Umberto Lenzi, 1970
Starring: Carroll Baker, Jean Sorel, Luis Dávila
Helene, a racecar driver, has a bad accident that leaves her hospitalized, broke, and with at totaled car. Unsure of her future, she agrees to a recent invitation from her ex-husband, Maurice, who has invited her to the estate he shares with his wealthy second wife, Constance. Though some tension is in the air, it turns out that Constance really invited her and is hoping that Helene will aid her diabolical plan to murder Maurice so that he can never leave her for another woman. But Maurice is also making secret overtures to Helene, suggesting that he still loves her, and before she knows it, she’s caught in a tangled mess between husband and wife.
The third in Umberto Lenzi’s trilogy with Carroll Baker (after Orgasmo and So Sweet… So Perverse – read my review of the former to find out about the confusion with the American titles of these films), A Quiet Place to Kill is also his third film about a complex love triangle that results in murder. This is closer to a standard giallo than either of the first two films, which feel more like erotic thrillers. Like So Sweet… So Perverse, this is almost a blatant rip off of Les Diabolique (1955), where two members of a threesome decide to kill the third, but then all sorts of mad double-crossing ensues and nothing is quite as it seems.
This Italian-French-Spanish co-production is nice to look at and boasts some lovely scenes, but is sadly short on atmosphere – particularly compared to Orgasmo – and has a plot that can only be described as cockamamie. For starters, we’re expected to believe that Carroll Baker is a racecar driver. In Orgasmo and So Sweet… So Deadly, she plays ultra-feminine, pampered characters, a female stereotype who is easy manipulated, controlled, and abused. And she quickly slips into that role here. Despite the fact that she has some sassy moments, she defers to both Maurice and Constance in nearly every scene and does not seem particularly adventurous.
The plot twists are absolutely dizzying. SPOILERS: Essentially Constance wants Helene to help her kill Maurice, because – leap of faith here – he left Helene and he will do the same to Constance as soon as her money runs out. Constance seemingly expects Helene to organize the whole thing, but she can’t go through with it because Maurice manipulates her lingering feelings for him. Then he convinces her to help him kill Constance and make it look like an accident, which everyone believes except for Constance’s grown daughter, who Maurice is also compelled to seduce.
One notable element about Lenzi’s giallo films, particularly this early trilogy, is that unlike more popular entries in the genre, his protagonists do not often survive the film. This fatalistic universe implies that everyone is guilty of some crime (often murder), and that the antagonist will always get his/hers in the end. I don’t feel bad giving away a few spoilers while discussing this film (or any of Lenzi’s), because the purpose of his early films – utterly unlike the later “stalk and slash” giallo films – is not to discover the identity of a mysterious killer, but to watch the protagonists’ desperate attempts to cover up their crime and repress their guilt.
Horror fans may find this a dull affair, as at least the first half of the film borrows from soap operas and simply concerns the fraught relationship between a husband, his wife, and his ex-wife. But it becomes decidedly giallo-like after the first murder, with plenty of nudity, sex scenes, double-crossing, and the slow burn of Helene’s increasing paranoia. For fans of more ridiculous ‘60s and ‘70s cinema, Carroll Baker dances around a bit, Austin Powers-style, and she and Anna Proclemer (Journey to Italy) have plenty of fabulous costumes – including Baker’s birthday suit. There’s some pleasant camera work courtesy of Aristide Massacessi (aka Joe D’Amato) – providing a chance to see two of horror and exploitation’s most balls-to-the-wall directors in a lighter, gentler setting.
Paranoia is available on DVD as A Quiet Place to Kill and comes recommended to fans of erotic thrillers and giallo completists – though if you’re expecting something similar to the greatest hits of Dario Argento, look elsewhere. Baker and giallo regular Jean Sorel (Lizard in a Woman’s Skin) are both fun to watch and seem like they had a great time lounging on sailboats and drinking J&B. And despite his lack of range, Sorel is always enjoyable in the “handsome bastard” role, found so often in giallo films (though he can’t compete with the master of this type, George Hilton).