‘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.