The Two Faces of Fear/Coartada en disco rojo (1972)

‘If he won’t talk, eat him.’

A prominent heart surgeon is murdered in an apparent robbery attempt. However, the investigating detective is unconvinced by that explanation and focuses instead on the senior staff at the highly exclusive heart clinic where he worked…

Dull and rather spiritless Giallo from director Tulio Demicheli that goes through some tired murder mystery motions to fairly minimal effect. This Italian-Spanish co-production managed to attract a notable cast, but why they would become involved is a bigger puzzle than anything the film has to offer.

Things are coming up roses for respected heart surgeon Dr Michele Azzini (Luis Dávila). Not only is he engaged to be married to beautiful colleague, Dr Paola Lombardi (Anita Strindberg), but now he’s been offered a prestigious job in Madrid. The only fly in the ointment is that his current employer, Elena Carli (Luciana Paluzzi), is spitting feathers. She sees him as an essential part of the team at the private heart clinic that she owns, along with her surgeon husband Roberto (George Hilton), Strindberg and head administrator Luisi (Eduardo Fajardo). She offers him an increased slice of the business, and he agrees to think it over, but it looks like he’s bound for Madrid. Then he is murdered.

On the case is tetchy veteran Inspector Nardi (Fernando Rey), more irritable than usual as he’s trying to quit smoking. At first, it seems like a straightforward robbery, but as he probes into the tangled lives of the medical staff at the clinic, he begins to suspect something more. Meanwhile, Paluzzi’s own serious heart condition is deteriorating, and her forthcoming operation may become an emergency.

This is an odd little scribble of a film, hamstrung by a weak plot so slight that it almost disappears. The cast struggles to inject much life into their underwritten roles, with Rey being the only participant who achieves any level of success. His irritable detective with a nicotine deficiency is the only bright spark in a turgid 90 minutes, with the actor able to bring some sly humour to his struggle with addiction. Caught between moments of humorous exasperation at his own weakness and genuine anger at the indulgence of others, particularly the clinic’s staff, he’s the equivalent of a ray of sunshine cutting through the grey dreariness of a rainy February afternoon.

The drama’s plot, such as it is, would struggle to fill a half an hour episode of a TV anthology show, which is what Demicheli’s film often resembles. The final revelations are simplistic and implausible simultaneously. They also lack any real element of surprise, although it’s debatable whether the audience will still be paying close attention by the time the final act rolls around. The jumble of the main protagonists’ love lives is straight out of a weary hospital soap opera (are there any other kind?), and viewers hoping for lashings of sex and gore will be sorely disappointed. Or maybe not. In a strange and rather unusual way.

The only real talking point of the film may go some way to explaining its very existence. The opening credits prominently thank a Madrid heart clinic and a Dr Martinez Bordiu, who carries out the operation seen in the film. Yes, the open heart surgery that takes up about ten minutes of the runtime towards the end of the picture is a genuine operation shot by the filmmakers. In terms of the film’s story, the sequence actually proves to be quite pointless, although I’m sure the real-life recipient of the surgery was grateful.

It’s interesting to speculate whether the ‘real-life heart operation’ was played up in the film’s publicity campaign and whether producer José Gutiérrez Maesso really felt that its presence was enough to build a movie around. Turnaround on Italian films made during this period was notoriously short, so it’s possible that Pedro Mario Herrero and Mario di Nardo were tasked with coming up with their script almost on the fly when the opportunity to film Dr Bordiu at work suddenly arose. It would explain why the story is so slight and poorly developed.

What hurts most here, of course, is the criminal waste of such a wealth of experienced acting talent. By this point, Hilton was almost a Giallo poster boy, and Strindberg had also chalked up some notable appearances in the sub-genre. Paluzzi had starred with John Mills in the outstanding ‘A Black Veil For Lisa/La Morte Non Ha Sesso (1968), although she’s always likely to be best remembered as ‘Bond Girl’ Fiona from ‘Thunderball’ (1965). Rey gets the best of things, although one veteran character digging a little something out of a script like this isn’t much of a reason to celebrate. His good work is even undermined by ‘comedy police sergeant’ Félix (Manuel Zarzo), who keeps trying to interrogate the late Dávila’s parrot (arguably the film’s most fully realised character).

Rey was an award-winning Spanish actor, probably most recognisable to the general public as drug lord Alain “Frog One” Charnier from smash hit ‘The French Connection’ (1971) and its sequel. He began as an extra in the 1930s, taking almost a decade to land his first speaking role in the costume picture ‘Eugenia de Montijo’ (1944). His big breakthrough came four years later in historical drama ‘Madness for Love/Locura de amor’ (1948), and steady work eventually led to the international arena. There, he starred for Orson Welles in the classic ‘Chimes at Midnight’ (1966) and for Spanish auteur Luis Buñuel in ‘Viridiana’ (1961) and ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ (1972), among others. He was equally at home in more commercial projects such as ‘Return of the Seven’ (1966) and ‘Guns of the Magnificent Seven’ (1969), as well as ‘The Light at the Edge of the World’ (1971) and the star-studded drama ‘Voyage of the Damned’ (1976). He won multiple acting honours over his entire career and was awarded the gold medal of the Spanish Movie Arts and Sciences Academy.

A desperately poor exercise and almost a complete waste of a fine cast.

All the Colors of the Dark/Tutti i colori del buio (1972)

‘Tea, for me, is still a social practice.’

A beautiful woman is plagued by nightmares after the car accident that took her unborn baby’s life. Despite psychiatric help, she finds herself stalked by the blue-eyed killer from her dreams…

One of the signature examples of the Giallo horror thriller, this entry comes from experienced hands, director Sergio Martino and scriptwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. It also stars Giallo power couple Edwige Fenech and George Hilton and such a cast of familiar faces in the supporting roles that it’s almost a ‘Who’s Who’ of these Italian horror thrillers.

Young couple Jane Harrison and Richard Steele (Fenech and Hilton) are going through a bad patch. A recent car accident resulted in the miscarriage of their first child, and conjugal relations are off the table due to her fragile emotional state. Hilton insists that her nightmares are down to the crash and its consequences, but she believes they are connected to her mother’s murder, which occurred when she was a child. If all that isn’t bad enough, she starts to see the blue-eyed killer of her dreams (Ivan Rassimov) when she’s awake.

Getting little help from the insensitive Hilton, she turns to psychiatrist Dr Burton (George Rigaud), who is recommended by her sister Barbara (Nieves Navarro, appearing under her usual pseudonym of Susan Scott). Unfortunately, the head doctor is not a lot of help, and Fenech is freaked out after seeing Rassimov sitting in his waiting room. Feeling friendless and desperate, she encounters neighbour Mary Weil (Marina Malfatti), who suggests alternative therapy courtesy of a strange cult led by the charismatic J.P. McBrian (Julián Ugarte). At her first meeting, Fenech finds herself participating in a ritualistic blood orgy, but is it actually happening or has she finally lost her grip on reality?

Mixing elements of the Giallo with the more traditional cinematic horrors of satanism feels like an inevitable development in the early 1970s. There’s a definite flavour of Roman Polanski’s hit ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) to the proceedings, particularly in the notion of devil worship taking place in the modern, urban world. However, Gastaldi’s script avoids drawing too close a parallel to the specifics of that film, concentrating instead on Fenech and her questionable perceptions of reality, half-echoing a theme from one of Polanski’s earlier projects, ‘Repulsion’ (1965).

This psychological approach allows Martino to pull out all the stylistic tricks in his filmmaking arsenal. Working with cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando, he melds a striking colour palette with exaggerated camera angles and a variety of lenses, distorting images at times and seamlessly integrating this unusual visual tapestry with Bruno Nicolai’s excellent score. Crucially, none of these flourishes come across as forced or distracting, instead creating a genuinely unsettling atmosphere of trauma and dread, serving the narrative instead of overwhelming it. Martino knows just how far to go and no further, something reflected in his handling of the story, which pulls back just before the ambiguities of its events might become frustrating to the audience.

The film’s other outstanding component is Fenech, who displays the necessary emotional vulnerability tempered with raw intensity. It’s a perfectly judged performance, which never strikes a false note. Whether it was star quality, superb instincts or faultless acting mechanics, she was an expert in delivering a sympathetic, fully-rounded heroine that lesser talents would have found difficult to bring to life. It was a skill she’d displayed already as the somewhat passive lead of classic Giallo ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh’ (1971). That project had also come from director Martino and writer Gastaldi and had featured Hilton and Rassimov in the cast.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect film by any means. Its main weaknesses come from the screenplay, which is surprising given Gastaldi’s involvement. Although co-credited with screenwriter Sauro Scavolinia and with a story attributed to Santiago Moncada, Gastaldi has been keen to claim sole authorship in later years. The problem is that Ugarte’s cult never feels fully integrated with the rest of the story, and the final revelations lack credibility and leave too many details unclear. It’s a complex and intriguing situation, which ends up resolved by some of the most commonplace tropes of the Giallo, although it should be acknowledged that Gastaldi had created many of those tropes in the first place. It’s a disappointing conclusion, even though the writer does deserve credit for sidestepping most of the usual big-screen cliches about satanism.

Although the film focuses primarily on Fenech, the rest of the cast provides exemplary support. Ugarte is sufficiently magnetic to convince as the cult leader, Navarro is a fine ice queen, and Rassimov’s evil stare, supplied with the aid of uncomfortable blue contact lenses, is appropriately chilling. Arguably, Hilton is underused, but his uncanny ability to look both ruggedly handsome and deeply sinister at the same time is always an asset in a film where his character is suspect. There’s one interaction that he shares with Navarro that is an excellent example of how to mislead an audience. There are also brief appearances by cult movie stalwarts Dominique Boschero as Fenech’s mother in flashbacks, Luciano Pigozzi as a lawyer and Tom Felleghy as a police inspector.

Martino also makes excellent use of the London locations without resorting to the usual, tiresome device of showing famous landmarks. This is a cold, ancient city filled with classical stone buildings, narrow twisted streets and abandoned public parks carpeted with dead leaves. However, some unfortunate geographical issues relate to Fenech’s trip on the Underground. She briefly seems to get caught in some kind of time loop at Aldwych Station before she disembarks quickly at Holland Park. Aldwych Station was still in use when the film was made, but even allowing for anomalies to the space-time continuum, her quick ride is still quite an achievement considering the stations were at least five miles apart.

The project was a family affair to some extent, with Fenech married to the director’s brother, Luciano, who worked on this as one of the producers. The trio went on to collaborate on a couple of the sex comedies that became Fenech’s stock in trade for the rest of the decade, and Luciano elbowed his brother out of the director’s chair for ‘Exploits of a Sexy Seducer/La vergine, il toro e il capricorno’ (1977). Sergio was spending most of his time at that point on gritty crime dramas starring Luc Merenda but eventually moved into the science-fiction arena with films such as ‘Island of the Fishmen/L’isola degli uomini pesce’ (1979) and ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983). In later years, Fenech became a producer in her own right, mostly on Italian TV movies, but also fulfilling the role on Al Pacino’s big screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (2004).

A high-quality Giallo, but possessing a script that falls a little short.

My Dear Killer/Mio caro assassino (1972)

‘Soon, they’ll have enough bodies to make up an Ice Hockey team.’

A man is decapitated by the shore of a lake. It’s thought to have been an accident with the machinery operator responsible also dead, an apparent suicide. But the investigating detective is not convinced by this ready-made solution, and his enquiries reveal a link to an old, unsolved case of child kidnapping and murder…

Nicely convoluted Giallo mystery from director Tonino Valerii that mixes the serial killer madness with elements of the police procedural. Inspector George Hilton tries to unravel the contradictions of evidence, motive and circumstances with aid from a script by Roberto Leoni, Franco Bucceri and José Gutiérrez Maesso.

Visiting an early morning crime scene is never a pleasure for dedicated detective Inspector Luca Peretti (Hilton), and the latest one is even more gruesome than most. Ex-insurance investigator Umberto Paradisi (Francesco Di Federico) is discovered dead on a remote shoreline with his head torn off, seemingly in a bizarre accident involving the earth mover he had hired to dredge the lake. The operator has gone AWOL and turns up shortly afterwards, having hung himself in remorse. However, Hilton isn’t buying it and begins digging into Di Federico’s life. He gets a line on the man’s recent activities through his common-law wife, played by an almost unrecognisable Helga Liné in a red wig.

When Hilton discovers that Di Federico was the original insurance investigator on the famous kidnapping of Stefania Moroni (Lara Wendel) a year prior, his spider-sense starts a-tingling. Wendel was the young child of a very wealthy family who turned up dead after being snatched, along with her father Alessandro (Piero Lulli), who went to make the subsequent ransom payoff. The killer was never caught. His suspicions regarding a connection are confirmed when Liné is strangled (in a public post office!) He also discovers that her husband quit his job shortly after submitting his final report on the Moroni case to insurance company boss Corrado Gaipa. Then went on investigating on his own time.

The members of the Moroni household are immediately on Hilton’s list of primary suspects. There’s weak-willed brother Oliviero (Tullio Valli), who lost a hand saving Lulli’s life in the war, and his cold, hard-bitten wife, Carla Moroni (Mónica Randall). Friendly uncle Beniamino (Alfredo Mayo) paid the youngster a lot of attention and even chauffeur Jean-Pierre Clarain in Hilton’s cross-hairs. Also count in Wendel’s mother, Eleonora (Dana Ghia) and her brother Giorgio Canavese (William Berger). She might still be grief-stricken to the point of losing her grip on reality, but she was about to start divorce proceedings against Lulli at the time of the kidnapping, and the custody battle for Wendel was likely to be a bitter one. Outsiders in the culprit stakes are Wendel’s pretty teacher Paola Rossi (Patty Shepard) and lakeside junkman Mattia Guardapelle (Dante Maggio).

This is a primarily grounded and logical exercise in mystery from director Valerii that still finds the time to include some rather gory kills in its 100-minute runtime. Centre stage is Hilton, almost unrecognisable from his usual Giallo role of the handsome but suspicious stranger. The solid screenplay provides him with plenty of opportunities to juggle the seemingly random mixture of circumstance and evidence and assembly a coherent case, the audience never too far ahead or too far behind his conclusions. Of course, the unknown killer is also trying to cover their tracks, and the body count begins to rise. The murders include a surprisingly graphic sequence employing a circular saw, which flirts on the border of torture porn territory.

The film is not without its flaws, however. Although it’s important to show Hilton’s life beyond the workplace and the price he pays for dedication to the job, the brief scenes with unhappy wife Anna (Marilù Tolo) seem largely redundant. The fact that the killer is apparently watching them in bed together early on is never addressed again, and the talented Tolo exists, never to return. On reflection, the original police investigation must have been a little haphazard, too, given that the murdered Di Federico and, later on, Hilton make a far better job of things. The conclusion where Hilton gets all the suspects in the same room à la Agatha Christie also seems a little quaint and old-fashioned, although it’s undeniably suspenseful. Shame then that the wrap-up seems so hurried it almost comes across as an afterthought.

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here, not least Hilton’s assured, convincing performance as the single-minded detective. Valerii directs without an eye for extravagant composition or stylistic flourishes, but his no-nonsense style suits the material, primarily focusing on the nuts and bolts of the investigative process. The story is logical, with only a few strands left hanging after the resolution. The most obvious is that a gang committed the original kidnapping, but the killing spree a year later is strictly a solo affair. There’s also an excellent acting turn from seven-year-old Wendel. It’s a brief and wordless performance, but who couldn’t fail to feel a vicarious sense of triumph when she finally succeeds in planting the clue that will catch her killer a year later?

Hilton was born Jorge Hill Acosta y Lara in Uruguay and began his acting career on radio. He arrived in Italy in 1963 via Argentina and got his big break in films as the lead of Vertunnio De Angelis’ swashbuckler ‘The Masked Man Against the Pirates/L’uomo mascherato contro i pirati’ (1964). Further roles followed, including Bond spoof ‘Two Mafiosi Against Goldginger/Due mafiosi contro Goldginger’ (1965) before stardom arrived courtesy of Lucio Fulci. A prominent role in the director’s Spaghetti Western ‘Massacre Time/Le colt cantarono la morte e fu… tempo di massacro’ (1966). Other adventures out West followed, including ‘The Ruthless Four/Ognuno per sé’ (1968), where he appeared alongside Hollywood players Van Heflin and Gilbert Roland. That same year, he starred with one-time Oscar-nominee Carroll Baker in one of the first significant Giallo films, ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968). After that, he mostly switched between the two sub-genres, with some crime movies thrown in for good measure.

Notable Westerns included the leads in ‘Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin/C’è Sartana… vendi la pistola e comprati la bara!’ (1970) and ‘They Call Me Hallelujah /Testa t’ammazzo, croce… sei morto – Mi chiamano Alleluja’ (1971). Significant Gialli included Sergio Martino’s twin triumphs ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh’ (1971) and ‘All the Colors of the Darj/Tutti i colori del buio’ (1972). There were also ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris/Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?/What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body?’ (1972), ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione’ (1971) and Luigo Cozzi’s late entry ‘The Killer Must Kill Again/L’assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora’ (1975). Shortly after his death, he received the ‘Leone in Memoriam’ award at the Almeria Western Film Festival in 2019.

Not in the first rank of Giallo films, but certainly an accomplished and satisfying thriller.

The Case of the Bloody Iris/Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?/What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body? (1972)

‘From the day of our celestial marriage, you belonged to me.’

An architect charged with promoting an apartment block offers one of the flats to two young models after the tenant is murdered. One of them has recently escaped a sex cult but suspects the leader has tracked her down. The building has already been the scene of two recent murders, and she begins to fear that she will be the third victim…

Awkward Giallo misfire from Spaghetti Western director Giuliano Carnimeo and veteran screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. The latter reunites with leads Edwige Fenech and George Hilton from ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1971), but, sadly, lightning doesn’t strike twice.

After fleeing a sex cult led by her ‘celestial husband’ Adam (Ben Carra), Jennifer Lansbury (Fenech) has found work as a photographer’s model, along with her friend Marilyn Ricci (Paola Quattrini). When she’s working one day at the studio of shutterbug Arthur (Oreste Lionello), in walks the handsome Andrea Antinori (Hilton). He’s an architect working for a company that owns a luxury apartment block. As the building has been the site of a recent murder, Hilton has been charged with promoting the property, and he’s interested in using nightclub performer and part-time model Mizar Harrington (Carla Brait).

Unfortunately for her, Barit lives in the apartment block in question and turns up dead in her bathtub that same night. With an eye on Fenech, Hilton offers the two girls a cut-price deal on Brait’s flat, and the friends move in. But, even as Hilton and Fenech become romantically involved, Carra reappears in her life, demanding that she rejoin his cult. When Fenech is threatened one night by a masked figure dressed in black, Carra is the obvious suspect, but could the culprit be closer to home?

Living next door is amorous lesbian Sheila Heindricks (Annabella Incontrera) and her violin-playing father, Professor Isaacs (George Rigaud). Just down the hall is straight-laced prude Mrs Moss (Maria Tedeschi), whose tastes in reading matter run to gory horror comics. Everyone is under scrutiny from stamp collecting Police Commissioner Enci (Giampiero Albertini) and his bumbling sidekick Assistant Commissioner Renzi (Franco Agostini).

Given such a rogue’s gallery of suspects and characters, it might appear that there’s plenty of potential for an engaging mystery here. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The problem is credibility. Leaving aside some plot contrivance and coincidences, the characters’ behaviour fails to ground the drama in a believable reality. After all, there’s a serial killer on the loose, but policeman Albertini is more interested in his stamp collection than finding the killer. His assistant Agostini is some stupid that he could never have passed the force’s entrance exam, let alone make detective. The worst offender, though, is Quattrini’s ‘best friend’ who constantly makes fun of Fenech’s (legitimate) fears and thinks it’s a laugh to fake her own drowning in the bathtub where Brait met her end. Of course, this is supposed to be comedic, but with Fenech and Hilton playing it as a drama, it doesn’t work.

It was a bad day at the office for screenwriter, and occasional director, Ernesto Gastaldi, who was responsible for some of the key examples of the Giallo sub-genre. His stories were usually fine examples of inventive plotting, with story developments often being unexpected and character-driven. Unfortunately, motivations get short shrift, and the characters are merely one-note cyphers; the girl in peril, the kooky best friend, the handsome hero, the predatory lesbian, the gay photographer, the nosey neighbour, and the dogged police inspector and his comedy sidekick. Actually, it’s tempting to speculate that Gastaldi intended the script as a satire of the Giallo but that no one else involved was in on the joke.

Having said all that, there are some compelling moments. The opening murder in the elevator is appropriately claustrophobic, and another highlight is a stabbing on a crowded street. As the victim staggers around bleeding out, the self-involved passersby ignore her, utterly oblivious to her obvious distress. Some commentators have called out the sequence as silly, but, again, it was possibly intended as a mixture of social commentary and black comedy, and it works on those levels. The pacing is uneven at best, but director Carnimeo and cinematographer Stelvio Massi create some memorable setups and images, although these tend to be in the conversational and quieter moments rather than in the action sequences. However, there’s also an unfortunate tendency toward outlandish camera movement with no purpose, and the zoom shots quickly lose effectiveness due to overuse.

The cast is professional enough but can’t do much with such underwritten characters. Hilton is given a phobia of blood (satire again?), linked to the usual childhood trauma. However, the reveal is shoehorned in at the last moment, almost as an afterthought. Fenech could play the damsel in distress in her sleep, although she is allowed a couple of moments to express her contempt for the ineffectual Albertini and his useless investigation, which she handles well. There’s also a striking appearance by Brait, whose nightclub act involves inviting patrons to have sex with her and then beating them up when they try. Not coming to a network TV talent show any time soon, but hardly surprising when you consider that the owner of the sleazy establishment is none other than ubiquitous cult movie character actor Luciano Pigozzi, adding another face to his seemingly endless gallery of creeps and perverts!

Carnimeo, credited under his usual pseudonym of Anthony Ascott, rose to prominence in the mid-1960s due to his work in Spaghetti Westerns, hitting paydirt with ‘I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death/Sono Sartana, il vostro becchino’ (1969). A further three entries in the series followed, with Hilton taking over the title role for ‘Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin/C’è Sartana… vendi la pistola e comprati la bara!’ (1970) before it passed on to Gianni Garko. Hilton and Garko alternated as leading men for Carnimeo on several similar projects until the Spaghetti Western craze began losing steam in the mid-1970s. Along the way, the director also reunited with Fenech for the unsatisfying crime drama ‘Anna: The Pleasure, the Torment/Anna, quel particolare piacere’ (1973). In the following decade, he made an undistinguished visit to the post-apocalyptic wastelands with ‘The Exterminators of the Year 3000/Il giustiziere della strada’ (1983), and his penultimate film was bizarre horror ‘Rat Man/Quella villa in fondo al parco’ (1988).

A disappointing entry that never gels into a compelling thriller.

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 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 Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh (1971)

‘And I was afraid I’d have to do without any bratwurst.’

A neglected diplomat’s wife returns to Vienna with her husband during a series of unsolved murders of young women. She takes a lover but gets a phone call threatening to expose the affair. She suspects the culprit maybe her old boyfriend with who she had a violent sexual relationship…

High-quality Italian-Spanish Giallo thriller that launched the career of director Sergio Martino and took leading lady Edwige Fenech to the next level. Previously Martino had delivered a little regarded Spaghetti Western and a trio of documentaries, and Fenech was best known for her beauty rather than her acting chops. She had primarily appeared in sexy comedies, although she’d made an undeniable impression in supporting roles in Giallo pictures ‘Top Sensation’ (1969) and Mario Bava’s ‘Five Dolls For An August Moon’ (1970).

Returning to Vienna, diplomat Neil Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza) is immediately rushed from the airport into a top-level meeting, leaving bored young wife Julie (Fenech) to go home in a taxi. On the way, she has a vivid flashback to her affair with the handsome but sadistic Jean (Ivan Rassimov). It’s a striking scene and the first sign that the audience is in for something special. It’s almost operatic in the way it combines slow motion, dissonant music and sexual violence as the two wrestle on the ground during a rainstorm.

‘Go away, my flashbacks are far more interesting than you…’

With hubby almost permanently absent at work, there’s little for Fenech to do now she’s back home but hang out with cynical, liberated BFF Carol (Conchita Airoldi). Apart from the usual round of shopping and afternoon tea, this involves attending a vaguely naughty party with the smart set where girls wear paper dresses and tear them off during a catfight. Here, she meets Airoldi’s cousin, the ruggedly handsome George Corro (George Hilton) who’s in town to claim an unexpected inheritance that he’s sharing with Airoldi. Fenech attempts to resist his charms, but Hilton is persistent, and self-restraint is not her forte. Unfortunately, Rassimov is still in town and sending her flowers, although his intentions could hardly be described as romantic. Meanwhile, young women are being brutally murdered with a razor by an unknown killer.

After her first night with Hilton, Fenech gets an anonymous phone call demanding money in exchange for silence about the affair. She suspects Rassimov is behind it and confesses all to her best friend. Airoldi goes in her place to deliver the blackmail payoff in a public park at sunset, but she is attacked with a razor and murdered. Fenech suspects Rassimov is the serial killer, of course, but the police find he has an unshakeable alibi. As events twist and turn, Fenech starts to believe she is marked for death.

‘A blackmail payoff? No problem, afterwards we can talk about men some more.’

An excellent mystery coupled with some beautiful visuals, an unflagging pace and good performances make for one of the finest examples of the Giallo sub-genre. Director Martino handles the material with flair and style, and the screenplay by old hand Ernesto Gastaldi is tight and well-disciplined. In terms of credibility, the complex plot takes one twist too many at the end, but it makes for a satisfying resolution. It’s also been such a highly enjoyable journey to get there that it hardly matters. The dubbing in the English language version is not great, and the viewing experience improved significantly by watching the subtitled original.

The film was a watershed moment for Fenech as an actress and a tricky assignment. After all, our weak-willed heroine takes almost no positive action throughout, even on her own behalf; perfectly happy to abdicate responsibility for her actions and let Airoldi deliver the blackmail payoff, even though it’s likely to be a dangerous task with a mad killer on the loose. She also needs constant validation from her relationships with men, and usually in a physical sense. There’s little attempt to address her character’s psychology or analyse her sexual needs, particularly concerning her violent relationship with Rassimov. This is showcased in another memorable flashback where the couple has sex in a blood-soaked bed filled with glass fragments from a broken wine bottle.

‘And they told me there was a wardrobe budget this time…’

It’s a challenging task to keep an audience onside with such a passive, flawed character, and it’s a testament to Fenech’s increasing skill as an actress that she remains sympathetic throughout. The poise and personality she displays is a marked improvement on her showing in previous roles. It proved a stepping stone to a remarkable cult film career that included starring roles in several notable Giallo films. She worked with Martino again on ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key’ (1972). Other examples were ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972) and ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ (1975). She also continued to appear in many sex comedies throughout the 1970s and early 1980s and eventually began a second career as a highly successful producer for Italian television.

The male members of the cast also deliver strong turns here, with all three principals displaying an economy of performance and quiet charisma that serves their characters and the story. Airoldi also makes something out of the ‘best friend’ who keeps her undies in the fridge; world-weary and carefree on the one hand, but also practical and loyal at heart. The scene where she is stalked at the payoff rendezvous is one of the film’s highlights; a tense and unsettling sequence where Martino’s camera deftly captures the isolation and vulnerability of the victim as she walks through the public grounds of Vienna’s famous Schönbrunn Palace.

‘Just because he forgot our anniversary last week….’

After the Giallo craze subsided, Martino carved out a long career in Italian cinema. He teamed with Fenech again for some of her sexy comedies, as well as delivering such cult titles as the controversial ‘Slave of the Cannibal God’ (1978), Dr Moreau knock-off ‘Island of the Fishmen’ (1979) and that glorious slab of sci-fi cheese ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1983). Like Fenech, Hilton became primarily associated with the Giallo, appearing with her again in ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972). He also appeared in Martino’s ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971), Tonino Valerii ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), and Luigi Cozzi’s ‘The Killer Must Kill Again’ (1975).

As a side-note, if the spelling of the title character’s name seems a little odd, then it was allegedly because a woman approached producer Luciano Martino and asked that it be changed to spare her embarrassment! If this seems a little far-fetched, it isn’t easy to come up with an alternative explanation.

A highly accomplished, entertaining Giallo delivered by a fine cast and a talented director who displays a fine visual sensibility and storytelling prowess. Highly recommended.

A Ghentar si muore facile (1967)

A Ghentar is muore facile (1967)‘Your face is hard even though you look like an idiot.’

A diver is smuggled into the small coastal republic of Ghentar by rebel forces. His mission? To find the wreckage of a crashed plane offshore. Unfortunately, his identity is already compromised and the country’s military dictator determines to either use his expertise or eliminate him entirely…

Rather generic action-adventure that borders on the Eurospy arena with actor George Hilton as this week’s kind of ‘Bond On A Budget’, although he’s going to be getting familiar with far more guns than girls or gadgets. It’s an Italian-Spanish co-production, partially filmed in Morocco, and directed by León Klimovsky.

Soldier of fortune Richard ‘Teddy’ Jason (Hilton) always has his eye on the main chance and a lucrative gig working for anti-government forces in the banana republic of Ghentar looks like an easy touch. Unfortunately, the rebels haven’t been good at keeping his mission under wraps, and his arrival is met by the troops of the police chief, Inspector Sirdar (Luis Marin). Some decent action and fight choreography follow, and Hilton makes it to the shore, along with roguish fisherman Botul (Venancio Muro) who appoints himself as Hilton’s comedy sidekick.

A Ghentar is muore facile (1967)

The location catering left a lot to be desired.

His first contact is at a local bar, run by dark-eyed Maria (Marta Padovan), who is his link to the semi-mythical rebel chief. Diving for the plane wreckage and the secret documents on board turns out to be relatively easy in comparison with all this palaver, especially when the papers turn out to be a box of fabulous diamonds instead. Villainous despot General Lorme (Alfonso Rojas) has his eyes on the gems too, of course, and when Hilton is captured, he’s turned over to right-hand man, Kim (Ennio Girolami) for interrogation. This involves a spot of torture and incarceration at a prison/work farm in the desert.

Although the film has been nothing special up to this point, it’s here where things come to a screeching halt. Obviously, Hilton organises a breakout, but the escapees end up wandering in the desert before Hilton finds himself once again in the clutches of Girolami. This all takes far too long and, despite some moments of half-decent action, it kills the pace stone dead. Things pick up again in the last 20 minutes as we work our way towards the climax, but there is an element of too little, too late, although the film is certainly professionally crafted and delivered. Hilton brings an easygoing, likeable presence while also convincing when he’s called upon to do the physical stuff. His partnership with Muro is probably the film’s most substantial element, in terms of character development, and more screen time spent with the two of them would probably have helped.

A Ghentar is muore facile (1967)

‘Heigh-ho, heigh-ho!’

There’s almost a TV feel to proceedings at times as if this was an extended episode of 1960’s spy shows such as ‘Man In A Suitcase’, ‘The Saint’ or ‘Danger Man’. There’s the inevitable underwater spear gunfight, a la ‘Thunderball’ (1965), a decent pace in the first half and an emphasis on action rather than plot. Because Hilton is not actually a spy, he has no gadgets and the romance you expect him to enjoy with Padovan never happens; indeed, considering her high billing, she’s barely in the film.

Hilton was born Jorge Hill Acosta y Lara in Uruguay to British parents but eventually became an Italian citizen. Appearing principally in Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s, his leading man status took him into the Giallo arena in the 1970s. He appeared in many notable examples of these horror thrillers, including ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1970), ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail’ (1971), ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), ‘All the Colours of the Dark’ (1972), ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972), and ‘The Killer Must Kill Again’ (1975)’ among several others. His career became more sporadic afterwards, although he carried on working until not long before his death in 2019, and appeared in the borderline deranged ‘guilty pleasure’ ‘The Atlantis Interceptors’ (1983).

A Ghentar is muore facile (1967)

‘I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. Leone.’

Klimovsky’s filmmaking career began in the late 1940s and mostly centred on adventure films and swashbucklers before he became noted for Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s. A gig with Euro-Horror star Paul Naschy on ‘The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman/La noche de Walpurgis’ (1971) took him in a new direction, and he collaborated with the actor on several further projects. By the time of his retirement at the end of the 1970s, he was working almost exclusively in the horror arena. Other films included ‘The Vampire’s Night Orgy’ (1972), ‘La saga de los Drácula’ (1973), ‘Night of the Walking Dead’ (1975) and ‘The People Who Own The Dark’ (1976).

After quite a bright opening, this action flick begins to drag, and despite good work from star Hilton, ultimately becomes a slightly tedious experience.

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.