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

‘All men are filthy beasts.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive/L’arma l’ora il Movente (1972)

‘Traveller repose and dream amongst my leaves.’

A handsome young priest is the toast of his parish. However, his relationships with some of his congregation are more than just professional. When he’s found brutally slain in the church, a veteran detective tries to track down his killer…

Well-mounted and effective Giallo from writer-director Francesco Mazzei. Renzo Montagnani plays the policeman whose investigation unearths a hotbed of lust and deception in a seemingly innocent diocese.

All seems quiet and tranquil in the rural parish, ministered to by a young priest, Don Giorgio (Maurizio Bonuglia). Aside from the usual duties, most of his time seems to be taken up by alfresco dining with community leaders, such as engineer Aristide (Arnaldo Bellofiore), his wife Orchidea (Bedy Moratti) and their friends Pisani (Francesco D’Adda) and his wife, Giulia (Eva Czemerys). The ancient, crumbling church is in the safe hands of a chapter of nuns led by Sister Tarquinia (Claudia Gravy), who have adopted a young orphan boy, Ferruccio (Arturo Trina).

However, things are not as innocent as they seem. Bonuglia is having a crisis of faith, routinely whipping himself after illicit sex with Moratti. When she goes to her best friend Czemerys for a card reading, the advice is to give up her secret lover. Probably because Czemerys knows full well who he is and is sleeping with him too. Then, in the early hours of the following morning, the wayward priest is found murdered in the church.

Enter swaggering detective Commissario Franco Boito (Montagnani), who rides up on a motorcycle and takes charge, berating the nuns for moving the body and his assistant Moriconi (Salvatore Puntillo) for generally being an idiot. Montagnani cuts a confident swathe through the tangled situation, blissfully disregarding the most significant clue, a marble dropped by orphan Trina, who witnessed the killing. To make matters worse, he starts an affair with Moratti after they visit an isolated inn, which seems to double as a motel that rents rooms by the hour.

Mazzei’s Giallo may break no new ground in any sense, but it is a solid thriller with its fair share of suspense and an unusual resolution. The entire production benefits enormously from mostly shooting in actual locations rather than the studio, and cinematographer Giovanni Ciarlo captures a real sense of place and atmosphere. There is a little too much playing about with different lenses, which can be distracting, but it’s effective in small doses.

There are also some very inventive moments, with Trina’s collection of marbles making a particularly memorable appearance in the final act. There’s also a clever scene where the young orphan opens a closet in the ruined part of the church, only to have a naked arm fall out. It looks like he’s stumbled across a body for a second, but then he casually pops the mannequin back on its shelf. What it’s doing in a church cupboard is probably a question for another day, but it’s still an amusing touch.

The most interesting aspect revolves around Montagnani’s detective. He’s brash, confident and charismatic. He gets things done. But, after the dust settles and you start thinking about it, you could be forgiven for concluding that he’s not very good at his job at all. Ok, so he’s not the first screen detective to have an affair with a beautiful murder suspect, and he surely won’t be the last, but leaving that aside, how does he rate? Well, he ignores a significant clue at the start, accepts straightforward explanations too readily when they’re offered, arrests Sacristan Anselmo Barsetti (Adolfo Belletti), who may as well have ‘red herring’ tattooed across his forehead, and fails to prevent a second murder, which Mazzei delivers in a strikingly sudden and brutal manner. Montagnani’s quarterly employment review probably won’t look very good.

Although matters are generally somewhat restrained, a couple of scenes definitely pitch the film into the exploitation arena. When Belletti is arrested while the nuns are using their shower room, it’s not too forced, but a later sequence where the naked sisters flagellate themselves in ‘tribute’ to their fallen priest might have come straight out of Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’ (1971). It goes on for a very long time and doesn’t advance the plot one centimetre. Bet it looked good in the trailer, though.

Given some of the story elements, it’s a little surprising that the film doesn’t seem to have stirred up any controversy in its native Italy when it was released. The similar themes explored in Lucio Fulci’s ‘Don’t Torture a Duckling/Non si sevizia un paperino’ (1972) had proved a tad unpopular with church authorities and had led to some unofficial blacklisting. Mazzei’s project, however, seems to have flown under the radar.

This film was Mazzei’s only outing as a director, and his other professional credits are limited. He first entered the business in 1960 as the producer of a series of ‘Mondo’ documentaries, such as ‘This Shocking World/Il mondo di notte numero 3’ (1963), for which he also wrote the original commentary. He has story credits for Tonino Valerii’s ‘A Girl Called Jules/La ragazza di nome Giulio’ (1970) and Sergio Grieco’s World War One drama ‘Il sergente Klems’ (1971). His only other work would seem to be as co-author of obscure Western ‘Convoi de femmes’ (1974).

A well-made and satisfying thriller. Nothing earth-shattering, but a solid bet for fans of the Giallo.

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.

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

‘I couldn’t find my smoking dentures.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A somewhat sluggish and disappointing entry.

The Crimes of the Black Cat/Sette scialli di seta gialla (1972)

‘They found the head of a black cat on the tracks.’

A blind pianist overhears a blackmail plot on the night his girlfriend ends their relationship. The next day she is murdered under mysterious circumstances at the fashion house where she works. Then her cousin is killed, and he determines to investigate over the objections of the police…

Fair to middling Giallo thriller that takes some second-hand story elements from previous entries in the sub-genre and attempts to mix them into something new. Director Sergio Pastore also assembles a cast of familiar faces for this Italian-Danish co-production partially shot in Copenhagen.

Composer Peter Oliver (Anthony Steffen) is unsurprised when he’s stood up by young lover Paola Whitney (Isabelle Marchall) on a restaurant date. What he doesn’t expect, however, is to overhear two voices in the next booth planning a blackmail scheme. They are vague on the details, and his blindness prevents him from carrying out an identification. The next day Marchall dies suddenly in her dressing room at work, the only clues to the cause being some scratches on her face and a strange wicker basket that disappears.

It doesn’t take long to uncover that Marchall was starting a blackmail scheme with her cousin, photographer Harry (Romano Malaspina). Their target was the manager of the fashion studio, Victor Ballais (Giacomo Rossi Stuart), who’d been unwise enough to bed Ms Marchall in the glare of Malaspina’s flashbulb. Unfortunately, his playboy lifestyle depends on his wife, Françoise (Sylva Koscina), who owns the business. Unsatisfied with the efforts of Inspector Jansen (Renato De Carmine), Steffen determines to look into the situation himself, with the aid of right-hand man Burton (Umberto Raho) and Marchall’s roommate, Margot Thornhill (Shirley Corrigan).

Giving some old ideas a fresh coat of paint is nothing new in cinematic terms, particularly in the Italian film industry, where a slavish following of popular box-office trends was a given. So, director Pastore, who co-writes with Sandro Continenza and Giovanni Simonelli, can be forgiven for wearing his influences prominently on his sleeve. The concept of a blind detective goes all the way back to Henry Hathaway’s ’23 Paces to Baker Street’ (1956) but, of course, had been more famously revived in the person of actor Karl Malden by Giallo master Dario Argento for ‘The Cat o’ Nine Tails/Il gatto a nove code’ (1971). Similarly, director Mario Bava utilised the fashion house setting with far more style and effect for seminal early Giallo ‘Blood and Black Lace/6 donne per l’assassino’ (1964). Even the past event providing the catalyst for the murderous rampage had previously served as a plot device.

Pastore, therefore, has little to offer in terms of originality beyond the rather novel method used in some of the earlier murders. This M.O. does strain credibility more than a little, but it is the one thing the film possesses that is slightly different. The lack of ideas in the well-thumbed plot throws the weight of expectation on the technical execution and the cast, and neither really rises to the occasion. Pastore relies on an over-use of whip-pans and crash zooms to try and infuse the drama with some energy but beyond a dash of suspense in a final act scene set in an abandoned glassworks, the film never really gets out of first gear. There is also a particularly nasty kill late on, which is queasily effective thanks to some rapid editing but feels strangely out of place with what has gone before.

The cast features a roster of reliable performers, many with previous Giallo credits. They do what they can with the material, but many of the roles are severely underwritten. Steffen is perfectly convincing as a blind man but never approaches the levels of personality that Malden displayed for Argento, so he fails to engage any significant audience sympathy or investment. Raho manages some subtle moments as Steffen’s almost ever-present factotum, but the acting plaudits mainly belong to Giovanna Lenzi, here credited, as per usual, as Jeanette Len. Her performance as a drug addict blackmailed into helping the killer feels more urgent and immediate than anything else on offer.

There are a couple of nice touches for genre and horror fans, though. Steffen isn’t just a run-of-the-mill working pianist and composer; he scores films. His latest project? Apparently, it’s Lucio Fulci’s classic Giallo ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin/Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (1971)! There’s also a throwback to classic horror when Lenzi enters a pet shop, and all the animals go wild, recalling Simone Simone’s efforts to exchange her feline friend for a bird in Val Lewton’s ‘Cat People’ (1942). It transpires that Lenzi owns the pet store in this film, but it’s still a pleasing moment.

Crucially with a Giallo thriller of this kind, the mystery manages to stay engaging, even if it’s not hard to guess the killer’s identity, and everything is wrapped up a little too rapidly in the final scene. However, despite all the obvious flaws and shortcomings, the general level of production value and all-around competence does see it through. Pastore is wise enough to keep things moving, so the pace never flags, and he delivers the requisite procession of corpses to keep the audience interested, if not precisely on the edges of their seats.

Giovanna Lenzi had a role in Pastore’s first-ever film ‘Crisantemi per un branco di carogne’ (1968). The two often worked together over the years before and after their encounter with the Black Cat. They married in 1972 and remained hitched until his death fifteen years later. Lenzi had begun her screen career with a small role in the underrated Barbara Steele vehicle ‘An Angel for Satan/Un angelo per Satana’ (1966), which also starred Steffan. Minor assignments followed in early Giallo ‘A…Come Assassino/A…For Assassin’ (1966), Eurospys ‘Spy Pit/Da Berlino l’apocalisse/Le tigre sort sans sa mère’ (1967) and ‘Agente Sigma 3: Missione Goldwather’ (1967) before she snagged a more significant role in Giallo thriller ‘Deadly Inheritance/Omicidio Per Vocazione’ (1968). In the 1980s, she moved behind the typewriter and collaborated with Pastore on two projects, which she also directed, including the poorly-reviewed Giallo ‘Delitti’ (1987).

If judged on its own merits rather than compared to its far superior sources, this one just about gets a pass.

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids/Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso (1972)

‘The face of that American will always be on file in my brain.’

A mysterious killer is targeting women in Rome and leaving behind a unique half-moon medallion with each victim’s corpse. When a young newlywed is attacked on a train, she survives, but the police report her dead, and she goes into hiding. Her new husband begins to suspect the slayings are somehow linked to the hotel her family used to own…

Violence and mystery from co-writer and director Umberto Lenzi, delivering another of his half dozen or so stand-alone Giallo features. Rather than an imported American star, this Italian and West German co-production is headed up by Antonio Sabato and Uschi Glas, with Giallo regular Marisa Mell in support.

An unidentified prostitute known as La Tuscano (Gabriella Giorgelli) is murdered. The only clue is the strange, half-moon-shaped medallion left by her body. American artist Kathy Adams (Marina Malfatti) dies next, but beyond the killer’s unusual taste in jewellery, Inspector Vismara (Pier Paolo Capponi) can find no connection between the two women. A break in the case arrives when honeymooner Giulia Torresi (Glas) is attacked in her compartment on the Rome to Paris Express. She is badly wounded but survives, and the killer escapes. When questioned by Capponi, she recognises La Tuscano as Ines Tamburini, who used to work as a maid at the hotel run by her parents before they passed away. Capponi persuades her to play dead for her own protection, and she goes into hiding with her new husband, fashion designer Mario Gerosa (Sabato).

Later on, a trivial incident triggers a sudden memory recall for Glas. The half-moon design looks identical to a key ring owned by a mysterious American who was a regular visitor to her parent’s hotel one summer. The couple obtains a list of guests staying there at the time, and it includes the second murdered woman, Malfatti. They give the information to Capponi, but Sabato is unimpressed by the official investigations and determines to pursue the matter himself. His efforts to identify the unknown American lead to the apartment of party animal Barrett (Bruno Corazarri), who gives him a name: Frank Saunders. But Saunders is in the cemetery, his grave decorated with seven blood-stained orchids.

Lenzi’s film is a typical Giallo of the time, which never strays too far from the template established by Dario Argento’s smash hit ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage/L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970). There’s a killer on the loose with an unknown motive arising from past events, a young hero putting the heroine in danger with his unlicensed investigation, and the police Inspector lagging a couple of steps behind everyone. Given such a familiar setup, the mystery itself needs to deliver, but it’s only intriguing for the first hour or so. The script, co-written by Lenzi with Roberto Gianviti, demands a certain level of suspension of disbelief, too, given some of its leaps in logic, and the resolution is a tad pedestrian. The half-moon medallions are only a crude plot device to connect the murders. Glas’ sudden memory of a similar key ring left behind on a restaurant table several years earlier is a remarkable and conveniently delayed feat of recall. When the link between the victims is revealed, most of the mystery goes with it, save the killer’s identity, which isn’t that hard to guess.

It also doesn’t help that Sabato is such an unlikeable hero. He has an ongoing beef with the police, which is never explained. This is supposed to justify his solo investigation. However, Glas is safely under wraps, and her status is only likely to be compromised by his unofficial meddling. As a result, his actions come over at best as self-indulgent, at worst as a dangerous ego trip. Sure, the official forces don’t cover themselves with glory, far from it, but there is a killer at large, and Sabato’s ongoing refusal to share the results of his enquiries with Capponi is putting women at serious risk. Yes, it is a movie, so he’s more likely to unmask the killer than the police, but his decision becomes increasingly harder to credit. By the time we arrive at the climax, his determination to fly solo is verging on the ridiculous.

The general incompetence of the police is also an issue here. Even the senior officers on Capponi’s team are shown as slow-witted and incompetent. Their boss is credited with far more intelligence, but he’s far too ready to accept easy answers. It’s also a stretch that Sabato has such a free hand, with Capponi happy just to put the women on the hotel guest list under surveillance and make no effort to identify the mysterious American that ties the case together. So it’s left to Sabato to pound the pavements, make a sketch of the mystery man with the aid of Raffaele Ferri (Claudio Gora), interview the priest (Renato Romano) at the church who officiated at the funeral of Sanders and track down potential victim Elena Marchi (Rossella Falk) at the sanitarium where she resides with her paranoid delusions. Of course, official investigations can be shambolic in real life, and mistakes are made. Still, it’s pushing credibility a little that a task force in the Italian capital resembles the deputies of a local Sheriff’s office in some jerkwater town in the middle of nowhere.

Thankfully, Lenzi was a veteran director, so many of the problems are papered over by the technical efficiency and professionalism on show. The murder scenes are memorable and delivered with surprising intensity, although potentially graphic moments are shown only briefly. Most notable is the scene where Mell is impaled with a power drill, although its use makes more sense from a shock standpoint than anything else. After all, the killer is conducting a patient and long-premeditated campaign against specific targets, so it’s hardly likely he’d be so unprepared as to rely on the convenience of weapons that happen to be available on the day. The most chilling moment, however, is when red paint drips down onto the naked corpse of artist Malfatti, falling from a can overturned in her death struggle. It’s the kind of creative touch sadly absent from much of the film.

However, Lenzi does a very neat job of presenting even the most insignificant bystanders as shifty and suspicious. This is achieved with small moments of socially awkward behaviour and by holding closeups a beat too long, mainly at the end of interactions. The music from reliable composer Riz Ortolani also helps generate suspense, even if some of the work is repurposed from his previous collaboration with Lenzi on ‘So Sweet… So Perverse/Così dolce… così perversa’ (1969). Fans of Giallo veteran Mell are likely to be sorely disappointed, however. The actress only appears in the film’s final half-hour, and though the role serves a critical function in the story, her appearance is little more than incidental.

Lenzi’s directorial career began in 1956, and his work primarily reflected the box office trends of the day. Starting with historical dramas, he moved into Peplum in the early 1960s with films such as ‘Samson and the Slave Queen/Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963) and ‘L’ultimo gladiatore’ (1964). When James Bond clones were running around the continent, he contributed ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo/Superseven chiama Cairo’ (1965) and ‘Last Man to Kill/Un milione di dollari per sette assassini’ (1966) before delivering a couple of Spaghetti Westerns, most notably ‘Una pistola per cento bare’ (1968) starring US actor John Ireland. A more famous American import, the Oscar-nominated Carrol Baker, graced his first Giallo picture ‘Orgasmo/Paranoia’ (1969), and they continued their collaboration with ‘So Sweet… So Perverse/Così dolce… così perversa’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place to Kill/Paranoia’ (1970) and ‘Knife of Ice/Il coltello di ghiaccio’ (1972). Irene Papas took centre stage for ‘Oasis of Fear/Un posto ideale per uccidere’ (1971), but by the middle of the decade, the market was moving toward more explicit horrors. By the early 1980s, Lenzi had switched to zombies for ‘Nightmare City/Incubo sulla città contaminata’ (1980) and scarcely more human monsters for the notorious ‘Cannibal ferox’ (1981), which was allegedly banned in 31 countries, if you believe the publicity. Lenzi carried on working until the early 1990s, mainly in the crime and horror genres, and passed away in 2017.

It has an intriguing setup and sporadically delivers the goods, but ultimately it lacks a creative script and an engaging mystery.

Delirium/Delirio caldo (1972)

‘My heart is blind and filled with death.’

A psychologist who works with the police picks up a young girl out drinking and savagely murders her in a remote spot. He’s identified by staff at the bar, but while he is in custody being questioned, another girl is killed…

Offbeat, semi-demented Giallo thriller from writer-director Renato Polselli. Hungarian-born actor and famous bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay tries to make sense of it all.

Working with Inspector Edwards (Raul Lovecchio) on murder cases is a regular gig for psychologist Herbert Lyutak (Hargitay), but the latest is slightly different. For one thing, he’s a suspect after being tagged as the man who picked up the young victim (Stefania Fassio) by barman Marcello Bonini Olas and car park attendant John Lacey (Tano Cimarosa). For another, he is the actual killer. Fortunately, while Lovecchio is questioning him, news comes in of another murder in the same locality. A young brunette has been slaughtered in a callbox after calling the police in a panic.

Hargitay might be off the hook for the crime, but he still has a heap of problems at home. His wife Marzia (Rita Calderoni) is still blindly devoted, but she’s pretty sure of his guilt. She’s prepared to overlook his impotence too, and their attempts at intercourse certainly seem to entertain their peeping maid, Laurel (Cristina Perrier). Meanwhile, Lovecchio has set a trap for the killer in the park using blonde Miss Heindrich (Katia Cardinali) as bait. It all goes wrong, and another woman is killed with a knife. Hargitay is on the scene by invitation, but Cimarosa is also discovered lurking in the woods.

Rarely has a film been more accurately titled than Polselli’s Giallo drama. It starts well enough with the opening scenes moving from unsettling to horrific as Hargitay charms the young Fassio into his car with the promise of a lift to a nearby nightclub and then begins to molest her on the way out of town. Chasing her into a shallow creek, he bludgeons her with a rock and then strangles her to death. It’s an effective way to begin, overturning the usual Giallo tradition of unmasking the killer in the final act. The reveal that he works with the police is another nice touch, which makes for an unusual dynamic with Lovecchio during his interrogation and subsequent release.

However, when Hargitay arrives home, the film goes off the rails pretty quickly. This is a very screwed-up household indeed, and the relationships between Hargitay, his wife Calderoni and servant Perrier and played in such an off-kilter way that they are never convincing. Polselli was probably aiming for the overall feel of a dream or, more accurately, a nightmare. However, it’s hard for the audience to stay invested when it’s unclear whether what is happening is real or not. Some scenes are clearly the twisted fantasies of the main characters, but other moments just as illogical, are presented in a far more realistic way, making for a head-scratching incoherence.

Perhaps it’s inevitable, given the oblique nature of the storytelling, the film is also short on many plot basics and details. Lovecchio mentions that Fassio was the seventh victim in this serial killer’s rampage. Who were the other six, and was Hargitay responsible for them? Is helping the police with the case? How has he evaded suspicion, given that his Modus Operandi with Fassio was to pick her up from a public bar in plain sight of a roomful of potential witnesses? There’s also a question mark over Cardanali, who takes part in the sting operation in the park. Is she supposed to be a police officer? She certainly knows Hargitay. When the Inspector sees her surreptitiously take a piece of evidence from the crime scene, he doesn’t call her out and somehow only remembers to question her about it later. On the way to her apartment, he and a colleague stop for a cup of coffee along the way for no significant reason, allowing the killer the time to get there first.

Calderoni’s visions of being chained up in a sex dungeon with Hargitay and her blonde niece Joaquine (Christa Barrymore) are certainly presented as fantasy. However, later, we discover that the room exists, and Barrymore is suddenly promoted (almost out of nowhere) from background scenery to a major player in the final act. Of course, there’s a suspicion that these sequences are only present to provide some significant nudity, and there’s more than a touch of unpleasant sleaze about a later scene involving the attempted murder of Perrier being witnessed by the voyeuristic Cimarosa.

The cast overact shamelessly at times, particularly in the overblown final scenes, which Polselli delivers with all the subtlety of Grand Opera. Gianfranco Reverberi’s progressive rock soundtrack, intrusive throughout, blasts away fearlessly through this wild finale as the doomed characters pull silly faces and throw themselves about with glorious abandon. It’s easy to laugh and blame the actors, but there really isn’t any other way to play such ridiculously over-the-top material.

In an apparent effort to make the film more coherent for overseas markets, Polselli shot some additional material, and the film was recut. Does it help? Well, a little. Now the film opens with Hargitay sustaining a severe combat injury in Vietnam, the effects of which could explain his strangely detached, robotic performance through much of the runtime. The scenes where he sweet-talks a young student into his car make more sense as they do have an actual payoff now, although it comes without apparent consequences.

Then there’s the character of Bonita, played by Carmen Young, who is rewarded with a special ‘introducing’ credit at the beginning of both cuts of the film. However, she doesn’t even appear in the original release and has only one very brief scene toward the end of the American version. The outcome of this additional event does provide motivation for Barrymore’s antics at the finish, but it all comes right out of left field as there is no prior mention of Bonita’s existence. Perhaps the sequence was also intended for inclusion in the original film but was dropped before release, leaving her acting credit intact. The American update still needs far more clarity, but the final twist does tie things up much more effectively, even if it’s seriously underwhelming.

Polselli was born in 1922 in the agricultural centre of Arce in the Central Italian region of Lazio. Little biographical information on him is available, but his first film project found him already established as a writer-director on the obscure drama ‘Delitto al luna park’ (1952). His first notable credit was ‘The Vampire and the Ballerina/L’amante del vampiro’ (1960), where a good level of early tension was squandered in favour of rather obvious horrors. Other chillers followed, such as ‘The Monster of the Opera/Il mostro dell’opera’ (1964), and ‘The Reincarnation of Isabel/Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel Trecento…’ (1973). The latter features so many of the principal cast that appears here that it may have been filmed at the same time. Outside of his own projects, he contributed to the scripts of other filmmakers, including actor Rossano Brazzi’s Giallo thriller ‘Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia’ (1969) and the odd ‘Questa libertà di avere… le ali bagnate (The Freedom To Have Wet Wings)’ (1971), which has sometimes been tagged with the same label.

Composer Reverberi conducted the Italian Eurovision Song Contest entry the same year Polselli’s film came out but enjoys a far greater claim to fame. In 1968, he and his brother Gian Piero contributed the song ‘Last Man Standing’ to the Spaghetti Western film ‘Django, Prepare A Coffin/Preparati la bara!’ (1968). Thirty-eight years later, parts of the melody and chord structure were crafted into the song ‘Crazy’ by US Soul duo Gnarls Barkley. The track was a global phenomenon, topping the charts in many countries and winning numerous awards. It’s appeared on the soundtrack of over 50 films and TV shows to date.

The film is certainly different, but its shortcomings make it a little hard to take seriously.

So Sweet So Dead/Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile (1972)

‘He has this morbid passion…for corpses.’

A killer targets the wives of some of the leading men of a small provincial city. Evidence of their adulterous affairs is left behind at each crime scene, but the men’s faces in the photographs have been mutilated beyond recognition…

Run-of-the-mill Giallo thriller, courtesy of director Roberto Bianchi Montero, working from a script he co-authored with Luigi Angelo and Italo Fasan. Ex-Hollywood leading man Farley Granger stars, along with Sylvia Koscina and Silvano Tranquili.

The pressure’s on at police headquarters after a General’s wife, Floriana (Ulla Johannsen), is found naked on a bed with her throat cut. The killer has scattered a collection of compromising photographs around the corpse, with the face of her lover erased from each one. The case lands on the desk of Inspector Capuana (Granger), whose wife Barbara (Koscina) moved in the same social circles as the victim. Medical examiner Professor Casali (Chris Avram) theorises that the killer is a sex maniac, and it’s not so long before he strikes again, butchering Serena (Femi Benussi), shortly after a late-night tryst with her illicit lover, Gianni (Andrea Scotti).

Prominent criminal lawyer Paolo Santangeli (Silvano Tranquilli) becomes connected to the case by representing Scotti. However, he would much rather be in conference with mistress Lilly (Nieves Navarro), who lives next door to his family home with her disabled husband. Tranquilli’s wife Franca (Annabella Incontrera) knows all about his cheating and has started her own out-of-town affair, while their teenage daughter Bettina (Angela Corvello) is seeing ‘unsuitable’ scooter boy Piero (Fabrizio Moresco). Koscina’s friend Renata (Krista Nell) is also on the killer’s wish list due to her ongoing liaisons with young stud Mauro (Paul Oxon).

At first glance, it might seem that the large number of extra-marital affairs and infidelities tag the film as more daytime soap opera than Giallo. However, this apparently tangled web of romantic intrigues serves only one purpose: to provide victims for the killer. Director Montero focuses firmly on the mystery and the ongoing investigations of Inspector Granger and his efforts to unmask the mysterious slasher. Unfortunately, the results are routine at best, with a mechanical plot, shallow characters and little creativity. There are few surprises, with the victims clearly signposted one at a time before the killer strikes and a staggering lack of detail regarding the investigation. Granger is told to tread carefully because the victims were from high society, advice he seems to take to heart as he prefers to haul in various pimps and streetwalkers rather than talk to some of the husbands involved. We never even see him interview Corvello after she witnesses one of the slayings!

However, spending more time on Granger’s efforts at detection would probably have meant less footage of the female cast with their clothes off. Yes, there’s plenty of casual nudity for our unfaithful wives, although only Navarro gets an actual sex scene. This naked romp proved far too hot for some, and the scene was heavily trimmed for release in certain territories. Ironically, the film was later re-edited with new scenes featuring adult stars Harry Reems and Tina Russell and released in America as ‘Penetration’. Not best pleased that he had been re-cast as a porn-watching detective, Granger threatened legal action and the film was withdrawn, although apparently, the re-cut version still played in parts of Europe.

Giallo is often attacked for its gender politics and attitudes toward women, and this is one such film that merits discussion in that regard. The victims here are explicitly targeted because of their infidelity and often meet their ends in various states of undress and just after sex. On the other hand, the men escape scott-free with no consequence for their actions other than the fear of being unjustly accused of the crime. In slight mitigation to the filmmakers, none of the women concerned has multiple lovers, and at least some justification is provided for their actions. Incontrera’s husband is already sleeping around, Navarro’s is virtually bedridden and probably impotent, and the initial victim, Johannsen, was married to a General, which suggests a considerable age gap. Even Granger is so obsessed with his job that it’s unlikely Koscina is having a great time between the sheets. However, given the slapdash nature of the production, it’s probably pushing it a bit to assign the filmmakers with conscious intent on any of these matters.

The film boasts little in the way of memorable visuals, although Montero does deliver one excellent sequence as Benussi flees the dark silhouette of the killer along a beach at night. It’s the one extended use of slow motion in the film, and it works very well, although the killer’s look is almost a direct steal from Mario Bava’s far superior ‘6 Donne Por L’assassino/Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). There’s also an entertaining supporting role for Luciano Rossi as Avram’s rather too enthusiastic right-hand man Gastone. Not only does he help the Professor with his autopsies, but he also ‘beautifies’ the dead bodies afterwards and takes photos of them! I’m pretty sure that’s the role of funeral parlour staff rather than the Police Medical Examiner’s Assistant, but maybe they do things differently in Italy.

Granger was a veteran of Giallo by this point in his fading career, and he anchors the drama with a solid performance, effectively selling his character’s emotional conflict at the climax. Sadly, there’s very little for the female cast to do except disrobe, die and fire the odd, half-hearted bitchy comment each other’s way. Navarro makes the best of it with her effortless sensual charisma, but all the women are drawn in broad, identikit strokes. The script has all the hallmarks of a project thrown together hastily, with the writers ticking a series of boxes to guarantee an easy hop onto the Giallo bandwagon. Unknown killer with a blade? Check. Beautiful women with their clothes off? Check. Intricate mystery laced with subtle clues, fascinating characters and gripping drama? Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Koscina’s four-decade-long screen career began with a featured role in the Second World War comedy ‘Siamo uomini o caporali’ (1955), which starred famous Italian funnyman Totò. Her big break arrived only three years later when she starred as Iole, Daughter of Pelias, opposite Steve Reeves in the international smash ‘Hercules/Le fatiche di Ercole’ (1958) and the sequel ‘Hercules Unchained/Ercole e la regina di Lidia’ (1959). She confirmed her comedic credentials in many other projects at this time, including several with old friend Totò. When tax breaks and low production costs brought Hollywood to Italian shores in the early 1960s, she picked up supporting roles in American features and soon graduated to starring with Dirk Bogarde in knowing British spy flick ‘Hot Enough for June’ (1964). Abel Gance’s ‘Cyrano et d’Artagnan’ (1964) followed, and she appeared in a minor role in Federico Fellini’s ‘Juliet of the Spirits/Giulietta degli spiriti’ (1967). She also had time to romance Bulldog Drummond in ‘Deadlier Than The Male’ (1967) and led cult item ‘He and She/L’assoluto naturale’ (1969). Notable leading men included Paul Newman in ‘The Secret War of Harry Frigg’ (1968), Kirk Douglas in ‘A Lovely Way To Die’ (1968) and Rock Hudson in ‘Hornet’s Nest’ (1970). The 1970s brought Giallo ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat/Sette scialli di seta gialla’ (1972) and work for Mario Bava in ‘Lisa and the Devil/Lisa e il diavolo’ (1973). She struggled with tax problems in the following years but was still working up to her death from heart trouble in 1994.

So sweet, so dead…and so anonymous too.

The Dead Are Alive!/L’etrusco uccide ancora/The Etruscan Kills Again (1972)

‘If music affects archaeologists like this, I wonder what archaeology does to some musicians.’

A small archaeological team uncover the tomb of a supposed Demon God while digging near some Etruscan ruins. Shortly afterwards, a young couple is murdered at an adjacent site and laid out in one of the burial chambers as if for ancient sacrifice…

Multi-national Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Armando Crispino built on a more traditional horror premise. American, British and German actors take the leading roles with production financing courtesy of sources in Italy, West Germany and Yugoslavia.

It’s been a rough couple of years for hotshot young Professor Jason Porter (Alex Cord). A worsening addiction to alcohol has prompted changes in his behaviour, including a tendency to violence, accompanied by blackouts and memory loss. Reduced to running a small archaeological dig in the Etruscan ruins in Spoleto, he uncovers the secret tomb of what he believes is an ancient Demon God. A few hours later, in the ruins nearby, a teenage couple is brutally beaten to death, and their bodies are laid out on sacrificial stones. The young woman is dressed in a pair of red ballet shoes.

The unusual footwear leads Inspector Giuranna (Enzo Tarascio) to focus on the local theatre, which is mounting a production under the leadership of eccentric maestro Nikos Samarakis (John Marley). Cord gets into Tarascio’s crosshairs when he discovers the next set of victims, Marley’s son Igor (Carlo De Mejo) and his girlfriend Giselle (Wendy D’Olive). Despite being seriously injured, De Mejo survives but can’t identify the killer who took D’Olive’s life.

The Professor is also being threatened by Otello (Vladan Holec), a local grifter who wants to supplement his income as a tour guide to the ruins with some proceeds from blackmail. He’s obtained an incriminating letter Cord wrote to Marley’s new wife Myra (Samantha Eggar), with whom he was once romantically involved. The ballet’s dance director Stephen (Horst Frank) is also spying on him, and who is the stylish but mysterious Leni (Nadja Tiller) who visited De Mejo in the hospital?

Despite the setup’s obvious potential for a straight-ahead monster horror film, it’s pretty clear from the opening act that this is a Giallo murder mystery. There’s never any serious suggestion that the perpetrator of the mayhem is an Etruscan demon back from the grave. However, it was a conceit embraced by the marketing team and distributors, who most likely came up with the somewhat misleading release titles. Gorehounds will probably be happy enough, though, as a couple of the kills are very bloody indeed, and Crispino’s camera lingers on the action for a good deal longer than many contemporary productions.

Instead, the focus is on running down a more earthly killer, and Crispino’s script, co-written with Lucio Battistrada and Lutz Eisholz, provides the audience with a multitude of suspects. Unfortunately, when supplying so many possibilities, it’s necessary to give each equal weight, and, at times, Crispino struggles to find the right balance. The lack of detail regarding the basic setup doesn’t help either, leaving nagging questions dangling throughout the film. Why is a disgraced Professor with a well-documented history of substance abuse and violent behaviour supervising an important dig happening adjacent to an established archaeological site and tourist attraction? Who exactly are his young team members, and why do most of them seem to be associated with the theatre in town? Why is the paranoid, violently jealous Marley letting Cord stay at his palatial home when he is aware of the man’s prior intimate relationship with his much younger new wife? The answers to these, and other similar questions, aren’t essential in understanding the plot. However, addressing them in at least some fashion would have helped to bring the disparate story elements together in a more coherent and plausible manner. Everything does come together logically enough at the climax; it’s just not particularly satisfying.

There are some significant things to admire, though. Crispino and cinematographer Erico Menczer make the most of the scenes in the ruins and deliver an impressive car chase through a narrow labyrinth of ancient streets. It’s an excellent decision to have the details of Cord and Eggar’s back story emerge as a slow reveal, and the two leads effectively provide the drama with a much-needed emotional core, even if their characters aren’t particularly sympathetic. There’s also notable support from Frank. The blonde German was usually cast as sinister businessmen, assassins or thugs, but here he rocks tight t-shirts and short, curly red hair as the theatre’s effeminate choreographer. He’s playing against type and pulls it off very well, giving the character more depth than the one-dimensional stereotype it could easily have been.

Cord is best remembered to the generation that grew up in the 1980s as the white-suited, eye-patched Archangel, assigning missions to Jan Michael-Vincent and Ernest Borgnine on hit TV show ‘Airwolf’. His career began on the stage before his skills as a horseman landed him guest slots on network shows such as ‘Laramie’ and ‘Frontier Circus’. His big break seemed to arrive when he was cast as the Ringo Kid in the big-budget remake of John Ford’s classic Western ‘Stagecoach’ (1939). The part had made a star of John Wayne, but the film flopped hard, despite a cast that included Ann-Margret and Bing Crosby. Cord headed to Europe, where he starred in Spaghetti Western ‘A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die/Un minuto per pregare, un istante per morire’ (1967), which also featured Hollywood legend, Robert Ryan. A handful of other film roles on the continent followed before he returned to the United States to play Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry’s unsuccessful TV pilot ‘Genesis II’ (1973). A long career guesting on small-screen shows followed, with appearances on ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Murder, She Wrote’, ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ and many, many others. He passed away in 2021.

Born in 1939 in London, Eggar was attending stage school as a teenager when she was cast in the romantic drama ‘The Wild and the Willing’ (1962). She then appeared as Ethel Le Neve opposite Donald Pleasance in the true-crime drama ‘Dr. Crippen’ (1963) before hitting it big as kidnap victim Miranda Grey in William Wyler’s ‘The Collector’ (1965). Her performance brought her multiple awards and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Subsequently, she appeared opposite Cary Grant in his last film ‘Walk Don’t Run’ (1966), and Rex Harrison in the big-budget musical ‘Doctor Doolittle’ (1967). Unfortunately, the latter disappointed at the box office on release and allegedly almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. Eggar returned in ‘The Molly Maguires’ (1970) with Sean Connery and Richard Harris and starred opposite Yul Brynner on the small screen as he reprised his role from hit musical ‘The King and I’ (1956). Although concentrating more on television through the 1970s, she was still in demand for movies, starring in ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ (1976) opposite Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes, the interesting science-fiction drama ‘Welcome To Blood City’ (1977) and most memorably, in David Cronenberg’s early body horror ‘The Brood’ (1979). She’s worked steadily ever since, appearing on countless, high profile TV shows, including ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ where she played Jean-Luc Picard’s sister-in-law.

A solid, professional Giallo that never threatens to rise above the pack.

The Killer Is On The Phone/L’assassino… è al telefono (1972)

‘It’s something disgusting, poking about in a person’s soul.’

An actress collapses when seeing a strange man on a visit to England. When she regains consciousness, all memory of the last five years of her life has gone. The trauma seems linked to the death of an old lover and suppressed recollections of his murder…

Journeyman director Alberto de Martino returns to the Giallo for the third and final time, delivering his most atypical example of the Italian mystery thriller. British actress Anne Haywood takes the lead, with the most recognisable cast member being American Telly Savalas.

Stage star Eleanor Loraine (Heywood) arrives at Dover on the ferry as part of a promotional trip to England. On assignment at the port is jobbing assassin Ranko Drasovic (Savalas), who is waiting to provide a warm welcome to a high-ranking European diplomat about to sign an oil treaty. When the two lock eyes, Heywood hits the ground in a dead faint, and Savalas makes himself scarce. When Heywood wakes, she seems fine, blowing off the attention of medical staff and heading to her London home. Only the house is gone, and the men working on the road tell her it was demolished ages ago. She calls her sister Dorothy (Willeke von Ammelrooy) back home, wanting to talk to her lover Peter Vervoort (Roger Van Hool), only to discover that he died in a car accident five years earlier.

Back in Belgium, she’s put under the care of Dr Chandler (Antonio Guidi) while colleagues and associates fret and worry. She was in rehearsals with self-centred leading man Thomas Brown (Osvaldo Ruggieri) in a high-profile stage production of ‘Lady Godiva’, but now the opening is in doubt. The theatre is bankrolled by prominent industrialist Margaret Vervoort (Rossella Falk), but she’s only involved because the stage was the passion of her late brother Van Hool. Initially, Heywood seems to be recovering, but memories of the afternoon that Van Hool died keep bubbling to the surface. Soon she’s convinced that Savalas murdered him. Since their accidental encounter, the assassin has stayed close at hand, determined to eradicate all evidence of his old crime.

Amnesia is a hackneyed old plot device in big-screen thrillers, so it’s pleasing to report that De Martino’s film handles it better than most. The condition is still presented in a fairly simplistic manner, but at least there are no convenient Hollywood ‘bump on the head’ moments. It is odd, however, that it takes the results of an injection of sodium pentothal to prompt an accurate diagnosis from Dr Guidi when it’s pretty obvious what’s happened. Later on, he also suggests that someone may be threatening her life, but god only knows how he comes to that conclusion so early in the film.

The good news is that Heywood does an excellent job of conveying the bewilderment and self-doubt that the condition creates. For once, our protagonist has good reason not to call in the police; she’s afraid of what she might have done in the past and can’t recall. This dilemma is highlighted by a clever double twist about halfway through the second act when it suddenly appears that Heywood might not be the innocent victim of events after all. It’s also a neat way to highlight the unreliability of memory, a theme which could have been developed more fully with a more consistent screenplay.

Unfortunately, much of the script, by de Martino and four other writers, is a little vague on plot details, particularly regarding the events succeeding Van Hook’s murder five years earlier. Everyone believes he died in a car accident, but Heywood’s fractious memories suggest he was stabbed and that she was right there when it happened. It’s also heavily inferred that the assassin raped her afterwards, which begs a very obvious question: why didn’t he kill her if she was in his power? Why leave an eyewitness alive? Did she somehow escape from him or the car accident he successfully staged somehow to cover his crime? The film provides zero information on any of it or Heywood’s behaviour and mental condition in the aftermath of these traumatic events. Perhaps this was an intentional choice to heighten the ambiguity of events, but it feels a little haphazard and lazy instead.

Savalas’ participation is also somewhat disappointing. It’s not that he fails to convince as a professional hitman, more that he gets so little to do. For the most part, he remains almost a one-dimensional background character, although, of course, he gets to face off against the leading lady at the climax. These scenes are by far the film’s best, with the desperate Heywood using her knowledge of the working mechanics of the darkened theatre to fight back against the ruthless killer. The struggle culminates in a wonderfully ironic finish which de Martino delivers expertly, drawing out the final moments to an excruciatingly effective length.

Giallo fans focused on high body counts, and creative kills will most likely find the film disappointing, although anyone familiar with the director’s other efforts in the area should know what to expect. Both ‘The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili/Carnal Circuit’ (1969) and ‘The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio’ (1972) leaned more toward crime than horror. Both were presented with an absence of stylistic extravagance, and his choice of soft focus and slow motion to convey Heywood’s flashbacks indicates that such flourishes were not one of his strengths. Instead, the emphasis is on suspense and mystery; although there are script issues, he delivers an efficient dose of both.

Heywood was a former beauty queen and stage actress who entered British films and television in the 1950s. She worked her way up to leading roles reasonably quickly, including the heroine of ‘Vengeance/The Brain’ (1962), the most satisfying film version of Curt Siodmak’s famous science fiction novel ‘Donovan’s Brain.’ Soon afterwards, she became known for projects tackling progressive themes, such as D H Lawrence’s ‘The Fox’ (1967), the transgender drama ‘I Want What I Want’ (1972), and the interracial love story ‘Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff’ (1979). The end of the decade also brought the starring role in Pier Carpi’s controversial and poorly received horror film ‘Ring of Darkness’ (1979). Beset by production and financial problems, the film boasted a cast including John Phillip Law, Irene Papas, Marisa Mell, Frank Finlay and Valentina Cortes, but is most likely remembered for the nude participation of Lara Wendell, who was significantly underage at the time.

Solid, professional Giallo with some good aspects, sold by a powerful central performance.