Ferdinando Merighi, 1972
Starring: Anita Ekberg, Rosalba Neri, Evelyne Kraft, Howard Vernon
Antoine, a thief on the run, takes refuge in a local brothel and demands the attentions of his favorite whore, who is later found dead. Though swearing he is innocent, Antoine’s lack of alibi and notoriously violent temper lead to his arrested and he is convicted of murder. But when he dies during an escape attempt, the murders continue and the bodies begin to pile up, leaving plenty of work for the frustrated Inspector Pontaine, who has quite a lineup of suspects, including the brothel’s madam and a young scientist.
This Italian-West German production was originally titled Casa d’appuntamento (House of Appointment), but is also known as The Bogeyman and the French Murders and Paris Sex Murders. It’s honestly one of my favorites among the lesser known giallo and benefits from a great cast, including Anita Ekberg (La dolce vita) just before her performance in Killer Nun, giallo and Eurocult regular Rosalba Neri (Lady Frankenstein), Evelyne Kraft (Lady Dracula) in her first role, and Bond girl and giallo regular Barbara Bouchet (Don’t Torture a Duckling) in an all-too-brief scene. Howard Vernon (The Awful Dr. Orloff) – Jess Franco’s greatest male star – steals the film as a demented scientist determined to protect his daughter’s assets. And last, but certainly not least, is Robert Sacchi (The Man with Bogart’s Face), a Humphrey Bogart lookalike who plays the stoic inspector. The campiness of his early films is always a treat, though he surprisingly gets more screen time than the film’s bevy of scantily clad ladies.
The French Sex Murders is completely off the wall in every way possible and will disappoint anyone looking for a more serious, suspenseful, or straight forward giallo. The film blends in many Eurocult tropes – most of which can be found in Jess Franco movies – including a nightclub scene where Rosalba Neri gives an alluring performance singing to a raucous crowd. Howard Vernon’s scientist is responsible for some of the gross out moments, such as one where he is using a sheep’s eye for an experiment and mashes it up with a scalpel. The violence – from effects master Carlo Rimbaldi – is relatively over the top, with a body thrown off the Eiffel Tower, lots of stabbings, throat-slitting, decapitation, and an absurd scene where Antoine viciously beats a prostitute (Barbara Bouchet!).
While most giallo films represent the police as comical or ineffectual, this has a detective protagonist. And like My Dear Killer, from the same year, the loose plot outline is the same: the inspector follows a trail towards prospective murderers and continues on as each one of them is killed in turn. As I mentioned, there are numerous suspects connected to the case, though the scientist’s assistant – who is also having a secret affair with his beautiful daughter – is positioned to be the likely killer for almost the entire second half of the film. Of course this is an obvious red herring. Though I won’t give away the identity of the killer, it’s not too hard to figure out by the second half of the film. In a twist not all that common to giallo films, the murderer’s motivation is an obsessive incestuous passion – the height of trash cinema plot developments, in my opinion.
French Sex Murders isn’t going to please a lot of people, but for sheer entertainment value, it comes recommended. Thanks to the folks at Mondo Macabro, it’s available on DVD. This release is the longest and most complete available print – apparently versions of the film differ by country of release, with some actors getting more running time depending on where the film was released. There’s no true definitive version, but this disorienting, though very fun mess is the best you’re going to get. At the bare minimum, there are enjoyable effects from Carlo Rambaldi, a score from Bruno Nicolai, and a Eurocult Hall of Fame cast – for instance, where else are you going to find naked Eurobabes running around a brothel, a Humphrey Bogart wannabe, squished eyeballs, and one of Europe’s finest cult actors, Howard Vernon , together?