Giuliano Carnimeo, 1972
Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Giampiero Albertini, Oreste Lionello
"Murder isn't a joke, you idiot!"
A killer is loose in a fashionable apartment complex, stalking beautiful young women. When a model, Jennifer (Edwige Fenech), and her ditzy friend move in to a recently vacant apartment in the building, Jennifer becomes the murderer’s latest target. Is the killer her violent ex-husband, who often turns up unannounced, or one of the complex’s suspicious tenants, including a predatory lesbian and her strange, violin playing father, a nasty old woman who reads horror fiction, or the handsome architect with a blood phobia?
While The Case of the Bloody Iris is not often listed among the more serious, suspenseful giallo classics, it’s hard to deny the infectious fun and nonsensical plot developments of this often unintentionally comic shocker. Originally known as What are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?, this is essentially a vehicle for giallo goddess Edwige Fenech, an Algerian-born French-Italian actress with wide eyes and a voluptuous figure. She got her start in a series of sex comedies, but went on to star in Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1970), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), and many more. She was primarily seen in director Sergio Martino’s thrillers, and began her career as his brother and producer Luciano Martino’s fiancée.
Another of the film’s major personalities is writer Ernesto Gastaldi. One of the greatest and most prolific writers of Italian cult films, he’s responsible for everything from Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory (1961) to The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962), The Whip and the Body (1963), The 10th Victim (1965), The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968), Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970), The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971), and many more – perhaps more genre films than any other Italian writer. His influence on the genre is incalculable. One of Gastaldi’s common themes is used here: A vulnerable female protagonist begins to psychologically unravel when an unseen killer stalks her and those around her – including the police, lovers, and friends – believe that she’s either losing her mind or making the whole thing up.
The film’s plot is not particularly memorable – possibly because Gastaldi used it so often during this period – but its charm exceeds the basics of acting, plot, or style. There is more of an emphasis on style than gore or suspense, though there are some solid chase sequences and murder set pieces. The Cast of the Bloody Iris is often funny – intentionally and unintentionally so – and the real reason to watch it, aside from Fenech, is the incredible dialogue, which must be heard to be believed. My personal favorite is: “Don’t thank me just yet. Wait till I try to make it with you, then you’ll see what a bastard I am.” This line is spoken, of course, by George Hilton, giallo cinema’s most enduring romantic hero and misogynist asshole. Fenech’s regular love interest throughout a number of giallo films, he is given a bit of suspicious intrigue here when it’s revealed that he has a blood phobia, not that this particular plot thread is ever resolved.
Like many giallo films, it’s also hard to compete with the eye-catching and hilarious opening sequence, which essentially summarizes the best and worst qualities of The Cast of the Bloody Iris. A high-end prostitute has her throat slashed in the apartment’s elevator by an unseen assailant in a seen that must have influenced De Palma’s Dressed to Kill. The elevator doors reveal her dead body to some tenants, including an older man and woman, and a model/stripper. The three seem more inconvenienced by the body than anything else and the stripper, named Mizar, rushes off to rehearsal. It’s unclear whether she is a model or some sort of sex worker – in the next scene, two other characters discuss using her in a photo shoot because she’s, “black, but not too black” (!). Later, she works as a night club dancer and her performance ends in her wrestling in the buff, where she takes a man violently to the ground.
There are red herrings galore and while most giallo films have a few unrelated subplots to thicken the intrigue, The Case of the Bloody Iris is simply awash with them. If the film succeeds in anything, it’s making Jennifer’s environment constantly threatening with a tinge of sexual menace. There is a hint of cult activity, an aggressive lesbian neighbor, and a mean old lady who finds horror fiction delightful and calls Jennifer a “filthy whore.” Her violent ex-husband often turns up unannounced – no one else seems to take this seriously – and the police are totally useless. The Commissioner is more concerned with his stamp collection than the increasing number of corpses. Best of all is perhaps her roommate, Marilyn, who makes fun of the murders and plays some unfortunate (though hilarious) practical jokes.
The Case of the Bloody Iris comes recommended to anyone who loves Eurocult. It’s lack of seriousness will probably be off putting to someone expecting a Dario Argento film, but this sort of wackiness is the reason I love the giallo genre so much. The dialogue is absolutely priceless, the performances are endlessly entertaining, and there’s a solid score from Bruno Nicolai. Available on DVD, I can’t really say that this is a genre classic, but it’s certainly up there among the most light-hearted and enjoyable entries.