When the spirit chooses a woman and enters her body,
that woman will know the secret of life and happiness.
While Fred Wright (Gabriele Tinti) and his wife, Grace (Anita Strindberg) are vacationing in Haiti, they find an old friend, Dr. Williams (Anthony Steffen), who has developed a new miracle drug. But someone wants the formula so badly they're willing to kill for it! Which of the rival cartels and drug companies is knocking off the competition? Secret alliances and double-crosses abound and the Wrights find themselves caught in the crossfire. Can they survive the web of treachery? And what secrets is Fred keeping from his wife?
Tropic of Cancer (not to be confused with the Henry Miller novel or its 1970 film adaptation) is an action-packed giallo that uses its Haitian setting to full effect. The miracle drug MacGuffin isn't well-explained during the exposition, but the general idea is conveyed - danger is out there and anyone could be the killer or the next victim. The kill scenes are spread out at regular intervals and offer some real creativity For example, one victim is scalded with steam, loaded onto a conveyor belt, falls into a large industrial vat, is jabbed with a pole until he lets go of the rim, and is sealed inside. Another victim's death is attributed simply to a voodoo curse. The whole film is a sweaty, bloody, sexy hodgepodge - all that's missing is a coherent plot.
- Dr. Williams takes the Wrights to a voodoo ceremony and it's clear that the filmmakers wanted to inject the film with a touch of Mondo Cane - naked dancers circle a bull and writhe on the ground before the animal is killed and its scrotum is removed, all set to delirious drumming. It's presented with minimal cultural context simply for cheap shock value.
- Be warned that there are two scenes where animals are killed - actual animals actually being killed, not puppets. First is the bull being sacrificed at the voodoo ceremony and later, Grace and Dr. Williams visit a beef processing facility and see cows slaughtered.
- It's never clear exactly what kind of doctor Williams is. He develops the drug for humans but is sometimes described as a veterinarian. He knows a lot about both plants and spiders, creating an anti-venom on the spot when Gardner (Stelio Candelli) is bit. And he also acts as a meat processing inspector.
- The Tropic of Cancer does not run through Haiti.
What the Hell am I Watching?
Aside from the voodoo sacrifice and cow slaughter? There's a scene depicting what is supposed to be a Haitian wedding rite: the couple lie naked, face down next to each other as they're splashed with water and surrounded by a singing, drumming crowd.
Grace is poisoned by a local flower, whose scent sends her into a trippy dream sequence. She finds herself in a black robe, running down a red hallway lined with naked men, who reach out to her. Her hair billows in slow motion as she lies on the floor, watching as one man approaches her and kisses her. It looks like the music video Madonna was never allowed to make.
Grace knows the secret to looking good in the tropics - keep it light and casual.
... Even when you're having a drug-induced psychadelic freak-out, layers are not your friend.
Philip (Umberto Raho) illustrates another important point: a crisp white suit seems like a good idea, but that only lasts for about twenty minutes before things get sticky.