Knife of Ice/Il coltello di ghiaccio (1972)

‘Zombies, Voodoo, demons and witches, there’s enough here to rob you of a month’s sleep.’

A young woman has been unable to speak for 15 years after witnessing the death of her parents in a railway accident. Her cousin, a successful singer, comes to visit but is found murdered the following morning. When another corpse is discovered nearby, the police suspect that the culprit is a drug-addled satanist…

Fair to middling Giallo thriller from director Umberto Lenzi that struggles to meld some interesting elements into a satisfying whole. Oscar-nominated Hollywood outcast Carroll Baker is on leading lady duties again, and reunites with co-star Evelyn Stewart in front of the camera.

Train stations have a particular horror for Martha Caldwell (Baker). As a child, she narrowly escaped death in the railroad crash that claimed her parents’ lives. The trauma deprived her of the power of speech, but handsome physician Dr Laurent (Alan Scott) has been trying to restore her voice. So, it’s encouraging when she’s able to meet cousin Jenny Ascott (Evelyn Stewart) when she steps off the train. Stewart is taking a break from a successful concert tour to stay with the family, completed by occult scholar Uncle Ralph (Jorge Rigaud).

On the first night, Stewart hears a prowler, goes down to the garage to investigate and meets her end at the point of a knife. Policeman Inspector Duran (Franco Fantasia) is inclined to suspect someone in the household, which includes sour-faced chauffeur Marco (Eduardo Fajardo), housekeeper Annie Britton (Silvia Monelli) and redheaded cook Rosalie (Olga Gheradi). However, the body of another young woman turns up close by almost immediately, along with evidence of satanic worship. So, his focus shifts to Woody Mason (Mario Pardo), a strange young drifter seen in the vicinity.

This horror mystery has a decent setup, as written by Lenzi and Antonio Troiso. The satanism angle is new to the Giallo and feels surprisingly fresh, depicted here without supernatural elements. Instead, it’s shown as a different belief system, with symbols scrawled on trees, amulets and a morning after of dissipating smoke and melted candles. Baker’s lack of speech is also a nice nod to noir classic ‘The Spiral Staircase’ (1945), in which a wordless Dorothy Malone struggles to avoid the attention of a mad killer. Lenzi even cribs one scene in its entirety, where Baker breaks a window trying to get the attention of a departing policeman because she cannot call for help. Comparisons between the two don’t do Lenzi any favours, though, as his effort can’t even approach the creepy atmosphere and rich images evoked by director Robert Siodmak for the original film.

Instead, Lenzi focuses on his intricate plot and its surprising conclusion. Unfortunately, the resolution doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, given what the audience has already seen and the lack of detail given to the killer’s motivation and behaviour. The necessities that provoke the rising body count are also hopelessly contrived, and throwing the explanations in at the end in one expository lump only reinforces the gimmicky impression. On the bright side, however, it’s still an intriguing puzzle for most of its length, and the ending isn’t fumbled so badly that it becomes ridiculous.

Lenzi also had the advantage of continuing his working partnership with star Baker. They were on familiar ground too, having collaborated on a trio of Gialli, beginning with ‘So Sweet…So Perverse/Così Dolce…Così Perversa’ (1969), followed by ‘Orgasmo/Paranoia’ (1969) and ‘A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia’ (1970). His leading lady is in fine form again here, delivering a convincing performance without the crutch of dialogue. There are some nice touches, too, as she sounds a car horn at one point as a substitute for a scream. She also uses the telephone by tapping on the mouthpiece with a coin or a spoon and has worked out a code to communicate with Scott. The quieter scenes where she interacts with pre-teen Christina (Rosa M Rodriguez), niece of local priest Father Martin (Jose Marco), are also well-handled. It’s interesting to speculate, however, on what the film might have been like if Baker had not been cast in the role. There’s a definite feel at some points that Martha was initially written as a much younger character.

The family home is next to a large, well-kept cemetery, allowing for a few stylish scenes amongst the fog-shrouded monuments, even if the mist seems to come and go almost instantly at the director’s command. The notion that studying occult practices means investing in real estate next door to a burying ground does seem more than a little silly, though. These are minor complaints, however, and these visuals do add some sense of gothic dread, even if they are not featured prominently enough to make a significant impact. There is also some real-life footage of a bullfight that crops up under the opening credits and at very occasional points throughout. It’s pretty gory and unpleasant, very likely to upset animal lovers, and its inclusion has little justification.

Despite her Best Actress Oscar nomination for ‘Baby Doll’ (1956), by the mid-1960s, Baker was broke and out in the cold in Hollywood. Needing to make ends meet, she accepted an offer to work in Italy and remained in Europe until the late 1970s. Shedding her clothes for Romolo Guerrieri’s ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968) made headlines back home, helping to establish the Giallo film in the American marketplace. Aside from her similar work with Lenzi, she also appeared in minor Gialli outings ‘The Fourth Victim/La última señora Anderson/Death at the Deep End of the Swimming Pool’ (1971) and ‘The Devil has Seven Faces/Il diavolo a sette facce’ (1972). Other notable projects from this period in her career included Euro-Western ‘Captain Apache’ (1971) with Lee Van Cleef and the unusual horror ‘Baba Yaga’ (1973).

Stewart, real name Ida Galli, acted under several aliases and first came to notice with a small role in Federico Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960). By 1963, her stock had risen as she featured more prominently in Luchino Visconti’s ‘The Leopard/Il gattopardo’ (1963) and Mario Bava’s ‘The Whip and the Body/La frusta e il corpo’ (1963). Many leading female roles arrived via the emerging Spaghetti Western sub-genre, and her debut in the Giallo arena came alongside Baker in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968). Further Giallo projects included ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione’ (1971), ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly/Una farfalla con le ali insanguinate’ (1971), ‘A White Dress for Marialé/Un bianco vestito per Marialé/Spirits of Death’ (1971) and ‘The Murder Mansion/La mansión de la niebla’ (1972). As the decade progressed, she diversified into comedy, horror, and crime, making an overdue return to the Giallo with a supporting role in Lucio Fulci’s ‘The Psychic, Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes/Sette note in nero’ (1977). Only a handful of projects followed that, and she left the screen at the end of the 1980s.

A decent enough Giallo, but let down a little by some shortcomings in the weak script.

The Devil With Seven Faces/Il diavolo a sette facce (1971)

‘You’re an idiot with the brain of an ant.’

A beautiful translator living in Amsterdam suspects that she’s under surveillance. After receiving a panicky telephone call from her twin sister in London, two men try to force her into a car out on the street. Fortunately, her lawyer and his visiting friend step in to rescue her…

The prize is a fabulous stolen diamond in this mystery thriller from Italian director Osvaldo Civirani that boasts some familiar faces in the cast. He shares screenplay duties with Tito Carpi, whose writing slate for the year included other Giallo films such as ‘Marta’ (1971), ‘Cold Eyes of Fear/Gli occhi freddi della paura’ (1971) and ‘Seven Murders For Scotland Yard/Jack el destripador de Londres’ (1971).

American blonde in Dutch exile, Julie Harrison (Carroll Baker, who else?) has been spooked by several strange incidents, including being photographed by a creepy man on the street at night after a house party. She’s lost track of her twin sister, Mary, so it’s another shock to get a phone call from England. Mary’s in trouble, and it’s something to do with her husband, but she’s cut off before she can explain. Baker goes to meet her lawyer, handsome Dave Barton (Stephen Boyd), who’s being visited by old friend, racing driver Tony Shane (George Hilton). Two men try to grab Baker after she leaves, and the intrepid duo dive in to fend off her attackers.

Baker takes an immediate shine to Hilton, much to the chagrin of Boyd, who contents himself with secretary, Margaret (Lucretia Love). The would-be kidnappers break up Baker and Hilton’s romantic evening and ransack her home. Even when she’s threatened with a knife, Baker insists she doesn’t know what it’s all about, and it seems clear the gang have mistaken her for her sister. Boyd gets a visit from insurance investigator Steve Hunter (Luciano Pigozzi), who tells him that the whole business revolves around a priceless diamond lifted by Mary from a visiting Maharajah. He neglects to mention that he’s been fired from his job and is working his own end of the street in alliance with some of the crooks involved.

Thieves fall out is the theme of Civirani’s Giallo adventure as characters circle each other, lining up their sights on the elusive gem. Everyone seems to have their eyes on the prize, and is anyone who they claim to be? This tangled skein doesn’t take a genius to unravel, but there are some pleasing diversions along the way. Baker rocks a bright blue wig on the beach (for some reason!) and displays her usual strong commitment to her role. This time around, the physical demands involve more than just casual nudity (in fact, she keeps well covered) but instead focus on the later action scenes, and she handles them well. Hilton is his usual suave, but slightly sinister, presence and Boyd turns on the charm with effortless ease.

The machinations of the plot are never genuinely gripping, but Civirani keeps up a decent pace, and the audience is invested enough to stay on board. The twists and turns are generally predictable and, although some don’t stand up to close scrutiny, the suspension of disbelief remains intact. Nothing is exciting from a technical standpoint, although a gun battle is well-staged and setting the finale in a windmill and its immediate surroundings makes for some good visuals. Things are a little thin in terms of its Giallo credentials, with an early scene of Baker being stalked and her nervy examination of the attic in her new flat being the most prominent examples. Elsewhere, events resemble more of a Euro-Crime thriller. Probably it’s the casting of Baker and Hilton, the year of production and the Italian origin that’s promoted its inclusion on most Giallo lists.

Hilton was one of the premier actors of early 1970s Giallo, appearing in a formidable number of films, including some notable examples. He began with a minor role in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968) but came to prominence with an eye-catching turn in the outstanding ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh’ (1971). ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione’ (1971), ’All the Colors of the Dark/Tutti i colori del buio’ (1972) and ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris/Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?’ (1972) followed, along with several less distinguished Gialli projects. Hilton spent most of the rest of the 1970s in Spaghetti Westerns before turning up as a Professor in Ruggero Deodato’s bonkers science-fiction action flick ‘The Atlantis Interceptors/I predatori di Atlantide’ (1983). The 1990s saw him mainly on television, and he kept working until a few years before his death in 2019.

Civirani began his career with the adult documentary ‘Sexy proibito/Forbidden Sex’ (1963) and moved into the mainstream with threadbare Peplum ‘Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun/Ercole contro i figli del sole’ (1964), on which he served as co-writer, director and cinematographer. He delivered Eurospy adventures ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) and ‘The Beckett Affair’ (1966) before switching to Spaghetti Westerns, which included ‘Return of Django/Il figlio di Django’ (1967) with US actor Guy Madison. Other projects included motor racing drama ‘Le Mans scorciatoia per l’inferno’ (1970) and several comedies starring Italy’s favourite funnymen Franco and Ciccio. One of these was ‘I due della F.1 alla corsa più pazza, pazza del mondo’ (1971) which also had a motor racing theme. One of his final films was supernatural horror ‘Voodoo Sexy’ (1975) with Karin Schubert and Chris Avram.

A workmanlike but rather uninspired feature.

The Fourth Victim/La última señora Anderson/Death at the Deep End of the Swimming Pool (1971)

‘You deceitful little bitch, I ought to break your bloody neck.’

A wealthy man’s third wife is found drowned in their outdoor swimming pool. Given that his two previous spouses died accidentally, the insurance company that held policies on all three push for a murder trial. The husband is found innocent but, shortly afterwards, a glamorous blonde moves into the house next door, and the two become involved…

Misfiring Italian-Spanish Giallo based on a J B Gilford story, which originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Director Eugenio Martin assembled a multi-national cast including former Hollywood A-Lister, and Giallo veteran, American Carroll Baker, British leading man Michael Craig, Swiss-born Miranda Campa, various Spanish and Italian supporting players and a couple of Scandanavians.

Rich man Arthur Anderson (Craig) can’t catch a break when it comes to his wives. They keep dying. Arriving back on his estate, he’s met by panicky housekeeper, Mrs Downing (Campa), who’s just found spouse number three face down in the pool. Although it’s initially ruled an accident, the insurance company press for a murder investigation. It’s understandable, considering that she’s the third wife to bite the bullet in the past three years; the first in a car accident, the second in a fall. All of them carried hefty insurance policies, naming Craig as the beneficiary.

Craig is found not guilty at his trial after some telling, if distinctly dodgy, testimony from Campa. Police Inpsector Dunphy (José Luis López Vázquez) is convinced of his guilt and keeps him under close surveillance. This course of action by Vázquez is the first indication of a flaw in the story that undermines the film’s entire plot. Craig has been tried for the supposed crime and found innocent by a jury. He can’t be tried for it again. Craig even points it out to Vázquez, but the bumbling cop is not deterred, presumably hoping that he’s going to kill someone else. Smart use of police resources, anyway.

Then Craig finds Julie Spencer (Carroll Baker) taking a midnight dip in his outdoor swimming pool. The two seem drawn together and a few weeks later get married. This development is obviously ridiculous, although one of the movie’s later twists attempts to justify their haste. It’s a small ceremony as neither have any immediate family, although, in one of most clumsy examples of foreshadowing ever, Baker admits to a sister that she ‘lost recently.’ Craig invites his insurance agent to the church (and he turns up!), but the groom has less to joke about on his wedding night. Instead of heading upstairs to bed, Baker prefers to break into the attic, presumably looking for clues of some sort. Why she couldn’t wait until Craig was safely out of the way rather than waiting for her downstairs is a bit of a mystery. But not a lot of the story is plausible.

The film has a vague and sloppy screenplay, perhaps because it’s credited to a whole team of writers; director Martin, Sabatino Ciuffini, Vicente Coello and Santiago Moncada. No details are provided of the case against Craig when he is brought to trial in the first place and don’t expect any elaboration on the fate of his first three wives, either. These initial circumstances have almost no payoff; developments focus instead on a mad murderess who owns the house next door. Vázquez and his incompetent officers seem to have wandered in off another movie, and there are other moments hinting at more of a black comedy vibe. That may have been the overall intention once upon a time, but Martin never really commits to it. Overall, the results are a bit of a mess.

It doesn’t help that Craig is so dour that he seems to be on autopilot, and, although Baker puts in her usual reliable performance, the two strike zero sparks off one another. That’s an obvious problem when the script is centred almost entirely around their two characters. Elsewhere, Campa fades quickly from the picture when she initially appeared pivotal, and it’s left to supporting actress Marina Malfatti to pick up the slack. Even though she plays a demented, one-note character, she does bring some life to the moribund proceedings.

All this is quite surprising when you stop to consider a couple of Martin’s subsequent projects. On the one hand, ‘Horror Express/Pánico en el Transiberiano’ (1972) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee is a wonderfully non-stop cavalcade of frights and giggles and a highlight of early 1970’s Euro-Horror. On the other, the slow-moving moody ‘A Candle For The Devil/Una vela para el diablo’ (1973) may have its faults, but it’s still a persuasive, interesting piece of bloody drama. His other credits cover a whole range of genres, and he also wrote and directed ‘The Ugly Ones/El precio de un hombre: The Bounty Killer’ (1966), which made a Spaghetti Western star of Tomas Milian. There was also ‘La vida sigue igual’ (1969), a vehicle for ex-Real Madrid reserve team goalkeeper and international singing phenomenon, Julio Iglesias!

Baker was a bona fide Hollywood star in the 1950s, appearing opposite James Dean in ‘Giant’ (1956) and was Oscar-nominated for playing the title role in ‘Baby Doll’ (1956) the same year. Major roles followed in Western epics ‘The Big Country’ (1958) and ‘How The West Was Won’ (1962), and ‘Cheyenne Autumn’ (1964). However, her career nosedived after critically-derided flop ‘Harlow’ (1965). There were also significant problems with her second husband’s behaviour, which saw the couple become persona non grata in Tinseltown and left her with an empty bank account. Europe offered work, and she began a five-year tenure in Italian Giallo with ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968), which was quickly followed by more than half a dozen other similar projects. In the late 1970s, she returned to America and reinvented herself as a character actress, successfully pursuing her career in both television and the movies. She appeared to great effect in the Oscar-nominated ‘Ironweed’ (1987) with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

A disappointing, slapdash mystery. One for Giallo completists only.

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)‘Shooting pigeons helps free us from our subconscious feelings of aggression.’

A racing car driver cracks up during a practice lap, and barely escapes death in the flaming wreckage of her car. She takes up a surprise offer to stay with her ex-husband after recovery, only to find that the invitation came from his new wife. Not long after she arrives at their villa, the conversation turns to murder…

Intricate Giallo thriller from director Umberto Lenzi and star Carroll Baker, who had previously teamed up a year earlier for similar mysteries ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) and ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), the first of which, like this film, also bore the alternate title of ‘Paranoia’. All three featured the shifting dynamics of a small cast of main characters and their murderous interplay with each other.

Helen is a lady in trouble. Badly in debt after her racing circuit smash-up, she receives a telegram apparently sent me her ex-husband. On impulse, she decides to accept his offer of a place to take a breather, only to find when she arrives that the invite came from his wife, Constance (Anna Proclemer). Ex-hubby Maurice (Jean Sorel) hasn’t changed in the years since his divorce from Baker and Proclemer is expecting him to start straying soon, realising that he only married her for her money.

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

‘You’re supposed to stab him in the back.’

Together, the two women hatch a plot to get rid of him for good, Proclemer buying Baker’s help with a hefty cheque. However, their principal motivation is that Sorel is like a drug to both of them, and it’s the only way they can kick the habit and move on with their lives. If this reason for murder does need a little work with the suspension of disbelief, then we have already had to accept Baker as a hot-shot racing car driver, so it’s not that hard.

The plan is to off Sorel with a spear gun on a yachting trip, but Baker freezes at the moment of crisis, having already tumbled into bed with him earlier. Proclemer tries to grab the weapon, the trio struggled, and Sorel stabs his wife to death. Moments later, they realise that the yacht of local judge and family friend, Albert (Luis Dávila) is heading their way, so they weigh down the body and fake an accident, pitching her overboard during a sudden sailing manoeuvre. Dávila is convinced, and the authorities can’t find the body, so everything looks like it’s working out fine. Then Sorel’s step-daughter, Susan (Marina Coffa) arrives unexpectedly from school, an and begins poking around, disbelieving their version of events from the first.

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

‘Is that drink for me or your new friend?’

This is a good, solid crime thriller and probably the best of the loose trio of films Baker and Lenzi made in quick succession that began with ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Yes, there is a sense of familiarity, and Baker and Sorel are certainly not required to do anything very challenging or depart from their screen personas of the time. Baker being the usual on edge, self-medicating nervous wreck who loses her clothes from time to time, and Sorel the smarmy, handsome playboy with a nasty edge. It’s little more than a slight variation of the roles they played together for director Romolo Guerrieri in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), and both had repeated in other projects afterwards. Still, they are convincing and ably supported by Proclemer and Coffa.

The film scores most heavily with the screenplay, which was credited to four writers: Marcello Coscia, Bruno Di Geronimo, Rafael Romero Marchent and Marie Claire Solleville. Perhaps the number of authors goes some way to explain the multiple twists and turns the story contains before the fadeout. There is uncertainty about where events are heading throughout, and Lenzi’s fast pace ensures that the drama remains interesting. Of course, if you take the time to think about the plot afterwards, it’s highly implausible, to say the least.

It was time for some more subtle product placement.

Lenzi was a journeyman of Italian cinema, following trends even more slavishly than most directors of his era. He began his career with historical dramas and swashbucklers in the late 1950s before graduating to Peplum when that became popular with pictures such as ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963) and ‘Messalina vs the Son of Hercules/L’ultimo gladiatore (1964). The inevitable Eurospys followed, such as ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo’ (1965) and ‘Last Man To Kill’ (1966). His excursion into the Giallo included a fourth film with Baker (‘Knife of Ice’ (1972)) and was preceded by Spaghetti Western ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins/Una pistola per cento bare’ (1968). By the mid-point in the decade, he was making the inevitable ‘Godfather’ knock-offs and, in the 1980s, he followed splatter king Lucio Fulci into zombie horror with ‘Nightmare City’ (1980). Perhaps he is best remembered though for delivering the controversial ‘Cannibal ferox’ (1982) which the poster art would later proclaim was ‘banned in 31 countries.’

An enjoyable thriller; nothing special, but the performances are good, and the plot should keep you engaged until the final twist.

So Sweet…So Perverse/Così Dolce…Così Perversa (1969)

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)‘Don’t get yourself so upset. You see corpses everywhere…’

A philandering playboy, caught in a loveless marriage, becomes intrigued by the mysterious blonde who has taken the apartment upstairs. Before long, they are having a passionate affair, but she is still seemingly in thrall to her abusive ex-boyfriend…

In many ways, this is the archetypical late 1960s Giallo thriller. This cocktail of death and sex is served up by journeyman Italian director Umberto Lenzi, who had just come off the similarly themed ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Why is it so typical Well, there’s a small cast of principals whose loyalties and alliances are continually suspect. There’s a low body count, no blood to speak of, and the nudity is kept mostly under wraps. There’s also a twisting plot more reminiscent of a ‘mystery of the week’ than the kind of borderline horror picture that helped to inspire the American Slasher craze of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Our less than perfect protagonist is Jean-Louis Trintignant, already experienced in this kind of picture. Here, he’s a casual businessman approaching a mid-life crisis. Why is a little hard to understand. After all, he’s hitched to the beautiful and wealthy Erika Blanc, and they live in a wonderfully gothic old building in the centre of Paris. But Trintignant is a serial player with a roving eye and other wandering parts of his anatomy, and his various infidelities have left him at loggerheads with Blanc. Enter beautiful blonde Carroll Baker, who takes the apartment upstairs. Blanc had wanted to rent it for expansion purposes (or perhaps as a retreat from Trintignant), so the couple has a key. Trintignant finds a dropped earring in the elevator, which seems to belong to Baker, and well, you can guess the rest.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘This is the last time I let the boss drive me home from work..’

As usual, the game is to guess who’s in league with who and what they might be planning to do to someone else. The wild card is the last member of our featured quartet; violent bully Klaus (Horst Frank), who runs a photography studio. He still has some hold over Baker despite their relationship being over. Or is it?

Baker was getting quite experienced at playing out these kinds of scenarios, and she’s the stand out here. Her character turns on a dime so many times that it sends Trintignant into a complete spin, and constantly wrong-foots the audience. Is she victim, or perpetrator? Damsel in distress or cold-hearted femme fatale? Elsewhere, Blanc gets a bit of a thankless role as the cast-aside wife, but there is a nice piece of business where she walks around her flat staring up at the ceiling, following the sounds of Baker and Trintignant making love in the flat upstairs. There’s also some casual exploitation with stripper Beryl Cunningham in a ‘swinging’ party scene, and Helga Liné is completely wasted as a family friend. It may have been a nothing role, but at least it was another credit for the hardest working actress in 1960s Europe.

Probably the film’s greatest asset is that Lenzi resists a lot of the tricks and flourishes he’d employed on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), although there is one sequence where he throws the camera around and puts coloured filters on the lens. But it’s brief, and most of the time he chooses to shoot in a way that serves the story, rather than distracts from it. The twists are better executed too, happening more organically throughout the film. This helps to keep the audience interested, even if the final resolution isn’t particularly satisfying and the end product is ultimately a little bland.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘Thank you, but I’m not interested in a new set of vacuum cleaner brushes.’

The film’s most remarkable feature is the presence of so many people on both sides of the camera who became closely associated with the Giallo film. Behind the scenes are co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi and producer Sergio Martino, both of whom leant their talents to many similar outings.

Baker had only just finished working on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) with Lenzi and went on to star in half-dozen or so similar projects into the 1970s. Here, she is dubbed by another actress in the English language version; presumably, her voice-track not being available after the original Italian dub. It’s not as disconcerting as similar instances involving actors such as Christopher Lee, as her voice is not as distinctive, but it’s still a little distracting.

A solid thriller. Not a bad example of the genre, but a little unmemorable.

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969) 

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)‘You’ve got an unusual bellybutton; just like the Botticelli Venus.’

A millionaire’s widow takes an isolated villa in the country after her husband’s death to settle her nerves. One day a handsome young man’s car breaks down outside her gate, and she invites him in to use the phone. They strike up a friendship, which quickly tums physical, but is it all as innocent as it seems?

Late 1960s Giallo picture from journeyman director Umberto Lenzi featuring American star Carroll Baker, who had already appeared in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968) and would go on to make half a dozen such thrillers on the continent in the first half of the 1970s. Here, she’s joined by handsome Lou Castel and quirky Collette Descombes in a three-handed psychodrama that mixes drugs, sex and murder.

After her filthy rich husband expires in a car accident, high society widow Baker
wants out of the limelight and relocates to Italy, dodging paparazzi on the way. A
quiet life dabbling with oil paints seems the way to go and lawyer Tino Carraro fixes her up with a beautiful house in a beautiful spot. She looks all set, but her nerves have taken a beating by recent events, and she’s self-medicating with alcohol and pills. Enter Castel; a roguish, fly-by-night sort of a chappie, who fetches up at her front door after a spot of car trouble. He’s dreadfully forward in a devil-may-care kind of a way, but she’s having none of it, playing the outraged lady of the manor to the hilt. At least to begin with. But it’s not too long before he’s a permanent houseguest, and the two are fooling around in the shower. He seems to be just what Baker needs, but trouble in paradise isn’t long in coming; this time in the form of Castel’s fun-loving sister Eva (Descombes).

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)

The last pint was always a mistake…

From there, the trio begins what seems to be an extended holiday; throwing crucial shapes at a hipster hangout, drinking to all hours, playing the record player really, really loud, and generally living it large. Of course, Baker and Castel are having lots of sex too, but she’s still self-medicating, with the suspiciously enthusiastic support of Descombes.

One morning after involves waking up in bed subsequent to an apparent threesome, and it’s not long afterwards that the fun takes a far more sinister tum. Verbal abuse becomes physical, and Baker is on the wrong end of a series of increasingly sadistic mind games. These include repeatedly spinning a 1960s pop record at ear-splitting volume; one listen of which would probably be enough to send any self-respecting music fan round the twist anyway.

Baker appears naked for her tussles with Castel, and, although the nudity is not exploitative by today’s standards, a ‘name’ Hollywood actress appearing in the altogether probably raised some eyebrows at the time. But, if Baker’s decision to
relocate to Europe and tackle such material seems a little strange, then the
explanation is remarkably simple. She was broke, and there was no work available back home. That was principally due to her soon to be ex-husband, director Jack Garfein. His activities might have been overlooked if Baker was still a box office draw, but the disastrous ‘Harlow’ (1965) had pretty much taken care of that.

Orgasmo/Paranoia (1969)

‘Just a small one…’

There are two principal problems with the film, which both fix it firmly in the era when it was made and doom it to a kind of watchable mediocrity. The major issue is the story. More plot is badly needed, especially during the glacial second act, where the evil actions of Castel and Descombes lack any real invention and become swiftly repetitive.

There are some twists in the tale, and, although these aren’t bad, they do arrive all at once. It’s also very late on in proceedings by then, so these developments don’t lead anywhere. Instead, they just come across as a handful of cheap tricks thrown in at the last minute to try and convince the audience that the film is a lot cleverer and more accomplished than it really is.

This shortfall in the script department may have had a knock-on effect on director Lenzi, who favours a lot of zooms, swift pans and large close-ups of the faces of his cast. This last stylistic tendency proves unfortunate as it tends to exaggerate the performances at times. This kind of approach was in vogue at the time, but there’s a suspicion here that the director may have lacked faith in the project and was trying too hard to keep his audience interested.

Lenzi and Baker went back to the well almost immediately with ‘So Sweet. ..So Perverse’ (1969) and reunited again for further adventures in Giallo with ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘Knife of Ice’'(1972). Baker immortalised her own story in the excellent autobiography ‘Baby Doll’ and exhibited such a natural talent for writing that you wish she’d turned her hand to fiction.

A fair time passer but a little weak in the script department.

The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah (1968)

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)‘And now watch out, I like to eat little girls.’

A bridegroom takes his American wife to his old home town of Geneva on their honeymoon. When they arrive, he discovers that his ex-lover has committed suicide and it’s not long before the couple are being subjected to strange happenings and mysterious threats…

The ltalian ‘Giallo’ movie is now recognised as a precursor to the American slasher craze kicked off in earnest by John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978), but the term originally simply referred to a ‘murder mystery’ and this film falls squarely into that category. So there’s a notable absence of the familiar tropes we expect when viewing films from that sub-genre today, but nevertheless this was an important steeping stone in their development, although not so much for what actually appears on the screen.

Handsome Swiss hunk Jean Sorel is showing new wife Carroll Baker the sights of Europe when they stopover in his old stomping ground on the shores of Lake Geneva. A seemingly chance encounter with old friend Philip (Liugi Pistilli) turns nasty when Pistilli informs him of the suspected suicide of Sorel’s ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Evelyn Stewart) in a car accident.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

‘Shake it Baby!’

At Stewart’s abandoned old home, they hear spooky music and Baker gets a phone call threatening her life. Believing Pistilli was in love with Stewart and is seeking vengeance, the couple rent an isolated villa in the country, but it seems they can’t escape Sorel’s shady past. And what’s their dangerously handsome next door neighbour George Hilton got to do with it all?

The film starts rather slowly with Sorrel and Baker as loving newlyweds. The intention is to establish character and get the audience invested, which is a fine idea. Unfortunately, both Baker and Sorel seem disengaged with the material and there is little chemistry between them. After their visit to the spooky old house, suspicion raises its ugly head on both sides and the cracks in their relationship begin to show. Their quiet sense of distrust in each other is nicely played and these are probably the film’s best scenes.

So, after a somewhat rocky opening, toward the half way point things seem to be building up nicely. But then there’s no more story development until the last 15 minutes when all the threads come together. It’s this lengthy and very dull second act that really derails the film. To its’ credit, we still not exactly sure of what’s happening until pretty near the conclusion but when the pieces fall into place it’s not exactly a surprise and an attempt at an additional twist at the end is rather ambiguous and makes little sense.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

 In the 60s people really knew how to party… 

Director Romolo Guerrieri is keen to catch that 1960’s zeitgeist by dressing Baker in funky outfits and employing some ill-advised (if pretty) slo-mo in some of the romantic flashbacks. The musical soundtrack by Nora Orlandi is very much of its time and there’s a slightly odd sequence where Baker and Sorel play ‘Twister’ in their back garden to the sound of a marching band!

Considering all this is a fairly tepid experience, then why is it an important step in the development of the ‘Giallo’ as we know it today? Because of the people that were involved – on both sides of the camera. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who co-authored the screenplay) was already becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for these kind of convoluted thrillers and co-writer/producer Luciano Martino went onto fulfil the same roles on several notable examples, including ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wrath’ (1971). That last film was directed by his brother Sergio who served as production manager on this film and actually starred Hilton who top-lined several other similar projects in subsequent years. And the same can be said of Pistilli and Sorel! Perhaps it just shows how tightly knit the Italian film industry was at the time.

Baker was a Hollywood actress who had fame almost as soon as she stepped in front of the camera with a featured role in the James Dean epic ‘Giant’ (1956) and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character of Elia Kazan’s ‘Baby Doll’ (1956). Partly due to the nature of that role and the national controversy which the film provoked, she found it hard to get decent roles afterwards and often argued with producers and studios to escape type-casting. When big budget biopic ‘Harlow’ (1965) was a box office disaster (and her performance in the title role panned by critics) her stateside career was effectively over and, after a short break, she relocated to the continent. Subsequent to this film, she made a string of ‘Giallo’ pictures: ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘The Fourth Victim’ (1971) among others.

This is not a bad thriller by any means, but a dull middle section betrays the lack of an interesting plot and there’s not enough suspense or surprise to satisfy mystery fans. And those familiar with the more extreme elements of later ‘Giallo’ pictures are likely to be severely disappointed.