Umberto Lenzi, 1972
Starring: Uschi Glas, Antonio Sabàto, Pier Paolo Capponi, Marisa Mell
A number of women are murdered by a mysterious, black-gloved killer. The only clue left at each crime scene is a piece of jewelry: an ornate, half-moon pendant. The only victim to escape is the third intended victim, Giulia. The police help her fake her death, while her boyfriend, Mario, tries to get to the bottom of the mystery and figure out the identity of the killer before it is too late. They soon trace the half-moon pendant back to a hotel Giulia once worked in; the other dead woman can also be linked back there in some way, and Giulia and Mario make a list of potential future victims. But will they locate the killer in time?
One of Lenzi’s few traditional giallo films, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, also known as Puzzle of the Silver Half Moons, is also one of his most accessible. It’s a great place to start for relative giallo newbies, who are ready to move past Bava and Argento to other directors, as the film has some great murder set pieces and the plot is certainly less ridiculous than some other giallo scripts I can think of. To Lenzi’s credit, and things generally move towards a logical conclusion. The story is credited to both Edgar Wallace and Cornell Woolrich. Wallace was a British writer whose mystery/suspense novels kicked off an entire German genre in the ‘60s known as krimi films (read my introduction to this fun series for more information).
Cornell Woolrich, one of my favorite American writers, penned a series of bleak crime novels known as the Black series, which influenced film noir. They are generally all concerned with revenge killings. Rendezvous in Black, which supposedly influenced Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, follows a man whose fiancée died in an accident the night before their wedding. He tracks down the group of men responsible and, every year on the anniversary of his bride’s death, he murders one of their loved ones. While Seven Blood-Stained Orchids does not follow this frankly absurd plot about a drunken flight and deadly projectile, Lenzi’s killer mimics this pattern. In order to get revenge for a past trauma – equally as coincidental as the death in Rendezvous in Black – this incident has driven the killer mad and he murders every woman associated with the event, because he doesn’t know the identity of the responsible individual.
The themes of past traumas haunting the future, guilt, and evaded responsibility coming home to roost are standard giallo themes, but there is something light-hearted and almost innocent about Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. While so many giallo characters – including protagonists, victims, bystanders, and killers – are often portrayed as immoral, possessing dirty secrets, and capable of dark deeds, Mario and Giulia are surprisingly likable and oddly innocent. This may be something of an unintentional spoiler, but it would be only too easy for either Mario or Giulia to be the killer, but instead, they are refreshingly devoted to one another.
While I enjoy the general irrationality that comes with most giallo films, the killer here even has something of a reason for his/her crimes. There are still a fair amount of red herrings, including a case of identical twins, and some wonderfully suspenseful moments, such as a scene where a future victim finds her dying cats – recently poisoned by the killer – sprawled out on the floor of her home. Despite its title, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is not dependent on gore. Several death scenes are implied, relying on tension alone, though there are some well-executed scenes of violence. In one such moment, the lovely Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik) meets a sticky end at the pointy end of a power drill. The film’s final reveal – no actual spoilers here – is also carefully controlled as Mario and the killer battle in a pool, allowing for a tense scene that takes its time to reveal the killer’s face. Guilia, who was nearly drowned to death, waits helplessly by.
Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a pleasant, if run-of-the-mill affair that hits all the giallo notes, including a black-clad killer with leather gloves, but doesn’t offer anything particularly noteworthy or unique. Antonio Sabata (Beyond the Law) and German actress Uschi Glas (The College Girl Murders) are not the most compelling of giallo protagonists, and there are some glaring plot holes – namely the fact that I have no clue what the pendants actually have to do with anything. Despite these routine flaws, it’s a solid watch and is available on DVD from Shriek Show, and, as I mentioned, is a good starting place for giallo newcomers. It’s light-heated with plenty of funny moments and has an up-beat, jazzy score from the underrated Riz Ortolani. When you consider that 1972 was one of the giallo genre’s most prolific years, with films like Death Walks at Midnight, Who Saw Her Die?, The Killer is On the Phone, What Have You Done to Solange?, Case of the Bloody Iris, Delirium, and many more, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a level-headed, quality entry that proves Lenzi is capable of restraint, a fact belied by his later, gore-drenched works.