The Pajama Girl Case

The Pajama Girl Case

"You're never going to find out who the killer is until you find out who the girl is."

When the badly burned corpse of an unidentified young woman wearing yellow silk pajamas is discovered on a beach in Sydney, retired Inspector Thompson (Academy Award winner Ray Milland) volunteers to help the police investigate. But Inspector Ramsey (Ramiro Oliveros), who is assigned to the case, doesn't want the old-timer in the way. Instead, he tries some drastic methods, including embalming the naked body and putting it on public display in hopes that someone can identify her.  Meanwhile, Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro) is carrying on relationships with three men: a romantic relationship with Italian waiter Antonio (Michele Placido), a physical relationship with Roy (Howard Ross), and a mentor relationship with Professor Henry Douglas (Mel Ferrer). With her marriage to Antonio on the rocks, Glenda decides to run away... and finds more trouble than she can handle.

The Pajama Girl Case (or, if you prefer, The Pyjama Girl Case) is an unusual giallo in several respects. First, it's based on a true story. In 1939 an unidentified woman in silk pajamas was found dead in a ditch in rural Australia and, with no leads to go on, the police invited citizens to view the body (though she wasn't on public display like in the movie). It's still one of Australia's most famous unsolved cases. The Pajama Girl Case is also unusual in its structure, cutting back and forth between the murder investigation and the soap opera melodrama of Glenda's love life. It's not until the end of the movie that the two stories come together and we get the full picture. Also, the tone of the film is unusually dark and depressed. If you want to see a fun, fast-paced giallo with a gleeful sense of anarchy then this isn't the movie for you.
  • Though he directed 14 films, Flavio Mogherini is best known as a production designer. This is his only giallo.
  • The color yellow is used judiciously used throughout the film in the props, sets, and costumes, usually to punctuate important scenes or connect people and things with the investigation.
  • Ray Milland really brings a puckish sense of joy to his role, playing a man who is thrilled to be back in the game after a long absence. Though he was steadily employed in the early 1970's, I get the impression that Milland himself was excited to be part of this production.
  • You may recall Dalila Di Lazzaro as the ice-cold Headmistress in Dario Argento's Phenomena.
  • Also, please say hello to all-star supporting player Eugene Walter, camping it up as a material witness. You may have seen him in Black Belly of the Tarantula or non-giallo films like The House With the Laughing Windows and Fellini's 8 1/2.
What The Hell Am I Watching?

There's a scene where Glenda, broke and desperate, turns to prostitution to make a little money. The scene is slow and relentless as tears fill her eyes and a fat, sweaty man rolls on top of her as his teenage nephew watches. It's heartbreaking, disgusting and disturbing in a way I haven't experienced since Requiem For A Dream.

Fashion Moment

There are, in fact, yellow pajamas in the movie. But we really don't get a good look at them except in one wide shot at the very end.

The French Sex Murders

The French Sex Murders

"Love is a dangerous thing in a place like this."

At a Paris brothel run by Madame Colette (Anita Eckberg), petty thief Antoine Gottvales (Pietro Martellanza, credited as Peter Martel) argues with his prostitute girlfriend, Francine (Barbara Bouchet) before storming out the door. When Francine is subsequently found murdered in her room it seems like an open-and-shut case and Antoine is quickly found guilty and sentenced to death, but not before vowing to return from the grave to avenge his wrongful conviction. When Antoine is killed during an escape attempt everyone breathes a sigh of relief... until people involved with the case start turning up dead! Could the curse be coming true? Anyone could be the next victim, from Antoine's ex-wife Marianne (Rosalba Neri) and her new husband, nightclub owner Pepi (Rolf Eden) to author Randall (Renato Romano), who is writing an exposé of Paris prostitutes. And who are the mysterious hooded figures who frequent the brothel? Inspector Fontaine (Robert Sacchi) is on the case.

The French Sex Murders is a workmanlike giallo and is entertaining enough despite being poorly written, directed, shot, acted and lit. The one thing that stands out here is the casting of Robert Sacchi who based his career – starting with this film – on his uncanny resemblance to Humphrey Bogart. 
  • The French Sex Murders was written (under a pseudonym) and produced by Dick Randall, a colorful, larger-than-life character who made his living by making cheap, trashy movies and selling them around the world. Randall makes a cameo in The French Sex Murders as a fez-wearing patron of Madame Colette's. Note that the writer in this movie is named after him. Randall's wife, Cloriss shares some great stories about her husband on the DVD's special features.
  • Check out the mummified skull on Professor Waldemar's desk. I'm pretty sure that it's the same prop that would be used a few years later as the walled-up corpse in Dario Argento's Deep Red

What the Hell Am I Watching?

I love the moment where the hooded figures at the brothel can't figure out how to use a doorknob.

After a second murder posthumously proves Antoine's innocence, Inspector Fontaine tells Marianne that he never believed in Antoine's guilt because "the evidence was too against him."  ... WHAT!?

Professor Waldemar is a terrible scientist who smokes in his medical lab, keeps dirty stray dogs around, and dissects an eyeball as if he's wearing greased-up socks on his hands

Fashion Moment

Marianne kills it in this black gown with a plunging neckline and silver flower detail.

The Sister of Ursula

The Sister of Ursula

"We've substituted our eyes for yours and all that's left to us is fear."

 After their father dies of an apparent suicide, sisters Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi) and Dagmar Beyne (Stefania D'Amario) escape with a vacation to sunny southern Italy at a ritzy seaside hotel. The trauma has not only made Ursula sullen and depressed, but seems to have awoken psychic powers in her – she claims to have seen and talked to her dead father. As the sisters arrive in town, a serial killer is on the loose, who watches women have sex before murdering them in an unspeakable fashion. Could the killer be Filipo (Marc Porel), the handsome but troubled hotel guest involved in a drug smuggling operation? Perhaps it's Vanessa (Anna Zinnermann), the hotel's owner, who is going through a contentious divorce. Is it possible that Ursula's father isn't dead, but has followed the sisters and is committing the murders?

The version of Sister of Ursula that has survived to DVD seems to be the "sexy edit," so be warned – there are five extended and extremely graphic scenes involving non-simulated grownup times. It seems, though, that in one edit, the film was even more explicit and some of the racier bits were cut out. Aside from that, the movie is held together by a decent plot, some interesting mis-directs, and some unusually good performances.
  • Barbara Magnolfi has a brilliant and intense scene in the hotel's chapel, where she prays to a faceless crucifix about the chaos in her life. 
  • There's no way to confirm this, but Yvonne Harlow (who plays nightclub singer Stella Shining) claims to be the great granddaughter of Hollywood legend Jean Harlow.
  • The movie was filmed at a seaside hotel in Amalfi called Il Saraceno, which was under construction at the time of filming. But forget about planning your next vacation there - sadly, the place never opened, due to permit complications.
  • I once met Barbara Magnolfi at a horror movie convention and she is stunningly beautiful in person. 
  • The DVD features an insightful interview with writer-director Enzo Milioni, who recounts the tragic story of Marc Porel. He was a drug addict in real life and earned a bad reputation for being difficult on set, but his girlfriend, Barbara Magnolfi, got Milioni to give him a chance and Porel remained professional throughout the shoot. Afterwards, he got clean and seemed to be doing well, until a lethal overdose while shooting a commercial in Morocco. Milioni recounts the story with great sadness and regret.
What The Hell Am I Watching?

Those grownup scenes are pretty graphic, but the most unusual one features Dagmar having some lady alone time with a gold chain... a few feet away from her sleeping sister.

Stella Shining is the star of the hotel's nightclub but she only seems to know one song. No wonder the manager is always complaining about the bad turnout.

How does heroin addict Filipo have such a nice sports car? It's explained by the end of the movie.

Fashion Moment

There were clothes in this movie? I hadn't noticed. No, the real fashion star is the Il Saraceno hotel. The hotel that never was.

Four Flies on Gray Velvet

Four Flies on Gray Velvet

"I think someone is trying to drive you crazy before finally killing you."

Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) is a young rock drummer living in Rome with his wife, Nina (Mimsy Farmer). When Roberto notices a strange figure in black spying on him, he follows the man into an abandoned theater to confront the stranger. Suddenly the stranger pulls a knife, there's a struggle, and the man in black is stabbed and falls into the orchestra pit, dead. It's then that Roberto sees a figure high in the balcony wearing a doll mask, taking photos.  Days later, Roberto receives the dead man's ID card in the mail, then photos of the struggle, and menacing notes from the doll-masked stranger – but no blackmail demands. Roberto hires private detective Gianni Arrioso (Jean-Pierre Marielle), but anyone who gets too close to the truth is suddenly murdered. It seems that the murderer is closer than anyone suspects!

After The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Cat O'Nine Tails, Four Flies on Gray Velvet is the third installment of Argento's "Animal Trilogy," a series of unrelated gialli that only have animal titles as a common link. This one has style to burn, full of crazy camera angles, macro lens shots, a youthful aesthetic, and of-the-moment music cues, courtesy of Roberto's rock band and composer Ennio Morricone. The action starts in earnest as Roberto runs into a theater, parting the red velvet curtains in the doorways, and literally "opening the curtain" on his story (an effect Argento would repeat Deep Red and Opera). Sadly, the stylish direction overcompensates for a weak script which ultimately makes no sense. One of Argento's great strengths, though, is that he understands the need for a rhythm of tension and release throughout a film. And in this case, he throws in quite a few light moments, courtesy of Godwin (Bud Spencer), The Professor (Oreste Lionello, in top form), the slapstick antics of the Postman (Gildo DiMarco), the gay detective, and a visit to a coffin designers' expo.
  • Four Flies on Gray Velvet is the least-known of Argento's early films, because it wasn't available on DVD until 2009.
  • A poster for Four Flies on Gray Velvet appears in the lobby of the theater in the horror film Demons.
  • The opening credits are creepily interrupted by a pulsing heart against a black background – an effect Argento would repeat in Susperia.
  • Roberto and Nina live on "Via F. Lang. " As in "Fritz Lang." As in the German silent film pioneer who created the expressionist horror masterpiece Nosferatu.
  •  I want Gianni's eye-shaped door handle. And I want Roberto's contoured steel phone
  • Nina's cousin Dalia is played by Francine Racette, whom you may know as Donald Sutherland's wife and Kiefer Sutherland's stepmother.
  • Roberto has recurring nightmares of a prisoner getting beheaded. Since it's just a dream, I counted it as a "fake murder."
  • Jean-Pierre Marielle's detective Gianni Arrioso is one of my favorite giallo characters. I wish he could have had a spin-off TV series. Somebody get on that.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

 We're introduced to the character God (short for "Godwin") with a sudden Alleluia chorus. It's just a crazy, random moment. Oh, and Godwin has a parakeet named "Jerkoff."

Let's talk about naked bath time. When Nina flees for her safety, cousin Dalia draws Roberto a bath and gives him a neck massage. After some weak protests, she succumbs to his charms and ends up in the tub with him, sharing some adult time. This is the film's only sexy scene.

At the end of the film, the murderer gets a long speech, revealing the reasons for killing everyone. This isn't a monologue as much as it is an aria, and the actor really lets loose, taking it way over the top into an unhinged, lunatic rant. Some of the lines in this speech weren't dubbed into English, and on YouTube they're not subtitled. But you're not missing much – just a little more shouting about daddy issues and living in an asylum.

There are some beautifully staged kill scenes in this movie. My favorite is defined by a brilliant sense of rhythm. The following events occur quickly and at a steady beat:
  1. Surprise knife to the forehead
  2. Fall down the stairs. BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM
  3. Scream
  4. Bloody knife glints in the light
  5. Stabbed in the chest
My other favorite kill scene is the slow-motion car wreck that finishes the movie. It is stunningly beautiful, set off by Ennio Morricone's haunting score.

Fashion Moment

A Wardrobe Assistant (Giovanni Viti) is credited, but not a Costume Designer. It's a shame, because someone got Roberto's cool-casual 70's rock star wardrobe exactly right. Lots of fitted shirts, T's, and tight jackets.  But you gotta love Gianni in his swanky double-breasted suit. You can tell that times are a little lean for him, because it's just slightly too big.

Honorable mention goes to Nina's pendant necklace, which provides a vital clue in the case.