The Murder Clinic

The Murder Clinic

I never look at houses. Only the people living in them.

It's 1870 and at a remote English estate converted into a psychiatric asylum, a beautiful young patient has been murdered by a mysterious figure in a black hooded cloak. That same night, Giseéle (Françoise Prévost) is lost in the woods and stumbles upon the clinic's doctor, Robert Vance, burying the body. The next morning, Dr. Vance discovers Giséle and takes her in as a guest, where she meets the doctor's wife, Lizabeth (Mary Young), Nurse Mary (Barbara Wilson) and several patients at the hospital. Did Dr. Vance really kill the young woman? Or did one of the inmates finally snap? What are those strange footsteps coming from the forbidden third floor? And who will be the next to die?

The Murder Clinic (not to be confused with Slaughter Hotel, which has virtually the same plot) is an early giallo that relies on the trappings of gothic horror to create its mood: a dark castle, torch-weilding villagers and a quite-possibly-mad scientist. But The Murder Clinic also clearly owes a lot to the gialli of Mario Bava, whose trademark colored lighting is appropriated along with certain plot elements from Blood and Black Lace. There are also elements that presage an important later work but I'll go into detail below.

  • Elio Scardamaglia was mainly a producer of Italian exploitation films. This is the only movie he ever directed.
  • Barbara Wilson seems like a natural on-screen, but this is her only film credit.
  • You may remember Massimo Reghi (who plays psychotic patient Fred) as Marco in Blood and Black Lace.
  • The Murder Clinic is an early script by superstar screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi.
  • A shallow grave in the woods does not count as a scene in a cemetery, for the purposes of the checklist above.
What the Hell am I Watching?

 When Dr. Vance finds Giséle in the woods, he gives her a quick medical exam. And by "gives her a medical exam" I mean "gropes her bewbs."

There's a flashback late in the movie scored to a knockoff of the main theme from Gone With the Wind. I'm sure it's just different enough to avoid litigation.

Fashion Moment
Scardamaglia attempts a color motif in The Murder Clinic, just like Bava did in Blood and Black Lace. In this case, the color red links back to the first murder. At the beginning of the film, the killer runs through the castle and seemingly into the Vance's suite, where Robert is wearing this red smoking jacket.

The next morning, the victim has mysteriously vanished and Nurse Mary finds her red book slashed across the cover.

Wearing a fancy red dress, Giséle stumbles across Dr. Vance burying the body and when he finds her, Dr. Vance is wearing a red cape.

Later, when Giséle tries to blackmail Dr. Vance, he is wearing the same red smoking jacket.

On a different note, it may sound strange but The Murder Clinic may have been an influence on one of the greatest giallo films of all time - Dario Argento's Susperia.  The first murder in both films features a young woman escaping a looming manor house and running from a killer through the woods at night.  There's a scene in The Murder Clinic where Giséle slowly explores the house, gets chased by the killer, locks herself in a room, watches in terror as the door handle rattles, and is attacked - rather like Sara's memorable scene in Susperia. Both movies feature a mysterious woman hidden at the top of the house, who holds the answers to all the weird goings-on. And there's this scene, where a servant chases the killer through a shadowy labyrinth of hanging laundry...

... which is reminiscent of this memorably creepy scene from Susperia:

So was Dario Argento inspired by elements of The Murder Clinic? I'll leave it up to you to decide.

What the Peeper Saw

What the Peeper Saw

"He has his problems..."
After a whirlwind romance and a marriage to Paul (Hardy Krüger), Englishwoman Elise (Britt Ekland) arrives in Spain to discover that her new stepson, Marcus (Mark Lester) is home early from boarding school. Elise soon learns that Marcus is very smart, but also very cold and calculating. After snooping around, she finds that Marcus was expelled from school for his voyeuristic compulsions and lewd behavior. But did he also have something to do with the death of Paul's first wife, Sara (Colette Giacobine), who died under mysterious circumstances?  Elise's search for the truth puts her deeper and deeper in danger, while distancing her from her new husband. Did Marcus kill his mother? Does Marcus want Elise dead? Or does he want something else from her?

Gross gross gross gross gross.

I know that some giallo movies tend to push the boundaries of good taste, but this one takes it in a weird direction. There are, of course, "sexy" gialli, but this is the first I've seen that involves an adult and a twelve year old. Apart from the ick factor, the first two thirds of the movie are really dull and then things pick up at the end with some strange turns, a dream sequence montage and a gleeful twist ending. Light on blood but heavy on exposition, bewbs and inappropriate boundary issues.

  • You'll recognize the most famous actor in the cast, Mark Lester, from his title role in Carol Reed's Academy Award-winning musical Oliver.
  • You might know Swedish actress Britt Eckland as a Bond girl or from The Wicker Man, Get Carter, or from dozens of guest appearances on all the classic '70's TV shows.
  • The music in this movie was done by the great Stelvio Cipriani
  • Co-director Andrea Bianchi is renowned for his sexually-charged gialli like Strip Nude for Your Killer.
  • There's definitely a water motif in the movie - Sara is killed in her bath tub, a dog drowns in a pool, and several grownup scenes take place in bathrooms and swimming pools.
  • Both of the fake murders occur during the aforementioned dream montage.
What the Hell am I Watching?

Paul and Elise go to a party, where a woman of African heritage has been forcibly pinned to a table while guests cover her with fresh fruit, shoving it into her face as she struggles to free herself.

In the most messed-up scene in the movie, Elise slowly strips in front of Marcus, getting him to answer questions about his mother's death. He answers a question for each article of clothing, until she's completely naked in front of the boy.

Fashion Moment

There's not a lot to talk about, fashion-wise. Paul looks good in a suit and Elise tends to prefer solid-colored, monochromatic outfits.

She does glam it up a little with this Pucci-inspired print and elaborate matching necklace in the party scene.

Date for a Murder

Date for a Murder

"...but I can assure you I'm no Sherlock Holmes."

Vince Dreyser (George Ardisson)  is an American security expert working for rich clients in Italy. When he runs into his college buddy Walter (Hans von Borsody), they make a plan to meet up again a few weeks later in Rome, but Walter never shows up. Concerned for his friend, Vince starts investigating and discovers a web of murder and corporate espionage. To complicate matters, Vince has also agreed to be bodyguard to a freewheeling young mod named Fidelia (Halina Zalewska). While keeping Fidelia out of trouble, Vince tracks down the clues and dodges bullets alongside disapproving, by-the-book Commissioner Giunta (Günther Stoll). Is Walter dead? What was he mixed up in? And why do all the people with the answers Vince needs keep getting murdered?

Date for a Murder is a pretty good pre-Argento Giallo, with some good action sequences, tight suspense, and a focus set firmly on the mystery, rather than on blood or sex.  The story culminates in an epic chase scene through a hospital, which turns into a car chase through Rome's suburbs and finishes with a suspenseful standoff at a meat packing facility. 
  • There seems to be a "reflection" motif, as characters are frequently seen in mirrors. They're even more commonly obscured on screen, filmed behind reflections in glass, blinds, flowers, and screens.
  • Early in the investigation, two mobsters try to dispatch Vince Norman Bates-style by knocking him out, putting him in a car and staging an accident. But rather than sinking it in a lake, they set it on fire and roll it down a cliff. 
  • Vince gets his own "House" moment – after reaching a dead end and giving up on the case, he sees something unrelated which triggers an epiphany, allowing him to solve the case.
  • The original title, Omicidio Per Appuntamento might be better translated as Murder by Appointment. The working title of the film was Si Muore Una Sola Volta, or You Only Die Once – no doubt a wink at a similar James Bond title and a reference to Vince's role as, essentially, a freelance secret agent.
What the Hell am I Watching?

As I mentioned, this move is straightforward, bloodless and nudity-free. The only wacky, off-the-wall moments come from Fidelia's complicated and outrageous fashion sense, as illustrated by some of her many wigs. Here are just a few:

This is the "Mia Wallace."

This is her Phyllis Diller look at the local disco.

I call this look "Leia on Hoth."

And finally, there's the "hairy basketball hoops," a.k.a. "Minnie Mouse on acid."

Fashion Moment

Let's take a moment to recognize cinematographer Franco Delli Colli. His compositions are artful and his warm lighting gives the movie a real human touch. But he's not afraid to mix it up with some shaky verité handheld work in order to give the disco a raucous vibe and imbue the rooftop chase with a giddy sense of vertigo.  Here are just a few examples of his interesting lens work:

Notice the low angle and the harp in this last shot - no doubt an homage to Mario Bava's classic Blood & Black Lace.

A White Dress for Marialé

A White Dress for Marialé

Maybe we're not all innocent?
As a child, Marialé (Ida Galli, credited as Evelin Stuart) witnessed her father murder her mother and her mother's lover before turning the gun on himself. Now, years later, she finds herself in a crumbling pallazo married to Paolo (Luigi Pistilli), a rich brute who secretly sedates her. To ease the boredom and seek help, Marialé invites friends over for a raucous party. Guests include her former flame, Massimo (Ivan Rassimov), Semy (Shawn Robinson) and her racist husband Gustavo (Edilio Kim), and Mercedes (Pilar Velasquez), Joe (Giancarlo Bonuglia) and Sebastiano (Ezio Marano), who form their own open love triangle. Passions are unleashed over dinner, but things soon turn serious when one by one, the guests start turning up dead. Is Paolo offing his unwelcome visitors? Has Sebastiano's jealousy finally gotten out of hand? It all leads to a bloody conclusion!

In its first half, A White Dress for Marialé is one of those freak-out gialli like Death Falls Lightly or Spasmo, where a dream-like stream-of-consciousness narrative skips around, disorienting the audience until we're dizzy and confused. In the second half , the movie sobers up and sticks its landing as a standard drawing-room whodunnit. If you find the crazy psych-out style tedious like I do, just watch the first 15 minutes and then skip ahead to the movie's midpoint. 

  • It's not a great movie by any stretch, but there's some real talent on both sides of the screen. Ida Galli, Ivan Rassimov and Luigi Pistilli are Giallo all-stars. Editor Francesco Bertuccioli worked on Sister of Ursula and Strip Nude for your Killer and Bruno Nicolai, one of the best composers of giallo scores ever, goes uncredited here.
  • The movie was filmed at the Palazzo Borghese in Rome.
  • We breeze quickly through character introductions at the beginning of the film, so it's easy to get confused about who's who and how they're all connected. On top of that, Gustavo and Sebastiano sort of resemble each other and they spend half the movie in stage costumes and makeup, making things even more confusing. I had to draw a diagram to keep everything straight.
  • There seems to be a half-hearted "relflection" motif, where characters – especially Marialé – are shown in mirrors or reflected in windows. I was expecting it to foreshadow a split-personality twist, but that never came to pass
What the Hell am I Watching?

So much to cover here...

 Let's start with the part where a harmless garter snake – no more than half an inch around – crawls over Mercedes' foot. When she screams, Paolo immediately pulls out a gun and shoots it off her. Paolo is a). more than a little over-reactive and b.) an amazing marksman.

Let's talk about the scene where Semy feels up and gropes an empty suit of armor.

The women in this movie really get brutalized. Before getting murdered, they're constantly slapped around and Mercedes gets raped in one disturbing scene.

Speaking of getting slapped, my brain broke at the sight of Gustavo wearing a ballerina's dress in a slap fight with a naked Semy. The fight is broken up by Joe, who beats Gustavo with a whip. For real. What the hell am I watching?

Throughout the movie, I kept asking myself: Do these people even like each other? Why are they here? Why are they in these toxic relationships?

Fashion Moment

True to the title, Marialé does wear a white dress. In fact it's the same white dress her mother was murdered in. You can clearly see the two bullet holes on her chest. Foreshadowing!

Things get out of hand at the costume dinner.

And the aftermath of the feast looks like a Renaissance Dutch still life.