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.