In today’s Shocktober column, I would like to focus on another quartet of wonderful giallo films from the classic period of the early 1970s. These four films, unlike many of their ilk, are a bit less concerned with graphic violence and so might just appeal to those viewers who are turned off by depictions of such carnage on screen. But make no mistake: All four films are truly harrowing, nail-biting experiences that will doubtlessly leave you slack-jawed with astonishment. And all four, need I even mention, would make for perfect fare this Halloween season?
As far as I know, there exist only two films that are narrated by corpses telling their story from “the other side”: the 1947 Bela Lugosi vehicle Scared to Death, one of the world’s worst, and Billy Wilder’s 1950 offering, Sunset Blvd., one of the world’s best. And then there’s Aldo Lado’s meaninglessly titled Short Night of Glass Dolls, in which a man, only supposedly dead, lies in a morgue and thinks back on how he came to be there. It turns out that the semistiff is an American journalist named Greg Moore (sympathetically played by Jean Sorel), who had been working in Prague and dating a beautiful young local named Mira. When Mira mysteriously disappeared, Moore had entered into an investigation that soon broadened into an attempt to learn why so many other young women had recently vanished… Featuring as it does only a small handful of virtually bloodless killings, Short Night… just barely qualifies as a giallo – a mystery thriller would be a more apt description – but still has much to offer. Lado, in this, his first film, does a fine job (I much prefer this one over Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? from 1972), and Ennio Morricone’s waltzlike score for the film is at once somber, atmospheric and dreamlike. Prague itself is shown to be as gorgeous a city as you may have heard, and speaking of gorgeous, Barbara Bach, in her small role as Mira, is very appealing and not a little sexy. Ingrid Thulin, here playing a fellow journalist of Sorel, looks much less severe than I am used to seeing her in Ingmar Bergman pictures; a pleasant surprise. The film ends very strangely, and its decidedly downbeat suggestion of evil triumphant should linger long in the memory. In truth, this is not a bad little picture at all, and beautifully captured on the Anchor Bay DVD that I recently watched.
Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a middling, fairly goreless giallo from director Umberto Lenzi that should just manage to please fans of this genre. In it, a hunky-dude designer, played by Antonio Sabato in a one-note performance, investigates when his pretty fiancée becomes the latest target of yet another Italian serial killer. With the help of this fiancée, appealingly played by German actress Uschi Glass, the couple realizes that all previous murder victims had stayed at the same countryside hotel several years before. But will this bit of knowledge enable them to save future targets of the killer? And why does this homicidal whack job insist on leaving crescent-moon medallions (NOT half-moon, as widely reported elsewhere!) at the site of his slayings? The film, as you may have discerned, tells an interesting story, with a twisty, slightly confusing plot that does ultimately manage to hang together. Lenzi has directed his film in a competent, no-nonsense manner, while the picture’s score, from Riz Ortolani, is alternately somber, cool, menacing and lovely. The film’s killer utilizes many expedients to off his victims, including beating, drowning, strangulation and – in a scene that should please most gorehounds – a power drill, and this many years before similar nut cases picked up their Black & Deckers in films such as The Tool Box Murders, The Driller Killer and The Slumber Party Massacre. Several scenes are indeed quite suspenseful, such as the ones with the poisoned kitties and the female mental patient. Shriek Show is to be thanked for the fine-looking DVD that I recently watched (sadly, with no subtitles) of a film never before released in the U.S. Oh … one other thing. Do NOT watch the film’s trailer before viewing this picture. Amazingly, it reveals the killer’s identity not once but several times! Talk about spoilers!
From the opening strains of its eerie, baby-lullaby theme song to its haunting final shot of a child’s drawing, My Dear Killer is a giallo pervaded with a sense of tragedy. A year before the action depicted in the film, a young child had been kidnapped from her wealthy parents’ country villa and left to die, and now a wave of homicides, seemingly connected to this tragedy, opens the case anew. Giallo regular George Hilton plays Inspector Peretti here, a character who surely deserves a medal or promotion of some sort for getting to the bottom of this case; indeed, My Dear Killer is one of the most complicated gialli that I have ever seen. It is the type of film that you watch by the skin of your teeth, just barely comprehending the plot as things unspool; a repeat viewing – in my case, anyway – reveals that this seemingly unfathomable plot does make perfect sense. Anyway, Hilton (mustachioed here, for a change) is excellent, as usual, director Tonino Valerii keeps things nice and suspenseful, and the maestro, Ennio Morricone, provides a score that, if not his most memorable, is appropriately nerve jangling (and eerie, as I mentioned up top). While not a particularly violent giallo, a pair of set pieces should make this film of interest to all the gorehounds out there: one decapitation murder using an enormous dredging machine, and, most horribly, the death of a gorgeous schoolteacher with a circular power saw. (Don’t all women have this tool lying around their apartment?) This latter scene, although not overly graphic, still proved kind of hard for me to watch. As far as the killer’s identity is concerned, I suppose it IS possible to figure this one out, but my advice would be to just relax and enjoy the fun. The DVD that I recently watched, by the way, from the fine folks at Shriek Show, looks just fine, but includes no subtitling option … not even with the interview extras, which are all in Italian! A pity … I would have enjoyed Hilton’s comments on this very entertaining giallo, all these years later…
Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye is a very unusual kind of giallo film, taking place as it does not in modern times, but rather in what appears to be the early 20th century. Is it a giallo or is it a Gothic murder mystery with a high body count? I suppose the answer must be “Who cares?” when a picture is as fun as this one. The film shows us what happens when the young, pretty Corringa (Jane Birkin) returns to her aunt’s ancestral Scottish castle of Dragonstone after an extended absence; namely, a series of increasingly bizarre murders amongst the oddball inmates of the house. The picture combines some slightly graphic homicides (you know how many, and which household pet witnesses them, from the film’s title, right?) with vampire lore, some hinted-at lesbianism, a maddened orangutan (who looks like a Jungle Jim gorilla), ravenous rats, bats, secret passageways, cemetery exploits, and incest to make one wild and heady melange. The film also features stylish direction by Antonio Margheriti, as well as gorgeous set decoration (the picture is very handsomely produced) that is shown to good advantage on the stunning-looking DVD from Blue Underground that I recently watched (although it’s a shame that no subtitles option is offered). And how nice to see Anton Diffring, whose performance in 1960’s Circus of Horrors so impressed me, here again playing another suave slimeball! As regards the potential viewer of Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye and his or her ability to guess the identity of the killer, my advice would be to not even try. Just emulate the titular tabby, sit back and enjoy the show!
Anyway, folks, my advice regarding these four exemplars of the giallo subgenre is to pour yourself a nice fortifying glass of Argiano Brunello di Montalcino, sit back, and prepare to be stunned. Saluti a tutti voi!