Naked Girl Murdered in the Park/Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco (1972)

‘I couldn’t find my smoking dentures.’

A businessman is murdered at an amusement park in the afternoon. The police think it’s a robbery gone wrong, but the insurance company aren’t so convinced, especially considering the victim took out an expensive policy earlier the same day…

Rather curious Giallo from director Alfonso Brescia that often has the feel of an old-fashioned Agatha Christie murder-mystery. Austrian actor Robert Hoffmann leads the action with the reliable support of the ubiquitous Adolfo Cell.

Berlin 1945: in the retreat from the Allies, a Nazi officer flees with a teenage girl, leaving her mother and young brother to die. Twenty-seven years later, in Madrid, respected businessman Johannes Wallenberger is found dead in the ‘Tunnel of Horrors’, a fairground ride at a popular amusement park. Inspector Huber (Celi) favours the theory that it’s a robbery gone south. However, the dead man was carrying a considerable sum of money, and his visit to Luna Park in the middle of the day was out of character.

Insurance Company supremo Losel (Tomás Blanco) is even less inclined to believe a random robbery, given that the man had taken out a multi-million dollar life insurance policy a few hours earlier. He assigns his top investigator Chris Buyer (Hoffmann), to get close to the family over the objections of antagonistic colleague Martin (Philippe Leroy). Going undercover to romance pretty daughter Catherine (Pilar Velázquez), Hoffmann eventually gets invited to spend the weekend at the family mansion.

Brescia’s thriller begins promisingly with a pre-credit sequence set during the fall of Berlin at the end of the Second World War. A young mother and son watch helplessly as a Nazi soldier sets a bomb in their home and absconds with the family’s teenage daughter. This dialogue-free scene is shot in black and white and mixed with relevant stock footage, and it’s an intriguing way to kick things off. Some sources credit Giallo veteran Rosalba Neri playing the uncredited role of the mother, but although there is a physical resemblance, it’s likely to be a misidentification. The opening credits follow, scored with an impressive piano-based theme by Carlo Savina.

Flashing forward to Madrid in 1972, Brescia presents some surreal images of skeletons floating in darkness inside the ‘Tunnel of Horrors’ before the old man’s corpse emerges into the daylight, lying across one of the cars. All this is quite a striking way to open proceedings. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, with neither the cast nor director able to strike any sparks from the rather listless, undeveloped story.

Hoffmann’s insurance agent is a big part of the problem. His fencing with old sparring partner Celi is half-heated at best, and the character is resolutely unsympathetic. He dallies with amusement park waitress Ursy (Teresa Gimpera) and even beds Velázquez’s promiscuous sister, Barbara (Patrizia Adiutori). At one stage, it even looks like he’s set his sights on her mother, Magda (Irina Demick). It’s all in the cause of his mission, of course, and his behaviour makes sense in the story’s broader context. However, the actor gives too bland a performance to sell the drama in an effective way.

Pacing is also an issue, with matter slowing to a crawl once Hoffmann joins the family for the weekend. The household has the usual roster of suspicious servants; sinister butler Bruno (Franco Ressel), curt maid Sybil (María Vico) and strapping stablehand Günther (Howard Ross), who’s lusting after Adiutori. Here, the film drifts into ‘Old Dark House’ territory, with such well-worn cliches as the ‘family portrait’, the ‘locked room’ and a sudden ‘lights out’ that prompts an unfortunate trip to the fusebox.

These shortcomings are mitigated somewhat by the big reveal of the killer’s identity. It’s a genuine surprise, even if it creates some plot holes better left unexamined. Unfortunately, Bresica also muffs it, tagging on an action climax featuring characters largely peripheral to that point. It clarifies some plot points, but it’s an odd choice, to say the least, and one that makes for an unsatisfying finish. It’s also a very flat visual experience, and Bresica fails to inject the drama with any real urgency. Savina also opts for the easy way out, favouring the kind of wordless girlie chorus that has graced many a sub-Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

The brightest elements are the performances of Demick and Adiutori. Neither character is precisely nuanced, but there’s some fun to be had from both, with Adiutori’s endless flirting and sarcasm providing the breezier moments that the film so desperately needs. Demick is also entertaining as the semi-unhinged Magda, whose odd behaviour seems initially triggered by grief until it becomes clear that she’s probably always been a few sandwiches short of a buffet.

Hoffmann was born in Salzburg and studied acting in Paris, getting his big break in the title role of the TV show ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’ in 1964. Filmed in French, it was dubbed into English and became a staple of children’s programming in the UK over the next ten years, usually shown in the mornings during holidays. Some leads in adventure and crime films followed before he starred alongside Edward G Robinson, Janet Leigh and Klaus Kinski in the multi-national caper movie ‘Grand Slam’ (1967). His first brush with Giallo was the excellent ‘A Black Veil For Lisa/La Morte Non Ha Sesso’ (1968), followed by the considerably less impressive ‘The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili/Carnal Circuit’ (1969). Later, he starred in ‘Spasmo’ (1974) for director Umberto Lenzi and appeared in science-fiction disappointment ‘Eyes Behind the Stars/Occhi dalle stelle’ (1978). His workmate dropped off in the mid-1980s, but there was still time for a couple of appearances on US Network TV soap opera juggernaut ‘Dallas’. His last screen appearance was in 2004, and he passed away in 2022.

A somewhat sluggish and disappointing entry.

Eye in the Labyrinth/L’occhio nel labirinto (1972)

‘There was something devilish about him, maybe because he was a psychiatrist.’

A young woman embarks on a journey to track down her friend, a doctor, who has apparently vanished. The trail leads to a remote lakeside community and a villa occupied by various artists. All of them claim never to have seen her friend, but she soon has good reason to think otherwise…

Slow burn Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Mario Caiano that was a co-production between Italy and West Germany. Famous faces Alida Valli and Bond villain Adolfo Celo grace the cast, and a story that places a naive protagonist at the mercy of a rogue’s gallery of questionable characters.

When her boyfriend, Dr Luca (Horst Frank), fails to show up at his office after a short trip, Julie (Rosemary Dexter) is concerned. A note in his diary suggests that he may have gone to a remote lake, so she follows and starts asking questions around the local area. She’s given a lead by a mysterious man named Antonio (Gaetano Donati), who takes her to a ruined building, claiming someone lives there who can help. But it’s deserted, and part of the structure falls, almost killing her.

A friendlier local named Frank (Adolfo Celi) suggests she try her luck at the isolated villa owned by middle-aged millionairess Gerda (an intense Alida Valli). This house has a seemingly permanent population of oddballs and idlers. There’s Eugene (Franco Ressel), who obsessively records everyday conversations on a tape machine and Toni (Sybil Danning), who takes photographs of feet. Theatrical double act Thomas and Corrine (Gigi Rizzi and Peter Kranz) have a big, personal secret, and handsome toyboy Louis (Michael Maien) spends his nights in Valli’s bed. Dexter is keen to move on with her search, but Celi suggests that their sworn ignorance about the good doctor may not be the entire truth.

Director Mario Caiano starts his film with an impressive sequence. A man in black flees down empty passages of white stone, apparently pursued by a killer. Extreme camera angles and lighting combine to deliver a sense of hyper-reality and disorientation. When Dexter wakes up, it’s revealed as only a nightmare, but it’s only the beginning. She remains off-balance throughout the entire story, placing her trust in the wrong people and persistently ignoring some pretty obvious red flags. The character is not likeable or sympathetic, and when she finally takes action, she makes bad choices. It’s a testament to DeXter’s clever and skilful performance that the audience stays engaged and on her side.

The solution to the mystery makes sense, but Caiaino has dropped a few too many clues on the way, and certain aspects are a little difficult to swallow. The problems revolve mainly around the involvement of Saro (Benjamin Lev), an adolescent artist who lives at the orphanage run by Celi’s mistress (Elisa Mainardi). His behaviour makes little sense, given his possession of the solution to the mystery. Still, his eventual fate does make for the film’s standout scene.

Gorehounds and those looking for an escalating body count are likely to be disappointed here, with Caiano’s focusing more on the psychological and mystery elements than horror. There are also few visual flourishes after Dexter’s opening nightmare, and little extravagance elsewhere, aside from the overstated score by Roberto Nicolosi. His music does work well at times, creating some unsettling moments, but at others, it’s merely an unfortunate distraction. The cast is good across the board, with Dexter showing up well against the more seasoned principals. Celi was an expert in playing outwardly friendly characters with a barely concealed sinister edge, and it’s good to see him go up against Valli as the manipulative Gerda. Ressel scores as the creepy Eugene in support, and Danning is fine in an early role, although there’s little sign of the tough persona she would bring to so many ‘B’ movies in the era of video home rental.

Caiano was a journeyman director whose career mirrored many other craftsmen in the Italian film industry in the latter half of the 20th Century. He began in the ‘sword and sandal’ arena with entries such as ‘Ulisse contro Ercole/Ulysses vs Hercules/Ulysses Against Hercules’ (1962) and ‘Goliath and the Rebel Slave/Goliath e la schiava ribelle/The Tyrant of Lydia Against the Son of Hercules/Arrow of the Avenger’ (1963). He also tried his hand at both the gothic horror with ‘Nightmare Castle/Amanti d’oltretomba/The Faceless Monster’ (1965) and the Eurospy with ‘Spies Strike Silently/Le Spie Uccidono In Silenzio’ (1966). Perhaps he was best known for a series of Spaghetti Westerns, though, material for which he showed more affinity, particularly with action scenes such as the excellent climax to ‘A Coffin for the Sheriff/Una bara per lo sceriffo/Lone and Angry Man’ (1965). Along with many others, he was working almost exclusively in television by the 1980s as the domestic film industry wrestled with serious financial problems.

Valli was born into the nobility in 1921 and was of Austrian, Italian and Slovenian descent, although she always identified as Italian. After a short spell in acting school, she was on the screen at age 15 and scored her first significant success in the comedy ‘Mille lire al mese’ (1939). Breaking into more dramatic roles with her award-winning performance in ‘Piccolo mondo antico’ (1941), she was brought to Hollywood after the war by famous producer David O. Selznick. Her career never really took off in America, although she was unforgettable as the haunted Anna Schmidt in Carol Reed’s iconic ‘The Third Man’ (1949). Back in Europe, she enjoyed great success in Luchino Visconti’s ‘Senso’ (1954) and Georges Franju’s superb ‘Eyes Without a Face/Les yeux sans visage’ (1960), among many other prestigious projects. In later years, she appeared in Mario Bava’s ‘Lisa and the Devil/El diablo se lleva a los muertos’ (1974) and the Dario Argento classic ‘Suspiria’ (1977).

Solid, professional Giallo with a few interesting elements.

Who Saw Her Die?/Chi l’ha vista morire? (1972)

‘If you can’t play ping pong, don’t get mixed up in politics.’

France, 1968: a young girl is brutally murdered while playing in the woods, and the killer is never caught. Four years later, another girl goes missing in Venice, and her body is found floating in one of the canals. Unimpressed with the police investigation, the grieving father begins his own quest for justice…

Intriguing Giallo thriller co-written and directed by Aldo Lado that stars one-time James Bond, George Lazenby. This was an Italian-West German co-production with some interiors shot at a studio in Rome but with extensive location work in Venice.

Sculptor Franco Serpieri (Lazenby) has his troubles. Although his work is selling, thanks to powerful art dealer Serafian (Adolfo Celi), his marriage is another matter. When his young daughter Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi) visits him in Venice, his wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg) stays behind in London. The arrangement has its upside, as it allows him to carry on cheating with Celi’s beautiful assistant Ginevra Storelli (Dominique Boschero). However, he’s not too keen on getting a divorce so he can marry her.

The bright and friendly Elmi is soon having a wonderful time on her Venetian holiday, making friends with a group of local children. One evening, after finishing his work for the day, Lazenby realises that she’s not come home and he can’t find her anywhere. The next day the police are fishing her dead body out of the water. Strindberg flies in from London for the funeral, and the couple tries to reconnect as the official investigation flounders. When journalist friend Cuman (Piero Vida) recalls a previous case with similarities, Lazenby begins following up on the clues himself, ultimately placing everyone in danger.

There are some definite positives surrounding Lado’s serial killer Giallo. There’s the stunning Venetian locations, a simple and effective setup and a highly capable and committed cast to articulate the drama. Lazenby reportedly lost 35 pounds for his role and is almost unrecognisable from his 007 days behind a drooping moustache and long hair. There are also plenty of suspects in the frame as the possible killer. Celi, Vida and Boschero are joined on the list by arrogant dilettante Philip Vernon (Peter Chatel), unsavoury lawyer Bonaiuti (José Quaglio), local priest Father James (Alessandro Haber) and a strange young man who walks about on crutches.

Unfortunately, Lado’s film comes up a little short. Most of the problems come with a lack of story detail. Understandably, Lado wants to centre the drama on Lazenby, but the audience gets almost no information regarding the official investigation beng conducted by Police Commissioner De Donato (Sandro Grinfan), not even the official cause of Elmi’s death. For a long while, the many facets of the mystery are pleasingly baffling. Boschero is surprisingly wealthy for an art dealer’s assistant; Quaglio knew the family of the previous victim, and Celi’s business dealings are obscure and suspect. But most of these matters are wrapped up in the hurried, almost sloppy, last few minutes, and the killer’s motivations are left vague and unaddressed.

This lack of a fully-realised scenario really hurts the film. There are even some elements that seem poorly conceived. Why open with the murder in the snowy French woods? Yes, it’s an impressive scene and establishes that we have a killer who targets young girls, but it’s never mentioned again. The previous murder linked to Elmi’s case that Lazenby investigates was of a different child in Venice, and that killing isn’t shown. Lazenby and the audience don’t find out all that much more about it anyway.

These flaws are frustrating because Lado manages some highly effective sequences. There’s strangulation from behind in the front row of a darkened cinema, a killing where birds are let loose from their cage by accident, the local children forming a circle around Elmi and singing her a creepy nursery rhyme about death. There’s also an impressive score from maestro Ennio Morricone that combines music with the wordless vocalisations of regular collaborator Edda Dell’Orso to a very unsettling effect. Lado also makes excellent use of some of the derelict locations. However, it’s fair to say that he can’t conjure up the city’s timeless, nightmarish quality evoked by director Nicolas Roeg for his iconic horror mystery ‘Don’t Look Now (1973).

Performances are strong across the board, too. However, Strindberg is under-used, and there isn’t enough time to explore the dynamics between her character and Lazenby’s less than committed artist. The father-daughter relationship is far more substantial, thanks to the natural screen chemistry between Lazenby and Elmi, which helps the audience invest in his subsequent investigation into her murder. The supporting cast is also up to the task, with Quaglio particularly notable as the seedy attorney.

Australian Lazenby was plucked from obscurity by producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to replace Sean Connery as Agent 007 in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969). Despite failing to match the worldwide gross of some of the previous entries in the series, the film was a huge box-office hit, and it was intended for Lazenby to reprise the role. Unfortunately, his onset behaviour rankled Broccoli, and the actor was unhappy with his contract and unconvinced of the franchise’s long-term potential. A parting of the ways followed. Subsequently, Lazenby played the lead in Cy Endfield’s ‘Universal Solider’ (1971) before linking up with Lado in Venice. Afterwards, he mainly appeared on television, with the occasional big screen role such as Jim Kelly’s boss in Al Adamson’s low-budget martial-arts adventure ‘Death Dimension’ (1978). At the time of writing, he is filming zombie horror ‘Z Dead End’ (2023), playing the US President.

A solid Giallo with some highly admirable aspects, which unfortunately throw the story deficiencies into greater relief.

Who Killed the Prosecutor and Why?/Terza ipotesi su un caso di perfetta strategia criminale (1972)

‘I hope you can explain to me this absurd farce.’

A young couple on a remote beach witness the murder of a government official. The man takes photographs of the incident, but instead of taking them to the police, he decides to offer them to the highest bidder…

Severely undernourished thriller from director Giuseppe Vari mixing organised crime with a touch of the Giallo. The idea has possibilities, but the results are half-baked at best.

Photographer Carlo (Lou Castel) and girlfriend Olga (Beba Lončar) are enjoying an impromptu fashion shoot on a lonely stretch of seashore. Matters have progressed toward the intimate by the time they notice the arrival of two cars. A pair of thugs manhandle the unconscious body of another man into the first car, run it up against a parked steamroller, douse it with petrol and set it on fire. Castel takes photos of the whole thing, capturing what turns out to be the murder of a state prosecutor. Rather than contact investigating detective, Inspector Vezzi (Adolfo Celi), Castel decides to cash in on his luck.

The young photographer has links to local organised crime boss Don Salvatore (Fortunato Arena) through pornographer Uncle Fifi (Massimo Serato). Believing the killing to be a mob hit, he offers the pictures to Arena, but the kingpin is not interested in making a deal. So Castel arranges a payoff from journalist Roversi (Carlo Landa), but a mysterious figure kills the newspaperman shortly after he gets the pictures. Landa’s editor Mauri (Antonio La Raina) teams up with Celi to trap the killer, avenge his colleague and solve the case.

Given the unusual title, this project may have been conceived in the spirit of Elio Petri’s internationally acclaimed ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion/Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto’ (1970). There are passing suggestions of high-level police corruption and links between organised crime and the political machine. However, these themes are far too underdeveloped to be taken seriously and what remains is a doodle of a whodunnit driven by the photographs that act as the film’s MacGuffin.

It’s a curious picture because it is professionally made but seems to be suffering from a strange malaise in all the fundamental creative areas. It’s almost as if everyone turned up on the first day of shooting and simply decided to go through the motions rather than make any significant effort. It doesn’t help that Thomas Lang’s screenplay is thin on incident and plot, but it’s not a completely lost cause, so much of the blame has to fall on Vari’s sluggish, offhand direction. The film seems relentlessly padded, even at under 90 minutes, and the dutch camera angles he throws in from time to time do nothing to enhance the atmosphere or create any tension. Their inclusion just comes over as desperate.

Similarly, there’s little engagement from the cast. Castel and Lončar couldn’t be a less engaging screen couple, two blank slates with zero chemistry between them. Even the ordinarily reliable Celi wanders through proceedings wearing a mild smile and gives his investigation about as much urgency as a trip to the corner store to pick up a pint of milk. Serato has a little more to work with as the top photographer reduced to shooting pornography after an accident has confined him to a wheelchair. However, he doesn’t get enough screentime to make any lasting impression.

Technically, the film is competent, but the main problem is the total lack of energy. The audience is invited to spend far too much time with Celi as he spins dull theories in his office to assistant Marshal Notarantonio (Renato Baldini) and boss Superintendent Portella (Consalvo Dell’Arti). There’s an extended scene of topless dancing in a club for no dramatic reason and some incidental material with Arena’s lawyer Romano (Umberto D’Orsi) that goes nowhere. Lončar also throws the negatives of the murder photographs onto the fire because she doesn’t think they are important. Sure, it’s clear she’s not supposed to be a budding Einstein, but it’s hard to believe that she doesn’t understand how photography works. Especially given that she’s a fashion model.

Director Vari is possibly best remembered for historical dramas such as ‘Roma contro Roma’ (1964), which was creatively retitled as ‘War of the Zombies’ for its Stateside release. He also directed several Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘Django the Last Killer/L’ultimo killer’ (1967) and ‘Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead/Prega il morto e ammazza il vivo’ (1971), which starred Klaus Kinski. In later years, he delivered the adult drama ‘Sister Emanuelle/Suor Emanuelle’ (1978) and ended his career with the poorly-received post-apocalyptic adventures of the ‘Urban Warriors’ (1987).

Some of the cast had previous experience with the Giallo; Castel starring alongside Carroll Baker in important early example ‘Orgasmo/Paranoia’ (1969) and Lončar in ‘Interrabang’ (1969). Serato and Celi both had extensive careers in international cinema; the latter still celebrated for his role as Bond Villain Emilio Largo in ‘Thunderball’ (1965). He also appeared in several other Gialli, including ‘Who Saw Her Die/Chi l’ha vista morire?’ (1972), ‘Eye in the Labyrinth/L’occhio nel labirinto’ (1972) and ‘Naked Girl Murdered in the Park/Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco’ (1972).

The original Italian title translates literally as ‘Third hypothesis on a case of perfect criminal strategy’. Yes, that’s about as exciting as this one gets.

They Have Changed Their Face/Hanno cambiato faccia (1971)

‘Can you show me the way to the Villa Nosferatu?’

An engineer working for a motor company gets an unexpected invitation to meet with the firm’s secret owner. Travelling to the remote mountain villa where he lives, the eager employee finds himself thrust into a strange adventure where he is forced to confront the true nature of the society in which he lives…

Unusual Italian update of the ‘Dracula’ story from director and co-writer Corrado Farina that uses vampirism as a platform for some surprisingly prescient social commentary. Some sources list this film as a Giallo, but it has nothing in common with that sub-genre of twisted horror thrillers beyond the country of origin and year of production.

Young engineer Alberto Valle (Giuliano Esperati) is doing good work for the M Motor A. He has his own office, a secretary and a busy work calendar. Still, he’s more than a little surprised when a series of meetings with the chain of senior management culminates with an invitation to visit the company’s owner, Giovanni Nosferatu (Adolfo Celi). Esperati didn’t even know he existed, let alone that he was a recluse living in a luxurious, isolated mountain chateau. Running out of petrol on the way, he finds the inhabitants of a local village predictably unfriendly to strangers but does pick up free-spirited hitchhiker Laura (Francesca Modigliani).

Arriving at the villa, he goes in alone and is met by Celi’s right-hand woman, Corinna (Geraldine Hooper). Despite her absence of eyebrows, she seems friendly enough and informs her that his host won’t be coming down for dinner (no surprise, there!) Yes, this is a modernised take on Jonathan Harker’s visit to Castle Dracula in the first few chapters of Bram Stoker’s world-famous novel, but this is far from a straight adaptation. Rather than live as a recluse content to snack on the occasional passing tourist, Celi has turned his wealth into a vast business empire.

To his profound shock, Esperati is offered the CEO position at his company and, with a burgeoning relationship with Hooper, everything couldn’t be better. The edge comes off a bit when she tells him that it’s her job to have sex with any guest but that she does like doing it with him more than anyone else. Further disappointment follows when he finds a nursery of babies in the depths of the building. It’s weird, and things get more bizarre when he opens the register of infants. There’s his name and his baby photographs, along with his life history so far.

The analogy of vampirism to capitalism, the consumer culture and the resulting abolition of free will is a very interesting idea. Given developments over the past half-century, the concept seems remarkably on point. It’s just a shame that a modern-day audience will probably find much of the material rather obvious now and lacking in subtlety. Naming Celi’s character ‘Nosferatu’ gives an idea of how ‘on the nose’ the film can be. Of course, it’s probable that recognition of the name would not have come so readily to the majority of viewers at the time, and the evil machinations of global corporations were not such common knowledge as they are now.

The corporate world provides the opportunity for some fine satire when Celi’s fellow conspirators assemble for his company board meeting. One team member gets in trouble because workers at his plant are reading books on the toilet during their breaks, and reading is banned. Another because two workers at his contraceptive factory have been filmed having sex. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but the woman has become pregnant as a result. Copulation is permissable, procreation is not. Finally, Celi’s solution to the poor sales of a detergent not popular with the public due to environmental concerns is not to rejig the ingredients as suggested but to repackage the exact same product with an eco-friendly design, name and marketing campaign.

So, the script by Farina and co-author Giulio Berruti is intelligent, witty and has something to say. Where the film falls a little short is with story development and structure. Unfortunately, very little happens after Esperati reaches the villa. Holding back revelations regarding Celi’s true nature is only effective if the audience is unaware of them. A halfway knowledgeable one will know what he is almost from the start. If it’s not the ‘Nosferatu’ name, then the sequences of Esperati asking for directions in the peasant village also reveal the secret. The villagers won’t speak, old women cross themselves, and a priest tells him to get out. Again, it’s not subtle.

The structure becomes a problem when almost the entire second act asks us to invest in the developing love affair between Esperati and Hooper. It’s just not very gripping, and there’s a sudden disconnect when Celi’s 10-minute board meeting arrives in one solid lump towards the end of the film. Hooper may be taking the minutes, but Esperati is absent, having apparently given his apologies. These issues are reflected to a lesser extent elsewhere and result in no consistent narrative flow or sense of escalating threat, and the conclusion when it comes, although smart, is a little too predictable.

However, there’s still a lot to enjoy. Rather than bathe the screen in the gaudy rainbow of colours favoured by Italian movies of the time, cinematographer Aiace Parolin casts everything in a pale, washed-out half-light. This is particularly effective in the brief scenes that take place in the fog-wreathed mountain village. Celi’s mansion is also pleasingly minimalist with spartan, sterile interiors and furniture and utilities that play audio advertisements when used. That might not make much sense, Celi explains that it’s for market research, but it’s undeniably clever and funny. The script also gives us a dialogue exchange when Esperati threatens to expose Celi’s secret, but the tycoon isn’t concerned. He owns all the newspapers and the government.

Neither Farina nor Berruti had a long career in movie making. The former directed mostly short subjects and documentaries, his only other feature being cult horror ‘Baba Yaga’ (1973) starring former Hollywood starlet Carrol Baker. Berruti worked as an editor more often than a writer but fulfilled both script and directing duties on two films, the second being the controversial ‘The Killer Nun’ (1979) with Anita Ekberg. Hooper also has less than ten credits, with her only featured roles apparently being in this film and as a supporting player in Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red/Profondo Rosso (1975). Of course, Celi will always be celebrated for a long, starry career in European cinema, particularly as Bond villain Largo opposite Sean Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965).

An unusual slice of horror and social commentary that manages the neat trick of being strangely prescient and oddly dated. Worth seeking out if you fancy something a little different.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)‘With this suit, I could swim through the centre of the sun.’

A notorious criminal mastermind steals 10 million dollars from under the noses of the police. The authorities escalate their campaign to apprehend him, forcing an underworld kingpin and his mob into taking action against the thief. Can the villain stay one step ahead of both the combined might of the forces of law and order and the criminal underworld?

Stylish and extravagant big-screen adaptation of the popular Italian comic book series from director Mario Bava. Unlike the maestro’s previous offerings, this was a big studio production with backing from well-known producer Dino De Laurentiis, big-name stars and shot on various locations, but mostly at his studio in Rome.

The film opens with the latest diversionary tactic employed by Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) to snare super heist merchant, Diabolik (John Phillip Law) and his lover and partner in crime Eva Kant (Marisa Mell). Instead of ten million dollars in banknotes, the cargo protected by a convey of motorcycle policemen is just blank paper. The real deal is going with him in an unmarked car with a much smaller escort. Law isn’t fooled, of course, and uses a smoke machine on a road bridge and a dockside crane to grab the swag. Piccoli is called in to face Minister of Finance Terry-Thomas but, after a humiliating press conference which Law and Mell disrupt with laughing gas, Piccoli gets special powers to end the Diabolik menace.
Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Squeezing local mobster, Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) by raiding on his clubs and businesses, the detective strikes a deal with the crimelord: hand over Diabolik and the pressure will be off. Meanwhile, Law pulls off another daring heist; snatching an emerald necklace and escaping via a rise with a catapult. But Celi kidnaps Mell and offers Law an ultimatum: the ten million dollars and the emerald necklace in exchange for her safe return. Law accepts the deal, but still has a few tricks up his sleeve when they meet for a showdown.

Diabolik was a character created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani whose instant popularity created a whole new sub-genre of Italian comics known as the ‘Fumetti neri’ (‘black comics’). In his original incarnation, Diabolik was a ruthless criminal genius, who let nothing stand in his way but, over time, and after legal actions by an outraged ‘moral majority’, the character softened into more of a hi-tech ‘Robin Hood’. Fumetti neri in general split into two distinct camps, those targeted more at a juvenile audience and those ‘prohibited to minors’ which emphasised more adult themes, including far higher levels of sex and violence.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

A project to adapt the character to film had begun several years earlier with Jean Sorel in the title role and Elsa Martinelli and his lover and partner in crime, Eva Kant. However, the project collapsed quickly, and it’s unclear if anything more was shot than publicity stills. De Laurentiis acquired the rights and brought Bava on board, intending the film would accompany his production of Roger Vadim’ ‘Barbarella’ (1968) into theatres. Law was under contract to appear in that film, but delays caused by working with the SFX allowed him to take on the role of Diabolik first.

Bava was happy with his casting but less so with Catherine Deneuve who De Laurentiis selected for the role of Eva. As it was, she only lasted a week into filming before Austrian actress Marisa Mell replaced her. By all accounts, this was because Deneuve refused to disrobe for the film’s most iconic scene, where Diabolik and Eva make love naked on a revolving bed covered in money. However, given her subsequent filmography and the fact that the final scene is not explicit, it may be that Bava was able to use the situation as a way to get her released.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


The finished film is a kaleidoscope of 1960s pop culture, with bright, eye-popping colours and a wonderful mixture of striking production design and Bava’s genius for optical effects. Rather than presenting the action in a static way to reflect its comic strip origins, Bava keeps his camera moving, deliver a fast-paced narrative decorated with stylistic flourishes which give the film a feel of hyper-reality. Bava achieved the apparent scale and complexity of Diabolik’s underground headquarters by combining the actors with Bava’s matte paintings. Other visuals were created by cutting pictures of buildings, aircraft and other items from magazines, posting them on to a sheet of strategically placed glass and then shooting the action through it. Although it sounds like a terrible idea, Bava makes it work.

There are some other noteworthy touches too. Bava uses animation to draw lines on a map, and for a photo-fit device used by the police to try and identify Eva. He also employs his usual trick of foregrounding objects to give depth to scenes, sometimes shooting through some that break the image into squares approximating the comic book panels, such as empty bookshelves and a bedstead.
Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

There’s a flamboyance and a real sense of freedom to the picture, fueled by a playful, liberated sexuality, displayed not by promiscuity, but the unfettered passion between Diabolik and Eva. It helps that Law and Mell have such sizzling chemistry and give note-perfect performances, sensibly resisting the temptation to play to the gallery. Celi is his usual, reliable self as boss of the criminal underworld and Piccoli underplays beautifully as our larcenous duo’s official nemesis. Thomas also provides a beautiful cameo as the government minister, begging the populace to pay their taxes voluntarily after Law and Mell blow up the tax office and destroy all the official records!

The cool 1960s vibe also gets a major assist from composer Ennio Morricone, who delivers a jazzy, uptempo score that’s an integral part of the film’s ambience. Sadly, the original tapes are no longer available, having been destroyed in a fire, and the only way to enjoy his work is to watch the film, although a re-recording from 2014 is available. Also on hand to deliver his expertise is artist Carlo Rambaldi who designed Diabolik’s iconic mask before going on to significant work in Hollywood, rewarded eventually with 3 Oscars, including one for ‘E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial’ (1982).

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


The character of Diabolik has his roots in older fictional masterminds, such as Germany’s ‘Dr Mabuse’ and the French ‘Fantomas’. Like those characters, in the source material, he plays with notions of identity, using lifelike masks to take on the appearance of anyone he chooses. This idea was dropped from the film, leaving him more in common with later villains such as ‘Kriminal’. He was developed as a direct rival to Diabolik but arrived on the big screen first in the form of Glenn Saxson. In a sly tip of the hat, the bank manager who hands the ten million dollars over to Piccioli at the start of this film is played by Andrea Bosic, who served as Saxson’s official opponent in those earlier ‘Kriminal’ pictures.

There are some flaws in Bava’s film, though. The process shots and rear-projection are so hideous and poorly done that it’s tempting to believe that it was a deliberate choice, made by the director to contribute to the comic-book aesthetic. If so, then it’s one of the few visual missteps in his career. The script, credited to several writers, including Bava, is a little scrambled and untidy, but that may have been intentional too, as it does lift some sequences directly from the source material and contributes to the freewheeling atmosphere.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


Diabolik’s return to the big screen any time soon seems an unlikely proposition, even though the global audience today shares some of the feelings of the public who first elevated the character to its iconic status in Italy after the Second World War. Specifically, a distrust of authority figures who increasingly excuse graft and political corruption by using the loopholes in a legal system designed solely for their benefit. This growing cynicism would embrace a subversive character such as this, but any new iteration would need to walk a very fine line. After all, a lot of his actions would be interpreted by most as aspects of domestic terrorism, even though he has no political agenda or desire to enforce change on the system.

Bava’s cut-price optical effects helped bring the film in for a cost of approximately $400,000 when it had originally been allocated a budget of $3 million. De Laurentiis offered him the chance to direct a sequel with the unused money, but Bava turned it down, unhappy with what he felt was interference from the studio during the filmmaking process. Perhaps the money would have been better used smoothing off some of the rougher edges of this film anyway.

A thoroughly enjoyable Sixties romp, tinged with psychedelia and filtered through the genius of Mario Bava.

Target For Killing/Das Geheimnis der gelben Mönche (1966)

Target For Killing (1966)‘Our secret agents in Pakistan and Vietnam communicate regularly by telepathy.’

A veteran special agent is assigned to protect a young girl who has been marked for death by a mysterious criminal organisation who work in secret from a monastery. He soon discovers that their leader is using ESP and a revolutionary brainwashing technique to further his mad ambitions…

Fast-paced Austrian/German/Italian Eurospy that features ex-Hollywood matinee idol Stewart Granger as this week’s rather silver-haired ‘Bond On A Budget.‘ Granger had some previous experience in these kind of shenanigans as the lead of ‘Red Dragon’ (1965) which often gets bundled in with this genre, although it was more of a crime thriller really. In fact, despite a new name, he is supposed to be playing the same character, as his exploits in the previous film are referenced by local Police Commissioner Rupert Davies.

The story opens mid-flight with ‘marked woman’ Karin Dor being chatted up by our handsome hero. He seems to be making progress, but can’t help noticing the flight crew heading for the back of the plane and, a few seconds later, their parachutes deploying below. How they managed to leave without compromising cabin pressure is a bit of a mystery, but we’ll let it pass. Luckily, Granger was a pilot in the war about twenty years earlier, so he’s able to land the plane with only a slight wobble. The control tower doesn’t even need to talk him down! Now, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble here, but all someone without specific training will achieve in those circumstances is to pile up on the runway (if they’re lucky enough to make it that far). Yes, I know screen personalities as diverse as Doris Day in ‘Julie’ (1955), Karen Black in ‘Airport ’75’ (1974), David McCallum as TV’s ‘The Invisible Man’ and Lou Ferrigno as ‘The Incredible Hulk’ have all accomplished the feat without breaking too much of a sweat, but it’s simply not possible. You may as well expect to manage re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere after attending an open day at Cape Canaveral.

So some serious suspension of disbelief is essential here, and the script often does little to help the audience in that regard. There some silly business about Granger being scared of Davies’ pet snake (which he keeps in his office!) and super villain Curt Jurgens has a stable of scantily-clad babes draped all over the furniture at his HQ just because he likes the way they look. Associate Dr Yang (Luis Induni) can read people’s thoughts and turn them into mindless zombies. Although they do have to receive electric shocks and stare into an aquarium at the same time! There’s also a scene where Jurgens’ chief Lieutenant Scilla Gabel shoots off multiple rounds with her machine gun, then ‘blows it out’ and rubs the barrel of the weapon against her cheek. Now, we know her character gets turned on by pain, but burning your face off with hot metal might seem to be taking things a little too far! As it happens, it seems to have no effect on her at all. She must have thick skin, I guess.

Target For Killing (1966)

‘What do you mean I’m too old for this shit?’

The production also looks a little tatty here and there, but all these shortcomings can be forgiven when you consider the wonderful casting. For a start there’s Granger, still oozing Hollywood charisma in his 50s and fully committed in the surprisingly violent fight scenes. Dor went onto to tangle with the real thing in the shape of Sean Connery in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967) and Jurgens crossed swords with Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977).

Not enough for you? Minor villain and eventual rat fodder Adolfo Celi came out on the wrong end of another encounter with Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965) and the lovely Molly Peters was 007’s personal masseuse in the same movie! On top of all the Bond connections, we get Klaus Kinski as a conflicted trigger man, Davies who was TV’s ‘Maigret’ and Erika Remberg who appeared with Moore on the small screen in ‘The Saint‘. Director Manfred R Köhler was also responsible for an earlier example of the genre: ‘Agent 505 – Death Trap Beirut’ (1965) with Frederick Stafford.

Curiously enough though, with the notable exception of Granger, the most memorable performance here is from Gabel. Her only major credits are an appearance in Joseph Losey’s misfiring ‘007’ satire, ‘Modesty Blaise’ (1966) and opposite Gordon Scott in ‘Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure’ (1959) (which featured support from a pre-stardom Sean Connery!) Here, she oozes a playful, dangerous sexuality in various tight fitting outfits, leaving little doubt about her character’s preferences and motivation. While Jurgen plots, she’s  always in the background, usually stroking some inanimate object or other in a suggestive way! Although, rather brilliantly, in one scene she’s just doing her knitting!

This is quite an entertaining Eurospy if you forgive the slightly uncertain tone; the film never really deciding how serious – or silly – it wants to be. Yes, there’s a bit of an age gap between our romantic leads, but who could blame a young woman like Dor getting her head turned by the handsome Granger? After all, he’s just so damn suave and capable! If ‘Bond’ had come along a decade earlier, he would have been on the shortlist for the role. No question about it.

Good fun if you’re not too demanding.