Autopsy


Autopsy
"You may have a knowledge of souls, but that doesn't qualify you to 
dispute scientific fact, Father.  Especially when the soul is a woman's"

It's a hot summer in Rome and medical researcher Simona Sana (Mimsy Farmer) is studying the city's unusually high suicide rate, looking for a way to tell real suicides from the fake ones. But her latest case study is Betty Lenox (Gabby Wagner), a neighbor whom she had met just the night before who didn't seem at all suicidal. Betty's brother, Father Paul Lenox (Barry Primus) also wants to get to the bottom of his sister's death and together they team up to follow the clues. Is the rise in suicides caused by an increase in solar flares or by a clever killer who stages the murders to look self-inflicted? Could Father Paul, who hides a dark past and a fierce temper, be the murderer? Or perhaps it's Simona herself, driven mad by her gruesome research? The investigation will lead to an antique bible, a blackmail plot, and a story that has its roots in the historic Florence flood of 1966.

Stylistically and structurally, Autopsy is all over the board, trying it's hardest to be every kind of thriller at once. It has elements of zombie horror, psychological thrillers, and, like The Girl Who Knew Too Much, doubles as a travelogue, even borrowing notable locations from that Bava classic. But despite a messy, meandering plot that frequently stalls out, Autopsy ends up as a fine Argento-inspired giallo that ultimately does make sense.
  • Besides the aforementioned collage of influences, Autopsy also strives to be part of the genre I call "Crazy Woman Goes Crazy." In these movies, we watch through an unbalanced woman's paranoid perspective as she slowly goes insane. Starting with 1965's Repulsion, the genre can be traced through movies like Shock and The Perfume of the Lady In Black (which also starred Mimsy Farmer), right through Black Swan. Even though they star men, The Secret Window and 2012's giallo-inspired Berbarian Sound Studios might also be considered part of the genre.
  • That body count seems awfully high, but consider that the first six deaths occur in rapid succession in the first two minutes of the movie. I didn't count all the dead people in the morgue.
  • The title sort of makes sense in that several scenes are set in a morgue and we do see a brief, informal autopsy. But the movie isn't about autopsies and the plot isn't predicated on one.
  • The Italian title, Macchie Solari, could be loosely translated as The Bloodstained Sun, in reference to Simona's theory that the suicides are connected to unusual solar activity.
  • The final showdown takes place on the roof of the church of St. Agnes In Agone, high above the famous Piazza Navona. If you're going to have a dramatic ending, that's a fantastic place to do it.
  • I could be wrong, but Simona's modern apartment, with its open staircase and cone-shaped central fireplace looks like it might be the same set used in The Fifth Cord for Helene's house.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Most of the crazy moments in Autopsy consist of shock visuals. Simona works at a gruesome morgue that's run like a chop shop and there are lots of gooey, bloody makeup effects. Exhausted by her work, Simona hallucinates that the scarred corpses come to life in an eerie, unsettling scene.

Later, Simona visits Rome's Criminal Museum, which is a real place. While it does display weapons and torture devices, the actual museum probably doesn't feature huge photo displays of gruesome, mutilated corpses and wax dummies enacting different methods of suicide.

Father Paul drives Simona from the city to the beach to see the scene of his sister's death. But Rome is so far inland that the nearest beach is about 90 minutes away by car. Hardly a quick detour from her office.

Also, we see Simona hail a cab in front of the Spanish Steps – even though cars aren't allowed in the Piazza di Spagna.

Fashion Moment

Simona's playboy father, Gianni (Massimo Serato) shows up in this killer white suit.


Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin' alive...

Also, Mimsy Farmer was born to wear these fitted, backless tops. She looks fantastic here.


Creepster morgue worker agrees.

Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion


Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion

"He's crazy. He doesn't think like other people. There's no telling what he'll do next."

Minou (Dagmar Lassander) is a bored housewife who finds herself entangled in a web of sex and violence. While taking a nighttime walk on the beach, she is attacked by a stranger (Simon Andreu) who tells her that her husband Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi) is a murderer. He lets her go untouched, but threatens to release the evidence against Peter if she doesn't meet him at his apartment. It's not money that he wants, but rather Minou's body. After things get all Fifty Shades of Grey, the Blackmailer continues to torment Minou and she turns to her best friend, Dominique (Susan Scott) for advice. She tells her husband the truth and, bringing in the police, they find that there's no evidence to back up her story. Is Minou going crazy? Is Peter really a murderer? What is it that the Blackmailer really wants?

Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is an unusual giallo in that the sexy scenes are used as an essential part of the plot, rather than as a break from the main action. Also, instead of a series of murders, the main action focuses on the mystery behind a single killing, which happens before the action of the movie even starts. Still, even though this is the least-trashy of Luciano Ercoli's gialli, it is the most coherent and has one of the best-written screenplays.

  • When Minou enters the Blackmailer's apartment for the first time, there are plaster hand sculptures on the walls and a velvet curtain opens to a sensuous atmosphere. This scene is shot as an homage to Jean Cocteau's 1946 fantasy La Belle et La Bete, where the beauty first nervously enters the Beast's enchanted castle.
  • It's not clear where the film takes place, but they use American dollars.
  • The characters' alcohol consumption in this film is absolutely staggering. Try to keep up and you'll be floored halfway through.
  • Enjoy another great score by Ennio Morricone.
  • Minou's phone is white with a red dial. This does not qualify as a red phone.
What the Hell am I Watching?

Shall we talk about the soup-eating scene?  For a full minute, Minou, Peter, and Dominique sit around a table, silently eating soup and staring at each other. The camera pans in, close up, over and over as each character lifts the spoon from the bowl to their mouths. Over this, we hear ominous echoes of the Blackmailer's conversation with Minou.

Minou could have a pet cat like every other giallo character, but they decided to switch things up and give her a turtle. A turtle that roams freely around the house.

Dominique is totally into porn. Or, as she calls it, "erotic art from Copenhagen."

Speaking of, Dominique is one of my all-time favorite giallo characters. She's a strong, independent, liberated woman who prowls like an alley cat and takes what she wants. She's like a red-headed Samantha Jones. Susan Scott has played aggressive women in other movies, but there's always an element of tragic victimhood involved. Here, as the sassy sidekick, she really shines.

Fashion Moment

Homygod, you guys. Elton John had a yard sale.



Honestly, though, all the fashions in this movie are crazy.  In just about every scene you'll find yourself asking "what is she wearing?!"

Death Occurred Last Night


Death Occurred Last Night

"I wanted to see their faces. I wanted to be the first."

Amanzio Berzaghi (Raf Vallone) has raised his developmentally disabled, 25 year-old daughter Donatella (Gillian Bray) on his own, so when the girl suddenly goes missing from their locked apartment, he turns to Detective Ducca Lamberti (Frank Wolff) for help. Lamberti and his young partner Mascaranti (Gabriele Tinti) aren't afraid to circumvent standard police procedure by planting evidence and blackmailing criminals into helping the investigation. While the investigation takes Lamberti into the dangerous world of human trafficking, Amanzio takes matters into his own hands, discovering important clues on his own. Who kidnapped Donatella and what became of her? The answers can be found in a tangle of witness testimonies and in a small teddy bear.

Like The Suspicious Death of a Minor, Death Occurred Last Night walks the line between giallo and poliziottecschi. In fact, murder isn't even discussed until nearly 50 minutes into this 94-minute movie. A strong argument could be made that hard-boiled Ducca Lamberti, who frequently crosses moral lines in his investigation, is a classic polizotteschi archetype. But after the investigation gets going and after an exceptionally long montage of the police questioning prostitutes, the conspirators start killing to cover up their crimes and getting killed in retaliation. It may walk the genre line, but it qualifies as a giallo - an unusual giallo, but a giallo none the less.
  • Mrs. Lamberti (who is never given a first name) is played by Eva Renzi, whom you may recognize as gallery owner Monica in The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. One of the five movies she made in 1970.
  • The screenplay was based on the book I Milanese Ammzzano al Sabato (The Milanese Kill On Saturday). That title actually makes sense, but not until the very end of the movie.
  • Not only did Duccio Tessari write and direct the movie, he also co-wrote the two original songs, "Incompatibile" and "I giorni che ci appartengono"
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Lamberti goes home each night to a loving wife, who works at a newspaper. They banter flirtatiously, compare war stories about their days, commiserate about their jobs, and Duca unwinds by playing his guitar. It's not really a shocking or crazy moment, but a surprising and refreshing choice to show the calm, off-the-clock private life of a police detective in the middle of a case.

In fact, Mrs. Lamberti and her husband are so close that he enlists her to plant a giant brick of cocaine in a suspect's car. And she gracefully pulls it off as if it's not her first time.

When Berzaghi goes to the morgue to identify a body, they only uncover the corpse's feet. How can he identify a body by just looking at the feet?

Fashion Moment

This movie has a lot of prostitutes. A lot of prostitutes. And that means a lot of garish, unflattering clothes. Luckily, Mrs. Lamberti is around to class things up and she dresses in this smart white trench coat and wide-brimmed hat for her undercover mission at the car dealership.



Cat O'Nine Tails


Cat O'Nine Tails

"That's it then. Nine leads to follow. It's a cat with nine tails."

A mysterious break-in at a high-tech genetics lab where nothing was apparently stolen has the police baffled, but newspaper reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) is determined to follow the story. He is joined by Franco Arno (Karl Malden), a blind crossword puzzle creator and shrewd amateur detective who uses his remaining senses to their full advantage. Before long, the burglar turns to murder in order to cover up the secret of his crime. Who could it be? One of the five lead scientists working on an important scientific breakthrough? Or perhaps it's Anna Terzi (Catherine Spaak), the sexy daughter of the company's owner. As they get closer to the truth, Carlo and Franco find that they are the killer's next targets!

Cat O'Nine Tails has a bad rap. It's generally considered to be one of Dario Argento's weakest films but it's not a bad movie at all. I will concede that it's about 20 minutes too long, but this movie is certainly not in his bottom five. It has a clever plot, interesting characters, good action, well-realized kill scenes, and top-notch suspense. But instead of taking it on its own terms, this sophomore effort is unjustly compared to Argento's dazzling debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, and how do you follow up such a groundbreaking opus? To put it in a more modern context, Cat O'Nine Tails is Argento's Unbreakable.

  • So blind amateur detective Karl Malden cares for orphan girl Laurie and together they solve crimes with handsome newspaper reporter Carlo. How was this not a TV show? They could have pitched it as "Face from The A-Team meets Murder She Wrote meets Punky Brewster."  Get Aaron Spelling involved and you've got a hit on your hands.
  • Was the security guard murdered at the break-in? I don't think his injuries were fatal so I didn't list him in the body count. If he had died, everyone would have referred to the crime as "the murder" rather than "the burglary."
  • Argento punctuates this movie with some really good set pieces: a suspenseful scene with poisoned milk, a car chase through Torino, a tense safe cracking scene, and a climactic rooftop brawl.  I also love that after narrowly escaping a poisoning, Carlo is apprehensive about drinking milk for the rest of the movie.
  • Karl Malden is, arguably, the most famous actor ever to appear in a giallo film.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

The investigation takes Carlo to the lamest gay bar ever. I'm sure it was meant to represent the dark, dirty underbelly of the city but it looks just like your average Applebee's. Please notice in the background that they have a print of Richard Avedon's famous portrait of George Harrison.

One of Argento's favorite things (especially in these early movies) is to jump into a scene at the end of a conversation. So we repeatedly hear the end of one of Carlo's colleague's recipes, an anecdote about a sexy encounter at a tailor's shop, and the conclusion of an insult contest at a bar. It's a cute device that throws us out of context for a second and provides the film with a little lightness.

Why would a building have an elevator shaft that leads up to a skylight? Is that even possible?

Fashion Moment

Anna has a thing for these intricately-constructed outfits with cutouts all over the blouse and slits up the sides of the pants. Just like with her personal relationships, she keeps things covered up and reveals only as much as is nescessary.



Nine Guests for a Crime


Nine Guests For a Crime

"If the killer is a lunatic, he's a very astute lunatic."

When a wealthy family takes a two-week vacation to their private island estate, it's anything but relaxing. The group includes family patriarch Ubaldo (Arthur Kennedy) his new young wife, Giulia (Caroline Laurente), Umbaldo's sister, Aunt Elizabeth (Dania Ghia), Umbaldo's sons, Michele (Massimo Foschi), Walter (Venantino Venantini), and Lorenzo (John Richardson), and their respective wives, Carla (Sofia Dionisio, credited as Flavia Fabiani), Patrizia (Loretta Persichetti), and Greta (Rita Silva). Family tensions run high as Michele carries on a secret affair with his stepmother and Walter has his own affair with his sister-in-law Greta. But things really take a turn when people start turning up dead and there is no way off the island. Could gold-digger Giulia be killing off the competition for Ubaldo's inheritance? And what about Aunt Elizabeth's theory that the ghost of her long-dead lover, Carlo (uncredited) has returned to avenge his death? Who will be left alive? It all leads to a bloody, explosive ending!

Like Mario Bava's Five Dolls For an August Moon, Nine Guests For a Crime is based on Agatha Christie's famous 1939 novel And Then There Were None.  But Nine Guests takes it a step further and also incorporates elements of Bava's Bay of Blood, including an astronomical body count and some unusual and highly dramatic murder scenes. 
  • You may remember Arthur Kennedy as American journalist Jackson Bentley in Laurence of Arabia or as Pontius Pilate in the 1961 movie Barabbas.
  • Director Fernando Baldi was one of those directors who did everything - biblical epics, comedies, Westerns, war movies, and documentaries. This is his only giallo.

What the Hell Am I Watching?

Who was the charred skeleton hanging in the closet? Was that Charlie? It's never made quite clear.

When Carla starts thrashing around in the water and shouting that she's drowning, everyone just stops and stares for a ridiculously long time. Sure, maybe she's pulled pranks in the past that looked similar to this, but wouldn't it be better to get out there and find out, rather than discuss it for five minutes?

One has to marvel at the audacity of the two couples having noisy affairs under their respective partners' noses on this tiny island in a cramped cottage. And sometimes – brazenly – in the same room as a sleeping spouse.

Fashion Moment

Psychic Carla wears this breezy multi-colored cover-up (which covers up nothing at all) in a scene where she foretells great suffering and despair.



Trauma


Trauma

"Each human being's head contains a soul. The one remaining riddle of the universe."

Recovering drug addict David Parsons (Christopher Rydell) gets more than he bargained for when he rescues anorexic teen Aura Petrescu (Asia Argento) from a suicide attempt. Aura is returned home to her parents, where her psychic mother, Adriana (Piper Laurie) is holding a seance for rich clients. But during the ritual, Adriana channels a recent victim of a serial killer called "The Headhunter," who has been leaving headless corpses around the city. Aura follows as her parents run into the night in a panic, but she is too late - and only sees the killer making off with the heads of her parents. Aura finds David for help and together they track down the killer. Could it be eccentric Dr. Judd, who is in charge of the clinic from which Aura escaped? What did Aura actually see that night? Together, David and Aura must uncover the dark, hidden secret that links the victims.

Trauma dates to 1993 - a time when the taste for gialli had long past and people were even getting bored with the predictability of slasher flicks. Scream would come along and turn everything on its head in only a few short years. But Dario Argento kept plugging away with this attempt to return to the glory days of Deep Red by recycling and re-arranging elements from his greatest hits (in that sense, he's like a cinematic Christopher Wren, who would rearrange the same architectural elements in different ways to create different buildings). I think Trauma had a lot of potential but was hindered by a few mis-steps. First, Argento's muse, Daria Nicolodi isn't in the cast. I suspect that the part of Adriana was written for her but the American producers insisted on Piper Laurie for her name recognition and horror cred. Second, there's the banal, forgettable orchestral score by Pinal Donaggio. Trauma would have been 100% improved with a classic Simonetti score. And third, the script may have worked by 1975 standards, but more modern audiences expect a higher degree of sophistication, better dialogue, and script that... y'know... makes sense.

  • Character actor Brad Dourif (best known as Grima Wormtounge from The Lord of the Rings) has one scene and he goes full-on Nick Cage crazy with his brief screen time.
  • Speaking of, Piper Laurie (who made her name playing crazy moms, such as her Oscar-nominated turn in Carrie) seems to have two speeds: nutso-bonkers and asleep.
  • Along with his signature camera tricks, Argento also throws in "butterfly-eye-view." 
  • The murderer's weapon of choice is an electric garrotte, which tightens a wire that cuts off the victims' heads. It's not exactly the same, but this manner of mechanical decapitation is one of the many elements borrowed from Deep Red.
  • Corey Garvin, who plays Gabriel, the nerdy neighbor kid, continues the long giallo tradition of creepy, psychotic children. They sort of gloss over it, but he straight-up murders someone in this movie.
  • The anorexia angle (which is established and quickly forgotten) was inspired by Argento's daugher Anna's own struggle with the disease.
  • Horror movie legend Tom Savini was responsible for Trauma's makeup effects.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Let's start at the beginning: As David reaches over the bridge to rescue Aura, he shouts "Stop struggling!" She is doing anything but struggling and, in fact, looks on the verge of passing out.

A co-worker bluntly asks David if he has done the grownup with Aura and he disgustedly scoffs "She's only sixteen!"  But that doesn't stop him from making out with her (and probably more) just a few scenes later.

Please enjoy one of the most cheaply-produced dream sequences ever committed to film.

One of the ancillary victims not only gets a full name – Nurse Hilda Volkman – but news of her death is accompanied by a professional black-and-white headshot. I find this hilarious.

Looking for Dr. Lloyd, David checks out a seedy local dive bar. Apparently, Argento's idea of an urban American bar is an old-timey saloon with dark wood paneling and a pianist in the corner banging out some ragtime.

This movie's killer is the MacGyver of homicide. When the electric garrotte breaks on a victim's necklace, he doesn't panic - he just places the stunned victim's head in an open elevator shaft and pushes "down." The elevator does the rest, chopping the head off cleanly. The decapitated victim is even able so scream before his head hits the ground. Gruesome and hilarious.

If they were to make action figures of the characters in this movie, I'd want one of the nameless pharmacist who punches out David. Action Pharmacist!

Stick around for the credits, wherein a reggae band performs from the front porch of a home near the final crime scene. The camera zooms in on a girl swaying to the music while the reggae band fades and the orchestral score takes over. It's simply a weird way to end a weird movie.

Fashion Moment

When Dario Argento makes a point of showing you an unusual piece of jewelry in the first ten minutes, you'd better believe that it's going to be important later on.


And by the way, track marks don't work like that. They're called "track marks" not "randomly spaced marks."

Perversion Story


Perversion Story

"What do you know about me, after all?"

When Dr. George Dumurrier's (Jean Sorel) sickly wife Susan (Marissa Mell) dies, he is able at last to be with his girlfriend, Jane (Elsa Martinelli). But one night, George receives an anonymous phone call, directing him to the Roaring 20's Club, where he encounters bombshell stripper Monica Weston (also Marissa Mell) who, aside from her blond hair and green eyes, is a dead ringer for his late wife. Did Susan somehow fake her own death and take on a new identity? If so, why? And who did he bury? George soon becomes obsessed with finding out – an obsession that will uncover a sinister conspiracy.

Perversion Story is a giallo re-imagining of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and is Lucio Fulci's first giallo. The focus is on sex rather than violence and, just as this film was inspired by Vertigo and Diabolique, it lays the groundwork for sexy thrillers such as Basic Instinct.  But Fulci really shines as a writer here, using the switched-identity mystery as a jumping off point for a fantastically twisted plot that unfolds with clockwork precision. He hooks us in the first half with nudity and reels us in in the second half with a roller coaster ride of double crosses and ingenious con-game manipulations.
  • Perhaps the title refers to a "perversion of justice" rather than a sexual perversion. Even still, that's a terrible title for such a good movie. The original title, One On Top of the Other, presumably describing George's chain of lovers, isn't much better.
  • You may recognize the Demurrier house in Perversion Story, with its yellow curtains, white marble foyer, and spiral staircase with wrought-iron bannisters. The same set was used as the Terzi house a few years later in Dario Argento's Cat O'Nine Tails.
  • A few years after Perversion Story, Marissa Mell played another double role in Luciano Ercoli's giallo Seven Bloodstained Orchids.
  • Are Monica and Susan just two reflections of the same person? Throughout the film, Fulci plays with the mystery of their identities with a mirror motif, repeatedly showing the two women reflected in mirrors or windows.
  • Fulci gave himself a small role as a handwriting expert at the police forensics lab.
  • Everyone say hello to giallo all-star and frequent supporting player George Rigaud, as George's lawyer!
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Fulci gets creative early on with a mattress-eye-view shot, the likes of which I have never seen before or since. The characters are in bed doing the grownup and we have a perspective from below, looking through the sheets. It's this kind of creativity and willingness to experiment that really defines the genre.

Have you ever seen a movie that takes place in a foreign country but everyone speaks English? Perversion Story is like that, but in reverse. It's set in San Fransisco, but everyone speaks Italian. And it's not like the characters are all in the Italian expatriate community living in northern California – everyone, from gas station attendants to prison guards speaks Italian.

Fashion Moment

George's clothes aren't particularly notable and Monica spends most of her time naked or barely clothed. But Jane is the real fashion star of the movie. She wears some fantastic clothes, but my favorite is this Sgt. Pepper's-inspired outfit when she joins George for a night on the town.


She looks like she raided Jimi Hendrix's closet. There's also this black leather and silk outfit, accented with silver jewelry that she wears while seducing Monica. Just like Jane, it's a great balance of hard and soft.




Spasmo


Spasmo

"It's all so absurd, meaningless. But what's absurd is dangerous."

When Christian Bauman (Robert Hoffman) and his girlfriend Xenia (Maria Pia Conte) discover an unconscious woman named Barbara (Suzy Kendall) lying on a rocky stretch of beach, it's only the beginning of a bizarre series of events. Christian starts an affair with Barbara at a hotel, but while he's getting ready in the bathroom he's attacked by a thug in a black suit (Dario Argento look-alike Adolfo Lastretti). During the struggle, the attacker's gun goes off, killing him, but upon returning, Christian finds that the body is gone. Christian and Barbara then hide out at a seaside castle, where they encounter an old man named Malcom (Guido Alberti) and a young woman named Clorinda (Monica Monet), who seem strangely familiar to Christian. Soon, the killer returns to stalk the castle's residents. Was he sent by Barbara's jealous boyfriend, Alex (Mario Erpichini)? Or by Christian's brother, Fritz (Ivan Rassimov)? And who is staging murders in the woods with life-sized rubber mannequins? Nothing is as it seems as Christian tries desperately to untangle the mysteries that surround him.

Spasmo (not to be confused with the giallo Orgasmo, which, in turn, is not to be confused with Trey Parker's super hero comedy Orgazmo) is a big sweaty fever dream for its entire first hour.  It follows an incomprehensible, disjointed story line, features absurd, wooden dialogue comprised largely of non-sequiters, and has characters whose actions have no basis in reality. It's like ten different screenwriters each wrote five pages on their own, which were then shuffled up and filmed. Things come together in the last 30 minutes and, though it's never completely coherent, at least it attempts to explain the preceding story elements and draw the film to a reasonable conclusion. This movie is cocoanuts.
  • The title is as meaningless and incomprehensible as the plot and Ennio Morricone's dissonant, chaotic score captures the lunacy well.
  • Ivan Rassimov, who is billed third, doesn't show up until over an hour into this 93-minute movie.
  • After two scenes, Xenia disappears from the movie. This is never explained.
  • I do appreciate how the movie comes full circle, with a body on the beach.
  • Four of the six fake murders are committed on rubber dolls.
What The Hell Am I Watching?

The dialogue in this movie is bonkers.  Before heading to a hotel for their rendezvous, Barbara asks Christian to shave off his beard. He politely offers to rape her in the car instead and she laughs it off like he's just said something charming. WHAT?

Later, when Christian stumbles out of the bathroom with a gun in hand after apparently murdering a random attacker, Barbara reacts by asking "What's the matter?" instead of "OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH A GUN?"

On the lam, late in the movie, Christian hitchhikes with a young woman who tells him "You remind me of a dying chicken." Have I been taking crazy pills? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

For most of her time on screen, it's unclear weather or not Clorinda is a robot.

Fritz has edited together a very specific set of home movies for the end of the film. Why would you want to watch Super-8 footage of your father's funeral? Or document your trip to the insane assylum? Weird!

Here's a Spasmo drinking game: drink every time some exclaims "Look!"

Fashion Moment

The Killer (whose name, we later learn, is Tatum) wears this black suit with a red shirt. It's basically a standard-issue hitman uniform.


Later, once the movie turns a corner, Christian puts on the suit, taking over the tough guy role.

Watch Me When I Kill


Watch Me When I Kill

"The Police are useless, Lukas. And besides, I hate their stupidity, their questions.
I wanted to handle it my way."

Looking to buy aspirin, cabaret performer Mara (Paola Tedesco) stumbles onto the murder of a pharmacist and accidentally hears the killer's voice, putting her in danger.  Mara's boyfriend, cigar-chomping sound engineer Lukas Carmine (Corrado Pani) soon becomes obsessed with the case and the subsequent murder of a spinster and the attempted murder of his elderly neighbor, Giovanni Bozzi (Fernando Cerulli), who has received threatening tape recordings with the sounds of screaming, barking, and fire. Lukas discovers that the two victims and Giovanni all served on the jury of escaped murderer Pasquale Ferrante (Franco Citti) but is Ferrante the killer? Or is there some other link between the victims? The investigation will lead Lukas and Mara to uncover long-held secrets from a dark time in history.

Watch Me When I Kill is a really strong giallo from director Antonio Bido, who clearly learned  a lot from Dario Argento's early films. Bido appropriates (okay, copies) a lot of the young master's favorite tricks, including macro lens tracking shots, modern settings, and a "slowly exploring a creepy abandoned building" scene. Even the score (credited to the band Trans Europa Express) is a blatant copy of Claudio Simonetti's score to Deep Red with its tingling, mechanical ostinatos and thumping electric bass line.  The plot is very well thought-out and isn't afraid to get a little heavy when it veers into the tragic events of actual 20th Century history.
  • None of the various titles make any sense. No one is forced or even invited to watch anyone kill. There are flashes of a cat's eyes during some of the murder scenes, but a cat doesn't enter into the plot and few frames of the movie don't warrant the title Cat With the Jade Eyes. Clearly, this was another attempt to copy Argento by using a verbose animal-centric title like Cat O'Nine Tails or The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.
  • On a related note, the cover of the DVD and the poster image on IMDB.com show a screaming woman reflected in the mirrored sunglasses of a killer (in effect, watching her own murder). Nothing resembling this scene actually occurs in the movie.
  • Director Antonio Bido makes a Hitchcock-esque cameo as the director of the cabaret where Mara works.
  • I love the handles on the pharmacy's front door. They're shaped like a caduceus - snakes wrapped around a staff, used as a symbol of medicine.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

We're treated to a tone-deaf and lead-footed performance of  "Tango Argentina" from Mara's cabaret act.

The dubbing on the DVD version is pretty good, but just before witnessing the first murder, Mara asks her cab driver to pull over at the farmacia (pronounced "farm-a-chee-ah"), using the Italian word for Pharmacy for some reason.

In a scene that probably had Argento kicking himself for not thinking of it first, Lukas gets an old senile woman to remember details about the past by playing old records from the 1940's.

Fashion Moment

Girl, what is on your head?


I have no idea what they were discussing in this scene because I was so distracted by that turban.



The Embalmer


The Embalmer

"In cases like this, unfortunately, what we believe is an accident is more likely a crime."

A shadowy figure in scuba gear has been abducting beautiful teenage girls from the streets of Venice, killing them, and embalming their bodies in a secret catacomb for his morbid collection of corpses. While the Sheriff believes it's a series of accidents, newspaper reporter Andrea Rubi (Luigi Martocci, credited as Gin Mart) sees the pattern as the work of a serial killer. Meanwhile, teacher Maureen (Maureen Brown) is chaperoning a class of high school girls around the city and takes a liking to Andrea, who offers his services as tour guide while investigating the case. Who will be the next victim? Could the mysterious murderer be Maureen's friend Schwartz, the archeologist or the creepy hotel manager? Can Andrea and Maureen find out before the killer strikes again?

The Embalmer is a very early giallo, so it's missing many of the familiar genre tropes that developed later. In fact, it relies heavily on the traditions of Gothic horror, including an underground catacomb, a mad scientist's lab, skeletons, menacing shadows, and a mysterious figure in black monk's robes. Also, the movie uses the same rhythms you'd find in creature feature movies of the 1950's like The Creature From the Black Lagoon or Them!, rather than the new visual lexicon that Mario Bava was developing.  Despite all this, it is set in modern times (meaning the mid-1960's) and even includes a cabaret performance from an Italian Elvis clone. The Embalmer clocks in at only 77 minutes and I'd say that's still too long. There's a lot of padding here, including extended travelogue sequences and the aforementioned musical numbers.
  • A cast list is easy to find, but there's very little indication of who played what role. The two leads are easy enough to deduce, but the rest are more difficult, so that's why I left some roles uncredited in the synopsis above.
  • The movie seems very concerned that it might be too scary, so comic parts were included for two bickering porters and suspenseful scenes are dulled by an incongruously lighthearted score.
  • Most of the murders take place in the north of the city by the Scazi bridge but, in the end, Andrea chases the murderer to St. Mark's Square, which is clear on the other side of town.  That's a mighty long run. I also find it hard to believe that the square was deserted during their climactic fight scene in front of the Basilica. Like New York's Time Square, it's the main tourist spot in town and it's never empty, no matter what time of day.
  • We're not shown the first or third murders, but they're included in the body count anyway.
  • An underground crypt counts as a cemetery for the purposes of the checklist above.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

When the lights go out at the nightclub, everyone freaks out. Apparently they've never been to a night club before.

A little later, Schwartz and his elderly Aunt Catherine hit the dance floor and gurrl drops it like it's hot.


 Fashion Moment

Maureen and Andrea clean up nicely for a dinner at the club. As the only one in the room wearing white, Maureen really stands out.



Opera



Opera

"I think it's unwise to use movies as a guide for reality. Don't you, Inspector?"

After the demanding lead singer of a new opera production of Verdi's Macbeth is injured in an accident, her young understudy, Betty (Cristina Marsillach) opens the show to rave reviews. But trouble is only just beginning behind the scenes of this "cursed opera," as Betty becomes the plaything of a murderer. He repeatedly ties her up and tapes rows of needles under her eyelids so she can't blink, forcing her to watch as he murders her friends and colleagues.  Strangely, these killings echo the nightmares Betty had as a child after her mother died – nightmares of a sinister man in a black hood. Could the killer be the demanding director Marco (Ian Charleston), who made his name directing ghoulish horror films? Or maybe it's her agent, Mira (Daria Nicolodi), always eager to drum up publicity?  Can handsome Inspector Santini (Urbano Barberini) uncover Betty's connection to the killer?

The consensus among many horror and giallo fans seems to be that after a brilliant run of early works, the quality of Dario Argento's films has slowly declined. I strongly disagree and will enthusiastically hold up many of his middle-period films from the 1980's against some of his earlier, more highly regarded gialli.  Opera (a giallo paraphrase of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom Of the Opera) is an excellent example, proving that, while he likes to return to certain story elements, he never stopped innovating new visual and narrative devices. Here we're treated to a bird's eye camera swooping dramatically through a theater, a perspective looking up from the bottom of a drain, disorienting 180-degree camera rotations, and a chilling visual "pulse" effect as the killer stalks his prey.  Who but Argento could come up with that? Most importantly, though, I find that Argento's middle period films - and especially Opera - have a more mature complexity, mixed in with the giddy anarchic fun of someone who loves making scary movies.
  • The soundtrack is a fantastic mix of grand opera, moody synthesizers, and speed metal.
  • You will never see a movie with more POV and steadycam shots than Opera.
  • The sound effects are also a highlight of the film. From the croaking ravens to the sound of scissors ripping through a woman's sternum, the audio mix is incredibly visceral.
  • Just as he did in Four Flies on Gray Velvet and Deep Red, Argento uses the "opening the curtain" effect as Betty storms through the theater after an attack.
  • From behind a closed door we hear (but don't see) Betty's young neighbor get smacked by her surley mother. It still counts as a "woman slapped in the face."
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Let's say you've just knocked out your assailant while your friend is tied up nearby. Any sane person would: 1.) untie your friend 2.) unmask the killer 3.) grab the gold bracelet that the killer was after 4.) run for your life and call the police.  Unfortunately, for some reason Giulia chose to: 1.) go for the bracelet first 2.) unmask the killer 3.) get murdered when the killer springs back to life.

Here's another infuriating situation: After narrowly surviving an attack by a killer who is clearly targeting her, Betty goes home, blinds herself with eye drops, and then leaves the front door ajar when someone on the intercom claims to be her police escort. This moment of stupidity, however, leads to one of the best sequences Dario Argento ever filmed. Someone is in the house and someone else is banging on the front door. Both claim to be the police, but one is the killer. It's a fantastic piece of suspense, lit by pulsing colored lights in the style of Blood and Black Lace.

Betty is saved from the killer by a Deus Ex Machina in the form of a voyeuristic ragamuffin neighbor girl who likes to crawl around the building through the air conditioning ducts.

Why is there a tank of gasoline in the music library? There's also a life-sized, fully-clothed mannequin stashed in the corner, so I suppose the killer could have planted everything there ahead of time.

Fashion Moment

Betty's Lady Macbeth costume exemplifies the opera production: loud, jarring, gaudy, and anachronistic. 



The costume is also a major plot point. When the killer tears it to shreds, he inadvertently starts a chain of events leading to his own capture.

Delerium: Photos of Gioia


Delerium: Photos of Gioia

"Only a wild animal could kill someone like that. You'd better stay in the house."

A year after the accident that claimed her husband's life, former nude model Gloria Manzi (Serena Grandi) goes back to work as Editor In Chief of popular mens' magazine Pussycat. But her return is quickly marred when a killer strikes her models. After killing his victims, the murderer poses their bodies in front of posters of Gloria and mails them to her as threats. Someone is clearly out to frighten Gloria but could she be the next victim? And who could the killer be? Perhaps it's her ex-boyfriend, Alex (George Eastman) who has mysteriously re-appeared in her life or Mark (Karl Zinny), the pervy neighbor kid who spies on Gloria through a telescope from his wheelchair.  Or perhaps someone is killing cover girls knowing that the publicity will sell more magazines. Inspector Corsi (Lino Salemme) is on the case, but can he stop the killer before he can kill Gloria?

Director Lamberto Bava has said that Delerium: Photos of Gioia (not to be confused with Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion) is made up of a bunch of ideas that he's always wanted to try. And we really get that impression because it moves from one outrageous set piece to another, with a plot that takes a back seat to creative murders, optical effects, and a lot of nudity. He's the kind of more-is-more director who throws everything at the wall and hopes that something will stick. Luckily for us, some of it did. Even if the resolution is weak, the first two murders are fascinating to watch and some of the details of the killers' method are interesting.
  • In the original Italian version, the main character's name is Gioia, but for the English dub, it was changed to Gloria. I have no idea why they didn't also change it in the title.
  • For those first two murders, Lamberto gives the traditional point of view shot a unique twist. His thinking was that if the killer is insane, his perception might be skewed and that, in order to kill someone, he would have to dehumanize them first. So we see the victims through the killers eyes as monsters - a woman with a giant eyeball for a head and a woman with an insect face.
  • The pulsing colors, shifting from rich red to blue before each murder, evokes the cinematography of Lamberto's mentors. Specifically, Dario Argento's Susperia and Lamberto's father Mario's Blood and Black Lace.
  • To our modern eyes, the makeup at the end of the movie may make the killer look like Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight.

What the Hell Am I Watching?

Is the three-woman naked photo shoot in Gloria's pool all that shocking? Maybe not, but it's certainly an attention-getting way to open the film.

Gloria has a paranoid nightmare where Mark gets into her bedroom and attacks her with a flashlight. And I don't mean hitting her with it.

Later (in real life) Mark visits his dead girlfriend, Cinzia, at the cemetery. Have a look at her tombstone and you'll notice that she has no last name.

Fashion Moment

It's a movie about rich, powerful women who dress in furs, broad-shouldered gowns, and chunky jewelry like Joan Crawford or the cast of Dynasty. But to my eyes the real fashion hero of this movie is Flora's assistant (I'm not sure of the actress's name) who sports a youthful, modern outfit and a rockin' Belinda Carlisle haircut in one of her two scenes. Truly, truly, truly outrageous!


SPOILER ALERT

You're probably wondering, since this is a Lamberto Bava movie, if he used the color yellow to connect people and events to the killer like he did with Blade In the Dark and You'll Die At Midnight. The answer is yes and no. But mostly no. Two of the murder locations (Gloria's patio and the department store) feature prominent yellow accents, the killer sends photos in gold envelopes, and the killer and some (but not all) of the victims appear in yellow. But other murder locations and people involved aren't connected with yellow and some yellow settings, clothes, and props (like Mark's flowers and bedroom and Alex's sweater) have no connection to the murderer. Due to this inconsistency, I'm left to deduce that there's no color motif in Delerium: Photos of Gioia.


Giallo In Venice


Giallo In Venice

"Keep focused on the sex. It could be the key to everything."

When the bodies of a married couple, Fabio (Gianni Dei) and Flavia (Leonora Fani) are found on the shores of Venice's Giudeicca island, Inspector DePaul (Jeff Blynn) is on the case. What's unusual is that while Fabio was stabbed to death, Flavia drowned in the canal – but her body was discovered on land. As DePaul investigates, he discovers a dark web of drugs, jealousy, and kinky sex. But who was the killer? Flavia's ex, Bruno Neilsen (uncredited)? Or maybe it was the stalker following their friend Marzia (Mariangela Giordano). Soon the killer strikes again, picking off those who know too much. 

Man, oh man. I'm afraid I cannot get behind this one.

In fact, for a while I considered leaving Giallo In Venice off the list but, in the end, decided to include it for the sake of thoroughness. The thing is that for a genre known for cheap productions, this one scrapes the bottom of the barrel. It looks like the whole movie was lit by a single fluorescent bulb. And in a genre known for depicting women in jeopardy, this one goes way too far. It's a "sexy" giallo, to be sure, and the plot seems to be an afterthought, hung on a series of grownup scenes. But there is an awful lot of rape in this movie. And a lot of women getting beat up, brutalized, and forced to do terrible, degrading things. Whereas Lucio Fulci's Perversion Story is a giallo that depicts sexuality in a fun way with a wink and a smile, Giallo In Venice depicts sex as an angry, brutal assault. It's disturbing to watch and decidedly un-sexy.  So here it is. It's on the list. But I cannot recommend that anyone watch this movie.
  • The title is accurate – it is a giallo and it is set in Venice – but I've never heard of a movie labeling itself like that. I feel that overtly calling itself "giallo" instantly reduces the movie's credibility. It's sort of like hearing your parents use the word "fo-shizzle."
  • In my research, I was only able to match a few actors' names to specific characters. The cast is so unremarkable that many don't have more than a handful of credits to check against.
  • The old man who provides vital testimony may have been inspired by a similar character in My Dear Killer. But he had an opportunity to talk to the police at the very beginning of the investigation. Why did he wait until days later to come forward with the vital evidence?
What the Hell am I Watching?

So, yeah, this movie is about 40% naughty time and, as I mentioned, most of it is difficult to watch. Especially the parts where Fabio forces Flavia into exhibitionist situations or to engage strangers.

Warning: there's a scene where the killer amputates a victim's leg with a handsaw. It lasts way way way too long and it's shown in gruesome, bloody close-up.

This movie does have one (and only one) thing going for it: the person who killed the couple is the last person you'd expect.

Fashion Moment

Fabio is looking stylish in his crisp white linen suit with a contrasting V-neck tee and pushed up sleeves. Don Johnson would steal this look five years later for Miami Vice.


And the perv in the background is sporting the classic preppy "I don't know how to put on a sweater so I'll just tie it around my shoulders" look.



The Suspicious Death of a Minor


The Suspicious Death of a Minor

"Someone should stop these maniacs."

After dancing with a young woman named Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi) at a party, Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli) finds that she has been murdered and he decides to investigate. With help from teenage thief Gianni (Adolfo Caruso), Paolo uncovers a human trafficking ring and takes justice into his own hands. But is the pimp really the mastermind of the operation? Is there a connection to the kidnap of a local businessman's son? How high up does this organization go? And why does Paolo have such a keen interest in this case? As a hit man with mirrored sunglasses (Roberto Posse) eliminates witnesses, Paolo and Gianni follow the clues to find the real motive behind the killings.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a fantastic movie that deserves a wider audience. The story by superstar giallo writer Ernesto Gastaldi walks the line between giallo and poliziotteschi - a genre characterized by a loner cop who plays by his own rules, taking down a crime syndicate. This movie features a constantly-evolving plot, a quick pace, light humor, snappy dialogue, and some top-notch action sequences. Claudio Cassinelli's Paolo is a charming rogue who looks like a bookish nerd but isn't afraid to cross some moral lines. In fact, his methods are so destructive that he could be the prototype for such loose-cannon action heros as Axel Foley and Martin Riggs.
  • In a great little meta-joke, Paolo and Gianni question a witness at a movie theater that's showing Sergio Martino's own 1972 giallo Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
  • If Claudio Cassinelli  looks familiar, you might remember him from Murder Rock, where he played jealous, estranged husband Dick Gibson.
  • The score, by Luciano Michelini, could easily be mistaken for the work of Claudio Simonetti. It has the same funky electric rock feel as the music to Deep Red.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

One of the action sequences is a raucous car chase through the streets of Milan, as Paolo and Gianni are being chased by the police. Gianni literally rips the doors off Paolo's junky old car and throws them at the police car. In fact, the whole scene is full of wacky stunts and sight gags.

Another epic action scene begins with a shootout between two cars on a roller coaster, continues down the street, and concludes in the subway.

Paolo poses as a client to question a prostitute and, after getting the answers he needed, he goes ahead and gets what he paid for.

Fashion Moment

I love The Killer's plaid jacket. He could easily fit in at either a murder scene or a mid-1990's ska concert.


Mirrored sunglasses seem to be a thing among murderers. They could have been borrowed from the killer in  Death Walks at Midnight.


Who Saw Her Die?


Who Saw Her Die?

"Nobody does anything without a reason. What was yours?"

Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) is a famous sculptor living in Venice who has to put his swinging personal life on hold when his young daughter Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi) comes for a visit. One night, while Franco is distracted by a lady friend, Roberta is kidnapped and later found dead, leaving Franco and his estranged wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg) distraught. In his grief, Franco pursues the killer, only to uncover a sordid web of drugs, sex, and blackmail. Could the killer be someone from his circle of friends? Or perhaps it's the ironically-named Bonaiuti (José Quaglio), a rich and secretive libertine with decadent tastes? And what is the connection to similar murders that occurred years before? As more people involved in the mystery are murdered, Franco must race to find the killer.

Who Saw Her Die? isn't a great giallo, but the shadowy, misty Venetian setting adds atmosphere that does a lot of the heavy lifting. Ennio Morricone's score, characterized by a sinister childrens' chorus, also adds to the creepy factor. Despite all the atmosphere, the movie winds up with a highly unsatisfying ending which doesn't adequately tie up all the loose ends and offers no motive for most of the murders. There's also a little twist tacked on as an obvious afterthought. Possibly the result of angry test audiences.

  • It's impossible not to make connections between Who Saw Her Die? and Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now, which came out a year later. Both feature a foreign couple in Venice mourning the death of a small child while a murderer strikes nearby and both include weird, emotional grownup scenes.
  • Similarities to Antonio Bido's 1977 giallo The Bloodstained Shadow are also notable: a Venetian setting, an artistic main character, an aristocratic pedophile, and a killer in the same profession who ends up with the exact same fate.
  • Child actress Nicoletta Elmi may look familiar to you. She played a psycho kid in Mario Bava's Bay of Blood and would go on to play another psycho kid in Dario Argento's Deep Red. She was also Ingrid the sinister usherette in Lamberto Bava's horror movie Demons. She has a great creepy smile and you just don't know what's going on behind those eyes.
  • If you know Australian actor George Lazenby for his most famous role as clean-cut James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it's shocking to see him here as a lean and lanky artist with long hair, a scraggly mustache, and sideburns.
  • Speaking of James Bond, you may recognize Adolfo Celi (the also-ironically named Serafian) as Largo in Thunderball.
  • One of the murders listed in the body count above occurs off-screen, after the prologue and two years prior to the main action.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

There's a strange scene where Franco questions a reclusive weirdo over a game of ping pong.  The game is meant to liven up the long-winded but necessary exposition. It's  exactly the sort of thing you'd see in an Argento film.

Franco gives 8-year-old Roberta wine with dinner. Between that and losing her on the streets, this guy is not in the running for Father Of the Year.

The creepy, gleeful look on Elizabeth's face when the killer is set on fire and jumps out a window is as haunting as the death itself.

If you know anything about giallo movies, you'll be able to guess the identity of the killer within 12 minutes.

Fashion Moment

The movie takes place in the world of jet-setting artists and Ginerva (Dominique Boschero) is clearly the most fashionable character.  A chilly autumn in Venice? Time to break out the miniskirts. I especially love her cool "handshake" belt buckle.


That belt buckle was used as a stylistic reference point in the 2009 giallo homage Amer.

The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire


The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire

"The murderer has done a perfect job. A specialist, I'd say... like me."

When the naked, acid-burned corpse of a young woman is discovered in the trunk of the Swiss Ambassador's car it sets off a touchy political situation for the Dublin police, so Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O'Sullivan) engages loose-canon former cop John Norton (Luigi Pistilli) to do the dirty work of the investigation. While uncovering Ambassador Sobieski's (Anton Diffring) dirty secrets and family scandals, he falls in love with the Ambassador's step-daughter, Helen (Dagmar Lassander). Soon, more and more people connected to the family are murdered in the same malicious manner. Could the killer be a disgruntled employee like the driver (Renato Romano)? Is this an elaborate plot to create an international incident? Or perhaps Inspector Norton is the killer, using his influence to throw off the police?

The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire is a decent giallo with a large pool of suspects, some crazy moments, and bloody murder scenes, but the conclusion is a big disappointment. Really, the best thing this movie has going for it is that fantastic title, which turns out to be a metaphor for something that is exotic, beautiful, and deadly. To be honest, I would have preferred if the title was a complete non-sequitur and nobody alluded to it in the film.  
  • The cast is full of familiar faces including Pistilli (Bay of Blood; The Case of the Scorpion's Tail), Dagmar Lassander (Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion), Valentina Cortese (The Girl Who Knew Too Much) and Renato Romano (Seven Bloodstained Orchids; The Bird With the Crystal Plumage).
  • We see the murderer kill two people with a razor but the movie doesn't show the other three. All the dead bodies are shown with bloody necks, but I'm not sure we can assume that a razor was used in all five cases.
  • The kill scenes and the acid-burning scene were done with fake-looking rubber dummies, but the real gruesome sequence is when Norton gets stitches at the hospital.
  • While The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire is clearly a giallo, it borrows elements from the poliziotechi genre, which is characterized by a dangerous loner cop tracking down a case.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

It takes a while to get used to hearing Luigi Pistilli dubbed over with an Irish accent.

I love that all the suspects, police, and the doctor hang out in the same nightclub. So convenient.

Speaking of which, it seems that there's only one doctor in the city of Dublin. That guy turns up everywhere.

Yes, Ambassador Sobieski gets his dry cleaning done at Swastika Laundry Ltd.

When Norton sneaks into an apartment to gather evidence at night, someone is already there and they duke it out in a brutal four-minute furniture-smashing brawl. Which is filmed in complete darkness.The sound effects are pretty good, though.

Fashion Moment

I want to give a quick mention to Granny Norton's glasses with the built-in hearing aids. They're functional and they're a plot point.

But my favorite thing is this awesome birch-textured military-cut jacket worn by Helen's boyfriend Walter (Sergio Doria). Sharp.


Also, Mrs. Sobieski is really getting her Garbo on in this opulent costume.


One more thing...


Do you think Luigi Pistili has a standard clause in his contract stating that he must wear turtlenecked fishermans' sweaters in all of his movies? Those business suits he wore in The Case of the Scorpion's Tail were a great departure and I wish he'd change up his look more often.

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail


The Case of the Scorpion's Tail

"Even a sex maniac must pay his laundry bill."

After Lisa Baumer's (Ida Galli) estranged husband dies in an airline explosion, she must travel to Athens to collect the million dollar insurance premium. While there, she is confronted by her husband's mistress, Lara (Janine Reynard), who demands a cut of the money, but Lisa refuses. Soon after cashing the check, Lisa is murdered and the money is stolen. Insurance investigator Peter Lynch (George Hilton) has been trailing Lisa, but now his mission is to track down the missing money and find the killer, along with local Police Insepctor Stavros (Luigi Pistilli), Interpol detective John Stanley (Alberto diMendoza), and ace reporter Cleo Dupont (Anita Strinberg). As the clues pile up, the killer continues to strike. Could Stanley or Stavros be the killer? Was Baumer really on that plane, like everyone assumes? And what answers can be found in a scorpion-shaped cufflink and a hidden underwater cave?

The Case Of the Scorpion's Tail (not to be confused with The Scorpion With Two Tails) benefits from a first-class script. The plot has great twists, suspicion shifts throughout the story, and there are some effective scenes of action and suspense. Not to mention the fantastic cast of giallo all-stars.  Like Marion in Psycho, our main character, Lisa, is killed off in the first 25 minutes of the movie, giving the film an anything-can-happen sense of reckless danger. Anyone could be the killer and anyone could be the next victim and that's a thrilling feeling.

  • The Case Of the Scorpion's Tail features another great score by Bruno Nicolai and fantastic editing by Eugenio Alabiso.
  • Martino and his screenwriters really utilize this cast beautifully. The ladies are appropriately alluring, Hilton plays right to his strengths as a bad-boy love interest, diMendoza plays another cop with no-nonsense conviction, and Luis Barboo, as Lara's goon, gets a good rooftop fight scene.

What the Hell Am I Watching?

Are we really to believe that the killer is able to hack through  a solid wood door with a switchblade?

Fashion Moment

On one hand, it's good to see Luigi Pistilli wearing something besides cable-knit fisherman sweaters. But if the alternative is ties like this one, I'd rather see him back in those bulky pullovers.



Murder Rock


Murder Rock

"She's dead. It's no big deal. But we can't stop dancing."

The competition is fierce among the graduate students at a prestigious New York dance academy, but when only three parts open up on an upcoming Broadway show, someone turns to murder to narrow the field, stabbing the dancers through the heart with jeweled hat pins. Meanwhile, dance teacher Candice Norman (Olga Karlatos) is having nightmares of being murdered by a man – a man she has never seen before. When she finds him in real life, he turns out to be George Webb (Ray Lovelock), a sad, under-employed actor with a shady past. Could he be the killer? Or maybe it's Candice's estranged, jealous husband, Dick (Claudio Cassinelli) or frustrated choreographer Margie (Geretta Geretta). Corps du ballet? More like Corpse du ballet!

I can just imagine Lucio Fulci watching Flashdance and saying to himself "You know what this could use? About five or six murder scenes."  The result is Murder Rock, which brazenly copies not only Flashdance, but also Fame and When a Stranger Calls, among other movies. Who can blame him for wanting to capitalize on a phenomenon? The result is a crazy mishmash that could only have come from Lucio Fulci. The man was never known for restraint, after all.  But just because the movie is a derivative mess and doesn't make any sense doesn't mean that it isn't wildly entertaining.

  • Keith Emerson (of Emerson Lake & Palmer) composed the songs and the synth-based score.
  • Janice (Carla Buzzanca) must be a steel town girl on a Saturday night, because she performs a solo spotlight dance at a nightclub that copies directly from Flashdance. They spray her down with water. She does the trademark running-in-place move. She does the whipping-her-hair-back-and-forth move. I just wish the music were half as good as "Maniac."
  • Candice's nightmare sequence, where she is being chased in slow motion down the wide hallway of a modern building by a hat pin-wielding George is clearly an homage to the dream sequence from The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.
  • To rally the dancers after the first murder, Candice gives them a variation on Debbie Allen's famous "This is where you start paying" speech from Fame.
  • If you're a horror fan, you may recognize Olga Karlatos from Lucio Fulci's Zombie. Or if you're a child of the 80's you may recognize her as Prince's mother in Purple Rain, which was released the same year as Murder Rock.
  • Fulci appears in a cameo as Candice's agent.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Where to start? How about at the opening credits, when we see shots of the New York skyline inter-cut with some kids doing rhythmless disco-breakdance pop-and-lock moves. Enjoy it because we never see those kids again.

The choreography is simply awful and consists almost entirely of high kicks, squats, pelvic thrusts, and jazz hands. But everyone treats it like it's a work of genius. Rule number one: you gotta sell it.

Does anyone else think it's weird that Candice, an American who lives in New York, carries her American passport around with her wherever she goes?

What kind of Chinese restaurant fortune teller flat out calls someone a murderer to his face? And where did he get those fortune telling chopsticks that even have that as an option?

Newsflash: the human heart is not located in the left bewb. Aim that needle a little higher, murderer.

In my favorite scene, Margie tries to kill Candice in the same manner as the murderer, but doesn't have the guts to follow through. Dick stops her just in time... and then nothing happens. I mean, Margie had chloroformed Candice and was discovered by a credible witness, kneeling over her unconscious body with a needle to the chest. Margie clearly had intent to kill. That's attempted murder right there and she just gets to walk free.

Fashion Moment

Let's have a look at those dance costumes. Pure 1980's.

Also, let me just throw this out there...


What? Doesn't everyone wear a bulky ankle-length fur coat when they're bicycling down the streets of New York?

Deep Red


Deep Red

"You think you're telling the truth, but in fact you're telling only your version of the truth. 
It happens to me all the time."

Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) is an English jazz pianist living in Torino. Late one night, he witnesses the murder of a renowned psychic (Helga Ulman) through an apartment window, but arrives too late to help, though he's sure that there's an important detail at the crime scene that he can't quite remember. Marcus joins forces with reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi) to track down the clues, which lead them to an abandoned house, an elementary school, and back again to the scene of the crime. As the clues are revealed, the murderer continues to strike in grisly fashion. The killer could be anyone – and Marcus is closer than he thinks.

Dario Argento has said that Deep Red is his favorite among his own films and it's a really good choice. I'd say it's his Rubber Soul, bridging the divide between two distinct phases of his career; it has the classic giallo format of his early works while introducing more paranormal elements, indicative of his middle period of the late 1970's and 1980's. Deep Red meanders at times but it has a brilliant and cunning little story. After you see the big reveal at the end, go back and watch it again - the thing Marcus couldn't remember was, in fact, there from the beginning.

  • Deep Red is a cool title for a movie, but it doesn't really relate in any way to the story.
  • The scene where the psychic has a vision of the killer in a theater is beautifully bookended by the opening and closing of a red velvet curtain. It's an effect that Argento first tried out in Four Flies on Gray Velvet and later used in Opera.
  • In fact, the cinematography throughout the film is stunning. Check out the beautiful steady-cam work and macro lens shots.
  • The bar in the square was designed after Edward Hopper's painting "The Nighthawks."
  • Marcus and Gianna share an aggressive, competitive flirtation throughout the film. They're reminiscent of William Powell and Myrna Loy. I think this is Daria Nicolodi's best performance. David Hemmings reminds me of a young Michael Caine.
  • The Art Nuveau mansion that Marcus explores still stands and is a highlight of Torino's Dario Argento Location Tour, though you can only view it from outside the fence.
  • The two animal deaths are the bird suicide and the lizard with a pin in its neck. We only see the lizard thrashing around (which is very upsetting), but I think we can expect that it died of its injuries.
What the Hell am I Watching?

 That aggressive flirtation manifests itself in a weird, and completely superfluous co-ed arm wrestling scene.

Apparently, Torino has a Library of Folklore and Popular Traditions. Probably not a big tourist spot.

In the best scene in the movie, the psychic's manager, Bardi (Piero Mazzinghi) is in his study late one night after discovering an important clue. He hears a noise and suddenly a creepy-ass mechanical puppet wielding a knife runs at him from behind a curtain. He knocks it down and breathes a sigh of relief before the killer bashes his head from behind and stabs him in the back of the neck.  The appearance of the puppet is jolting and unexpected. The suspense is beautifully timed, the music cue is superb, and the payoff is fantastic.

Man, that little ginger psycho gives me the creeps. Nicoletta Elmi was the go-to child actress of the giallo era, also appearing in Bay of Blood and Who Saw her Die? She then grew into a stunningly beautiful woman and appeared in Lamberto Bava's horror movie Demons. She gave up acting in the 1980's to become a doctor.

Fashion Moment

Let's hear it for Carlo's boyfriend, Massimo, for bringing some casual fabulousness to the set.  Dude can rock a kimono.


It may surprise you to learn that Massimo is played by a woman – Geraldine Hooper – hence the androgynous look.