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.