Monday, June 29, 2015


Michele Soavi, 1987
Starring: Barbara Cupisti, David Brandon, John Morghen, Robert Gligorov, Ulrike Schwerk

A group of starving actors and dancers are putting on a musical about a serial killer called the Night Owl, who rapes and kills prostitutes while dressed up like a giant owl. Their maniacal director (David Brandon) is an egotistical asshole and fires leading lady Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) when she sneaks off during her break to get medical attention for a sprained ankle. Unfortunately the closest hospital is a psychiatric facility, where she attracts the attention of Irving Wallace, a psychotic serial killer. Unbeknownst to Alicia, he breaks out of the hospital and follows her back to the theatre, brutally killing the wardrobe mistress. The police and reporters show up, inspiring the mad director to lock them in the theatre to finish rehearsal and get the show ready immediately. What they don't know is that Irving Wallace is locked in with them, ready for his breakthrough performance...

Arguably the greatest Italian horror director of the late '80s and early '90s, Michele Soavi's career took off with acting and assistant directing roles in the Italian horror scene. You might recognize him from role in Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and New York Ripper, Argento’s Tenebre, Phenomena, and Opera, and Lamberto Bava’s A Blade in the Dark and Demons, among others. As a director, he worked with Argento, Joe D’amato, and Lamberto Bava until his directorial debut Deliria, also known as Stagefright, Stagefright: Aquarius, Bloody Bird, and Sound Stage Massacre. Though he became best known for Cemetery Man or occult horror favorites like The Church and The Sect, I think Stagefright is his best film — it’s certainly my favorite and you should in no way expect this to be a reasonable, unbiased review.

Gory, suspenseful, and cheesy as only a late '80s giallo can be, Stagefright is a ton of fun. None of the characters are particularly likable, thought it’s nice to see familiar faces like the great Giovanni Radice (aka John Morghen), Soavi-regular Barbara Cupisti, and Lamberto Bava-regular David Brandon. Most of the characters are on screen only because, sooner or later, they have spectacular death scenes lined up. Though much of the film errs on the side of ridiculousness, there are some effectively spooky and beautiful sequences. It’s also really difficult for me not to love any film — particularly a giallo, thriller, or horror movie — set up in a pressure cooker type of scenario, implausible though the whole thing may be. There are two doors to the theatre and when they are both locked, there is no way to escape. Really?

I can easily suspend by disbelief for the sheer fact that Stagefright is just so much fun. I mean, how can you argue with a troupe of dancers and actors getting butchered by a man in a giant owl mask? Over the years I’ve made at least a dozen people watch this, all of whom were nervous because it begins as an “intellectual musical” with dancing and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator with a saxophone (take that Lost Boys). There’s a sort of 1980s Times Square aesthetic combined with characters straight out of Flashdance, A Chorus Line, or RENT, who all have various romantic and financial struggles. Soavi skates past this pretty quickly to introduce — I’ll say it again — the serial killer who hides behind a giant owl mask.

This would make a great double feature with Lamberto Bava’s Demons — and maybe even Argento’s Opera — as all are awash with metatextual nods to the horror genre. Soavi has some fantastic scenes, including a great moment where a pretty young dancer — the film’s goody two shoes — is rehearsing a number where she seduces the killer and is then murdered. Except the escaped, real life serial killer actually slaughters her, revealing himself to the rest of the cast, much to their horror. Horror favorite Giovanni Radice is involved in another of the film’s best scenes. He plays Brett, a gay dancer cast as the owl killer, but little does Brett or the cast realize, he’s not the only one walking around with the mask, causing both the audience and the cast to play a suspenseful guessing game.

I won’t spoil the ending, but the concluded set piece — involving the masked killer sitting on a state full of props and corpses — attempts to give Lucio Fulci a run for his money in the weirdness, nonsensical department. It’s fantastic. I’m sorry, maybe it wasn’t clear, but I love this movie. On a final note, I’ll tell you what really blows my mind. This fucking movie was written by George Eastman. If his name isn't ringing a bell it means you haven't seen enough Italian B movies. He stars in Baby Yaga, Rabid Dogs, Anthropophagus, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, The Bronx Warriors, 2019: After the Fall of New York, and so on. He’s also gargantuan, coming in at 6’9”. What can the man not do!? He was in some of the best exploitation films of the ‘70s and '80s and also wrote or co-wrote many of them, including Keoma, The Great Alligator, Terror Express, Anthropophagus, Porno Holocaust, Abusrd, etc. Dreamy.

Stagefright has been passed over too long, probably because of its generic name that is shared by a number of other films (including one by Hitchcock). It’s a true masterpiece and it comes highly recommended — just be sure to check any expectations of logic at the theater door. And get ready for the ridiculous. You really need to own this on Blu-ray and I am endlessly grateful that Blue Underground did it justice last year with this wonderful release. The only way it could be better is with an Eastman-Soavi commentary track.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Lamberto Bava, 1987
Starring: Serena Grandi, Daria Nicolodi, David Brandon, George Eastman

After her wealthy husband’s death, Gioia, a former model and porn actress, has become the owner of his risqué men’s magazine, Pussycat. But someone begins stalking Gioia and murdering her models — and sending in images of the dead girls with Gioia’s old nude photos as backdrops. While this makes the magazine’s sales skyrocket, she realizes that she is the likely target and is surrounded by potential killers — a bitter rival who wants to buy the business, a sexually frustrated neighbor who torments her, her elusive old flame, and more. The police are little to no help, but Gioia is determined to stay alive.

Written by director Sergio Martino’s brother Luciano (a regular writer and producer on Sergio’s films), this was allegedly intended to be a project for director Dario Argento. Supposedly due to script concerns, Argento bowed out, but nominated Lamberto Bava for the job. Bava was fresh off the success of their film together, Demons, and while Delirium is not the masterpiece of ‘80s filmmaking than Demons is, it’s an entertaining exercise in sleazy Italian horror and is of one of the last films that can properly be called a giallo. There are plenty of stylish, over-the-top death scenes, lots of sex and naked women, and more potential suspects and red herrings than possibly any giallo to come before it.

From Mario Bava’s seminal Blood and Black Lace, giallo films have frequently been set in the fashion world. Films like The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and Strip Nude for Your Killer have capitalized on the more lurid aspects of the industry and Delirium is certainly of the same mold. Gioia (the large-bosomed Serena Grandi of Anthropophagus, The Great Beauty) spends most of her days by the pool in a bikini, drinking champagne with scantily-clad models — that alone would be enough for me to watch this movie. Gioia’s secret (sort of) is that she used to be in porn and there is even a few shots of her in a Nazi-themed sex film (!). And, my god, her outfits. Outside of it following the Playboy/Penthouse example for how to lead a perfect life, this is worth watching for the outrageous ‘80s fashions alone.

Unlike Bava’s A Blade in the Dark or Demons, the violence in Delirium is arguably more stylized than gory and the film’s most noteworthy, unusual element is that some of the murders occur from the killer’s perspective. He hallucinates — which is obvious from the Mario Bava-like colored lighting that suddenly appears — and one model is shown with a giant eyeball in place of her head, while another has an insect head. The killer actually murders one woman with (perfume! and) bees, like The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but cheesier. Bava isn’t completely successful with these surreal, hallucinatory elements and I can’t help but feel that he was also aiming for something along the lines of Suspiria or Inferno, and in this case he utterly fails. Regardless, these scenes makes for some good, cheesy fun.

The film is also awash with potential suspects, both male and female. It is intimated that the killer is a blonde woman and both Gioia’s Joan Crawford-like business rival (played with gleeful malice by Capucine of The Pink Panther and Satyricon a few years before her death) and her assistant (Italian horror queen Daria Nicolodi in a role similar to the one she played in Tenebre) have blonde tresses. George Eastman’s tall, dark, handsome, and menacing looks lend themselves well to the part of Gioia’s unreliable boyfriend. One minute, he is dressed up as a barbarian (for a fantasy film) and then is suddenly having sex with her in the bathtub in the next shot. Uncomfortably, her brother walks in and just stands there, staring at them, before eventually muttering, “I didn’t know you had company.” Vanni Corbellini (Drowning by Numbers, The Belly of an Architect) is great as her jealous, playboy brother, though he is frequently outdone by David Brandon (Stage Fright) as the gay photographer. The film implies that his homosexuality might mean that he hates women is therefore killing them.

Delirium is plenty ridiculous, but comes highly recommended. Though I was almost disappointed with the ending (which I won’t ruin for you here), because it borrows from another of Lamberto Bava’s films, it’s balls-to-the-wall insane enough to be very entertaining, despite how ridiculous it is. This will mostly be of interested to giallo fans, as it’s among the last gasp of the genre (with Argento's Opera and Soavi's Stage Fright) and is filled with fun elements, like a horror-themed photo shoot, scantily-clad models everywhere, Dario Nicolodi, and an effective department store sequence where the shit hits the fan and the film rushes, full tilt, through several murders. I’m a firm believer that every ‘80s horror film should have a scene in a mall and this one does not disappoint. It's also — perhaps oddly — an effective picture of ‘80s excess and would make an interesting contrast with something consciously about this period, like American Psycho. Pick it up on DVD.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Lamberto Bava, 1983
Starring: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi, Valeria Cavalli

While working on the score for a new horror movie, Bruno is staying in an eerie villa rented for him by Sandra, the director, who wants to be sure the proper mood is invoked. Her film includes scenes of young boys bullying one and daring him to follow a bouncing ball down into a cellar, where something horrible occurs. But Bruno’s daily life begins to mirror the film, as strange women — alleging to be friends with the previous tenant, Linda — show up and then disappear just as quickly. It seems that someone is murdering Bruno’s houseguests and he, his girlfriend Julia, and Sandra struggle to figure out the identity of the killer before they are next.

Lamberto Bava’s second film, A Blade in the Dark, is a marked improvement on his first, Macabre. Written by star giallo screenwriters Elisa Briganti (Zombie, The House by the Cemetery, 1990: The Bronx Warriors) and the prolific Dardano Sacchetti (everything from Bay of Blood to The Psychic, Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and so on), this a departure from the slow-burn psychological horror of Macabre and compared to the latter, A Blade in the Dark ups the gore level considerably. There are some effective death scenes, plenty of suspense, and the film is almost surprisingly violent. It’s not as stylized as traditional giallo films, and feels sort of like Dressed to Kill (1980) meets Tenebre (1982).

Like both of those films, this is concerned with ideas of identity, sexuality, and gender. It has a surprising number of female characters and it often feels like Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti from New York Ripper and Conquest) is the stationary male element in a cast of revolving women. Likely a nod back to old dark house films, this takes place mostly in the rented villa, which is large enough to be an effective set piece. Like those old dark house films, there is something unsettling about staying in a borrowed space, a strange house which is only a temporary home. All throughout the film, women have an unnerving habit of just showing up at the house, intruding on his private space.

The former tenant, Linda, haunts the film. Her stuff is still stored in the villa, while her friends Katia (Valeria Cavalli of Double Team) and Angela (Fabiola Toledo of Demons) let themselves in the house with warning or invitation. Katia hides in the closet and surprises Bruno (!) and is later killed for her trouble. Angela, who swims in the pool and randomly uses the shower, is murdered in the bathroom and her death is one of the film’s violent centerpieces. Bava builds on the frightening thought of a murder occurring in your own home with little evidence remaining. Like the beginning of several other giallo films, some of the suspense revolves around the audience knowing that certain characters have been murdered, while the protagonist only guesses at the truth and finds scant evidence — like unexplained blood on his pants leg and pearls in the sink. 

His girlfriend Julia (Lara Naszinsky) is also something of a red herring. She comes and goes as abruptly as the other women and in one scene is found skulking around the house with a knife. She exhibits a lot of suspicious behavior, such as walking around the villa early in the morning, lying about abandoning her job, and so on. The horror director, Sandra, is also surprisingly female and has apparently based her movie on Linda’s mysterious, traumatic past. This has notes of Scream and Berberian Sound Studio, as there are numerous self-referential discussions of the horror genre, not to mention that two of the main characters are a horror director and a score writer. Later, someone is killed by being strangled to death with a strip of film. Both A Blade in the Dark and Demons involve horror films as a main feature of the plot and this is one of A Blade in the Dark’s more enjoyable elements.

SPOILERS: And speaking of other horror films, the killer is ultimately revealed to be a transvestite. Though numerous visual clues promise a female killer (high heels, painted fingernails, some hilarious yet prissy cleaning up after one of the murders), the identity of a tormented, confused male is revealed. This is part of an ongoing tradition in horror with films like Psycho, Dressed to Kill, and Silence of the Lambs, where anxiety about sexuality and identity results in male-female killers. This is also a common trope in giallo films, such as Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Sister of Ursula, and Pensione paura, to name only a few.

A Blade in the Dark is flawed, but it’s well worth watching. Pick it up on DVD. And even though the numerous enjoyable female performances make up the bulk of the film, keep an eye out for genre regulars Stanko Molnar (Macabre) as the creepy groundkeeper, director/actor/extraordinaire Michele Soavi (Stagefright) as the landlord, and Giovanni Frezza (House by the Cemetery) as a child in the film-within-the-film from the opening scene. The film moves at a decent pace, correcting one of Macabre’s faults right there, has well-used suspenseful scenes, moments of the over-the-top violence, and an effective, pleasant little mystery. Plenty of nonsensical things happening could be viewed as silly — and there is frequently plenty to laugh at — but it also opens the film up to a level of unpredictability, which Bava Jr uses to his advantage. And I’m always going to find whispering as part of the plot/soundtrack incredibly disturbing. It’s used very well here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Lamberto Bava, 1980
Starring: Elisa Kadigia Bove, Bernice Stegers, Stanko Molnar

Jane, a wife and mother living in New Orleans, is secretly renting out an apartment in an old boarding house run by a blind young man and his elderly mother. Her family doesn’t realize that she’s carrying on a passionate affair with Fred, her lover, and her absences take a tragic turn. One day while she and Fred are off having sex, Jane’s daughter drowns her young son in the bathtub. In a rush to get back to the house, she and Fred are in a car accident and he is killed. Jane spends a year in a mental hospital and when she’s released, she returns to the boarding house, now run by the blind man, Robert, after his mother passed away. Robert develops feelings for Jane, but is concerned when he hears moans of pleasure from her room… and she begins screaming Fred’s name.

Written by House with Laughing Windows’ director Pupi Avati and his brother Antonio, this was Lamberto Bava’s first big project as a director. The son of one of horror’s great directors, Mario Bava, Lamberto got his start assistant directing on many of his father’s films — Kill Baby, Kill, Danger: Diabolik, A Bay of Blood, Baron Blood, Lisa and the Devil, Rabid Dogs — and Argento’s Inferno and Tenebre, as well as Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. Macabre never reaches the heights of his masterpiece, Demons, but is an entertaining glimpse at Bava the Younger’s future promise. It’s also something of a bridge between Avati’s slower-paced, doom-laden films and Lamberto’s own clear style that would more fully emerge throughout the ‘80s.

Oddly convincing and effective at times, it’s a stretch to call this a giallo film, though I’ve included it mainly because of Bava’s connection to the genre. It’s more of a disturbing psychological horror film and one that succeeds in part because of Serbian actor Stanko Molnar as Robert. Molnar would go on to work with Lamberto again in his next film, A Blade in the Dark, and something about him is strange yet compelling (more so here than in that film, where he plays a creepy groundkeeper). I read another review where the writer compared him to a young Anthony Perkins, which is not far off the mark and the tone of Psycho is a not-so-distant cousin to Macabre.

SPOILERS: The overlapping themes include a troubled young man — one who had an odd relationship with his mother — who runs a hotel and becomes fixated on a female guest. But where it was the male character holding on to a female corpse, Lamberto Bava reimagines things so that Jane, far more disturbed than Robert, has been keeping her dead lover’s head in the refrigerator. She keeps it under lock and key but brings it out every night when she has imaginary sex with Fred and makes out with his decaying face. It’s not on the level of Joe D’amato’s Buio Omega, but it’s disturbing thanks to a solid, only occasionally histrionic performance from Bernice Stegers (Fellini’s City of Women and sci-fi horror masterpiece Xtro). There is something about her blend of beauty, sophistication, icy restrained, and perverse madness that reminds me of Clare Higgins’ unforgettable Julie from Hellraiser. Like Clare, she seems to hate children and find them outright disgusting. Her daughter -- remember, the one who killed her own baby brother by drowning him in a bathtub -- is incredibly creepy, so it's easy to see why. Then again it could just be the ‘80s fashion and hairstyles. 

Alternating between thoroughly creepy and ridiculously campy, Macabre has some of the Gothic element found in Avati’s House with Laughing Windows but also reminds me of another film from the same period: The House of the Yellow Carpet (1983). Though I’ve decided not to review the latter, both are descended directly from the giallo films of the ‘60s and ‘70s but put their focus more on psychological decay and sexual obsession. The latter is also focused on a woman who moans all night long — a disturbed housewife who calls out her stepfathers name during obvious sex dreams, driving her husband homicidally mad. He contacts psychiatrist to help him stage an elaborate ruse, where the wife attempts to sell a giant yellow carpet her stepfather to a con artist who holds her captive. She believes she has killed him in self defense, but this is all part of an elaborate psychological game meant to be used as therapy. 

Both films revolve around similar themes of madness and sexual obsession, though Macabre is ultimately the more satisfying entry. Its grand guignol elements help balance out an inconsistent script and slow pacing in the middle section of the film. Giallo and slasher fans may find it light on the gore — except for the famous reveal scene, where Jane has sex with her lover’s rotting, decapitated head — but sleaze fans will enjoy its perverse eroticism. There’s plenty of female nudity and almost constant moaning and groaning, though none of the sleaze that put directors like Fulci on the map. Speaking of the Godfather of Gore, like his classic The Beyond, Macabre is set in New Orleans and suffers from tragically awful fake Southern accents that fade in and out throughout the film. Whether you find these punishing or just part of the film’s charm, it’s well worth checking out. Pick it up on DVD.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Antonio Bido, 1978
Starring: Lino Capolicchio, Stefania Casini, Craig Hill, Massimo Serato

After having a nervous breakdown, college professor Stefano D’Archangelo travels to his home in Murano (an island that is part of Venice) for a relaxing visit with his brother, the priest Don Paolo. But he learns that the town is full of a number of disreputable people, including a child molester, fraudulent psychic who hold regular seances, and a midwife that performs abortions. And soon after Stefano arrives, Don Paolo witnesses a murder one night during a thunderstorm. The body disappears and no one believes him, but soon the psychic turns up floating in a river and Don Paolo begins receiving menacing notes, presumably from the killer. Stefano tries to get to the bottom of things with the help of a local painter, Sandra.

Not to be confused with The Bloodstained Butterfly, Solamente nero (Only Blackness) is a derivative, though moody and entertaining giallo made at the end of the genre’s relatively short run. Bido excels at creating little pockets of strangeness and gloomy atmosphere — such as a scene where the midwife cheers up her mental disabled adult son by tearing the limbs off of one of his dolls, or another where Sandra becomes paranoid that someone is following her and has a surprise run in with an accordion player — but he is unable to sustain them for extended period of time. The film’s numerous death scenes are effective, such as the opening where a girl is killed in the lush countryside and a later scene where a woman is murdered during a thunderstorm. It turns out that the murder of a teenage girl occurred years ago and the medium was killed in the same way, creating the tenuous mystery that weaves throughout the film.

The Bloodstained Shadow is not the first film to make use of Venice’s eerie canals and narrow, winding corridors. Sadly this film doesn’t quite capture the menace and air of doom found in Don’t Look Now or even Who Saw Her Die? It also apes a number of themes found in some of Argento films, such as a painting that is key to the identity of the murderer (Deep Red), a past crime that haunts the present (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red), and flashbacks of a tormented child (Deep Red). Like most of Argento’s films, one of the central characters (Stefania Casini of Suspiria) is an artist. Strangely, it also foreshadows some of the elements used in Phenomena, such as an opening scene of a girl murdered in the beautiful countryside and a female character who hides a mentally challenged adult son. This is also one of many giallo films — such as Torso and The Sister of Ursula — to have a concluding scene where the murderer falls to their death (likely taken from Vertigo).

SPOILERS: Another obvious element is the use of a priest. By this point, far too many giallo films included a suspicious priest character and general rule of thumb is that he will wind up being the killer, as Craig Hill (Dracula vs Frankenstein, All About Eve) does here. But by 1978, this was already seen in Don’t Torture a Duckling, Who Saw Her Die?, The House with Laughing Windows, and What Have You Done to Solange?, as well as Autopsy, where the priest character is violent, troubled, and acts as a red herring. Hill’s Don Paolo does provide a somewhat obvious complement to the innocent-looking Lino Capolicchio (House with Laughing Windows), though I would like to have seen Capolicchio as a murderer for once. He has flashbacks of a screaming boy — an interesting counterpoint to the film’s underdeveloped subplot of child abuse — but this is underused and it is merely used to explain the twist at the conclusion.

The film’s biggest problem is its pacing, which occasionally slows to a crawl, and director Antonio Bido (The Cat’s Victims) should have generously trimmed the numerous romantic scenes between Stefano and Sandra. With that said, the cast is likable. In addition to Capolicchio, Casini, and Hill, there are a number of familiar faces from cult cinema, including Massimo Serato (Don’t Look Now), Juliette Mayniel (Eyes Without a Face), and celebrated stunt coordinator Sergio Mioni. There’s also some noteworthy gore, including a face set on fire, a skinned animal held left in warning in the church, and someone run through with a sword. Stelvio Cipriani’s score bizarrely (though not unsurprisingly) rips off Goblin. 

The Bloodstained Shadow comes recommended for seasoned giallo fans and anyone interested in Italian horror with a religious angle — which doesn’t happen as often as you would think for such a Catholic country. Despite the frequent use of priest characters, most giallo films don't go much further than that. When Lucio Fulci did with Don't Torture a Duckling and Beatrice Cenci, it nearly ruined his career. You can find it on DVD from Blue Underground with an interesting interview with director Antonio Bido.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Alberto Negrin, 1978
Starring: Fabio Testi, Christine Kaufmann, Ivan Desny, Helga Liné

"I hope you're not used to having your students murdered!"

When a teenage girl’s dead body is found floating in the river, Inspector DiSalvo begins asking questions at a nearby private boarding school, St. Theresa’s. He learns from the girl’s strange younger sister that she was part of a small clique known as “The Inseparables,” and the autopsy report reveals that she was assaulted before death. DiSalvo meets with resistance at seemingly every turn, from the school’s reticent teachers to the other “Inseparables,” who begin receiving menacing letter, possibly from the killer. DiSalvo is determined to use any means necessary to find the murderer’s identity and get to the bottom of goings on at the school.

The third and final film in director and writer Massimo Dallamano’s schoolgirls in peril giallo trilogy, Rings of Fear is entertaining — thanks to the ever wonderful Fabio Testi — but is sadly inferior to the first two films, What Have You Done to Solange? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? Dallamano died in an accident right after directing poliziotteschi film Colt 38 Special Squad, so Alberto Negrin took over this last film in the series. Negrin primarily director for television, including recent Italian crime series L’isola and WWII-themed fare like Memories of Anne Frank (2009) and Mussolini and I (with Susan Sarandon, Anthony Hopkins, and Bob Hoskins).

Co-written by Dallamano, this covers much of the same ground as the first two films in the trilogy. SPOILERS: The clique of schoolgirls, to no one’s great surprise, is involved in an underage prostitution ring, where they have sex with wealthy, powerful men in exchange for clothes and money. While this film downplays the violence and suspense found in the first two, there are plenty of sleazy scenes, including shots of an orgy, yet another abortion, and some naked shower room games. It’s enough of a stretch to believe that there’s one giallo movie where a woman is attacked with a giant dildo, but between Rings of Fear and The Sister of Ursula (where this is the killer’s murder weapon of choice) there are, quite incredibly, two. At least two, since I haven’t seen ever giallo ever made.

As I’ve already said, the film is so enjoyable primarily because of Fabio Testi’s starring role. He covered an unusual amount of territory throughout his career, including art house classics like The Garden of the Finzi-Contini’s and The Most Important This is to Love, poliziotteschi films such as Gang War in Naples, Revolver, and Contraband, and even a few giallo efforts such as this film and What Have You Done to Solange?, among many other genres. Unlike most of the actors of his generation, he still has an active career and is still ludicrously handsome. Strangely, he’s aged to look more and more like an Italian Sean Connery. 

Here, he must contend with a lot of difficult customers at St. Theresa’s, the girls’ school. The group of teenage “mean girls” known as “the Inseparables” are not only incredibly unhelpful with the investigation, but they seem to be in actual danger at times — one of them is nearly killed on horseback — and someone known as “Nemesis” (an easy to figure out but unidentified figure) is sending them menacing notes. The school has what must be the world’s most untrustworthy teaching staff and his girlfriend is a kleptomaniac who abruptly leaves him halfway through the film. But with the usual charm, he is adept at kicking ass and taking names — even going so far as to interrogate a suspect on a roller coaster. And I think I failed to mention that the only person who helps him out is the first victim’s younger sister, an outsider at the school who is just a little bit creepy.

Also known as Red Rings of Fear, Virgin Terror, and Trauma, this Italian-German-Spanish giallo is really only for giallo completists or Fabio Testi fans. There’s a delightful Riz Ortolani score, a fair number of entertaining scenes, and very sleazy tone, but the script is flawed. There are lots of bizarre subplots that go unresolved and characters that sort of wander off — such as the Inspector’s girlfriend — and it’s very derivative of the two previous films in the trilogy. But where else are you going to see a suspect interrogated — and terrified out of his wits — on a roller coaster? I don’t believe the film is available on DVD for English-speaking audiences, but you can find it floating around online.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Flavio Mogherini, 1977
Starring: Ray Milland, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Michele Placido, Mel Ferrer

When the unidentifiable body of an assaulted young woman wearing yellow pajamas is found burned on a Sydney beach, the police close in on a local pervert and Peeping Tom. But retired Detective Thompson believes there is more to the case and begins his own investigation with the reluctant help of a younger detective. A woman steps forward and claims the body belongs to her missing daughter, Anna, but Thompson doubts her story. Meanwhile, a beautiful, promiscuous young waitress is caught between a rich older benefactor, an Italian waiter she has fallen in love with, and a physically satisfying German lover. Is one of her paramours the killer?

A moody crime thriller that can only loosely be called a giallo, The Pyjama Girl Case takes some confusing twists and turns and it’s only towards the end of the film that you understand what director Flavio Mogherini has done with his clever script. Mogherini developed a career doing design work for directors like Roberto Rossellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini (on Accattone), though cult movie fans will probably recognize his colorful art direction on Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1968). While I wouldn’t call Pyjama Girl an exceptionally colorful or stylish film — it’s certainly not trying to compete with Bava or Argento — it’s lovely to look at and makes the most of its Australian set. Yes, you read that right: Australia. There have been some ludicrous attempts to set giallo films in the UK — such as What Have You Done to Solange? in London, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye in Scotland, and, hilariously, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire in Ireland — but this is the only giallo I know of that was set (and shot) in Australia.

It actually took me awhile to figure out that the proceedings were set Down Under, because the dubbing includes primarily non-Australian accents, including Milland’s American banter and a number of Italian-accented police officers. This Italian-Spanish coproduction actually centers on a number of immigrants/foreigners to Australia: a retired American detective, a beautiful Dutch woman, and her Italian husband. Based on a famous Australian murder case — the death of Linda Agostini in Australia in 1934 — the film follows its source material surprisingly accurately and dispenses with the string of gory murders so popular in most giallo films and focuses on just one corpse.

In terms of ‘60s and ’70s films, it is actually difficult to describe the dividing line between a giallo film and simply an Italian murder mystery in general, but particularly when it comes to The Pyjama Girl Case. The film plays with some of the genre conventions, but abandons many: there is no black-gloved killer and only one murder instead of a series. However Mogherini does present a fresh spin on a beloved giallo trope — the foreigner vacationing or living in Italy who gets caught up in a crime — and the characters are depicted as being very lonely, isolated people. Other giallo elements appear, including incompetent police, a fairly lewd, gratuitous use of sex, elements of voyeurism, violence, and red herrings. For example, a woman insists that the burned girl is her daughter and provides some evidence, though Thompson soon begins to reveal this as an insurance fraud scheme. Sadly, the film never follows up with the questionable mother and her obviously missing daughter.

Depressing and abundantly morbid, The Pyjama Girl Case is surprisingly not packed with unlikable characters, as many giallo films are, but spends most of its running time breaking down flawed individuals trying to make the best of their lives. It’s really surprising to see Ray Milland here. He emphasizes the grimy one, as he looks exhausted and not overly thrilled about the proceedings. SPOILERS: Taking a page out of Psycho’s book, Milland is abruptly killed halfway through the film, right around the time that he has begun to really follow the killer’s trail. The absolutely beautiful Dalila Di Lazzaro (Flesh for Frankenstein, Phenomena) should have starred in a lot more giallo films, but is in fine form here and delivers some solid acting as Glenda, the film’s loose protagonist. It is unclear why the film follows her and I won’t ruin it for you here. I was expected a typical giallo-style twist, where one of the many men in her life turns out to be the killer, but Mogherini is far more clever than he first seems to be.

Keep your eyes peeled for a roster of genre favorites, including the always suspicious, creepy, and oversexed Howard Ross (New York Ripper, Behind Convent Walls) to Mel Ferrer. After a prolific career in American and British films of the ‘50s and ’60s like Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious and Powell and Pressburger’s Oh Rosalinda!, he inexplicably retired to European cult films like The Suspicious Death of a Minor, Eaten Alive!, and Nightmare City. Handsome Italian actor Michele Placido is convincing and sympathetic as Glenda’s jealous husband. Though he was in more mainstream than cult films, you might recognize him from giallo film Plot of Fear and Walerian Borowczyk’s Lulu (1980).

The Pyjama Girl Case is sadly underrated and deserved some renewed attention. Though gore fans will be disappointed, there are some notably unpleasant moments, including a later scene where a destitute Glenda is forced to prostitute herself and reluctantly accepts a particularly nauseating gang bang. And in an absolutely incredulous scene, the naked corpse is displayed in town behind a glass case (with what looks like a cloth bag over her burned, disfigured face) in the hopes that someone will recognize her. Instead of seeming like a sound method of detection and evidence gathering, it feels like a particularly morbid art exhibit or performance installation. Pick it up on DVD from Blue Underground and be sure to listen for an improbably electronic score from Riz Ortolani — with two songs sung by cult figure, model, and artist Amanda Lear (muse of Salvador Dali and Roxy Music). I would love to hear the story of how that collaboration came about.

Monday, June 15, 2015


Pupi Avati, 1976
Starring: Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavina, Vanna Busoni

“My colors run hot in my veins, they transcend me into darkness, they erase everything else. My colors will paint death clearly.”

An artist and art historian, Stefano, is sent to a rural village to restore the town’s church frescos. These turn out to be disturbing images of a tormented St. Sebastian painted by local legend Bruno Legnani, a mysterious figure who disappeared after some nasty rumors. Stefano attempts to learn more about Legnani, but the town soon turns against him — his friend is killed and Stefano is forced to move out of the hotel he was staying in. He takes lodging in an eerie old villa along with a beautiful new teacher, Francesca, who is helping him get to the bottom of things though it grows more dangerous for them both.

Director Pupi Avati is one of Italian cinema’s more unusual talents. In addition to co-writing the script for Pasolini’s Salo, Avati helmed The House with Laughing Windows and Zeder, something of a cross between thriller, sci-fi, and horror. The House with Laughing Windows was co-written by his brother, Antonio Avati, who also produced, and it is is one of the most unusual and effective horror films in the Italian canon. Though it is usually referred to as a giallo, the normal rules do not apply in this slow burning, dread inducing work, which has more in common with art-horror classics from the period like The Tenant, Mr. Klein, and Don’t Look Now

There are strong performances from most of the actors, particularly the handsome, earnest-looking Lino Capolicchio (The Bloodstained Shadow) in the starring role. The small town of The House with Laughing Windows is populated by inhabitants that belong in Twin Peaks, from the midget businessman to a woman who wanders around town obscured by a mourning veil, and another woman obsessed with collecting Legnani's paintings. Called the “painter of the agonies,” Legnani tortured and killed people (with the help of his two sisters) in order to use them as artistic models. Like several films that came before it — such as A Quiet Place in the Country (1968), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973), Deep Red (1975; Avati allegedly had a hand in its script), and even British film The Asphyx (1973) — this film is the culmination of one of giallo’s major themes: the intersection of death and violence with art. Avati arguably takes this further than even Argento, as Legnani does not just draw on past traumatic memories, fantasies of violence, or stories of real-life horror to inspire his art: he creates the horror himself and his memory lives on to possess the town.

With this eerie space, Avati evokes the memory of Italian fascism. The town is ripe with postwar decay and there is a building air of paranoia and conspiracy that is enhanced by more typical horror tropes like threatening phone calls, creaky old houses, and unexplainable deaths. It seems that wherever Stefano goes, someone unseen is watching him or eavesdropping. While rural settings are less common in giallo films (A Quiet Place in the Country is an early example that would make an excellent double feature with The House with Laughing Windows), pastoral setting is perfectly captured with lovely cinematography from Pasquale Rachini, who excels at poetically framed shots. 

The Gothic feel of the film — foggy streets and crumbling villas that wouldn’t be out of place in some of Mario Bava’s works — is augmented by a minimal, repetitive piano and organ score by Amedeo Tomassi. This music essentially underlines Avati's excellent use of silence and places a visual, aural, and thematic emphasis on absence throughout the film. Avati’s most unsettling element is also aural: a disturbing recording Stefano finds of Legnani discussing his art with an obvious mania. This is repeated throughout the film to great effect. 

Fans of bizarre, unusual horror will love this slow-burning and atmospheric masterpiece. It’s dizzying, disorienting, and may be too much for some viewers expecting a standard giallo. The wonderfully ambiguous, though shocking ending will probably delight fans of Lucio Fulci and it stands as a fitting conclusion to a murky film that examines the uncomfortable intersection between horror, pain, and art. Though it was unavailable or difficult to track down for many years, there's finally a region 1 DVD from Image's wonderful Euroshock collection with a decent print and an Italian language track with optional English subtitles. Avati directed mostly non-genre films, but his few horror contributions should be more enthusiastically explored by fans of European fantasy and horror cinema.

Friday, June 12, 2015

RIP Sir Christopher Lee

Yesterday I had a day of silence on my blog in the memory of Sir Christopher Lee, who passed away after 93 amazing years on Earth. I intended to write a memorial yesterday, but simply couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t already being said at an overwhelming pace online — in The Telegraph, The Independent, by a number of stars and directors, and even the Hindustan Times. And take a look at the portrait Mark Gatiss had commissioned of Lee.

Peter Jackson actually summarized Lee’s essence very well: “Christopher spoke seven languages; he was in every sense, a man of the world; well versed in art, politics, literature, history and science. He was scholar, a singer, an extraordinary raconteur and of course, a marvelous actor.” He starred in a James Bond film (The Man with the Golden Gun, one of my favorites) and was the cousin of Bond’s creator, writer Ian Fleming. He served bravely in WWII and hunted Nazis. He was distantly related to Charlemagne, upheld the spirit of old world European aristocracy, was knighted by the Queen, and released metal albums in his 80s. He got into a light saber fight with Yoda at age 79 where he apparently did his own stunts, acted in more than 200 films, modeled for Chanel, and was the only cast member of Lord of the Rings to have met J.R.R. Tolkien. He could even sing opera. And the list goes on.

I’m writing about him because of the deep and lasting impact he had on my childhood and teenage years. Along with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, Lee is part of the unholy trio of gentleman horror idols. They were great friends, all wonderful men, and were collectively responsible for some of the best horror films of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. (Coincidentally, all three men have overlapping birthdays with Cushing on May 26 and Price and Lee on May 27.) While Price passed in 1993 and Cushing died in 1994, Lee has kept the trio’s legacy alive for an additional 20 years.

Unlike Vincent Price, Lee professed a dislike for horror. Over the years he claimed that the horrors he witnessed during WWII numbed him to screen scares and he said that the reason he worked so tirelessly was to support his wife, Danish model Birgit Kroencke (of her, he said that the trick to a happy marriage is to “Marry someone wonderful, as I did”), and daughter. His unusual height of 6’5” and dark, stern if handsome looks are likely responsible for Lee’s frequent casting as villains and monsters. But despite it all, he always had a sense of style, grace, and intelligence.

As I’ve written about in the past, my role models, for whatever reason, tend to be gay or bisexual men. Undoubtedly, Lee ranks high among my heterosexual male role models and in many ways, i grew up thinking of him, Price, and Cushing, as paragons of masculinity. I spent hours watching their films in my youth and, in my early 30s, I continue to revisit their work every month. For example, just in the last two weeks, I’ve watched Lee in The Last Unicorn and Horror Express. Hercules in the Haunted World, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Dracula A.D. 1972 are among the films I watch every year. And, like Lee, I make it a point to re-read Lord of the Rings annually, or at least every two years.

Last July, a few days before my birthday, my grandfather passed away. He raised me and his influence was profound. His sense of manners, belief in human decency, and reliance on intelligence and rationality is something that seems to me to be part of a fading generation. In many ways, the passing of my grandfather, Leonard Nimoy in February of 2015, and now Lee feels like the ultimate dividing line between my youth and adulthood. Their generation is nearly gone and their loss reminds me — this is cliched but true — that time is bitterly limited. 

Not a single one of us is going to be as amazing or badass as Sir Lee, but we can all at least try a little harder to aspire to such towering heights of greatness. And when we miss him, as I do so much these last two days, we can always visit and re-visit his vast body of work. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been planning a comprehensive British horror series for my blog (some 150 films) and I will get started on that sooner, rather than later, to spend a little more time with some of my heroes. Today I’m consoling myself with some gems from his early years — The Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, Alias John Preston, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, Corridors of Blood, and The Hound of the Baskervilles — and I welcome you to watch along with me. If you have cable, follow TCM's upcoming memorial schedule.

Rest in peace, Sir. Your memory is cherished, you're more loved than you knew, and you will be missed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Andrea Bianchi, 1975
Starring: Solvi Stubing, Nino Castelnuovo, Edwige Fenech

After a young model dies during an illegal abortion, a murderer closes in on the Albatross Modeling Agency and begins picking off models and photographers alike. Carlo and his girlfriend Magda, both agency photographers, try to track down the killer before they become victims themselves. Unfortunately they have to contend with a number of suspicious personalities, including the predatory owner, her lascivious though impotent husband, and backstabbing models — plus it seems that everyone at the agency is having a secret affair. And every time they seem to hone in on a suspect, he or she is immediately killed.

Andrea Bianchi’s Strip Nude for Your Killer is an overtly sadistic, almost hilariously misogynistic example of a late period giallo film. While critics are generally divided on it, I find it to be a lot of fun. The film doesn’t do much to hide the identity of its killer — though I won’t give it away here — and a murderer disguised by motorcycle attire was also used in What Have They Done to Your Daughters? Strip Nude for Your Killer actually bears a few things in common with director Massimo Dallamano’s schoolgirl trilogy (What Have You Done to Solange?, What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, and Rings of Fear) in the sense that an abortion plays a central role (like Solange) and perverse sexuality oozes throughout the film.

The film’s incredibly sleazy characters include Patrizia, the agency owner, who is married to the pudgy, useless Maurizio for reasons never explained by the script. Both husband and wife aggressively pursue the same models, though Patrizia is more often successful and seems to have her pick of the newer models. The pathetic Maurizio attempts to seduce, cajole, buy off, and then rape a model who he manages to get alone. When she finally consents, mid-rape, he is unable to perform and either can’t sustain an erection or suffers from premature ejaculation. Soon after, he is dispatched by the killer while romancing a blow up doll.

And Carlo, the film’s hero — if he can be called that — is the biggest lout of them all. He brings new models into the business by seducing beautiful women, though he has a relationship with another photographer, Madga (the beautiful Edwige Fenech with uncharacteristically short hair). Carlo’s idea of a job interview is sex with a prospective model, and SPOILER, he is perhaps ironically the one responsible for the dead model’s pregnancy and subsequently lethal abortion. Amazingly, the film ends with Carlo and Magda in bed, speculating on the killer’s motives. In less than 30 seconds, he suggests an incestuous relationship between two of the other characters and then informs Magda that as birth control, they should engage in anal sex — the implied beginning of which closes the film.

The plot of Strip Nude for Your Killer is flimsy at best — it almost doesn’t matter what the murderer’s motivation is — and this is another rare case of a luridly titled giallo that delivers on its promises. There is a lot of nudity from both male and female characters, as well as plenty of depravity — almost so much so that the film borders on the farcical or comical at times. The male and female characters are shown on relatively equal terms, as exploited and exploiters, and the film’s sadism can be seen as a link from giallo films to the slasher that would emerge a few years later with Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). The murders are set up in somewhat of a stalk and slash fashion. Though there aren’t a lot of suspenseful chase sequences, the killer always manages to appear in pre- and post-coital moments when characters are nude or scantily clad.

Director Andrea Bianchi, writer Massimo Felisatti, and cinematographer Franco Delli Colli worked together several times over the years. Bianchi’s greatest film, and certainly is most well known, is the incredible Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981), while Delli Colli is known for everything from The Last Man on the Earth to Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!, What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, Macabre, Rats: Night of Terror, Ghosthouse, and more. Felisatti penned a handful of giallo films including The Weekend Murders and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. He allegedly didn’t want to be directly associated with Strip Nude for Your Killer and initial credit went directly to Bianchi.

Strip Nude for Your Killer is likely to offend some more PC film fans, but I found it to be incredibly fun — though admittedly I prefer my giallo films on the sleazy side. Amazingly, it was released on a very affordable Blu-ray from Blue Underground. It comes recommended, though probably not to giallo beginners. Fans of Edwige Fenech will definitely want to check this out; despite her demure bob and her character’s somewhat innocent personality, she spends much of her screen time scantily clad or in flagrante delicto.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Luigi Bazzoni, 1975
Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Klaus Kinski, Nicoletta Elmi

A translator named Alice is haunted by nightmares and memories of Footprints on the Moon, a film she saw as a child that follows astronauts stranded on the moon. She is soon fired from work after she completely misses three days. Unable to recall any events from this period, she follows the only clue she can find — a postcard from a resort town called Garma, located on a Croatian island. Once she arrives, a little girl mistakes her for another woman named Nicole and some of the other townsfolk also find her familiar or act strangely as she comes closer to discovering what she did during the three missing days.

Enigmatic giallo star Florinda Bolkan of Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Don’t Torture a Duckling, and Investigation of a Woman Above Suspicion gives one of her best performances here as the panicked, disoriented Alice. While the lost memory trope is fairly common in giallo and mystery films, it’s used exceptionally well here thanks to Bolkan’s lovely, if somewhat blank expression that lends itself well to confusion and paranoia. She’s joined by other giallo and cult film regulars, including Ida Galli (The Weekend Murders), Caterina Boratto (Salo, Danger: Diabolik), Lila Kedrova (The Tenant), Peter McEnery (Radley Metzger’s The Cat and the Canary), a brief appearance from Klaus Kinski as a demented scientist, and giallo’s most demented child actor, Nicoletta Elmi (Deep Red, Demons). 

Though a number of cult, horror, and giallo films are described as dreamlike, Footprints on the Moon is one of the best examples of this blend of the uncanny, nightmarish visions, dizzying logic, memory loss, and scant clues (a postcard and a yellow dress) that lead the protagonist to reconstruct the past. This investigation — which is peppered with science fiction, Cold War suspense, and personal trauma — is also a reconstruction of Alice’s identity. Unlike the standard giallo, there is no gratuitous sex or nudity, no string of attractive victims slain by a masked, black gloved killer and perhaps this is what makes it so compelling. While there are the same nonsensical leaps of logic and an almost mind-numbing number of red herrings, Footprints on the Moon came after the giallo boom — which lasted roughly from 1971 to 1973 — and is definitely not a film for someone looking for a good introduction to the genre.

Bazzoni manipulates nearly every standard giallo trope. The candy-colored visuals schemes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento are turned sickly and menacing here — strange blues stand in for nighttime shots and the beautiful natural environment becomes alien, likely a nod to the film’s lunar themes. These are worked into the scant plot brilliantly, as Alice is tormented by visions of a science fiction movie she was made to watch as a child. This ties in with her professional responsibilities as an adult — she was serving as a translator at an astronomy conference — and with the hint of abuse and trauma. In the film, a scientist (Klaus Kinski) observes coldly as astronauts are abandoned on the moon and left to suffocate to death.

There’s a chilling score from Nicola Piovani (The Perfume Of A Lady In Black) and some excellent cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Last Emperor, Last Tango in Paris), the latter of which is one of the film’s finest points. Director Luigi Bazzoni (Pride and Vengeance) doesn’t have a lot of films to his name, but he helmed the somewhat similar The Possessed, an early proto-giallo about a man who travels to an abandoned seaside town to find an old lover, and The Fifth Cord, about an alcoholic journalist who can’t remember the events of a party, after which someone was murdered. Bazzoni’s themes of memory loss, tormented love, abuse, murder, and fractured identities are some of the most compelling in all of giallo cinema and it’s a shame he didn’t make more of these.

Footprints on the Moon also juggles suggestions of drug addiction (Alice has began taking large doses of sleeping pills to help with her insomnia and nightmares), mental illness, and even espionage with her position as a translator at a major international science conference. Like many other giallo protagonists, Bolkan is an unreliable narrator, but Bazzoni does what few other giallo directors/writers are willing to do and bravely does not insist on explaining away everything at the film’s conclusion. Bolkan is also de-feminized — she has short hair, wears little or no make up, and has drab clothing — and is tormented by her unseen double, an eroticized version of Alice with dresses, long hair (revealed to be a wig that Alice becomes obsessed with), and a sex life. Like so many of the best giallo films, this sexual element is a source of anxiety, claustrophobia, and, eventually, violence.

Footprints on the Moon comes with the highest recommendation and it has fortunately been given an excellent DVD release by UK company Shameless. If you’re new to giallo films, this might not be the best place to start, but it is an excellent, one-of-a-kind film. I’ve seen it compared to L’Avventura — as is Bazzoni’s The Possessed — and it’s certainly more like Antonioni’s film than it is any other giallo film with the possible exception of other strange cases like Autopsy, The House with Laughing Windows, The Perfume of the Lady in Black, and Death Smiles on a Murderer (which also features Kinski as a demented scientist) — all some of my favorite films of the ‘70s.

Friday, June 5, 2015


Massimo Dallamano, 1974
Starring: Giovanna Ralli, Claudio Cassinelli, Farley Granger, Mario Adorf

When a teenage girl is found hanging in a seedy room, investigators discover that it is a murder — not a suicide — and that she and her classmates are part of a prostitution ring where powerful men prey upon them. Vittoria, a new female Assistant District Attorney, is determined to get to the bottom of the case with the help of a hard-headed cop and a frustrated inspector. After an autopsy, they learn that the hanging victim had semen in every possible orifice, and she was pregnant, so they begin to hone in on a number of viable suspects, including a Peeping Tom photographer, a suspicious boyfriend, overbearing parents, and more.

The second film in Massimo Dallamano’s loose giallo trilogy, this follows What Have You Done to Solange? Unfortunately Dallamano died in a car accident in 1976, so director Alberto Negrin helmed the third film in the series, Rings of Fear (1978). All three films are essentially about teenage prostitution and a ring of murders meant to cover up evidence. Despite not showing extended scenes of sex or nudity, all three of these films — particularly Dallamano’s first two — are incredibly sleazy. They’re also loosely similar to other giallo films where children or innocent victims are at stake, such as Death Occurred Last Night and, even more distantly, Don’t Torture a Duckling. Along with themes of rape and the enforced prostitution of underaged school girls, an autopsy finds that the first victim’s stomach, vagina, and anus contain semen — plus she was pregnant. The film’s most chilling moment includes an eerie shot of a flophouse bathroom covered in blood, indicating that there was at least one prior victim who met a particularly grisly end.

Despite this, the film is surprisingly not as exploitative of its female characters as I would have expected. In terms of sexual content, the most unpleasant scene involves an audio recording of a client forcing himself upon some of the young girls. While what’s occurring is clearly established through dialogue, much is left up to the imagination. The bodies here are mostly male with plenty of over-the-top violence, including such gory scenes as a decapitation, a cut off hand, a dismembered body arranged like a jig-saw puzzle on a morgue table, and a head split by a meat clever, which is the killer’s weapon of choice. This blend of giallo and poliziotteschi includes a number of thrilling chase sequences, including a car and motorcycle action sequence — the killer remains anonymous by donning a black leather biking jumpsuit and a black helmet — and one excellent scene where Vittoria is chased through an underground garage and barely escapes the killer. His meat clever misses her head by only a few inches.

Also known as The Coed Murders and literally translated as The Police Want Help, the poliziotteschi elements of What Have They Done to Your Daughters? are somewhat of a hindrance to the film. It does suffer from some dull investigation scenes and the biggest issue with the film is that the investigation and detective work basically result in nothing and the events unfold through a series of coincidence and dumb luck. The culmination of this is that the ending is wholly disappointing. SPOILERS: The organizer of the prostitution ring commits suicide and his assassin is never given a motivating factor for why he feels the need to continue killing, so there is the sense that justice is never satisfied. Unlike a standard giallo film, the killer is a person completely unknown to us, rather than being one of the already established characters.

With that said, the film comes recommended and it’s one of the better later entries. The set moves away from Solange’s London setting to the lovely Lombardy with some solid cinematography Franco Delli Colli (The Last Man on Earth, Rats: Night of Terror) and a catchy score from Stelvio Cipriani. Keep an eye out for cult film regulars like Claudio Cassinell (Mountain of the Cannibal God) as the tough-guy cop, Swiss actor Mario Adorf (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Fassbinder’s Lola) as a detective, Cheryl Lee Buchanan (Zombi Holocaust), and Marina Berti (Night Train Murders). American actor Farley Granger — seen in giallo films like Amuck, The Red Headed Corpse, and So Sweet, So Dead — is sadly underused here and really deserves more screen time.

Overall, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is a solid cross between the giallo and poliziotteschi subgenres. It’s sleazy without being too in-your-face with its offensive qualities and is something of a precursor to writer Ettore Sanzò’s later film, Night Train Murders. This makes a great triple feature with What Have You Done to Solange? and Ring of Fear and I recommend picking it up on DVD, at least until someone releases a Blu-ray box set with all three films.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Duccio Tessari, 1974
Starring: Luc Merenda, Senta Berger, Umberto Orsini, Anita Strindberg, Bruno Corazzari, Rosario Borelli

Peter has lost his memory in a car accident in London and a doctor is helping him to recover. He comes to find out that his real name is Edward and a man is on his trail and is threatening his life over missing money and drugs. Peter/Ted returns to a rural Italian town to track down his wife, Sara, who still loves him but is attempting to move on with her life, as his past as a liar and con artist concealed other nefarious behavior she only guessed at. It seems the new Ted wants to genuinely reconcile with Sara and promises to put things right before both their lives are at stake. But has he genuinely lost his memory or is he part of some conspiracy?

Written by giallo master Ernesto Gastaldi and directed by underrated Italian cult director Duccio Tessari, Puzzle — also known as Man Without a Memory — is an enjoyable film that skips some of the more common giallo characteristics. This is more of a mystery than a Blood and Black Lace-style slasher precursor, there is no black-gloved killer picking off attractive young women, and there is basically no sex or nudity. This flawed but entertaining entry is certainly one of the more underrated mid-period giallo films and it borrows a bit from Italian crime films as a rural resort town is transformed into a place of menace and violence (though admittedly not as effectively as an earlier crime/noir film like Brighton Rock). There are some nice set pieces even if it isn’t a particularly stylish example of the genre, and this is probably the only giallo that features a fight with a chainsaw — a fight between the killer and a victorious female protagonist. Despite its overall tamer tone, the film has some surprisingly violent and suspenseful moments, even if the overall plot is somewhat cheesy.

The concept of a man with amnesia is a compelling and oft-use crime/suspense plot device, one that I am admittedly a sucker for — but has Ted really lost his memory, or is he making it all up? Incredibly bland giallo and crime film regular Luc Merenda (The Violent Professionals, Torso, A Man Called Magnum) stars and though I normally am not a fan, he’s effective here because his character is written to be ambiguous, even sphinx-like. Though this film isn’t particularly sleazy — for instance, it has nothing on Tessari’s superior other giallo film, The Bloodstained Butterfly — Merenda’s character is introduced as a good-for-nothing con-man. Though it isn’t outright described what he has done, Gastaldi’s script gives a good indiction that he’s guilty of a full spectrum of crimes and/or sins. The real crux of the story is whether or not Ted will reunite with his wife and if he will turn out to be the good guy she believes he is — next to this, the crime plot  seems to just be going through the motions. Sara (prolific Austrian actress Senta Berger of Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace) is Puzzle’s only fully realized character. The main benefit to this is that it allows for dual protagonists — Sara and Ted — which keeps Ted ambiguous till the ending and still gives full expression to Sarah’s hurt and paranoia.

The side characters (not that there are very many of them) are all generally silly or annoying, including Death Rides a Horse’s Bruno Corazzari as would-be threatening muscle, alluring giallo regular Anita Stringberg, and child actor Duilio Crucieni (Don’t Torture a Duckling). I typically hate kid actors in Eurocult movies — and most other type sod films — and the character of Luca is no exception. His gag is that he acts like he has a crush on Sarah and they will soon be married. The annoying elements are balanced by some nice suspenseful moments. SPOILERS: The film’s best involves a false broken leg — Sarah’s — that is the storage for some missing heroin, though Sarah herself takes some time to realize it.

Puzzle will probably disappoint anyone looking for a more straightforward giallo replete with genre trappings and a jazzy sense of style, but fans of quieter suspense fare will find a lot to love. Overall, I prefer Tessari’s first giallo film, The Bloodstained Butterfly, but Puzzle is plenty entertaining and has some solid scenes, including the aforementioned chainsaw duel. Unfortunately I don’t believe this film has a US release and the region 2 disc from Another World Entertainment is sort of difficult to track down. If you’re savvy enough, you’ll be able to find the film online — it’s definitely worth the search.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Francesco Barilli, 1974
Starring: Mimsy Farmer, Maurizio Bonuglia, Aldo Valletti, Donna Jordan

Sylvia’s life is beginning to unravel. After she sees a picture from her childhood and is forced by her friends to sit through a séance, memories from her childhood begin to haunt her. She sees the ghost of her mother in her bedroom mirror, a woman in black applying perfume. Is she losing her mind or is she the victim of a conspiracy? Those around her, including the infirm neighbor in her apartment building, another neighbor who claims to be her friend, and Sylvia’s demanding boyfriend all begin to act strangely towards her. Just as her paranoia and suspicion grows, a sinister man from her childhood starts following her around and a young blonde girl comes to visit one night. What is going on in Sylvia’s life?

This neglected Italian film is only loosely a giallo and delves far more deeply into the category of psychological horror. As with Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of theDark, the central plot revolves around a woman who may be losing her mind or who may be the victim of a cruel conspiracy involving those closest to her. As with ‘70s horror films like All the Colors of the Dark, The Corruption ofChris Miller, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, this is largely concerned with the effects of a past trauma on a woman’s adult life. Sylvia’s father drowned, her mother was raped, and later died suspiciously (she possibly committed suicide). Sylvia was likely abused by her mother’s aggressive lover. A photograph kicks off painful memories of the past and soon she begins to smell her mother’s perfume, which triggers her psychosis.

There are dream sequences (it is impossible to tell whether these are waking hallucinations or actual dreams), lapses in time, a hint of the ghostly and the supernatural, and a double: Sylvia’s younger self who comes to play. It’s impossible to concisely describe this film, though you will absolutely love it if you enjoy the works of David Lynch, surreal giallo or Italian horror films like Don’t Look Now, Lisa and the Devil, Short Night of Glass Dolls, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, KillBaby Kill, All the Colors of the Dark, and House with the Laughing Windows, or Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno, though it is probably most like a blend of Roman Polanski’s Apartment trilogy (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Tenant).

Stylish and disturbingly poetic, the film greatly benefits from Nicola Piovani’s impressive, melancholic score. There’s some lovely cinematography from Mario Masini that seems to have been somewhat influenced by Mario Bava, though perhaps that sort of comparison is inevitable. The film also benefits from some solid performances, namely from its lead. Mimsy Farmer (Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Autopsy) is excellent here as Sylvia, appearing in nearly every frame and running through the gamut of an unhinged female victim type: vapid, blank, confused, terrified, disoriented, reactionary, sympathetic, sexual, violent, etc. While she’s not the most memorable actress in Italian cinema, she’s perfect for this role. Farmer is American born, though most of her major performances were in European films. Ironically her nickname, Mimsy (her real first name is Merle) is from a line in Lewis Carroll’s Jaberwocky. The young Sylvia has a strong resemblance to Alice of Alice in Wonderland and the two Sylvias later reenact the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

The Perfume of the Woman in Black isn’t a perfect film and it won’t please everyone. It gets off to a slow start and builds carefully. The plot is frequently confused, turns in upon itself, and stumbles on a few early non-sequitors that don’t lead anywhere, but add to the disorienting, threatening mood. Examples of this are the scene where they discuss the presence of magic and witchdoctors in Africa, and when Sylvia cuts her finger on a tennis racket and her friend erotically sucks the blood off of her hand, to her disgust. What would feel like a normal scene – or most likely filler – in another film, has a menacing, unpredictable quality here.

The Perfume of the Woman in Black has been released on DVD from Raro Video, another in their increasingly impressive catalogue. I believe they also have plans to release it on Blu-ray at some point. The film comes highly recommended. It is far from predictable and is perfectly suited for multiple viewings.