Sweets From a Stranger

Sweets From a Stranger

"Horizontal in life and in death. What difference does it make?"

 A bicycle-riding killer is stalking prostitutes in the city, hacking them up with a razor blade before finishing the job with a handgun. The police have responded by stepping up patrols, but the local prostitutes aren't happy about the increased harassment and don't feel any safer. In response, they form an alliance, arming themselves, watching each others backs, and collecting evidence on suspicious clients. All this just adds to their own personal problems. Monica (Anny Papa) looks after a lonely, troubled young girl; Angela (Marina Suma) secretly supports her family as a high-priced call-girl; Stella (Mara Veiner) struggles with doubts about ever being loved and fitting into society. All the while the mysterious killer keeps striking – could it be a crazed client? The police inspector? Or perhaps it's one of the girls, turning on her sisters?

Sweets From a Stranger (not to be confused with So Sweet... So Dead) may have the framework of a murder mystery, but at its heart it's a gritty depiction of the lives of prostitutes, touching on serious issues. The movie addresses the dangers of the job, police apathy, financial difficulties, mental illness, abuse, and it ultimately asks us to consider who is being exploited by prostitution. Serious stuff.

  • Sweets From a Stranger was written and directed by Franco Ferrini, one of Dario Argento's main screenwriters of the 1980's. This is his only directorial effort.
  • The first murder is a shot-for-shot homage to Blood and Black Lace. The victim (Sabrina Ferilli) is chased through a wooded area, is knocked to the ground, and is hacked by a knife. Just as in Mario Bava's classic, the camera pans up to statues of crying angels as the girl dies, giving a sense of ironic pathos.
  • That first victim (who is only called "La Romana" or "the girl from Rome") has a dog with her. When a John asks what the dog's name is, she coyly replies "Adescame" which translates as "seduce me" (or, literally, "lure me in"). 
  • You may remember Anny Papa from A Blade In the Dark
  • For a movie about prostitutes, there's very little nudity.
  • For the purposes of the checklist above, I'm counting the hooker's union as an "all-girl institution."
What the Hell am I Watching?

Once the girls unite and devise a plan of action, they all drive to a field where they take clients and loudly address the nearby shrubs, (where they know peeping Toms hide) asking for protection and help in finding the murderer. Then, as a gesture of good will, they lift their coats and put on a (mostly chaste) show for the unseen men hiding in the foliage.

That whole scene is scored to a knockoff of the "Colonel Bogey March," which you may know as the peppy theme to Bridge on the River Kwai.

Fashion Moment

It's the mid-80's, so when the women aren't in over-complicated underwear, they're hiding under bulky layers and long shapeless dusters.

They look like an all-girl Cure cover band.

There is, however,  a scene where a group of the ladies drop off important evidence to the police, wearing masks to hide their identities.




"He killed my mother. It's not the same for me as it is for you.
Not just a routine case. Or a hobby."

Seventeen years ago, in 1983, little-person serial killer Vincenzo Fabrizi murdered three people in Torino – including the mother of young Giacomo (Stefano Dionisi) – before his body was found, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot. Now, in the year 2000, someone is killing the same way and leaving trademark paper animal cutouts at the crime scenes. Retired detective Ulysses Moretti (Max Von Sydow), who worked the original case, is drawn to the investigation once again, joined by a grown-up Giacomo. Is this just the work of a copycat killer? Was it really Fabrizi's body they found all those years ago? And how do the murders tie in to a violent nursery rhyme that the killer hums? 

By the dawn of the 21st century, the world had mostly forgotten about giallo, but its greatest auteur, Dario Argento, kept the fires burning with Sleepless. Here, he borrows not only from his own catalog (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red), but makes reference to the classics (Blood and Black Lace) and borrows from some of the lesser entries of the genre (a major third act plot point is lifted directly from The Pajama Girl Case).  But Argento's main inspiration for Sleepless seems to be David Fincher's 1997 thriller Seven, with its low-key lighting, grimy rain-soaked aesthetic, and a serial killer who commits ironically-themed murders based on a work of literature.
  • The title ostensibly comes from Moretti's insomnia, but only a passing reference is made to the fact that he has trouble sleeping.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot.
  • The creepy nursery rhyme at the center of the story was written by Argento's daughter, Asia.
  • Goblin is back, hooray! Argento movies just aren't the same without the eerie synth-rock sounds of Claudio Simonetti.
  • It's weird to see giallo characters use cell phones. So many movies from the 1970's and 1980's hinge on the fact that the characters can't readily communicate from anywhere they want.
  • Two of the murders listed in the body count occur before the prologue and another (Vincenzo's death) occurs between the prologue and the main action of the film.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Seriously – what the hell am I watching? Because the "moody" lighting is so low most of the time that I can't make out what's going on.

If that blue file is so important, why do people keep forgetting it or leaving it alone or dropping it in the street? It's infuriating!

Police round up little people as suspects to the sound of wacky bassoon music. It's kind of insulting and off-putting.

Giacomo reunites with his childhood friends at a bar where his romantic rival, Fausto (Roberto Accornero) keeps bringing up the fact that Giacomo's mom was brutally murdered. Even when they change the subject, he keeps bringing it back and wonders why everyone is so sensitive. Also, they talk about the fun times as kids when they all murdered animals, as if it's just something every kid does growing up.

The gang meets up a few days later at a mime bar. As in a bar for mimes. Wearing striped shirts and white facepaint, pretending to be trapped in a box. I swear to God, this is a thing that happens in this movie. What's most bizarre is that it goes completely unremarked-upon. No one makes reference to the fact that they're in a bar full of mimes. This might be a visual reference to the movie "Blow-Up," one of Argento's early influences.

Fashion Moment

As a clever callback to the hitman in Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, the murder of a nightclub dancer is committed by someone in a yellow jacket -  literally a "giallo killer."

Seven Murders for Scotland Yard

Seven Murders for Scotland Yard

"It's alarming how many crimes of a sexual nature are being committed at the moment."

A killer is stalking the red light district of London, murdering women and removing organs – just like Jack the Ripper did a hundred years ago. Commissioner Henry Campbell (Renzo Marignano) is on the case and his primary suspect is Pedro Dorian (Paul Naschy), a washed-up Spanish trapeze artist, prone to boozing and brawling, who was the husband of the second victim. As the list of murdered women grows, the killer taunts the police with escalating messages, from notes and threatening phone calls to his victim's severed body parts, all the while calling himself "Jack." Could Pedro be the killer or is he being framed? Could it be Campbell's friend, schoolteacher Winston Christian (Andres Resino), who sexually blackmails his own students? Or could it even be Commissioner Campbell himself, using his power at Scotland Yard to frame an innocent man?

Seven Murders for Scotland Yard is a crazy, bloody mess of a movie that exemplifies the low-budget, trash aesthetic of many gialli. It's poorly made but fun to watch. Just check out that body count! Paul Naschy (whom you may remember from The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll) is put to good use with three big fight scenes and the mystery is appropriately twisty.
  •  The killer actually commits nine murders (the rest were either accidents or self defense).
  •  In the first fight scene, please enjoy the sight of Paul Naschy beating up two hilariously wimpy street thugs.
  • You'd think that a movie featuring prostitutes being killed in a red light district would be racy, but not a single naked bewb is to be found in all of Seven Murders for Scotland Yard.

What the Hell Am I Watching?

For the better part of the film, Commissioner Campbell is perhaps the most inept police detective ever in a genre known to feature inept police detectives. Until the last 25 minutes, he spends exactly zero percent of his time in the field examining evidence and tracking down the culprit. Instead, Campbell can be found in fancy chairs in cozy wood-paneled drawing rooms with his fingers tented, discussing the case as if it were a hypothetical puzzle. Meanwhile, out on the street, the bodies stack up like cord wood.

Campbell refers to the surgical precision with which the killer slices open his victims, but all that stabbing looks pretty haphazard to me.

The scene where Winston Christian lures his female student into his office for a chat at 10pm is absolutely abhorrently creepy. The fact that she shows up in a nightgown makes it twice as difficult to watch.

At 17:14, a little kid runs into the frame and mugs at the camera. This might be my favorite thing in the entire film.

Fashion Moment

What's that, Winston? I can't hear you over your fancy silk robe and mismatched ascot.

So Sweet, So Dead

So Sweet, So Dead

 "She was taken by surprise, tried desperately to resist... just like the others."

Inspector Capuana (Farley Granger) is on the trail of a murderer who only targets unfaithful women and leaves compromising photos of the victims with their lovers at each crime scene. As the murderer strikes again and again, the husbands and wives of the city grow more and more anxious, wondering who will be next... and who among them has reason to worry. With every murder, both the husbands and the lovers have alibis, so who would have reason to kill? Time is running out and the serial killer who calls himself "the Avenger" must be stopped!

Rest easy, wheel. You're in no danger of getting re-invented by So Sweet, So Dead (not to be confused with So Sweet... So Perverse).  This movie uses all the familiar rhythms, spaces its murders out evenly over the course of the movie, and is faithful to the conventions of the genre. Too faithful, I'd say. While it's entertaining enough, and the murderer who only targets cheaters is a somewhat novel approach, So Sweet, So Dead shows little ambition when it comes to the story, characters, or stylish visuals. It's say it's a good beginner's giallo - one that won't spoil a newcomer for other, better films of the genre.
  • While establishing the killer's profile, Capuana and the Coroner, Professor Casali (Chris Avram) run through a laundry list of standard giallo motives: impotence, homosexuality, covering up another crime, and plain old insanity.
  • This film is graced by giallo superstar Susan Scott, who, by taking on the small role of Lilly, instantly boosts the movie's credibility.
  • You may also recognize Luciano Rossi, who plays creepster morgue worker Gastone. He was the crazy blonde hit man in Death Walks at Midnight. In this movie, though, he not only gets to talk, but he carries entire scenes.
  • There are a few good murder scenes here. I liked how the murder on the train was done and that the body of Renata (Krista Nell) is found stylishly draped across a spiral staircase.
  • The murderer in So Sweet, So Dead is the classic giallo killer, who could have walked right out of Blood and Black Lace. He wears the traditional stocking mask, fedora, gloves, and trench coat with the collar turned up, all in black, of course.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Some scripts set up red herrings or clever mis-directs. This one is just full of incomplete thoughts. For example, Bettina Santangeli (Angela Covello), the teenage daughter of a prominent lawyer, witnesses one of the murders, though she can't identify the masked killer. She is understandably afraid that the killer will murder her next. And then that sub-plot is dropped and we never hear about it or Bettina ever again.

After knocking on a suspect's door with no answer, the police send up a warning shot. With a burst from a sub-machine gun.  That really escalated quickly.

After killing a woman in her home, the murderer tries to walk out the front door, only to be blocked by the victim's boyfriend. But for some reason, instead of finding a back exit, the killer climbs out the window next to the front stoop.  Luckily, there just happens to be a ladder under the window.  Needless to say, the boyfriend quickly spots and confronts the killer.  So much for a criminal mastermind.

Fashion Moment

Our killer seems to have a thing for ladies in pink.  Many (but not all) of the victims appear in a similar rosy shade. Here's Franca Santangeli (Annabella Incontrera):

Here's Lilly (Susan Scott):

Shortly after witnessing Lilly's murder, Bettina wears this hat and matching gloves:

And, finally, Barbara Capuana (Sylvia Koscina) appears in this pink housecoat:

On an unrelated note, let's have a look at that classic killer costume.

What Have They Done to Your Daughters?

What Have They Done To Your Daughters?

"What makes a young girl like that commit suicide? That's what I'd like to know."

The body of teenager Sylvia Polvesi (Sherry Buchanan) is found hanging in an attic apartment and when it's discovered that her death was a murder and not a suicide, Inspector Silvestri (Claudio Casinelli) is assigned to the case. With the help of Assistant District Attorney Vittoria Stori (Giovanna Ralli) and Inspector Valentini (Mario Adorf), Silvestri uncovers a sordid conspiracy of prostitution and drugs. But as they dig deeper, a leather-clad biker wielding a meat cleaver is eliminating witnesses. Could Bruno Paglia (Franco Fabrizi), the peeping Tom who photographed the crime scene, know more than he's letting on? The police need help – but everyone has something to hide.

If you're a fan of Law and Order, you'll likely enjoy What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (not to be confused with What Have You Done With Solange?). Like that TV show, this movie shows how the police and DA's office work together while sometimes being at odds with each other. And like on Law And Order, justice sometimes means compromise in the end. Massimo Dallamano seems to enjoy working these intriguing moral complexities into his movies and they're certainly welcome in a genre that too often features shallow stock characters.
  • The leather-clad killer with a motorcycle helmet is reminiscent of the murderer from Strip Nude For Your Killer. In both cases, it's a cool modern take on the traditional look of the giallo killer.
  • The score, by Stelvio Cipriano, is fantastic and I especially enjoy the brassy, sinister main theme.
  • You may recognize Farley Granger, who plays Sylvia's father, for his roles in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Strangers On a Train.
  • There's a fantastic chase scene in the middle of the movie where the motorcycle-riding killer runs from the police, who take turns pursuing in police cars. They tear through the city and into the country side, up gravel roads, and through tunnels and tight turns. There's a great shot where a car skids out and its back fender stops within inches of the camera lens.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

The police uncover an audio recording of the teenage prostitutes' encounters with their clients. While we never see what's going on, it's more than clear. The tape unspools for quite some time and gets progressively more violent and disturbing as it goes.

While evading the police, the killer sets up an ambush and one poor cop gets a surprise amputation as he reaches for a light switch.

Fashion Moment

As a District Attorney, Vittoria needs to present herself as a strong, decisive woman, and her business attire is very dark, formal, and masculine. But in the one scene where we catch her at home with her guard down, we get to see her in something comfortable, colorful and feminine. This red floral maxi dress is a peek into her character's inner life.

Also, notice how the colors in her clothes tie her into her surroundings. It's clear that this is her safe place, where she's most comfortable.