The Red Queen Kills Seven Times/La dama rossa uccide sette volte (1972)

‘All men are filthy beasts.’

A series of murders begins after the death of a wealthy old man. His daughters fear that the killings are linked to the family legend about an ancestor called the Red Queen and how she returns from the grave every hundred years to kill…

Convoluted tale of mystery and horror from writer-director Emilio Miraglia. This Italian-West German co-production stars Giallo favourite, Barbara Bouchet, and was co-written by Fabio Pittorru.

It’s far from happy families in Wildenbrück Castle. Grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler) is forced to referee between pre-teen sisters Kitty and Eveline, who are constantly at war. One day, he tells them of a family legend involving two feuding ancestors; sisters known as the Red Queen and the Black Queen. The story goes that the Black Queen murdered the Red Queen’s lover, and the Red Queen retaliated by going on a rampage, killing seven times. Every one hundred years, she returns to reenact her bloody revenge.

More than a decade later, Kitty (Bouchet) is now a successful fashion photographer, working for the company run by Hans Meyer (Bruno Bertocci). Relations with sister Eveline never improved, and she has left for America and can’t be traced when Schündler passes away. Bouchet attends the reading of the will with her lover, Martin Hoffmann (Ugo Pagliai), third sister Franziska (Marina Malfatti) and her husband, Herbert Zieler (Nino Korda). To everyone’s surprise, Schündler has instructed that the process be delayed until the following year when the latest anniversary of the Red Queen’s return has passed.

While looking for a prostitute for a threesome with his lover, Lulu Palm (the spectacular Sybil Danning), Bertocci is brutally stabbed to death. Witnesses see a figure fleeing the scene in a full-length red cloak, accompanied by maniacal laughter. Police Inspector Toller (Marino Masé) suspects Pagliai is involved as he will take Bertocci’s place as head of the fashion house. However, the late chief’s secretary, Rosemary Müller (Pia Giancaro), recognises the photofit compiled by the witnesses as Bouchet’s sister, Eveline.

Considered purely as a storytelling exercise, director Miraglia’s second Giallo is an ambitious effort indeed, with a complex, twisting narrative that benefits from a second viewing. There’s a lot to unpack with its dense plot and interconnected relationships and personal histories. Unfortunately, this results in a slight lack of clarity, and perhaps some elements should have been omitted or simplified. Not that the final revelations don’t make sense, but they tread very close to the line of credibility. Structurally, it also involves an awkwardly hefty exposition dump during the finale.

This complexity may frustrate some, but it does keep the mystery engaging, and Miraglia doesn’t want to waste any time getting into it. As a result, the audience is thrown rather roughly into the story, with some characters not sufficiently established, particularly Malfatti’s Franziska. In the early exchanges, she can easily be mistaken for a live-in housekeeper rather than another sister. This approach also gives us the film’s first major twist very early in the proceedings. Bouchet knows that Eveline can’t be responsible for the murders because she’s already dead. Bouchet accidentally killed her during a fight, and Malfatti helped hide the body in the castle’s cellars.

The events that occur before the story begins leave Bouchet’s Kitty as an unusually short-tempered, uptight and unlikeable heroine. It’s to be applauded that Bouchet and the film commit to this rather than play for sympathy and cast her in a more familiar damsel in distress or victim role. In the end, it’s what happens to her over the course of the movie that puts the audience in her corner. There are some brief but harrowing moments after her encounter with drug addict Peter (Fabrizio Moresco) that are particularly heart-wrenching.

There’s a similar tone here to Miraglia’s previous Giallo ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba’ (1971) with its mixture of the gothic and the contemporary. On the one hand, there is never any real suggestion that the mystery has a supernatural explanation, with the police investigation firmly fixed along more rational lines. However, the climax does take place in the castle’s crumbling cellars, and Bouchet and Malfatti also visit them to check that Eveline’s body is in the dank cell where they left it.

Miraglia reassembles some of the cast and crew from ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba’ (1971), including actress Malfatti, writer Pittorru and composer Bruno Nicolai who delivers an excellent, melodic score. It may have been Alberto Spagnoli’s first full credit as a cinematographer, but he was a veteran cameraman, and together the two create some memorable images and striking compositions. A couple of the murders are particularly fierce and shocking, clearly foreshadowing the American slasher films to come.

The production’s international status led to some German talent in the supporting cast, including Danning. Born Sybille Danninger, she debuted in the sex comedy ‘Komm nur, mein liebstes Vögelein’ (1968) after a brief modelling career. Her next assignment was co-starring with Robert De Niro, although the project was a pre-stardom drama called ‘Sam’s Song’ (1969). She relocated to America permanently in 1978 and became a familiar face in genre cinema during the video home rental age, beginning with her memorable turn in Roger Corman’s ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980). Notable films followed, such as ‘Chained Heat’ (1983), ‘Hercules’ (1983) and ‘Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch’ (1985), and she remained active in the mainstream, guesting on television shows like ‘The Fall Guy’, ‘Street Hawk’ and science fiction hit ‘V’. After retiring in 1993, a convention appearance rekindled her career, and she appeared in Rob Zombie’s short contribution to Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Grindhouse’ project, ‘Werewolf Women of the S.S.’ (2007) and his remake of ‘Halloween’ (2007).

Some muddled storytelling and an overcooked plot prevent this from hitting the next level, but it’s still a stylish and enjoyable Giallo.

Smile Before Death/Il sorriso della iena (1972)

‘I usually give my old clothes to the servants and husbands to friends.’

A teenage girl comes home unannounced from boarding school after her mother’s supposed suicide. She finds her stepfather apparently sharing the family home with a woman photographer. The relationships between the trio take some surprising turns as the days pass…

This small-scale Giallo from director Silvio Amadio rejects an escalating body count to focus on the suspicious intentions of a small group of characters. Some familiar faces appear in front of the camera in another example of the murder mystery thriller that took Italian cinema by storm in the early 1970s and laid the groundwork for the American slasher craze that followed.

When middle-aged swinger Dorothy Emerson (Zora Gheorgieva) is found dead in her bathroom with her throat cut, the police chalk it up as a suicide. Although she was sleeping with young stud Paolo (Hiram Keller), her husband Marco (Silvano Tranquilli) had a rock-solid alibi for the time she died, and the two had been in an open marriage for years. However, the circumstances don’t sit well with daughter Nancy (Jenny Tamburi). When she comes home from boarding school, she finds photographer Gianna (Rosalba Neri) already with one foot in the door of her stepfather’s luxury home.

Tranquilli and Neri welcome the girl, however, and Neri, in particular, makes a special effort, giving the teenager a makeover and some lessons in modelling. Despite the red carpet treatment, Tamburi still questions her mother’s suicide, and her suspicions are shared by housekeeper Dana Magda (Dana Ghia). The younger girl’s fresh-faced innocence starts to attract Tranquilli as they spend more time together, and she seems to return his growing interest while Neri struggles with jealousy on the sidelines. After almost being electrocuted in her studio, the photographer suspects that one of them is out to kill her.

This film reached Italian theatres barely two months after director Amadio’s previous project ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972), and the two share much in common. Both are twisted tales of lust and murder centred around a small group of characters and their hidden motivations and shifting relationships. This second effort is even smaller in scale, with only the three principals receiving significant screen time and Neri returning in a similar role. Once again, she’s the lover of an older, dissolute man; in ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972), it was Farley Granger’s washed-up writer, here it’s Tranquilli’s idle nobleman, who’s sponging off the estate of his wealthy wife. Barbara Bouchet, who starred in the former film, even appears here in an uncredited bit as a party guest.

If both projects were being developed concurrently, Amadio’s primary focus was likely ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972), as this feels very much like a ‘second-hand’, minor project. Judged on its own merits, the film does not have any glaring flaws, far from it, but the plot is a little thin and underdeveloped, and the direction that the story takes is unlikely to surprise anyone experienced with such thrillers. The final twist also pushes credibility a little, and it isn’t particularly well-executed either, but it is nicely ironic and ties up all the threads very neatly. It’s the film’s most noteworthy element.

Thankfully, the performances of the small cast keep the audience invested, with Tamburi (appearing as Luciana Della Robbia) handed the film’s most interesting role. Her Lolita-like temptress is the catalyst for the unfolding drama and provides a good opportunity to present an ambiguous, off-centre character, and she rises to the challenge admirably. Neri is excellent as ever, but Tranquilli doesn’t make much of an impression as the third side of the triangle. Unfortunately, neither character is given much depth in the script by Amadio and his writing team, Francesco Di Dio and Francesco Villa. These collaborators have only two other credits between them, so it’s tempting to say that their lack of experience shows. However, it should be acknowledged that, in the early 1970s, the Italian film industry was turning out product at a rate comparable with the major studios during Hollywood’s Golden Age, so there may have been time constraints.

There are a few other issues which detract a little from the viewing experience as well. The extended flashback sequences are fine in themselves, but they are not well-integrated into the narrative, and it can take a few moments for an audience to catch up, which was probably not intended. There’s also very little here for Giallo fans on the lookout for striking visual compositions or unsettling atmosphere, elements which Amadio delivered with apparent ease in ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972). The nudity and touch of sleaze have little impact, and the limited number of murders are staged in a very underwhelming fashion. The worst offender, though, is the jolly musical theme by Roberto Pregadio. It’s obviously intended as an ironic counterpoint to the grim drama, and it works well initially, but it’s over-used to such an extent that it becomes distracting and, eventually, quite annoying.

This was only Tamburi’s third role and her first of significance. However, despite the promise she displays here, she was soon back on ‘Lolita’ duty for ‘Seduction/La seduzione’ (1973). Although ‘The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine/Le communicate di San Valentino’ (1974) is not nearly as trashy as the title would suggest, she was typed in projects of a similar stamp. ‘Sins Within the Family/Peccati in famiglia’ (1975) was followed by ’Sins Without Intentions/Peccato senza malizia’ (1975) and the horror sex comedy ‘Frankenstein: Italian Style/Frankenstein all’italiana’ (1975). She returned to the Giallo with Sergio Martino’s ‘The Suspicious Death of a Minor/Morte sospetta di una minorenne’ (1975) and Lucio Fulci’s ‘The Psychic, Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes/Sette note in nero’ (1977), but only in supporting roles. During the 1980s, she appeared more on television, retiring from the screen at the end of the decade. She went on to work as a casting director and opened a drama school before passing away in 2006 at the age of 53.

A minor, efficient Giallo but unlikely to linger too long in the memory.

The French Sex Murders/Casa d’appuntamento (1972)

‘It must have been difficult getting permission to have the head.’

A prostitute at an exclusive brothel is brutally murdered. The police arrest her last client, and he is found guilty of the crime. The young man dies trying to escape custody, but the killings have only just begun…

Rather awkward Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Ferdinando Merighi that attempts to blend several mismatched elements without a good deal of success. Poor execution and a bizarre casting decision create further issues.

Small-time criminal Antoine Gottvalles (Peter Martell) may be a good-looking guy, but his life is coming apart. Problems with alcohol and increasingly erratic behaviour have made him persona non grata at the high-class brothel operated by Madame Colette (Anita Ekberg). Reluctantly, she agrees that he can visit his favourite girl Francine Boulert (Barbara Bouchet), one last time. However, later on, he’s seen running from the house, and a few minutes later, Bouchet is found beaten to death. Martell runs to his ex-wife Marianne (Rosalba Neri), but she’s busy entertaining nightclub manager Pepi (Rolf Eden) and sends him away. Soon afterwards, he’s snared in a police dragnet, arrested and sent to trial.

The case looks open and shut, and Martell’s found guilty and condemned to death by Judge George Teschi (William Alexander). However, he tries to cheat the guillotine with an attempted escape, only to be decapitated in a horrific motorbike accident instead. Case closed. But then Ekberg is murdered in much the same way as Bouchet, without an apparent motive. Meanwhile, scientist Professor Theodore Waldemar (Howard Vernon) has obtained Martell’s severed head for research purposes, trading on his friendship with Judge Alexander to obtain the grisly specimen. In light of the Ekberg killing, the dogged Inspector Fontaine (Robert Sacchi) is looking at the Bouchet case again and soon has more murders on his hands.

There are many issues with Merighi’s film, and these only become more and more apparent as the runtime passes. The opening scenes feature groups of police chasing a half-seen figure up the Eiffel Tower, a pursuit which concludes with a suicide plunge, courtesy of some very shoddy SFX. The rest of the story unfolds in an extended flashback, and, to be fair, the flaws are not immediately evident. Merighi does a competent job assembling all his suspects and suggesting their possible guilt via a series of apparently unrelated subplots.

While Neri sings in the club, her lover Eden is apparently playing away with hostess Tina (Piera Viotti). Professor Vernon’s beautiful daughter Eleonora (Evelyne Kraft) seems strangely reluctant to pursue a relationship with her father’s assistant Roger Delluc (Franco Borelli), and he’s becoming confused and frustrated. Middle-aged writer Randall (Renato Romano) is also spending many evenings at the brothel (for ‘research purposes!) and having a fling with Bouchet’s ex-colleague Alice (Flavia Keyt). Saachi is also interested in the activities of Martin (Alessandro Perrella), the bed partner of Doris (Ada Pometti), who works as the Judge’s maid. To Merighi’s credit, he keeps all these characters successfully in play, and their surface relationships with each other and to the story are perfectly clear.

However, the film has much bigger problems. The decision to cast Saachi as the detective is particularly baffling. He was a professional Humphrey Bogart impersonator, and yes, that’s exactly what he’s doing here. Slicked back hair, mannerisms, voice (courtesy of an offhand English dub track), trenchcoat and all. Obviously, it’s incredibly distracting every time he appears on the screen. The French have an evident love for Film Noir (they coined the phrase, after all) and crossing Noir with Giallo had been attempted before by director Tinto Brass with ‘Col Chore ln Gola/Deadly Sweet/I Am What l Am’ (1967). This film was an international co-production between France, Italy and West Germany, so an eye on the French box office might explain its inclusion. But, apart from Saachi’s Bogart impression, there are no other Noirish elements here whatsoever. So it’s an isolated and somewhat confusing creative choice, to say the least.

The story also falls apart in the final third. It’s not that the conclusion doesn’t make sense; it’s just absurd and rather stupid. Merighi also shows the killings with brief, repeated shots through different coloured filters. It doesn’t work on any level and looks terribly dated to a modern audience. It heightens the impression this was a project put together very swiftly with the sole intention of taking advantage of a booming box office trend. Producer Dick Randall had plenty of experience in the exploitation field, initially with documentaries such as ‘The Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield’ (1968) cobbled together and in theatres less than a year after her death. When he moved into features, it was with projects such as sex comedies ‘Let It All Hang Out/Der Mann mit dem goldenen Pinsel’ (1969) and ‘Playgirl 70’ (1969). Later projects included ‘Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks/Terror! Il castello delle donne maledette’ (1974), ‘The Daughter of Emanuelle’ (1975), ‘Crocodile Fangs/Agowa gongpo’ (1978) and ‘The Clones of Bruce Lee/Shen wei san meng long’ (1980). Here, he also plays a small role in front of the camera and makes an uncredited contribution to the script. The latter may have led to the character of the brothel-creeping writer being named after him.

The biggest shame is the waste of a particularly strong cast, most of whom were probably hired due to their involvement in previous, far better, Giallo projects. Both Bouchet and Neri had starred in Silvio Amadio’s ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972) and ‘Smile Before Death/Il sorriso della iena’ (1972), even if Bouchet’s role in the latter had been as an uncredited cameo. Neri has also done ‘Top Sensation’ (1969) and ‘Slaughter Hotel/Cold Blooded Beast/La bestia uccide a sangue freddo’ (1971). Bouchet had starred in ‘The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio’ (1971), ‘Black Belly of the Tarantula/La tarantola dal ventre nero’ (1971) and Lucio Fulci’s ‘Don’t Torture a Duckling/Non si sevizia un paperino’ (1972). Vernon had been playing oddball scientists since taking the title role in ‘The Awful Dr Orloff/Gritos en la noche’ (1962) for director Jesús Franco. This historical role may explain why his character carries out strange experiments with Martell’s decapitated head in this film (just what is the Professor supposed to be researching exactly?!)

Merighi mainly worked as an Assistant Director on Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s. He also did the job on a couple of war pictures and low-budget Gialli ‘In the Folds of the Flesh/Nelle pieghe della carne’ (1970) and the obscure ‘Questa libertà di avere… le Ali bagnate’ (1971). In marked contrast, actor Vernon had a career that stretched for 50 years and included minor roles in ‘The Train’ (1964) starring Burt Lancaster, Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Alphaville’ (1965), and Woody Allen’s star-studded ‘What’s New, Pussycat’ (1965). By the 1970s, however, he was firmly entrenched in low-budget European horror, working countless times with writer-director Jesús Franco and reprising his most famous role as Dr Orloff several times. Kraft had a short screen career but did appear as jungle girl Samantha in the much-celebrated cult item ‘The Mighty Peking Man/Xing xing wang’ (1977), in which she provides the definitive artistic depiction of a crashing aeroplane.

A tatty and rather slipshod Giallo that wastes a good cast.

Don’t Torture a Duckling/Non si sevizia un paperino (1972)

‘Besides, in this part of Italy, witches, whether male or female, work in close cooperation with established religion.’

A pre-teen boy goes missing in a small town in the mountains of Southern Italy. The supposed kidnapper is apprehended when he comes to pick up the ransom, and the boy’s body is found. But then another child is killed…

Unusual and highly complex Giallo from director Lucio Fulci, who had already delivered two outstanding examples of these Italian horror-thrillers with ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story/Una Sul’altra’ (1969) and ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin/Una lucertola con la pelle di donna’ (1971). Here, he sets his story of serial murder in a broader societal context and on a far larger canvas. 

After a 12-year-old boy goes missing in the hills around the small community of Accendura, the state police begin an extensive search of the countryside under the leadership of Commissioner Virgilio Gazzolo. Four days later, the boy’s father (Andrea Aureli) receives a telephone call demanding a ransom. The police catch Guiseppe Barra (Vito Passeri) when he comes to collect the payoff, and he leads them to where the body is buried. However, he insists that he only found the corpse after the murder, which is confirmed when another boy disappears and is found dead.

Clearly, someone local is responsible, but there are a bewildering array of suspects. There’s big city refugee Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) lying low after a drug bust, notorious witch Francesco (Georges Wilson) who lives in the hills with the apparently unbalanced Maciara (Florinda Bolkan). Investigative journalist Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) also has his eye on the enigmatic Dona Aurelia Avallone (Irene Papas). She’s the mother of local priest Don Alberto (Marc Porel) and deaf-mute six-year-old daughter Malvina (Fausta Avelli). 

Given that the director’s reputation largely rests on the series of notoriously gory horrors he delivered in the 1980s, it would be tempting to expect a Fulci film about child murders to be a tasteless exercise in exploitation. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The story has more in common with the mystery genre than horror. The developing plot highlights one suspect after another, moving the main focus of events accordingly after each is dismissed. The approach is unusual in that these characters are rarely called back into the action in any significant way, and the investigative team doesn’t receive sufficient screentime for any of them to be considered as leading characters. Milian and Bouchet have been present from the beginning, but they only assume centre stage late on when they team up to try and solve the mystery. 

This novel form of presentation and the drama’s setting results in a very different feel from the usual Giallo. Mostly, it’s a stubbornly urban form, with stories only leaving dark city streets and apartments when the action takes place in luxurious, isolated country villas, usually occupied by vacuous members of the international jet set. By contrast, Fulci’s film has a distinctly lower class, rural ambience, and the events embrace the entire community rather than a small number of connected characters. These are people existing near the poverty line, not working professionals or the idle rich. 

The locations in the province of Matera near the Adriatic Coast are striking, and Fulci and cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi know how to show them to the best advantage. The opening shot of Bolkan exhuming the skeleton of her dead child on the hillside by an elevated motorway is a wonderful piece of visual shorthand. The remote, passing traffic tells us that this is a place that the modern world has left behind and will continue to ignore. The action often occurs in bright daylight rather than the usual shadows and darkness. 

Fulci’s one concession to the usual Giallo conventions is that the child murders occur at night, but he presents them only briefly rather than as drawn-out exercises in suspense. They are also bloodless and devoid of any flamboyant style and staging. However, the director delivers a sequence that still shocks today when a group of faceless locals enact brutal retribution on one of the blameless suspects. A combination of solid SFX, excellent performance, editing and direction allows him to go straight for the jugular. It’s a truly memorable and horrifying event for the audience to witness, and Fulci turns the screw as the innocent victim lies dying by the roadside as cars pass by, oblivious. The use of music here is also outstanding, with the initial violence accompanied by a rock song on the radio, which the perpetrators use to drown out the victim’s screams. This transitions into the classical delivery of Ornella Vanoni, performing an aching ballad by soundtrack composer Riz Ortolani. 

Although the film can be viewed as a straight ‘whodunnit’, Fulci obviously had broader concerns in mind. In some respects, the film is a thinly-veiled attack on established institutions and outdated beliefs and behaviours. Both church and police prove powerless to protect the town’s children from their gruesome fate, with eventual salvation supplied by autonomous, modern and enlightened individuals acting independently. In fact, the ill-judged actions of the authorities only provoke horrific violence toward those falsely accused. 

The townsfolk are also condemned for their ignorance and superstition, often depicted as little more than a mob out for blind, reactive revenge. Their outdated beliefs dictate a habitual rejection and ostracism of outsiders and those not conforming to their narrow concept of normality, sometimes even culminating in their destruction. This is an insular, stagnant community fuelled by gossip and rumours that may point toward the killer but are just as likely to condemn the innocent.

Fulci also effectively skewers the notion of the idyllic, rural childhood. There’s no way that any of the boys deserve their eventual fate, of course, but the director refuses to present them as an idealised notion of holy innocence. They smoke cigarettes, despoil a burial site and attempt to play peeping tom when some local men entertain prostitutes from the city. It can even be argued that the adult’s refusal to accept the reality of this pre-teen existence triggers the killing spree and its subsequent consequences. It’s another fascinating element of the thoughtful script by Fulci and co-writers Roberto Gianviti and Gianfranco Clerici.

Fulci’s connections between prejudice and the impotence of church and state authorities made for an uncomfortable watch in his homeland, which may explain the film’s limited international distribution. It was not released to theatres in the United States or the United Kingdom, eventually taking its official bow in the former as late as 2000 when it was released to home media. There was also controversy surrounding the scene where a fully naked Bouchet flirts with the underage Marcello Tamborra. The director was apparently arrested on charges of corrupting a minor but proved conclusively that the two performers were filmed separately, with a dwarf used as a stand-in for the only shot where the two characters share the frame.

It’s not a perfect film by any means, though. The constantly switching focus takes some time to get used to, and there’s also some very dated SFX at the climax. This dilutes the finalé’s impact, despite some more excellent work from composer Ortolani. Given the shifting narrative, characters are not examined in any depth, so the cast has limited opportunities to shine. Only Bolkan makes a strong impression, underplaying at times before unleashing some wild, knockout flourishes. There’s also a fantastic, wordless performance by toddler Avelli.

Fulci also effectively skewers the notion of the idyllic, rural childhood. There’s no way that any of the boys deserve their eventual fate, of course, but the director refuses to present them as an idealised notion of holy innocence. They smoke cigarettes, despoil a burial site and attempt to play peeping tom when some local men entertain prostitutes from the city. It can even be argued that the adult’s refusal to accept the reality of this pre-teen existence triggers the killing spree and its subsequent consequences. It’s another fascinating element of the thoughtful script by Fulci and co-writers Roberto Gianviti and Gianfranco Clerici.

Fulci had a long, successful career, which began in Italian cinema decades before the controversy that surrounded his later horror pictures. He started as a writer and director of documentary shorts in the years following the Second World War. Famous veteran director Steno became his mentor, employing Fulci as an Assistant Director on several popular vehicles for legendary Italian comedian Totò. He received his first writing credit on one of these projects, contributing to the script for ‘Man, Beast and Virtue/L’uomo la bestia e la virtù’ (1953), which also starred Orson Welles! At the end of the decade, he directed his first film, the crime comedy ‘I ladri’ (1959). After that, he worked almost exclusively in comedies and musicals until delivering his first Western, ‘Massacre Time/Le colt cantarono la morte e fu… tempo di massacro’ (1966). Only three films later, he tackled his first Giallo ‘One on Top of the Other/Perversion Story/Una sull’altra’ (1969), beginning a journey that led to the censor-baiting splatter fests of ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters/ Zombi 2’ (1979), ‘The Beyond/E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà’ (1981) and the like, for which he is best remembered today.

Bouchet was born in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during the Second World War but, by the mid-1950s, was living with her family in San Francisco. A TV beauty contest win led to a career as a teen model and one-off acting gigs on notable Network hits such as ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, ‘Tarzan’ and, most famously, the original ‘Star Trek.’ These roles alternated with a few supporting film parts like that of Moneypenny in James Bond spoof ‘Casino Royale’ (1967). She left America for Italy, where her blonde, blue-eyed beauty and sparkling personality were a perfect fit for sex comedies. However, she hit her dramatic with stride Giallo thrillers, ‘The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio’ (1971), ‘Black Belly of the Tarantula/La tarantola dal ventre nero’ (1971) and ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972), where she starred opposite US actor Farley Granger. It proved a banner year for Bouchet as she also featured in ‘The French Sex Murders/Casa d’appuntamento’ (1972) and took the lead in ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times/La dama rossa uccide sette volte’ (1972). Savvy enough to avoid typecasting by taking work in other genres, her career flourished but began to stall in the 1980s. However, she relaunched herself around the Millenium and has amassed many credits since. As of writing, she is still hard at work, with a featured supporting role in Volfango De Biasi’s romantic horror comedy ‘Una Famiglia mostruosa’ (2021)

A very different and fascinating Giallo, one that benefits from each revisit.

Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere (1972)

‘What is the monkey to man, contemptuous mirth or painful truth?’

A beautiful woman goes to work for a famous writer living on a small island on the outskirts of Venice. However, she’s investigating the disappearance of his previous secretary, who was her best friend. As she spends time in the household, she’s inexorably drawn into the author’s sleazy world of drugs, decadence and casual sex…

Handsome looking mystery thriller from writer-director Silvio Amadio that attracted a cast as impressive as its Venetian locations. The filmmaker already had previous experience with the Giallo, and this entry easily eclipses his previous efforts.

Greta Franklin (Barbara Bouchet) is a girl on a mission. She’s following in the footsteps of her best friend, Sally Reece (Patrizia Viotti), who worked for the same New York publishing house. This involves getting the gig as new secretary to celebrated author Richard Stuart (Farley Granger) and living at his luxury home on the water outside Venice. Viotti disappeared there without a trace the previous winter, and local policeman, Commissario Antonelli (Nino Segurini), hasn’t been able to make any headway in the case.

On arrival, Bouchet meets the household; Granger’s sexy and uninhibited wife Eleanora (Rosalba Neri), taciturn butler Giovanni (Umberto Raho) and frequent visitor Sandro (Dino Mele). It’s not long before Bouchet’s duties expand from typing and dictation to attending Granger and Neri’s informal soirees, which come with recreational substances and stag films. By then, she’s already been seduced by Neri, who uses the sudden, frightening appearance of slow-witted local Rocco (Petar Martinovitch) to slip something a little spicier than the usual sedative into Bouchet’s medicine glass.

Initially, Amadio’s story is intriguing and has several interesting possibilities. It’s not long before Bouchet becomes a willing participant in the household’s extra-curricular activities. It’s all to aid her investigations, of course, but pill-popping, cuddling up to young stud muffin Mele and falling for the suave Granger is a risky strategy at best. It’s unusual to see such an apparently intelligent heroine exhibit such poor decision making. However, it’s a credit to Bouchet’s well-rounded performance that she never loses the audience’s sympathy and that her actions only seem rather dumb in hindsight.

Amadio was fortunate to have Bouchet, as the dramatic weight of his story falls mainly on her shoulders. Granger and Neri are both excellent as the corrupt, amoral sophisticates, but there is a nagging feeling that they aren’t given enough to do, despite some standout moments. Raho is often surplus to plot requirements, too, although it is nice to see the actor play something other than a cop for a change. It’s the third act and the solution to the mystery that ultimately pulls the film down. It’s not that the resolution is illogical or doesn’t make sense; just the opposite, as a matter of fact. Instead, it’s an entirely predictable and underwhelming conclusion to a second-half in which suspense and intrigue have been allowed to drain away slowly.

The Venetian locations are an asset to the production, though, even if Amadio doesn’t see the unique possibilities that director Nicolas Roeg was able to exploit to such incredible effect in his horror classic ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973). Of course, he may have wanted to avoid a ‘tourist board showcase’ of the famous canalled city, and he does exhibit such restraint in a couple of other key areas. Teo Usuelli’s music is distinctly overdone, so Amadio employs it only sparingly. The baroque choral stylings would be more at home with the extravagant flourishes of a director like Dario Argento than accompanying a grounded story like this. Also, the lesbian sex scene between Neri and Bouchet is frank but not exploitative, with slow-motion employed to highlight the participants’ beauty rather than dwell crudely on the act itself.

The film does display quite a few strong elements. Besides the excellent cast, Amadio and veteran cinematographer Aldo Giordani deliver a sensational-looking movie with some very striking visual moments. Bouchet transcribing Granger’s new novel, which seems to be both a description of how her best friend died and a warning of what will happen to her if she keeps on with her investigations, is a fresh idea and executed with some panache. The duck hunt that turns deadly is very well-staged, and the sequence where our heroine is inadvertently locked in the cellar is an excellent example of a minimalist sound design which is present throughout. Unfortunately, all these undoubted virtues need to be allied to a compelling mystery, and that’s the one crucial element that’s missing in action.

Amadio first dabbled in Giallo with the underwhelming ‘Assassination in Rome/Il segreto del vestito rosso’ (1965), a venture probably most memorable for the completely disinterested performance of its star, Cyd Charisse. Four years later, he tried again with the low-budget ‘No Man’s Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L’isola delle svedesi’ (1969), an undistinguished piece most likely hampered by limited resources. After this step up in class, he continued along the same lines with ‘Smile Before Death/Il sorriso della iena’ (1973), which again starred Neri and featured an uncredited Bouchet in a tiny cameo. After detours into comedy, crime and romantic drama, he returned to the Giallo one last time for ‘So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious…/Peccati di gioventù’ (1975).

Considerably less than the sum of its parts, although undeniably a quality production.

Black Belly of The Tarantula/La tarantola dal ventre nero (1971)

‘With needles dipped in deadly venom, the victims are paralysed – so they must lie awake and watch themselves die!’

A businessman confronts his wife with photographic evidence of her infidelity. The following day she is found brutally murdered. Naturally, the investigating detective suspects the husband, who has gone into hiding, but a second corpse is discovered shortly afterwards. There seems to be no connection between the two women, but the method employed by the killer is identical…

Middling Giallo thriller from director Paolo Cavara coming hot on the heels of Dario Argento’s international breakthrough ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969). It was far from the last time such a production would make obvious nods to Argento’s film, but it was probably the first. There’s an unknown killer in a black raincoat and gloves, a title that combines a colour with a critter and, of course, a cast frontloaded with beautiful women.

Marital bliss is a distant memory for the uptight Paolo Zanni (Silvano Tranquilli) and blonde bombshell Maria (Barbara Bouchet). Already separated, someone has been sending compromising photos of the promiscuous Bouchet to her husband. There’s a violent argument, and she turns up stabbed to death the next day. Tranquilli is the prime suspect in the eyes of the jaded Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini), of course, and his guilt seems confirmed when he takes it on the lam. But then another girl turns up dead, killed in the same unique manner, stabbed after being paralysed by an acupuncture needle inserted in the neck. Victim number two ran a shop selling expensive furs while dabbling in drug smuggling, which seems to have no connection to Bouchet.

As his investigation progresses, Giannini starts to focus on a possible blackmailing ring connected to the beauty salon run by Laura (Claudine Auger), where Bouchet was a regular client of blind masseur Ezlo Marano. Certainly, friendly waiter Ginetto (Eugene Walter) seems too good to be true, and receptionist Jenny (Barbara Bach) seems less than happy about the continuing investigation. Then there’s the darkly handsome Mario (Giancarlo Prete), who could have been Bouchet’s photographic partner and certainly seems to be showing an unhealthy interest in wealthy older woman, Franco Valentino (Rossella Falk). Giannini pursues the investigation with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm and is on the verge of quitting the force. Only his bubbly wife, Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), provides any respite from the depravity all around him.

This is an adequate horror-thriller with some good points, but it falls short in several important areas. The screenplay by Lucile Laks (based on a story by Marcello Danon) is serviceable enough but lacks complexity, with the final scenes revealing that there was a lot less going on than the audience might have thought. The climax is also somewhat contrived, and although it makes sense, it’s a little unconvincing. This lack of conviction seems to be reflected in the performances, with Giannini displaying little charisma and only Ettore Mattia registering in a minor role as a seedy private detective.

There are some weak developments in the story, too, including a sequence where the blackmailer films Inspector Giannini and his wife making love. This is quite a complex surveillance operation, with a camera pointed down into their bedroom from the high rise across the street. How did the blackmailer find out where the couple lived? I have no idea. Why does he do it anyway? No clue. All it does is lead into a scene where the film is taken from a crime scene and shown to a large room filled with senior police officers. They seem to find the whole thing pretty hilarious as the mortified Giannini storms out in a huff. Perhaps they just don’t like him; after all, someone does need to tell him that when you have an informant with crucial information about a murder spree, you don’t let them go with an agreement to meet them the next day when they will tell you everything. That’s going to go about as well as Bouchet’s ‘corpse acting’ (try not to breathe, Barbara!)

The film’s main virtues are on the technical side. As is often the case in Giallo, the killings receive the director and cinematographer’s fullest attention. These aren’t up there with the very best you will see, but they are well-mounted and reasonably stylish with some good use of extreme lenses and POV shots. By far the best aspect of the production, though, is another haunting soundtrack from the staggeringly prolific composer Ennio Morricone. On this occasion, the central motif is the sound of a woman exhaling over the music. These sounds convey a sense of dread and menace that the visuals never evoke.

A minor point of interest arises when Giannini visits entomologist Daniele Dublino. The scientist is using shipments of tarantulas to smuggle cocaine under the highly reasonable assumption that customs agents won’t want to check the cargo too closely. He also shows Giannini how a black wasp kills the arachnids (spiders aren’t insects, Mr Scriptwriter!) by paralysing them first. Of course, this ties into the murderer’s method, but it’s just a blind alley and comes over as a lame attempt to justify the film’s title.

Cavara’s film does have one significant aspect, though; its connection to the James Bond franchise. The cast features three past and future Bond Girls. Auger had appeared as Domino opposite Sean Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965), Bouchet was Miss Moneypenny in the spoof version of ‘Casino Royale’ (1967), and Bach went on to spar with Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977). And it doesn’t end there; Giannini played secret agent Rene Mathis in two of Daniel Craig’s outings as 007: ‘Casino Royale’ (2006) and ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008).

The killer’s unusual M.O. and the scenes where it’s employed are probably the only things likely to leave a lasting impression on most viewers. A reasonable Giallo, just not very memorable.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)‘Listen to me; your world is full of lunatics, from Rasputin to crazy operas.’

A senator is murdered, and the police catch a man fleeing the scene. An arrogant young journalist’s work helps secure his conviction, and he is sentenced to the death penalty. However, one the day of his execution, the reporter receives evidence that throws the man’s guilt into doubt…

Noir-ish Giallo thriller from director Alberto De Martino that tries to update the one style, without fully committing to the other. As a result, it’s partially successful and has its moments, but it doesn’t make for compulsive viewing, the final act piling on the action with a breakneck speed that severely harms its credibility.

Senator Robertson meets the end of a bullet on his doorstep and Mexican activist, Valdes (Giovanni Petrucci) is the man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police can’t find the dead man’s missing briefcase, but the gun was ditched in a nearby bush, and Petrucci and the politician have a history. Hot-headed Sentinel reporter Eddie Mills (Antonio Sabato) gets the story for his paper, and sub-editor, John Hammond (Victor Buono) is impressed with his work, even if there’s no love lost between them.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘Before this night is out, I shall revel in the sight of a big, crisp, polyunsaturated bat!’

The evidence to convict Petrucci is strong but circumstantial, the prosecution alleging that he passed the briefcase to a confederate in a car, who drove off in a panic. Sabato does the round of his contacts on the street and digs up naked model Anne Sachs (Barbara Bouchet) who, after initially refusing to help, places herself near the scene and witnessing the car just before the murder. Petrucci is convicted and sentenced to die in the gas chamber.

Returning home on the day of the execution from assignment in New York, Sabato discovers that new evidence has come to light and begins to believe that the condemned man is innocent, after all. But witnesses are nowhere to be found or are turning up dead, and there are only 12 hours to go before Petrucci’s rendezvous with the gas chamber. It’s a desperate chase for Sabato as he tries to get at the truth and catch the assassin.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘No, I’m not doing another ‘Star Trek’. Not if it means kissing Shatner again…’

The concept of the smart-talking, wise-ass reporter chasing down a killer is as old as talking pictures. Although we’re spared any of the tiresome comedic elements that usually came with such a character in the golden days of Hollywood, this is still the essential core of De Martino’s film. It’s been modernised with a grounding in the realms of the conspiracy thriller, but we’d be firmly in Film Noir territory if the action took place on the black and white canvas of downtown LA rather than the sunlit streets of New Mexico.

Several of the main protagonists are typical Noir archetypes, most notably Sabato as the self-serving newshound starting to grow a conscience and Bouchet as the femme fatale-love interest whose motives are open to question. Unfortunately, neither character is written with any more complexity, leaving both actors struggling to make much of an impression. The acting plaudits belong to Buono who, despite having his familiar voice dubbed, still manages to bring a sly, sardonic humour to his role, linking up with Sabato as an unofficial sidekick/partner in the slightly silly closing stages.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘Stop looking at Babs, I was in this movie too!’

Buono was joined by two more notable US actors on the film, as De Martino manfully attempts to convince the audience that they’re watching an American movie. Keenan Wynn has a supporting role as the newspaper’s editor, mostly hiding behind thick glasses and a cigar (the dubbing really doesn’t help his performance) and Faith Domergue scores in a couple of scenes as the accused man’s wife. She’s almost unrecognisable from her roles in such midnight movie favourites as ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), ‘Cult of the Cobra’ (1955) and ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955). She’d had a similarly small role in Lucio Fulci’s stand-out Giallo ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and only made three more films before retiring in the mid-1970s.

One aspect of the film that remains curious is astrologer, Isaac Thetman (Corrado Gaipa). Sabato consults him on the case because he and the senator were connected. The two don’t hit it off, and Giapa predicts the reporter’s death, which will occur at the very moment of Petrucci’s execution. Apparently, that’s the sort of thing you can get in your horoscope because ‘astrology is akin to the occult!’ Really? Ok. Having said that the fortune teller’s presence does lead to the film’s most inventive moment when he inadvertently reveals a crucial clue by walking under a neon sign.

The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio (1971)

‘It’s all about the bone structure, dahling!’

De Martino collaborated on the screenplay here as he did on all his films, including quite a few cult titles, although these were not always of the best quality. These included cheesy Peplum ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963), above-the-fold Eurospy ‘Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere’ (1965), undistinguished Giallo ‘The Insatiables’ (1969), Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and, best of all, the hilariously ridiculous adventures of ‘The Pumaman’ (1980). Sabato made the usual range of Spaghetti Westerns and crime pictures and starred in Umberto Lenzi’s Giallo ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids’ (1972) and Alfonso Brescia’s dreary ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).

Apart from the wonderful Buono, whose best days were already behind him, the real success story here is Czech actor Bouchet. After starting in bit parts for major Hollywood studios and appearing on episodes of ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Star Trek’, she returned to Europe to build a meaningful career via Gialli such as ‘Black Belly of the Tarantula’ (1971), ‘Amuck’ (1972) and ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ (1972). She regularly worked for the rest of the decade before her career began to slow down in the mid-1980s. In recent years, she has returned more often to the big screen, including a part in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Gangs of New York’ (2006), and is still active in the Italian industry as of 2020.

A rather tepid thriller which takes too much time to get going and then tries too hard to make up for it in the last half-hour.

Agent for H.A.R.M. (1966)

Agent_for_H.A.R.M._(1966)‘Minnie’s got the biggest feet in town’.

A biochemist escapes from deep behind the Iron Curtain and settles near San Diego to carry on his (unsupervised!) research into deadly bacteriological weapons. When his assistant dies in mysterious circumstances, the government send top agent Adam Chance to investigate.

Oh dear. Sub-James Bond TV pilot that didn’t sell and was sent out briefly to die on cinema screens. Peter Mark Richman (a familiar face if not a name) heads up matters as our 007 substitute and Wendell Corey plays his boss. Unfortunately, what Richman probably intended as suave sophistication merely comes across as smug and Corey remains resolutely office bound, which seems to have been a contractual requirement at the end of his career. The lust interest is provided by the gorgeous Barbara Bouchet but the acting plaudits (such as they are) go inevitably to Martin Kosleck as the villain of the piece.

We realise we’re in for a pretty rough ride fairly early on. Chance is hanging out on the training ground with sexy Aliza Gur (‘From Russia With Love’ (1963)) when he suggests she had ‘better get back to the Judo range.’ Later on, he displays brilliant tactical awareness when he garrottes one bad guy from behind whilst the villain is driving, sending their vehicle crashing down a cliff side. He’s just as useless at the romantic stuff too, allowing Bouchet to exchange guns whilst they’re enjoying some extended tonsil hockey. However, it doesn’t help that her secret 3rd arm provides particularly useful for this purpose.

Agent For H.A.R.M.(1966)

Smug? Me?

In the only vague piece of invention in the script, the enemy agents use spore guns, which literally fire a lethal disease at their victims. Chance takes them on because he works for H.A.R.M., which stands for ‘Human Aetiological Relations Machine’.  Fair enough, but shouldn’t the fight against biological weapons have some scientific input, rather than just be left to a bunch of spies occasionally pointing guns at each other?

Action sequences are limited to a shootout at a private airport near the end (when we are just sooo past caring) and Richman flouncing around on his motorbike a bit. Gadget play is just some hidden microphones and the plastic spore guns. There are no big set pieces and very minor stunt work. All these are elements that could be considered crucial to this kind of an enterprise. Director Gerd Oswald also made the excellent noir ‘A Kiss Before Dying’ (1956) but obviously 10 years is a long time in Hollywood. It all makes for a seriously dismal 84 minutes.

Adam Chance never returned in something or other. Bloody good job too.