The Murder Mansion/La mansión de la niebla/Maniac Mansion (1972)

‘But there’s one good thing; we’re near a cemetery.’

A motorcyclist picks up a young woman hitchhiking, but they lose their way in the fog on the road to Milan. They run into a woman in an expensive car, who is also lost, and all three take refuge in an old, dark house by a churchyard. There they find other travellers in a similar situation, and the woman who owns the house reveals that local legend has it that vampires and phantoms stalk the area…

A rather intriguing mixture of traditional horror and the Giallo, ill-served by a weak script and loose handling by director Francisco Lara Polop. The cast is headed up by some familiar faces from Italian genre cinema of the time, although, judging by the talent behind the camera, this international co-production had a heavy Spanish bias.

Handsome young biker Fred (Andrés Resino) thinks his luck’s in when he spots pretty young Laura (Lisa Leonardi) by the side of the road. Unfortunately, she opts for the more respectable ride of dark-suited businessman, Mr Porter (Franco Fantasia). It’s not long before she’s switching rides, though, inspired by Fantasia’s wandering hands. Fred promises to get her to Milan before sundown, but a wrong turn and a low-lying fog see them come off the bike on a lonely back road.

It’s then that they run into the wealthy Elsa (Analía Gadé), who should be on her way to meet her lawyer, Tremont (Eduardo Fajardo) and his wife, played by Yelena Samarina. She’s hoping to finalise an important business deal but needs the signature of her wastrel husband, Ernest (Alberto Dalbés), who’s busy making deals of a more physical kind with gold digger Ellen (Ingrid Garbo). By the time Resino and Leonardi roll up, Gadé’s already been frightened out of her wits by a couple of strange figures emerging from a nearby graveyard, but they seem to have vanished as mysteriously as they appeared. Resino suggests taking shelter in an isolated mansion close by, and there they find Fantasia and Fajardo and Samarina, everyone having lost their way in the extreme weather conditions.

The owner of the house is happy to let them stay the night. Martha Clinton (Evelyn Stewart) doesn’t usually occupy the premises, but she’s the last in line of the aristocratic family that previously lived there for generations. She tells them that the nearby village was abandoned many years before due to a wave of sudden deaths that the locals put down to the work of a vampire. Stewart also claims her aunt was a witch, and the story of her death seems to tie in with the apparitions that frightened Gadé in the graveyard. And, of course, she bares an uncanny resemblance to her aunt, as evidenced by the inevitable portrait above the fireplace.

The notion of pairing the Giallo, essentially a mystery thriller with a horror edge, with the more traditional frights more familiar to the silver screen during the 1930s is an interesting one, but it’s a tricky juggling act. On the one hand, you need to set up the basic premise of the former, here the kind of ‘closed circle’ affair much beloved by Agatha Christie fans, and yet emphasise the latter in an attempt to convince the audience that the supernatural elements are real. Unfortunately, the script by Luis G de Blain isn’t all that smart, and director Polop doesn’t have the sure touch to put the hackneyed business across, resulting in a film where the threat might be tangible but the mechanics of the plot and its upcoming twists are all too clear to see.

It’s difficult for the audience to invest in the dreary proceedings because most of the cast struggle to haul any of their underwritten characters off the printed page and into life. Stewart is semi-successful, giving her aristocrat an appropriately cold and regal air, but it’s still little more than a thumbnail sketch. However, there are some acting honours, and they belong without question to Gadé. She gives a wonderfully intense and committed performance, grabbing the lacklustre material by the throat and transforming it into something almost worthwhile, apparently by the sheer force of her will alone.

No doubt it helped that the script gives Elsa a little backstory, something notably absent for all the other characters. It’s pretty thin stuff, really, but a lengthy flashback features her wayward father, played by George Rigaud. His death sends her into a mental tailspin, probably because his massive heart attack was triggered by the extracurricular activity he was carrying out with her best friend from college at the time. So, Elsa is damaged, and her relationships with men are complicated, giving the actress some context for building a performance. Credit to Gadé for giving it her all, of course, but it’s a shame that such talent and energy is channelled into a project with so little merit.

Technically, the film is competently made, although even the atmosphere of the fog-shrouded graveyard is somewhat diluted by the gothic overkill of Marcello Giombini’s overbearing, strident score. Horror fans expecting creative or graphic kills will also be disappointed by the presentation of the murders, as much as mystery fans are likely to be underwhelmed by the story’s predictable payoff. In fact, the last act gets progressively sillier and sillier until it approaches parody, which was unlikely to have been the filmmaker’s intention. And spare a thought for Samarina. The convolutions of the ridiculous plot dictate that her character sleeps through most of the action! Although perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing.

Gadé was born in Argentina in 1931 and ran away from a religious school to enter a beauty contest at age 15. She won, and it provided a springboard for her acting ambitions, first on the stage and then on the screen. By 1956 when she decamped for Madrid with her actor-husband, the much-married Juan Carlos Thorry, she had already appeared in more than a dozen films and was playing leading roles. She worked steadily throughout the following years, although her work was little seen outside continental Europe. She did have a minor role in the Sophia Loren vehicle ‘Madame’ (1961) and a much more prominent part opposite ex-Hollywood royalty Gene Tierney in mystery-horror ‘Four Nights of the Full Moon’ (1963). Unfortunately, that production ran out of money mid-shoot, and although a truncated version was apparently released, the film is now considered lost. Gadé won plaudits for her performance in the horror film ‘Exorcism’s Daughter/Las melancólicas’ (1971), where she starred with her husband, Espartaco Santoni. However, the experience was soured when she discovered he was having an affair with another actress on the picture. This may explain why Samarina spends much of this movie on the sidelines. Yes, she was the third corner of the love triangle, which couldn’t have made for an easy atmosphere on set.

This was Polop’s first feature as a director, although he had been working in the industry as a Production Manager for about a decade and had chalked up a single writing credit courtesy of the musical comedy ‘Megaton Ye-Ye’ (1965). He had worked in the former capacity on a couple of Giallo pictures, Umberto Lenzi’s ‘A Quiet Place to Kill/Paranoia’ (1970) and ‘The Glass Ceiling/El techo de cristal’ (1971). It would be tempting to put down this film’s shortcomings to his lack of experience, and that may have played a part, but his subsequent directorial output is not well-regarded. His final film was a version of Matthew Lewis’ church-baiting gothic novel ‘The Monk’, later filmed to far greater notice with Vincent Cassel and Geraldine Chaplin in 2004. Polop’s take was released in 1990 and starred the eighth Doctor Who, Paul McGann, Sophie Ward and Isla Blair, one of the very few occasions Polop got to work with cast members known outside continental Europe.

A disappointing scribble of a film poorly thought out and indifferently executed.

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.

A White Dress for Marialé/Un bianco vestito per Marialé/Spirits of Death (1972)

‘Even hypocrisy is better than this dirty carnival.’

A beautiful woman and her lover are murdered in the woods by her husband. Thirty years later, a group of friends are invited to the isolated castle of a nobleman. As the weekend progresses, they are slaughtered one by one…

Stylish, offbeat Giallo from director Romano Scavolini, who some sources claim also had a hand in the script credited to Remigio Del Grosso and Giuseppe Mangione. The final results are somewhat divisive, to say the least.

A double murder-suicide takes place on a summer day in the woods, witnessed by a young child. Thirty years later, handsome playboy Massimo (Ivan Rassimov) arrives at the gates of the remote estate of nobleman Paolo (Luigi Pistilli). He has an invite for the weekend, but taciturn butler Osvaldo (Gengher Gatti) informs him at the gate that his master and mistress are away. However, other guests begin to arrive; dark-haired Mercedes (Pilar Velázquez) and her older man Jo (Giancarlo Bonuglia), as well as her estranged husband Sebastiano (Ezio Marano). The party is completed by the volatile Gustavo (Edilio Kim) and his inebriated girlfriend Semy (Shawn Robinson).

The guests are old friends of Pistilli’s wife, Marialé (Evelyn Stewart), who has been living in seclusion since her marriage into the nobility. Rassimov still holds a torch for her, and it appears that Pistilli may be keeping her in his castle against her will. After Pistilli admits the group, they begin to explore the underground chambers of his ancient residence and find a room filled with old medieval clothes. Painting their faces and putting on the costumes, they hold a masquerade banquet where the wine flows freely. However, as the evening progresses, the body count begins to rise.

From the outline of the plot, it seems that the audience is on very familiar territory with Scavolini’s film; a ‘closed circle’ whodunnit in the manner of Agatha Christie, but no doubt updated with the extravagant kills that usually come with the Giallo label. To an extent, that is the case, but there’s a different emphasis here that’s likely to divide opinion. Rather than focus on the murder aspect of his tale, the director seems far more interested in documenting the less-than-endearing traits and personalities of the weekend house party. These are a vain, arrogant bunch with a propensity to violence, gluttony and lust, all of which they are eager to indulge. Italian cinema of the period was often quick to decry the idle rich, presenting them as desensitised, vapid and hollow. Scavolini takes this further, displaying their base, animal instincts and desires.

This choice of focus largely sidelines the mystery aspect of proceedings. The audience has to wait until around the hour mark for anything to happen in that regard. In a way, Scavolini’s priorities are understandable. The slow pace is not a dealbreaker, but the plot is paper thin, and the characters are largely one-note. There’s no trail of breadcrumbs for the audience to follow in the direction of the killer’s identity, and the final revelations are severely underwhelming anyway. The cast is solid, however, with Stewart’s ethereal beauty and nuanced performance being the standout. We’re never quite sure where we are with Marialé, and her presence provides the little tension and drama the film possesses.

The most positive aspect, however, is how the film looks. It’s beautiful. Scavolini worked as his own cinematographer and delivers some truly stunning, quality work. Shots are exquisitely composed without being over-stylised or distracting, and the choice of lenses infuses the images with a wonderful richness and depth, particularly noticeable in the location scenes. The lighting of the interiors is also remarkable, the subtle use of colours evoking mood and atmosphere. In later life, Scavolini dismissed this project as simply a job, but there’s little doubt that he took pride in his work and was an accomplished visual artist.

Stewart was born Ida Galli during the Second World War near the mountains of Northern Italy. She acted under several names, but most often as Stewart. However, it was under her own name that she began her career, her most notable role being a small part in Federico Fellini’s multi-award-winning classic ‘La dolce vita’ (1960). Supporting parts followed for Mario Bava in ‘Hercules in the Haunted World/Ercole al centro della Terra’ (1961) and ‘The Whip and the Body/La frusta e il corpo’ (1963), as well as for Luchino Visconti in ‘The Leopard/Il gattopardo’ (1963). Moving into genre cinema, she began appearing regularly in Spaghetti Westerns before taking her Giallo bow in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968). Similar projects followed, such as ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione’ (1971) and ‘Knife of Ice/Il coltello di ghiaccio’ (1972). One of her last roles was for Lucio Fulci in ‘The Psychic, Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes/Sette note in nero’ (1977).

Some will be impressed; some will be bored, and others will feel that it’s a film all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The Bloodstained Butterfly/Una farfalla con le ali insanguinate (1971)

‘If this is a psychotic episode, the killer won’t have a police record.’

Children playing in a park find a young woman’s body moments after she has been murdered. A man in a raincoat flees the scene, and one witness identifies him as a popular TV personality. The star is tried and convicted of the crime, but then another victim is discovered in the park, and she seems to have been killed in the same way…

Sober and downbeat Giallo thriller from writer-director Duccio Tessari, here writing with Gianfranco Clerici. The Italian-West German financing package results in a few familiar faces from both nations, and the suburban setting brings a welcome level of realism to the mystery.

Sportscaster Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia) seems to have it all; a slot on prime time television, a beautiful wife (Evelyn Stewart) and a brilliant daughter in college (Wendy D’Olive). Unfortunately, it’s all a facade. He wears a toupee on-screen, Stewart is having an affair with family lawyer Giulio (Günther Stoll), and he’s also carrying out extracurricular activities with the free-spirited Marta Clerici (Lorella De Luca). Sbragia’s life starts to unravel when pretty young redhead Françoise Pigaut (Carole André) meets death by switchblade in the local public park. Not only is she a close friend of his daughter, but a witness identifies him as the man seen running in the aftermath of the attack.

At the trial, the evidence against him is largely circumstantial, but there is an awful lot of it. Despite the best efforts of defence counsel Stoll, who is understandably conflicted due to his long-running secret affair with Stewart, Sbragia is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, daughter D’Olive has started a relationship with one of the friendly witnesses, a handsome music student named Giorgio (Helmut Berger), who may have been the victim’s secret lover. And just when Inspector Berardi (Silvano Tranquilli) thinks everything’s done and dusted, another body turns up in the park. He tries to deny the connection between the two slayings, but a third murder grants Sbragia a retrial.

Rather than employ the more extravagant flourishes of some of his contemporaries, director Tessari opts for a remorselessly realistic tone with this picture. So the action is firmly rooted in more conventional crime drama and is likely to disappoint the more hardcore fans of the Giallo sub-genre. There is a little nudity, but few scares, and the slayings occur almost entirely offscreen. Instead, the film verges on a police procedural with a surprising emphasis on forensics in the early part. One of the most effective sequences being Tranquili’s detectives desperately trying to salvage physical evidence from the first crime scene as an inconvenient rainstorm threatens to wash everything away.

To some extent, the film resembles Tessari’s previous Giallo feature, ‘Death Occurred Last Night’ (1970). However, the ‘whodunnit’ elements and red herrings don’t allow for the high level of character development and touches of bleak humour that his previous project displayed. There are still occasional moments, though, such as Tranquilli’s frequent complaints about the quality of the coffee available at the police station. Instead, the time is spent lining up all our suspects, and Tessari keeps them all in play with a sure hand, each appearing progressively more guilty than the last. If the denouement is a little disappointing, it is at least solid and logical, although a few minor details are left hanging.

The abundance of plot doesn’t allow the cast much breathing room, but performances are professional and accomplished. The only weak link in the chain is top-billed Berger, presumably included to secure the German financing. It’s not that his acting is poor; it’s simply that some shots can’t hide the fact that he was in his late 20s at the time, simply too old to be the classmate and romantic interest of the teenage D’Olive. Other German cast members, such as Stoll, fare somewhat better, and it’s always a pleasure to see the 1960s Dr Mabuse, Wolfgang Preiss, here playing the prosecutor at Sbragia’s trial.

Italian filmmakers of the late 1960s were often highly critical of the country’s idle rich, and many young and beautiful dilettantes were sacrificed on the cinematic altar of the Giallo. Although Tessari’s protagonists are far from members of the international jet set, they are still firmly bourgeois and display the same selfishness and lack of basic human values as their more privileged counterparts. Berger’s Giorgio might contemptuously refuse his wealthy father’s money and express his disgust for the Capitalist ideal, but he’s still swanning around Europe and living off his uncle’s trust fund. The action may be taking place in a more urban setting than the Mediterranean islands or the Costa del Sol, but the moral decay is still ever-present, and the animals are still hungry.

Berger found fame as the protégé, and partner, of the famous Italian director, Luchino Visconti and had a prominent role in his Oscar-nominated feature ‘The Damned’ (1969). The title role in Massimo Dallamano’s freewheeling update of ‘Dorian Gray’ (1970) followed as well as other projects for Visconti. The 1980s saw him as comic book supervillain ‘Fantomas’ on French television, and he even had a short run as a guest star on US mega-soap ‘Dynasty.’

Stewart, real name Ida Galli, took her opening bow in the Giallo with ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968) after a long list of film credits that included work with director Mario Bava and a good number of Spaghetti Westerns. She followed up with ‘The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista’ (1970) and ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione’ (1971) and later on with ‘The Murder Mansion/La mansión de la niebla’ (1972), ‘Knife of Ice/Il coltello di ghiaccio’ (1972) and the title role in ‘A White Dress for Marialé/Un Bianco vestito per Marialé’ (1972). After the popularity of the Giallo faded, she worked on throughout the 1970s, appearing in Lucio Fulci’s ‘The Psychic’ (1977), among other films.

Tessari was primarily a writer whose career followed the typical Italian film industry template. Beginning in Peplum with features such as ‘La vendetta di Ercole/Goliath and the Dragon’ (1960) and ‘Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole Alla Conquista di Atlantide’ (1961), he crossed paths around that time with both directors Mario Bava and Sergio Leone. This led to writing assignments on Bava’s ‘Hercules in the Haunted World/Ercole al Centro della Terra’ (1962) and Leone’s ‘A Fistful of Dollars (1964). He picked up the megaphone around the same time, delivering several Spaghetti Westerns, including a couple in the popular ‘Ringo’ series, and branching out briefly into the Eurospy genre. He rounded out his trio of Giallo films with ‘Puzzle/L’uomo senza memoria’ (1974) and went on to work in a range of genres over the rest of his career. Other projects included tough mob drama ‘No Way Out’ (1973) with Alain Delon and noir icon Richard Conte and a version of the popular swashbuckler ‘Zorro’ (1975), again with Delon. He carried on working almost up to his death in the early 1990s.

Although not one of the highlights of 1970s Giallo, this is still a very well-made, accomplished thriller with much to recommend it.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione (1971)

‘He must’ve been peeling a pear when his knife slipped.’

A faithless wife receives a million-dollar life insurance payout when her husband dies in a plane crash. Several people believe that she was somehow responsible and, when she goes to pick up the money in Athens, various mysterious characters start to close in…

After director Sergio Martino took his bow in the Giallo arena with ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh‘ (1971), it was less than eight months before he delivered his second entry. Also produced by brother Luciano, it again featured a writing team that included Eduardo Manzanos and genre leader Ernesto Gastaldi.

When a commercial airliner explodes mid-flight, the beautiful Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart) isn’t too bothered when she finds out that her husband, Kurt (Fulvio Mingozzi), was on the passenger list. After all, it wasn’t that much of a marriage; he was constantly on the move because of business, leaving her alone in London to amuse herself with a string of lovers. In fact, there’s a considerable upside. A few months earlier, he’d taken out a million-dollar life insurance policy with her as the sole beneficiary.

However, newfound wealth comes with its own problems. Before leaving England, Stewart is stalked by one of her ex-playmates, who has an incriminating letter in which she wished her husband dead. Going to pay him off, she instead finds him dying in a pool of blood. Fleeing to Athens to collect the cash, she’s pursued by both insurance investigator Peter Lynch (George Hilton) and Interpol agent John Stanley (Alberto de Mendoza). If all that’s not bad enough, Mingozzi’s ex-lover Lara Florakis (Janine Reynaud) and her strongarm friend Sharif (Luis Barboo) want their share of the booty.

What follows is the tangled web of murder, mystery and misdirection typical of the sub-genre. Was the explosion on the plane an accident or sabotage? Who killed the blackmailer in London? Was Reynaud really Mingozzi’s lover? Is the businessman actually still alive? Does de Mendoza have a hidden agenda? Do Stewart and Hilton have a previous relationship, and does journalist Cléo Dupont (Anita Strindberg) have an ulterior motive in getting close to him? Question after question for Inspector Stavros (Luigi Pistilli) as the money disappears and the corpses begin piling up.

This is a quality Giallo, but with an impact slightly compromised by some structural and pacing issues. These were most probably caused by a hurried production. The original cut of the film ran short, and reshoots with Stewart took place in London. These scenes never fully integrate into the story and make for a rather extended first act. This means that Strindberg appears surprisingly late in proceedings, considering that she is a pivotal character and, at times, the drama does seem a little unfocused.

Nevertheless, the film has some definite virtues. On the technical side, we have wonderfully crisp cinematography from Emilio Foriscot, and Bruno Nicolai’s score is excellent. The director also ups the horror content with more explicit kills, even if the makeup effects leave a little to be desired on occasion. One of the murders proves to be the film’s outstanding sequence; another tour de force of editing, camerawork and direction that stands up to comparison with equivalent scenes in ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1971). It’s also pleasing to report that, despite some niggles with the story in hindsight, the writers conjure a logical and satisfying conclusion when the audience could be forgiven for thinking that such an outcome is looking unlikely.

Performances are solid, with a lot of the cast already experienced in this type of project, despite the Giallo not yet reaching its heyday. Hilton and de Mendoza return from ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1971), and the former appeared in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968) along with Stewart and Pistilli. Reynaud had starred in ‘Assassino senza volto/Killer Without A Face’ (1968) and ‘Run, Psycho, Run’ (1968), and Strindberg was a brief, but memorable, part of Lucio Fulci’s ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971). Almost the entire cast went on to further notable Gialli credits over the next few years.

The unwieldy structure holds the film back a little, but it’s still a highly enjoyable Giallo with memorable moments.

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)‘Only animals and Americans get washed standing up.’

A rich old man dies, and the relatives gather at the family estate for the division of his fortune. However, most of them receive nothing; the bulk of the estate going to his niece due to a new will. Jealousies and bad feelings run high and then, inexplicably, the family butler is found stabbed to death in the greenhouse…

Knowing, black comedy Giallo from director Michele Lupo, who sends up the English Country House murder mystery with obvious delight and a little bit of style. Of course, the greedy relatives start dying off one by one after the will is read. Of course, everyone acts as suspicious as hell. Of course, the dim Scotland Yard copper blunders about without a clue and, of course, the solution is wonderfully convoluted and improbable.

The action begins on the golf course with heiress Barbara (Anna Moffo) trying to make a difficult shot out of a bunker. Sadly, she gets more than she bargained for when her swing uncovers the corpse of her cousin’s wife Pauline (Beryl Cunningham). But, never fear, the police are already on the spot as she’s not the first corpse to turn up in the previous 48 hours. Unfortunately, the forces of law and order are represented by arrogant, but dim, Superintendant Grey of Scotland Yard (Lance Percival) and bumbling local plod Sgt. Aloisius Thorpe (Gastone Moschin). From here, we flashback to the relatives arriving at the house, the reading of the will and the mysterious death of Peter, the butler (Ballard Berkeley).

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘You know our film’s got a really misleading poster, don’t you?’

Much to everyone’s surprise, the estate has ended up in the hands of naive Moffo, who acted as the old man’s housekeeper in his final years. There’s nothing for daughter Isabelle (Evelyn Stewart) because of her unpopular marriage to Anthony (Peter Baldwin). Also finishing out of the money are chronic gambler Ted (Giacomo Rossi Stuart), bitchy Aunt Gladys (Maria Fabri) and her stupid teenage son Georgie (Christopher Chattel). Numbers are made up by pompous Uncle Lawrence (Quinto Parmeggiani) and a mysterious, handsome stranger (Franco Borelli) who seems to have his eye on Stewart. When the bodies start piling up, it’s a real three-pipe problem for our hapless lawmen.

This is a deliberately familiar setup, of course, harkening right back to silent classic ‘The Cat and the Canary’ (1927) and making obvious reference to works of detective fiction, such as those of Agatha Christie. But writers Sergio Donati, Massimo Feli Satti and Fabio Pittoru choose a refreshingly satirical approach, focusing their attention on poking fun at tried and true English stereotypes. We get Chittel’s hopelessly repressed teenager, still a nasty little schoolboy at heart, even (very convincingly) faking his own suicide for a joke and then running for the hills when his leering approach to pretty parlourmaid Evelyn (Orchidea De Santis) ends with an offer of sex. Rossi Stuart is the typical English sportsman in tweed and flat cap, and Stewart is the English Rose with hidden passions.

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘Can I go back to helping old ladies across the road and getting cats out of trees?’

Best of all, however, is the crimebusting team of Percival and Moschin. Sensibly, they are the focus of the story, and the interplay between the two actors really helps bring the film to life and is a constant source of wry amusement. Initially, the superior Percival is utterly dismissive of his country colleague and no wonder; Moschin seems little more than an amiable oaf, blundering his way through the case with one shame-faced apology after another. But when Percival’s obvious lack of investigative abilities comes to the fore, it’s Moschin who starts coming up with the required insights with the former reluctantly coming to rely on the latter’s brainpower. It may not be tremendously original dynamic, but the two actors play it to the hilt and display excellent chemistry.

As well as some of the cast members being British, the film was partially shot in England; specifically at Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk. Imagine this reviewer’s delight when the opening shot of an Italian Giallo picture features the village sign of a place less than 25 miles from where he grew up! A surreal moment if ever there was one. Most of the cast were Italian, of course, but British audiences of a certain age will recognise Percival and Berkeley. The former was a comedian-actor who was almost a fixture on UK TV in the 1960s and 1970s, and Berkeley found everlasting fame at the age of 71 as the dotty Major on classic sitcom ‘Fawlty Towers.’

The Weekend Murders/Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

‘I tell you, Officer, I was only doing 35…’

There are some other notables in the rest of the cast. Rossi Stuart studied at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York before launching into a more than 30-year career in the Italian film industry, often appearing as a leading man. Initially, he plugged away in small roles but had worked his way up to more substantial supporting parts by the time he appeared in Robert Aldrich’s ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (1962) with Stewart Granger and Stanley Baker. Some work with maestro Mario Bava followed, notably the lead in ‘Kill, Baby…Kill’ (1966). There were also appearances as Commander Rod Jackson in two episodes of Antonio Margheriti’s quartet of science fiction pictures about space station Gamma One. Later notable projects included Gialli ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’ (1971), ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat’ (1972) and ‘Death Smiles On A Murderer’ (1973). His career went into decline after that, but there were still appearances in poorly regarded horror ‘The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance’ (1975) and one of Alfonso Brescia woeful quartet of ‘Star Wars’ knock-offs ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).

Stewart got her first big break playing Persephone in Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961) and then had a supporting role in Luchino Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ (1963), appearing under the name of Ida Galli on both occasions. Bava also used her in ‘The Whip and the Body’ (1963) before she worked her way up to the female lead in Spaghetti Westerns. Her first notable Giallo was behind Carrol Baker and Jean Sorel in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), but it was only after this project that she became closely associated with the sub-genre. ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail’ (1971) was followed by ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ (1971), ‘Murder Mansion’ (1972), ‘Knife of Ice’ (1972) and ‘A White Dress for Marialé’ (1972) by which point she was often playing the lead. When the craze for the horror thrillers began to wane, she made several pictures in the organised crime genre, although there was still a late-career appearance in Lucio Fulci’s horror mystery ‘The Psychic’ (1977) to come. Although she made a handful of appearances afterwards, she effectively retired at the end of the 1970s.

A fun comedy Giallo that may not be a world-beater, but still delivers a thoroughly well-crafted and entertaining 90 minutes.