‘From the day of our celestial marriage, you belonged to me.’
An architect charged with promoting an apartment block offers one of the flats to two young models after the tenant is murdered. One of them has recently escaped a sex cult but suspects the leader has tracked her down. The building has already been the scene of two recent murders, and she begins to fear that she will be the third victim…
Awkward Giallo misfire from Spaghetti Western director Giuliano Carnimeo and veteran screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. The latter reunites with leads Edwige Fenech and George Hilton from ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1971), but, sadly, lightning doesn’t strike twice.
After fleeing a sex cult led by her ‘celestial husband’ Adam (Ben Carra), Jennifer Lansbury (Fenech) has found work as a photographer’s model, along with her friend Marilyn Ricci (Paola Quattrini). When she’s working one day at the studio of shutterbug Arthur (Oreste Lionello), in walks the handsome Andrea Antinori (Hilton). He’s an architect working for a company that owns a luxury apartment block. As the building has been the site of a recent murder, Hilton has been charged with promoting the property, and he’s interested in using nightclub performer and part-time model Mizar Harrington (Carla Brait).
Unfortunately for her, Barit lives in the apartment block in question and turns up dead in her bathtub that same night. With an eye on Fenech, Hilton offers the two girls a cut-price deal on Brait’s flat, and the friends move in. But, even as Hilton and Fenech become romantically involved, Carra reappears in her life, demanding that she rejoin his cult. When Fenech is threatened one night by a masked figure dressed in black, Carra is the obvious suspect, but could the culprit be closer to home?
Living next door is amorous lesbian Sheila Heindricks (Annabella Incontrera) and her violin-playing father, Professor Isaacs (George Rigaud). Just down the hall is straight-laced prude Mrs Moss (Maria Tedeschi), whose tastes in reading matter run to gory horror comics. Everyone is under scrutiny from stamp collecting Police Commissioner Enci (Giampiero Albertini) and his bumbling sidekick Assistant Commissioner Renzi (Franco Agostini).
Given such a rogue’s gallery of suspects and characters, it might appear that there’s plenty of potential for an engaging mystery here. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The problem is credibility. Leaving aside some plot contrivance and coincidences, the characters’ behaviour fails to ground the drama in a believable reality. After all, there’s a serial killer on the loose, but policeman Albertini is more interested in his stamp collection than finding the killer. His assistant Agostini is some stupid that he could never have passed the force’s entrance exam, let alone make detective. The worst offender, though, is Quattrini’s ‘best friend’ who constantly makes fun of Fenech’s (legitimate) fears and thinks it’s a laugh to fake her own drowning in the bathtub where Brait met her end. Of course, this is supposed to be comedic, but with Fenech and Hilton playing it as a drama, it doesn’t work.
It was a bad day at the office for screenwriter, and occasional director, Ernesto Gastaldi, who was responsible for some of the key examples of the Giallo sub-genre. His stories were usually fine examples of inventive plotting, with story developments often being unexpected and character-driven. Unfortunately, motivations get short shrift, and the characters are merely one-note cyphers; the girl in peril, the kooky best friend, the handsome hero, the predatory lesbian, the gay photographer, the nosey neighbour, and the dogged police inspector and his comedy sidekick. Actually, it’s tempting to speculate that Gastaldi intended the script as a satire of the Giallo but that no one else involved was in on the joke.
Having said all that, there are some compelling moments. The opening murder in the elevator is appropriately claustrophobic, and another highlight is a stabbing on a crowded street. As the victim staggers around bleeding out, the self-involved passersby ignore her, utterly oblivious to her obvious distress. Some commentators have called out the sequence as silly, but, again, it was possibly intended as a mixture of social commentary and black comedy, and it works on those levels. The pacing is uneven at best, but director Carnimeo and cinematographer Stelvio Massi create some memorable setups and images, although these tend to be in the conversational and quieter moments rather than in the action sequences. However, there’s also an unfortunate tendency toward outlandish camera movement with no purpose, and the zoom shots quickly lose effectiveness due to overuse.
The cast is professional enough but can’t do much with such underwritten characters. Hilton is given a phobia of blood (satire again?), linked to the usual childhood trauma. However, the reveal is shoehorned in at the last moment, almost as an afterthought. Fenech could play the damsel in distress in her sleep, although she is allowed a couple of moments to express her contempt for the ineffectual Albertini and his useless investigation, which she handles well. There’s also a striking appearance by Brait, whose nightclub act involves inviting patrons to have sex with her and then beating them up when they try. Not coming to a network TV talent show any time soon, but hardly surprising when you consider that the owner of the sleazy establishment is none other than ubiquitous cult movie character actor Luciano Pigozzi, adding another face to his seemingly endless gallery of creeps and perverts!
Carnimeo, credited under his usual pseudonym of Anthony Ascott, rose to prominence in the mid-1960s due to his work in Spaghetti Westerns, hitting paydirt with ‘I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death/Sono Sartana, il vostro becchino’ (1969). A further three entries in the series followed, with Hilton taking over the title role for ‘Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin/C’è Sartana… vendi la pistola e comprati la bara!’ (1970) before it passed on to Gianni Garko. Hilton and Garko alternated as leading men for Carnimeo on several similar projects until the Spaghetti Western craze began losing steam in the mid-1970s. Along the way, the director also reunited with Fenech for the unsatisfying crime drama ‘Anna: The Pleasure, the Torment/Anna, quel particolare piacere’ (1973). In the following decade, he made an undistinguished visit to the post-apocalyptic wastelands with ‘The Exterminators of the Year 3000/Il giustiziere della strada’ (1983), and his penultimate film was bizarre horror ‘Rat Man/Quella villa in fondo al parco’ (1988).
A disappointing entry that never gels into a compelling thriller.