from a travelling circus and named … James. Castles are expensive to maintain, what with all those battlements to dust and servants to feed, and Lady MacGrieff is feeling the pinch, and has asked Lady Alicia to Dragonstone to hit her up for some funds. Though denied by her sister (in-law? they look alike, but I’m not sure whether they’re both MacGrieffs by blood or marriage), Lady Mary seizes upon the gamine Corringa as another opportunity: Since Alicia has no money of her own, only Corringa’s inheritance, why not marry off Corringa to her son James? Also eying Corringa’s … assets … is foxy doxy Suzanne, who exhibits an intense interest in Corringa’s playing Claudine at School and stripping down to her skimpy slip while blithely bragging about her convent school escapades and expulsion. “Too many books never did a woman any good,” she announces, as she casts her schoolbooks on the fire–along with her Bible. Whoopsie! That might be an omen.

“too many books never did a woman any good”

At a family dinner, Lord James makes an unexpected–and unwelcome–appearance. Attraction simmers between James and Corringa, until she makes the mistake of mentioning that they had played together as children, along with his sister, you know, the one he accidentally killed. Awkward. James indulges in some witty barbs, retaliating in the only way he can for his emasculation, with um, incivility. Uncomfortable with her sister’s demands and insulted by James, Lady Alicia plans to stay only a few days before taking Corringa back to London, but alas, she is smothered in her bed that same night, with the titular cat as the sole witness. The same night, Corringa is awakened by the yowling of Kitty, and sees Lord James apparently hovering outside her window above a hundred foot drop. Is she dreaming? Following the sound of the cat’s cries, Corringa makes her way deep into the bowels of the castle, stumbling across the mutilated corpse from the beginning and first panics, flips out on some innocent bats, then faints.

When Alicia’s body is discovered, Lady Mary convinces Franz to provide a certificate of natural death, despite all evidence to the contrary. James spies on Alicia’s funeral from the cemetery walls, as does Kitty, who then makes a startling appearance, leaping onto Alicia’s casket. As we all know, this is another terrible omen, and proof of vampirism, and Lady Mary retaliates by ordering Kitty sealed into the family crypt with Alicia. Instead of a wake, the household goes into a bunch of explication, and we discover that some of the household are playing double roles. That night, kindly groundskeeper Angus sneaks back into the cemetery that night to free Kitty, but finds the casket empty. He then pays with his life as the straight-razor makes another appearance. Meanwhile, Kitty watches over a sleeping Corringa as Lady Alicia comes to her in a psychotronic dream, pale and hair blowing, exhorting Corringa to avenge her death. Knowing the family legend, that a MacGrieff murdered by another MacGrieff will become a vampire, Corringa fears the worst. Is she dreaming? Is there something supernatural stalking Dragonstone? Or is there something more venal afoot?

monkey see, monkey … kill?

Half Agatha Christie murder mystery, half giallo, and half Gothic, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye is one and a half hot messes of fun by a master of Italian Gothic horror.

Bill: More of a tepid mess I’d say. Not much heat to go around in this flick. Least ways, not for a fella such as myself. Jane Birkin as Corringa is kind of attractive and has one really promising scene in her sheer slip, but that’s about as good as you’re going to get with her. Doris Kunstmann, playing Suzanne, is sexier, but just as under utilized. When I pop in a giallo, I want to see heat! Passion! … or at least some tits. I don’t need Skinemax softcore, but you have to offer me something! Look at The Whip and the Body, a similar Gothic thriller: no nudity, no graphic love making, but the women are GORGEOUS and photographed beautifully, everyone struggling with volcanic passions barely restrained, every scene smoldering with intense sexuality. Watching The Whip and the Body, I felt like my groin could spontaneously combust at any moment! Watching Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, I didn’t really feel my groin at all. Where’s the heat?! Eh, James was pretty handsome, I guess.

when cousins are two of a kind

Fisty: Amusingly, if you simply Google Jane Birkin, you’ll see her ta-tas at least twice on the first page of results. Its not as though she was shy or assuming artistic pretensions (unlike some modern starlets, you know who you are). And how can you see her without hearing “Je t’aime… moi non plus” playing in your head, Bill? I’d think you’d love that. She does seem a trifle out of place here, though, looking to me so quintessentially Sixties; in the post-Great War world of 7DitCE, she looks awkward and coltish, but also wholesomely pretty, a startling juxtaposition with the elegance and glamour of Doris Kunstmann, Françoise Christophe, and even Dana Ghia. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Despite the red herring of James’ insanity (and the death of his sister), Corringa and James are the Babes in the Wood, innocents in the cynical, dissipated, and decadent world of Dragonstone. Their romance hardly has time to smolder, but instead is the bright sparks of a newly struck flame, a counterpoint to the jaded appetites surrounding them.

And perhaps that’s partly because 7DitCE isn’t saying a whole lot, what you see is what you get. As with the Gothics Margheriti did so well (Danza Macabra, The Virgin of Nuremberg, The Long Hair of Death), 7DitCE is a lot of style, and little to no traditional narrative or plot. The story is fairly silly, and the characters not especially deep–much as we would find in a typical giallo. And should we even mention the Chekhov’s gun of a giallo generic killer? Seriously, nothing prepares us for the reveal of the real killer except that a) he’s in the movie, and so he must have a reason for being there, and b) we’ve seen a few gialli in our time. The motivation for the murders is really completely peripheral to the movie; whodunit or whydunit is of less importance than howdunit–which is of even less importance than how things look at feel. But the setting of a remote castle in a long ago time, and the strange, claustrophobic atmosphere and supernatural events are squarely in the Gothic realm.

this is the cover of a lois duncan novel

Corringa, too, is straight out of the Gothic: a young, unspoiled girl in a gloomy old house. She isn’t exactly the active amateur sleuth of the typical giallo, but more a hapless victim, tormented by the events she’s caught up in–even the killer calls her an innocent and regrets having to kill her. After all, she wasn’t even meant to be there.  Really, almost no effort is made to solve the murders; most characters are just concerned that they not be held responsible, and that their own unrelated plots not be uncovered, and as viewers, we are more concerned with whether the underlying reason is mundane or supernatural. Being the former, we know again that we’re watching a giallo. It’s that racketing between the genres that the problems come in. Ultimately, gialli are stories contemporary to the time in which they were made, and all their accouterments, from motivation to setting ought to be, too. Blending these with the rococo sensibilities and stylings of the Gothic is awkward, especially in the Gothic’s implication of sex and violence, which is inimical to the giallo‘s explicit sex and violence. Viewers can find it difficult to reconcile to two genres, because well, frankly, even Margheriti finds it difficult to balance them.

Bill: Not only are the characters lacking in depth, for me, at least, they were completely uninteresting. I am perfectly fine with characters thin enough to be translucent, so long as I can at least laugh at something they do or say or have even one trait that makes them stand out. Corringa and Suzanne have, like, one good line apiece, but are, otherwise, just as bland as everyone else. The Jameses and the cat  are the only consistently entertaining beings in the movie … and one of them only lasts halfway through the movie.

kitty sees dead people

I don’t think it would’ve been so hard to blend the Gothic and supernatural with the giallo. I think they’d blend perfectly, just like peanut butter and something that goes good with peanut butter, so long as you do it right. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a good example of a movie that does so. Hell, the first few minutes of 7DitCE are a good example! The movie starts off with a lot of promise. The opening scene, so wonderfully described in the synopsis, is great. It’s got flash, pizazz, and it’s got blood. At no other point in the movie, however, is any other death quite so great. I want more rats and razors! A big, dark, Gothic castle is the perfect place for both. I can imagine a fantastic chase through the catacombs beneath Dragonstone, a blade glinting in torchlight, Corringa running in terror in her sexy slip, startled bats taking flight, frightening her into a dark side passage where the killer stalks unseen. Sadly, that scene isn’t in the movie.  Instead, she just walks backwards into the bats and ends up in the kitchen. D’oh!

Fisty: Really? The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave? Are you as high as Scott? Let’s not even go there, dude.

what did mummy tell you about burning bibles?

If you’re looking for pizazz, what about the dream sequence (which, oddly, is subtitled)? It has a wonderfully bizarre and hallucinatory feel reminiscent of Argento, a quality Margheriti excels at in his other works. Though we viewers know there is a mundane force behind the killings (because we’re watching a giallo), that dream sequence, along with the superstitions harbored by virtually everyone in the castle, creates a mood of paranoia and suspicion for Corringa and the others–and even she begins to think she might be going mad. It’s James, the putative madman, who seems to be the only inhabitant of Dragonstone who can think clearly. In fact, he and Corringa take opposing paths, with him being insane at the start and slowly becoming one of the sanest characters, and her driven from normalcy into being unbalanced. Serge Gainsbourg’s Inspector is the only other person who seems to know what’s going on, and he really doesn’t appear to think he ought to let anyone else in on it–till the very end. But it’s all good. After all, though it carries the trappings of a giallo, 7DitCE approximates an Agatha Christie murder mystery, or an inheritance thriller. The actual plot, the motivation, is hardly convoluted. Following the rules of the genres, it’s easy to decipher the killer–though the motive is baffling until the very (abrupt) end.

And though the characters themselves are somewhat flat, the players aren’t. Everyone here seems to know what they’re doing and they go to it with a will, turning in some intensely straight performances just this side of hammy. It’s the only way to handle dialog that is sometimes deliriously overwrought: “You are absolutely on fire tonight, darling! Are you excited by all the blood that has been flowing around here?”  and “Why all these scruples all of a sudden? When you found me, you knew I was a slut!” being two of my favorites.

what more can suzanne do but strip and say, ‘here it is?’

That theatricality goes beautifully with the grand guignol setting, whether the characters are in sumptuous chambers adorned baroque bibelots, or scuttling through darkened catacombs, or meandering in elaborate gardens. There’s some beautiful photography despite the frequent abuse of zoom, and cinematographer Carlo Carlini saturates many of the scenes with an array of gorgeous hues.

Bill: It can be a pretty movie, and you know I love colors. There’s a lamp in the movie that is just outstanding, even when it’s just sitting there, being lampy, doing the sorts of things lamps do. And, yes, the players are better than the characters they play. The sets are great and I love the kitty. I like when he attacks necks. The fact that there are things to like about 7DitCE are part of why I’m so hard on it. It’s not a bad movie! There’s a lot to like about it: a mad orangutan, flesh-eating rats, a possible vampire, secret passages and dark catacombs, a school girl home from school and a self-proclaimed slut and supposed master of seduction … those are a few of my favorite things. This movie should be a lock for me, but they barely utilize any of it. If only they’d let loose, gone a little wild, lost their restraint, went fully over-the-top, and gave me something a little less Murder She Wrote, then I could’ve really enjoyed it. As is, it’s just not enough to keep me from being bored.

this is discretion

Fisty: Okay, your feelings are valid, Bill. Margheriti exercises a lot of restraint; the scenes of seduction and murder are pretty discreet, and I can see how that would tantalize, frustrate, and underwhelm you. I didn’t mind in the least, but thought it both classy and entertaining. And really, this–and pretty much any giallo–is supposed to be just that: entertaining. But for you, I guess it failed, which surprises me because I know how you enjoy Hammer films and gialli, and this channels the spirit of both.

I’m the first to admit that it’s not without flaws. Even tasteful and artistic direction and excellent acting cannot overcome an often (entertainingly) clumsy script and sub-plots and character arcs that dwindle and disappear. The whole mystery of James’ sister’s death–an ACTUAL mystery–is only a red herring, the Inspector hardly makes any appearances till the end, and the ape/orangutan seems significant but … isn’t. Like so much of the story. As Inspector Serge would say, “There’s too much that makes no sense.” But that’s what you get with Margheriti: trippy motifs and themes, not coherent plots.

But I do love the cat motif, how it creates suspense and is actually, you know, relevant. I especially love that he’s a big, fat, fuzzy marmalade boy (he looks just like a cat my mom once had named Teddy Bear), rather than a stereotypical black cat (though I love all kitties). I wonder whether they simply picked the most docile cat they could find … ? And the romance between James and Corringa seems genuinely sweet, and a nice contrast to the otherwise mildly sleazy goings-on. They’re a fairly unusual pair in a giallo, innocent, but not blandly so.

cutest harbinger of death evar

Though it is not an entirely successful Gothic inheritance thriller cum giallo, cleverly reversing the standard Gothic arc, instead going from the supernatural to the mundane, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes skillfully uses tropes  from all three genres to create a diverting exercise in postmodern Nerdrum-esque kitsch.

Bill: Great Gothic setting, but too much Masterpiece Theatre and not enough Joe Bob’s Drive-In for me. …and there was so much potential! It’s like, if a really smelly, ugly girl with zero personality is a vegan, who cares? But if she’s kinda cute, maybe sorta fun to talk to, smells like oranges, and she’s a vegan, it’s sad. Then you’re disappointed. I say, give it a look only if you’ve run out of better giallo to watch, really dig straight up murder mysteries or, like me, need to see every mad monkey/ape movie ever made. And when deciding whose opinion to value more, Fisty’s or mine, keep in mind that she’s the smart one and I love Michael Bay movies and cry during Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech.

who’s a handsome psychopomp? yes you is!