Juan Antonio Bardem, 1973
Starring: Jean Seberg, Marisol, Barry Stokes, Perla Cristal
In a mansion out in the middle of the country, Ruth lives with her strange stepdaughter Chris. They have a somewhat unusual, codependent relationship, and are waiting for the return of Chris’s father, who abruptly abandoned them some time ago. Chris has additional problems – she was raped while in the shower at school and has violent flashbacks whenever it rains, during which she blacks out and stabs anything in front of her. A handsome drifter comes to stay with them and at first seduces Ruth, but then begins to fall for Chris. Meanwhile, a killer is roaming the countryside and slaughters a retired dancer and an entire family. Could the drifter be responsible?
In some ways similar to Paul Naschy film Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, this is essentially a story about the dysfunctional family relationship between two women and how it is interrupted by the arrival of a sexually charismatic drifter. In both films, a killer just happens to be loose in the background. Ruth’s relationship with Chris is particularly disturbing – there are suggestions that they have a sexual relationship or that Ruth is sexually abusing Chris. She makes it clear about halfway through the film that Chris is the ultimate object of her revenge against Chris’s father. She is doing something to Chris to make sure that she will be a very different person if her father should ever return.
This little seen, underrated film is one of the finest Spanish attempts at a giallo film and deserves a bigger audience. Director Juan Antonio Bardem (father of actor Javier Bardem) also directed Death of a Cyclist and did some uncredited work on A Bell from Hell after its original director, Claudio Guerin, died on set. Screenwriter Santiago Moncada (A Bell from Hell, Cut-Throats Nine) also worked on Mario Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon, another film about an abusive family situation set in a dark, foreboding house with murder in the foreground. Though not stylistically on par with Hatchet, Chris Miller benefits from some lovely cinematography, particularly of the death scenes, shots around the countryside, and inside Ruth and Chris’s foreboding house.
The abrupt murder scenes are eerie and effective, including the first, where a woman is stabbed to death with scissors by someone in a Charlie Chaplin mask, and the second, where an entire family is slaughtered by a raincoat-clad figure with a scythe. The violence is not overly gory or explicit and much of it is implied rather than directly shown. Where Chris Miller really excels is in atmosphere. Liberal use is made of the thunderstorms that drive Chris into fits of violence and the dark corners of the Miller family manse.
The lovely Jean Seberg (Breathless, Saint Joan) is excellent as the beautiful, but conniving Ruth. Seberg allegedly was embarrassed about the role and only agreed to appear in the film for financial reasons. One-time child actress Marisol (Carmen, Blood Wedding, The Last Circus) is able to hold her own against Seberg and possesses a very different kind of beauty – wild, untamed, and dark – compared to Seberg’s reserved, coiffed, and cool blonde looks.
Barry Stokes (Prey) is quite likable as Barney, which puts an effective wrench into automatically believing he is the killer. His character is surprisingly well written, if a bit predictable, though Moncado’s script surprises on occasion. The addition of a drifter feels predictable at first, but Moncado at least attempts to move in a fresh direction, though a direction surprisingly close to Paul Naschy’s character in Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll.
The film’s biggest fault is that the plot does leave some threads unresolved. Who is Barny really? The women eventually discover that he has a connection to Chris’s father, but this detail isn’t further addressed. And the killer’s motivations seem so ridiculous that I was waiting for the whole thing to be a red herring and for the real solution to reveal itself, but alas. We also don’t know why Chris’s father left Ruth (though we can guess) or specifically what Ruth is doing to corrupt Chris. The rape is also another complicated element that is never fully explained or addressed.
Though Chris Miller has a few plot blunders or predictable elements, this can be said of nearly every giallo film. It is sadly not available on region 1 DVD, though there is a decent, if somewhat fuzzy print floating around online. The Corruption of Chris Miller comes highly recommend, particularly for fans of Spanish horror and giallo films.