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.

Ypotron/Operation ‘Y’/Agente Logan – missione Ypotron (1966)

‘A bulletproof vest under a tuxedo? My tailor would never OK that.’

A top scientist working at a missile plant is kidnapped just as he is about to complete his life’s work. The authorities send in their best agent to crack the case, and he soon discovers that the scientist’s beautiful daughter is being blackmailed into handing over a mysterious briefcase…

Standard Eurospy shenanigans with Argentine actor Luis Dávila fighting the good fight as this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget.’ This Italian-Spanish-French co-production comes from co-writer and director Giorgio Stegani, who spices up the action with some timely elements of the space race.

It’s happy holiday time for super spy Lemmy Logan (Dávila, wonderfully billed as Luis Devil), who is running around exotic Acapulco juggling a choice selection of beautiful women. Sadly for him, his fun is interrupted by his killjoy sidekick Wilson (Jesús Puente), who delivers the inevitable news that he’s needed back home. Missile expert Professor Morrow (Alfredo Mayo) has been kidnapped, something that comes as no surprise to any audience member who noticed that his chauffeur, Strike, was being played by ubiquitous villain Luciano Pigozzi.

Mayo has been working on a mysterious project for smooth-talking industrialist Revel (Alberto Dalbés) called ‘Operation Gemini’, but Dávila prefers to pursue a more attractive prospect. The lead in question is Mayo’s beautiful daughter, Jeanne (Gaia Germani), who Pigozzi and his criminal gang have already contacted. The price of her father’s ransom is a mysterious briefcase, but the situation is complicated by the presence of the beautiful Carol (Janine Reynaud), who seems to be playing a game of her own.

This is pretty much a by-the-numbers, low-budget spy game of the mid-1960s. There’s the dashing hero who looks sharp in a suit and is handy with his fists, the kidnapped scientist with the super weapon, his beautiful daughter and the usual parade of faceless goons for our main man to work through before he unmasks the true evil mastermind. These minions include the giant Goro (Fernando Bilbao), whose only weakness turns out to be getting a burst of hot steam to the face. The gadgets are nearly all of the surveillance variety, including a tracking radar hidden inside a bible and one that can take photographs from inside a closed suitcase. A handy little device can also make telephones ring from across the room.

Unfortunately, the film only seems to be available with a rather careless English dub track, which may be responsible for some of the apparent inconsistencies in the story. It also turns Dávila into ‘Robbie Logan’ and makes it difficult to assess the cast’s performances, although Pigozzi delivers another of his trademark creepy villains. As with many similar endeavours, the lack of budget really begins to show through in the final third when Dávila and Germani reach the villain’s lair. This hi-tech headquarters turns out to be little more than the maintenance level of a typical high-rise, complete with steam pipes and boiler room. Not forgetting the model rocket sitting in the desert on top, of course. Inevitably, the action also lacks scale, and the fight choreography is workmanlike at best, but director Stegani does create a couple of memorable sequences. The first sees Dávila trapped in a wind tunnel at the missile facility, and the second involves the abduction of Germani from a nightclub. This snatch takes place during a striptease act and is surprisingly effective.

There are also some enjoyably cheesy moments. Although initially distrusting Dávila, Germani comes on board immediately when he tells her he’s a secret agent working for NASA with the codename of ‘Cosmos 1’ (stop laughing at the back!) It’s also fortunate that Reynaud can blink in morse code and that Puente’s in contact with stock footage of a navy destroyer in the middle of some ocean or other. Oh, and a word for all you budding film producers out there. If you want to use an invented word as the title of your movie, probably best to come up with something that doesn’t need a pronunciation guide!

Stegani began as a writer and worked uncredited on Giorgio Ferroni’s remarkable ‘Mill of the Stone Women/Il mulino delle donne di pietra’ (1960). He doubled as Second Unit Director on his next writing gig and received his first full directing credit for the ‘Italian Version’ of ‘Operation Hong Kong/Weiße Fracht für Hongkong’ (1964), although this may have been for quota purposes only. However, he was in full charge as writer and director of Spaghetti Western ‘Adiós gringo’ (1965) before he moved into the world of the Eurospy. More tales of the Old West followed, including ‘Beyond the Law/Al di là della legge’ (1968) with Lee Van Cleef, but after the end of the decade, he worked only sporadically.

Unremarkable spy games, but fans of the genre will probably find some things to like.

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 Price of Death/Il venditore di morte (1971)

‘You’d have to be a millipede to satisfy everybody.’

The saloon in Appleby is held up by three masked men on the same night as a young Mexican woman is brutally stabbed to death. Only one of the gang escapes the botched heist with his life. The blame falls on a local troublemaker, who is found guilty after trial and sentenced to hang. His lawyer hires a notorious gunman to help prove his client’s innocence…

Unusual attempt to spoof the Spaghetti Western from writer-director Lorenzo Gicca Palli, who throws significant elements of the Giallo thriller into his offbeat mixture. Genre stalwarts Gianni Garko and Klaus Kinski are along for the ride in this Italian production filmed at the Elios Studios in Rome.

It’s a busy night in the one-horse town of Appleby. Pretty young Carmen Morales (Franca De Stratis) is home alone making supper when she’s attacked and murdered by an unknown assailant. Over on main street, fun times at the saloon are on hold when three masked men burst in with guns demanding the evening’s proceeds. It looks like a bloodless heist until one of the patrons comes downstairs unexpectedly, and the bullets start to fly. Two of the gang are shot dead in the street outside by arriving Sheriff Tom Stanton (Luciano Catenacci), but the third escapes. The finger points toward local bad boy Chester Conway (Klaus Kinski), and in no time at all, he’s up before Judge Atwell (Alfredo Rizzo) and a jury of his peers. Convicted after a show trial, he is sentenced to hang.

Convinced of Kinski’s innocence, defence lawyer Jeff Plummer (Franco Abbina) hires old friend Mr Silver (Gianni Garko) to investigate and find the real culprit. The parents of the murdered girl have already retained his services as that crime has seemingly gone unnoticed by the official forces of law and order. From the start, Garko faces anger and resentment from the townsfolk and no co-operation from Catenacci. Everyone seems convinced of Kinski’s guilt, from sawbones Doc Rosencrantz (Luciano Pigozzi) to churchman Reverend Tiller (Giancarlo Prete), from fire and brimstone reformer Mrs Randall (Laura Gianoli) to her husband, Banker Randall (Luigi Casellato). The one person willing to help is saloon owner Polly Winters (Mimma Biscardi), and that’s only because she’s Kinski’s ex-lover and wants to hang him herself!

For a modern audience, this is an oddball film that never achieves a consistent tone with either its drama or its comedy. The opening murder is lifted straight out of the Giallo playbook, being shown almost exclusively from the killer’s point of view. We get hands clutching at De Stratis’ throat, her agonised, screaming face and her unsuccessful defence with a kitchen knife. Likewise, the heist and its gunplay are played as a straight action sequence.

Things start getting seriously weird at Kinski’s trial, which is presented as a farce. Blowhard defence attorney Abbina is constantly interrupted by the Prosecutor (Andrea Scotti), and Judge Rizzo repeatedly fines Abbina for protesting about it. Witness Biscardi gives her testimony dressed in a yellow trouser suit and big hair, looking like she stepped into a 1970s boutique on her way to the courtroom! All this is somewhat baffling to a modern audience. It’s a satirical dig at the judicial system, obviously, but it’s remorselessly heavy-handed, and there’s a suspicion that some of the humour may have been inspired by real-life events of its time. Whatever the intention, it comes right out of left-field after the serious opening.

Garko’s investigations lead to the exposure of further smalltown hypocrisy; everyone is sleeping with everyone else, and those that shout loudest for high moral values are the most guilty of sin. Uptight harpy Gianoli is bankrolling Biscardi’s bordello/saloon on the quiet because they are secretly sisters. The diary of the call girl killed in the robbery prompts a bidding frenzy amongst the town’s leading citizens when it’s publicly auctioned by Sheriff Catenacci. It’s highly probable that the writer-director had an axe to grind when it came to figures in authority, both those in the political arena and self-appointed guardians of public morals.

There’s some good potential for sly comedy here, but it’s so broad, overdone, and relentless that it quickly loses its impact. However, it’s only fair to reiterate that some of the satirical barbs may have been lost to the passage of time and the film’s journey across international boundaries. One example is when Garko’s mission takes him out of town to a gold mining camp where he rescues a man from a lengthy comedy beating. Who is he, and what is his function in the story? The audience never finds out because he is shot dead less than a minute after Garko gets him back to town, and he’s never mentioned again.

That’s not to say there are not some enjoyable moments here, just that they never coalesce into a coherent whole. It seems as if there may have been an intention at some stage to present a freewheeling satire of movie tropes and conventions of all kinds, but the finished product only hints at this possibility. When we first meet Garko’s Mr Silver, he is hanging out with two bikini-clad lovelies, and a cool drink in a tall glass in the same way James Bond might wait for the inevitable call to duty. He even works out with an uncredited Japanese martial artist who repeatedly throws him to the mat before a frustrated Garko lays him out with a straight right to the jaw. Again, none of this goes anywhere or comes up again in the rest of the film. Of course, this scattershot approach to comedy can work, but not when other parts of the story play as straightforward drama.

Fortunately, the principal cast keeps things watchable, and Gicca Palli doesn’t allow a lot of time to ponder the many unresolved plot threads and general incoherence. Garko and Kinski were veterans of the Old West by this time, and both give reliably charismatic performances. However, Kinski enthusiasts may be disappointed by his role, as he spends almost his entire screentime ranting and raving in his jail cell. Similarly, Giallo fans are likely to find slim pickings here. Yes, there’s a string of murders committed by a hooded killer whose identity is revealed at the climax, but this part of the plot often feels strangely incidental.

The handsome Garko had been appearing on the Italian screen for almost a decade before his big break arrived with a leading role as Sartana Liston in Spaghetti Western ‘Blood at Sundown/1000 dollari sul nero’ (1966). The character name stuck, and his starring role in ‘If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death/Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte’ (1968) led to his leading three of the subsequent films in the series. By then, he had also played gunslinger Django and, later on, he made a one-off showing as supernatural gunman Holy Ghost in ‘Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato… Parola di Spirito Santo’ (1972), a character usually portrayed by Vassili Karis. In later years, as the genre declined, he moved increasingly to television, including an unlikely guest appearance in Gerry Anderson’s science-fiction series ‘Space: 1999’. Although his big-screen credits became more occasional, there were still leading roles in hamfisted space opera ‘Star Odyssey’ (1979), Bermuda Triangle close ‘Encounters in the Deep’ (1979) and opposite Lou Ferrigno in Luigi Cozzi’s wonderfully trashy ‘Hercules’ (1983).

A satirical mash-up between Spaghetti Western and Giallo presents possibilities, but what emerges is an unbalanced, unsatisfying experience.

Human Cobras/L’uomo più velenoso del cobra (1971)

‘Here’s that Black Mamba that you asked about.’

A man with mob connections returns to New York from forced exile in Europe when his brother is murdered. His investigations bring him into conflict with the local syndicate, and a key witness meets a bloody end. The trail leads to a businessman in Nairobi, and he heads for Kenya, accompanied by his brother’s widow…

Multi-national crime thriller with just enough of the necessary elements to qualify as a Giallo. Unfortunately, this Italian-Spanish-Swedish co-production from director Bitto Albertini turns out to be more memorable for its filming locations than anything else.

Johnny Garden (George Ardisson) is shot by a sniper rifle at the big game, leaving his wife Leslie (Erika Blanc) behind with a tangle of dubious business deals. Twin brother Tony (Aridsson, again) lives in Europe, forced out of the Big Apple by syndicate boss Humphrey (Luis Induni), who’s not pleased to see him when he returns. Investigating his brother’s death, Ardisson links up with Blanc and begins chasing down leads and witnesses. One of these is the frightened Louis Mortimer (Luciano Pigozzi), who hints at drug deals involving a Kenyan-based business partner named George MacGreaves (Alberto de Mendoza). Before he can spill the beans, though, his neck meets the sharp edge of a straight razor.

Ardisson and Blanc head for Nairobi to meet with the affable de Mendoza, who lives in a luxury villa outside the city. The couple is already struggling with their feelings for each other. An early flashback shows them as lovers before Tony left for Europe and his brother came into the picture. Ardisson’s resemblance to his brother attracts a woman named Clara (Janine Reynaud) when he visits a local casino. She promises him crucial information about the murder, but she’s killed while he showers after sleeping together. Forced to dispose of the body to avoid the authorities, Ardisson becomes more and more convinced of de Mendoza’s guilt. Events come to a head when the trio go on safari to hunt elephants.

This project must have looked like a potential winner at the concept stage. A murder mystery spanning three continents, a series of brutal slayings, a script co-authored by Giallo specialist Ernesto Gastaldi and an experienced cast with screen presence to spare. However, the final results are a disappointment. It would be tempting to point the finger at director Albertini, whose filmography is less than impressive, but it would have taken a master hand to wring something remarkable out of such a lacklustre enterprise.

The main culprit is the screenplay, which is curiously half-baked and lacking in detail. A good example is the business relationship between Johnny and MacGreaves. Apart from one vague, passing mention of drug trafficking by Pigozzi, the audience never finds out what has led to their fabulous wealth. Similarly, the reason for Ardisson’s exile from America and the antagonism of mob boss Induni is never explained. None of that is essential, of course, but some context would have helped inform the characters and their actions. However, the biggest problem is with the reveals and twists of the third act. It’s easy to see them coming, and they are as uninventive as they are predictable. Also, it’s hard to imagine how the aftermath of the endgame could have been explained to the authorities without incurring significant jail time! It would be nice to think that the talented Gastaldi had only a marginal association with the script.

The film does have a few points of interest, though, principally the unusual globetrotting element. Ardisson goes from Europe to America to Africa over the 95 minutes, perhaps prompting the actor to think he was back in one of his 1960s Eurospy roles where he buzzed around the glamorous cities of Europe as ‘James Bond on a Budget.’ At times, the production looks pretty determined to prove these multi-national credentials, with multiple shots of Ardisson walking the streets of New York and de Mendoza providing the leading couple with a quick tour of Nairobi when he picks them up from the airport.

Unfortunately, none of the characters gets any context or significant backstory. We’re never allowed any insight into Ardisson’s criminal past, although he’s clearly not phased by the necessity of dumping Reynaud’s body. The actor’s personal charisma is helpful, though, and he makes an excellent showing in the film’s best scene, an altercation with some of Induni’s goons in a New York bar. The fight choreography is solid, and Ardisson is convincingly capable.

The rest of the cast don’t get much of a look-in, with the women in particular short-changed. Even veteran scene-stealer Pigozzi only appears in a couple of brief, though effective, scenes. Underplaying his role as the number one suspect, de Mendoza makes a little more impact, despite his distracting resemblance to legendary Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros! Credit should also go to Fernando Hilbeck, who plays an almost wordless role as the assassin. For once, we see the killer’s face up close and personal right from the beginning. It’s not a question of putting a face to the murders, but rather one of the killer’s motives and who he might be working for.

Albertini remained firmly rooted in the second division during his almost 20-year directing career. His greatest success was the adult film ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975), starring Laura Gemser and also shot in Nairobi. He began as a cinematographer post-World War Two, eventually working on international epics such as ‘David and Goliath’ (1960) and ‘The Corsican Brothers/I fratelli Corsi’ (1961) before making his debut as a director in 1967. One of his first projects was the no-budget comic book adventure of ‘Goldface, the Fantastic Superman/Goldface il fantastico Superman’ (1967) before he became involved with the heroic comedy capers of the ‘Three Supermen’ series, for which he delivered three entries. After his success with ‘Black Emanuelle’ (1975) and a couple of sequels, he remained in the adult market for the unofficial sequel to Luigi Cozzi’s ‘Starcrash’ (1978), most commonly known as ‘Escape From Galaxy 3/Giochi erotici nella terza galassia’ (1981). Its mashup of what seems initially to be a space opera aimed at children with softcore porn can still raise eyebrows today.

A disappointing production that fails to realise its potential.

Baron Blood/Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga (1972)

‘If we don’t dig him, we’ll ditch him.’

An Austrian castle that once belonged to a sadistic 16th Century nobleman is being converted into a hotel for American tourists. One of the aristocrat’s thrill-seeking descendants raises the long-dead Baron from his grave using a witch’s spell, and the resurrected man begins a new reign of terror in the district…

Another exercise in terror from Italian horror maestro Mario Bava. Here, the director leaves his native Italy for Austria to deliver his usual masterclass in visual imagery and atmosphere. Classic-era Hollywood heavyweight Joseph Cotten and 1960s IT girl Elke Sommer help to provide the chills.

After completing his academic degree, Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) prefers to stretch his wings rather than dive back into his books. He seeks out a branch of his family in Austria, specifically the uncle he has never met, Dr Karl Hummel (Massimo Girotti). However, Cantafora has more on his mind than just a friendly visit; he’s keen to hear about his infamous ancestor Baron Otto Von Kleist. He was a 16th Century nobleman whose charming habits of torturing peasants and impaling enemies on stakes high above the castle walls earned him the nickname ‘Baron Blood’. On their way from the airport to Girott’s home, they pass the castle in question and Cantafora’s keen to drop in for a quick look around.

The conversion of the castle into a luxury hotel is happening under the watchful eye of new owner, Mayor Dortmundt (Dieter Tressler). However, it’s not all smooth sailing, thanks to pretty architectural student Eva (Elke Sommer). She’s working for the Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments, and she isn’t happy about some of the changes he’s planning to make. After she gets a fright, courtesy of eccentric castle caretaker Fritz (Luciano Pigozzi), Girotti invites her back for dinner at home with his family and Cantafora, who’s already got her firmly in his sights. Talk at the table turns to the bloodthirsty Baron and Girotti’s pre-teen daughter, Gretchen (the wonderfully creepy Nicoletta Elmi), cheerfully informs them that she regularly sees the Baron at the castle windows on her way home from school. No one takes her seriously, of course.

Cantafora has a surprise up his sleeve, however; two old parchments that he rescued from his grandfather’s attic many years earlier. One is an original floor plan of the castle, the other a resurrection spell left by a witch named Elizabeth Hölle, who the Baron burned at the stake. Girotti advises against dabbling with the occult, but Cantafora and Sommer head to the castle and try out Hölle’s spell. A bell tolls, a window rattles in a sudden gust of wind, and someone tries the chamber door. In a panic, they use the incantation that reverses the summoning.

It all seems a bit silly in the cold light of day, of course, and it’s easy to believe that it was just Pigozzi fooling around. They try again the following night, but the wind blows the parchment into the fire, and they cannot reverse their spell. Later that night, a doctor is murdered, and a couple of local men disappear. Then Tressler is found dead in the castle, and police inspector Umberto Raho isn’t buying that it’s a suicide. With the new owner dead, the castle goes up for auction and is purchased by mysterious businessman Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotten). He has no interest in turning the place into a hotel and plans to live there, restoring the building to its original condition.

It goes without saying that with Bava in the director’s chair, the film is often visually stunning. The real-life Kreuzenstein Castle, located a few miles north of Vienna, provides him with a rare opportunity to shoot a movie primarily on location. Although this environment was probably not conducive to extravagant camera movement (apart from some ill-advised zoom shots), it hardly seems to matter as Bava uses his genius for lighting and colour to present a gothic world that seemingly exists out of time. The interior of the ancient building is wreathed in shadows; the exterior draped in billowing fog. The sparing use of Stelvio Cipriani’s score also helps heighten suspense, and the double murder on the spiral staircase is an outstanding sequence. Similarly, the Baron’s pursuit of Sommer through the fog-bound streets of the town is also remarkable, especially given the high likelihood that this sequence was shot in a small studio with the scale provided by Bava’s usual genius sleight of hand.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. The script is credited to Vincent Fotre, Willibald Eser and Bava himself, although most commentators agree that Fotre was the principal author. Some suggest that Bava’s credit may have been for quota purposes, but he was also known on occasion to rewrite during shooting. Whatever the case, it often feels as if the script never got beyond a first draft. Its shortcomings are particularly noticeable in the film’s second half, with a couple of developments occurring with no foreshadowing whatsoever. When Cantafora and Sommer fear they have brought the Baron back to life, they consult Girotti, who apparently conducts studies in ESP as part of his lecturing work at the local university. One of his test subjects, Christina Hoffmann (Rada Rassimov), exhibited such phenomenal results that he suggests they get her opinion. This somewhat random suggestion turns out to be a real winner as not only does Rassimov know all about the situation, she has Elizabeth Hölle’s original amulet in her possession and can channel the witch using an occult ceremony! Good call, Dr Girotti!

It’s also established early on that his daughter passes the castle on her way to and from school, but it takes him a good 20 minutes after he’s bought into the Baron’s reappearance before he realises that she might be in danger! Stellar parenting, there. The child’s uncanny foresight and better understanding of events than anyone else are unexplained, although psychic characters, sometimes children, were not unknown in Bava’s work. Elmi is superbly unsettling in her small role, which led to appearances in Paul Morrissey’s ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ (1973) and Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red’ (1975).

Elsewhere in the cast, Rassimov is easily the standout, suggesting complexity and depth in a character that could have easily descended into caricature. Her screentime is far too brief. Cotten brings a sly arrogance and black humour to his role, which is appropriate, even if it was unlikely to have been much of a stretch for the veteran star. The script doesn’t give Sommer much to work with, but she does play ‘frightened’ very well, and it’s pleasing that her character is more than just a helpless victim. She also looks fabulous in a series of chic fashions, a new one for every occasion, which is very admirable, considering the character is on a student budget!

Often the character of the hero can be a problem in genre cinema, coming over as bland and failing to make much of an impression on the audience. However, the opposite is the case here. Peter does make an impression, but it’s not a favourable one. He’s not loud or offensive, but his arrogance is undeniable. Not only is it his idea to attempt to resurrect the Baron – twice! – but he shows no remorse for his actions later on, despite the escalating body count. He also tries to get Sommer to recount details of her encounter with the Baron when she’s obviously still traumatised. In the film’s closing moments, he’s still prattling on about how wonderful it would be to talk to a man from the 16th Century, even as the Baron closes in for the kill. Cantafora’s performance is neither here nor there; it’s how the character is written. The audience can’t invest in him, and Sommer’s romantic interest is hard to believe.

The film marked Bava’s return to US theatres with his old partners at American International Pictures, who had passed on his more recent projects. As on previous occasions, the company cut the film for the American market, but the trims weren’t radical and tightened the plot a little. The most significant change was a new musical score by ‘in house’ composer Les Baxter, which leans more heavily on familiar horror film motifs. It does not distract from the visuals, nor does it particularly enhance them.

Cotten’s Hollywood pedigree is undeniable; a debut in Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941), the leads as ‘Uncle Charlie’ in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ (1943) and Carol Reed’s ‘The Third Man’ (1949). He began working increasingly in television from the 1950s onwards, alternating such projects with appearances in films outside the United States. These included Spaghetti Westerns, bonkers Japanese sci-fi mash-up ‘Latitude Zero’ (1970) and opposite Vincent Price as ‘The Abominable Dr Phibes’ (1971). Both Price and Ray Milland turned down his role in ‘Baron Blood’ (1972).

A must for Bava fans, of course, but a weak script prevents inclusion with the best of his work.

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.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)‘How easily one is deceived by appearances.’

A handsome young man who runs a bridal fashion house is secretly a serial killer, targeting young girls about to be married. Each killing brings him closer to unlocking a hidden memory from his childhood past, but the forces of law and order are closing in…

Somewhat hard to classify Giallo drama from legendary horror maestro Mario Bava that came out hard on the heels of Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969) in the early months of 1970. Argento’s film redefined the Giallo and established many of the conventions followed by the sub-genre, and provoked the craze which saw dozens of such pictures produced in the first half of the next decade. Bava’s picture helped reinforce some of these specific elements.

Good looking young man about town John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) has all the trappings of an ideal life. He’s head of a successful fashion business lives in a palatial house and drives an expensive car. However, behind the scenes, things are not so perfect. His marriage to the rich Mildred (Laura Betti) is in trouble, and she refuses to give him a divorce, reminding him that, although he may have inherited the fashion house from his mother, she’s the one paying all the bills. Being surrounded by beautiful models may provide plenty of opportunity for a bit of extra-curricular activity, but, instead, his taste runs to carving up prospective young brides with a cleaver. As he explains rather smugly in his voiceover, he’s completely mad.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

Unsurprisingly, he’s a person of interest to Inspector Russell (Jesús Puente), especially after one of his models, Alice Norton (Femi Benussi) goes missing. She’s ended up in his greenhouse incinerator after a quick spin with him around the dancefloor of his private backroom. This is populated by mannequins in bridal gowns, which we quickly learn is the trigger that provokes Forsyth’s homicidal rages. Each murder provokes more memories of an event from his past, an event that he is desperate to recall, believing that this knowledge will free him of his madness.

This is a rather unusual entry in the ranks of Giallo, with some commentators considering that its inclusion in the sub-genre isn’t a valid one. After all, the only mystery in the film concerns the killer’s motivation, not his identity, and the climactic revelations when Forsyth regains his memories are hardly a surprise to experienced viewers. However, the notion of repressed childhood trauma as motivation for a killer did become a Giallo staple. Argento’s movie had touched on the idea, as had the Frederick Brown novel that was its initial inspiration, but it was Bava’s film that brought it front and centre. Of course, roots of this idea go back even further, to film noir such as Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’ (1945) and psychodramas like ‘The Spiral Staircase’ (1946).

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

The oddest inclusion in the film is the element of the supernatural. Not surprisingly, nagging wife Betti ends up on the wrong end of Forsyth’s macabre hobby, but it’s not the last he sees of her. Instead, she pops up frequently, at first seen only by other people, then only visible to him. This was apparently an addition to the script made by Bava after close friend Betti expressed an interest in appearing in the picture. Yes, her ghostly presence can be interpreted as a sign of Forsyth’s unravelling psyche as he nears total recall, but it sits uneasily in the narrative, especially at first viewing. It helps that Betti is terrific, and her scenes with Forsyth are some of the best in the picture, but it still takes some getting used to.

As a Spanish-Italian co-production, for once Bava was persuaded to work outside his beloved homeland, and the primary location used for Forsyth’s home was a mansion once owned by General Franco. Of course, Bava took full advantage of these high-ceilinged, rich interiors, and displays his superb technique with camera movement and shot framing. Despite the affluence on prominent display, it’s an unsettling, haunted place filled with threatening shadows.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

If it had taken Argento’s debut film to popularise the Giallo, it was Bava who had birthed it, with earlier films ‘The Girl Who Knew Too Much’ (1963) and ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). The latter film was also set in a fashion house and, as perhaps as an in-joke, actor Luciano Pigazzi turns up for a brief appearance in this film, playing much the same role as he did in the earlier one. The selection of such a business also plays into the director’s undoubted obsession with the unreliability of appearances. Here, he’s ably assisted by Forsyth’s performance, flipping from handsome and bland in everyday life to manic and violent after the sun goes down. Apart from Betti, none of the rest of the cast gets much of a look-in, unfortunately. However, the scene where she is bleeding out on the stairs above the heads of the oblivious Puente and his sergeant is superbly played by all.

As per usual, it’s Bava’s startling technique that engages, whether it’s the startling transition from a murder to a seance or the misdirection of following the initial murder on a train to Forsyth playing with a model locomotive, it’s a constant delight. Better still, these flourishes are included not for the sake of mere cleverness, but, because they inform the story and its characters. Forsyth’s perfectly preserved childhood room where his movements throw a shadowplay of light and darkness across the faces of his old toys is a perfect metaphor for his character’s inability to move on from the hidden trauma rooted deep in his childhood. Similarly, the scene where he caresses the mannequins in their wedding clothes is more than enough to inform us that, despite his playboy appearance and seeming lifestyle, there’s probably more than a little lacking in his bedroom activities.
Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

This was Forsyth’s final film in a short film career based almost entirely in Italian and Spanish productions, including the lead in ‘Fury in Marrakesh’ (1966). He also worked as a photo-journalist during this period and found later success as a composer and choreographer. Some of his photographic work has a permanent place in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Harvard Film Archives as well as several other prestigious institutions.

Leading lady Dagmar Lassander is given far too little do in the film, but went onto to lead Gialli such as ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970), ‘The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire’ (1971) and ‘Reflections in Black/Il vizio ha le calze nere’ (1975). She had leading roles in many pictures during the following decade, including comedies and crime thrillers, as well as somewhat notorious horror ‘Werewolf Woman’ (1976). Later work included featured supporting roles in Lucio Fulci’s controversial horrors ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) and ‘The Black Cat’ (1981).

Not one of Bava’s best, but still an absorbing psychodrama, touched by his usual genius.

La jena di Londra/The Hyena of London (1964)

La jena di Londra/The Hyena of London (1964)‘The killer strangled his victim with quite ferocious might!’

A notorious criminal who has terrorised London for years finally meets his maker at the end of the hangman’s rope. However, when his body goes missing, and a woman is killed in a village nearby, people start to believe that state justice hasn’t been so effective after all…

Curious, black and white borderline Giallo from the early days of the genre, which only goes to demonstrate how unformed its conventions were in the early 1960s. Yes, we have an unidentified killer stalking the streets and a mystery to solve, but it’s all wrapped up in endless romantic intrigues and an unconvincing splash of pseudo-science thrown in at the climax.

The time: 1883. The place: London (or some still pictures of it, to be more precise). Super crook Martin Bauer is executed, and the populace breathes a collective sigh of relief. He’d been the scourge of the city for years. However, in a taste of things to come, the film doesn’t elaborate on his various crimes. All we find out was that he was known as ‘The Hyena of London’. A rather bizarre nickname, to be sure. The audience does get a kind of ‘Jack the Ripper’ type vibe about him though, so I guess that’ll have to do.

La jena di Londra/The Hyena of London (1964)

‘After you.’ ‘No, after you.’

Despite the title of the film, we relocate to the neighbouring village of Bradford (in reality, some 200 miles from the capital!) It is much cheaper to film in rural locations, after all. No need to do any period set dressing in a wood. However, the action (such as it is) begins in the darkened streets of the village. A woman is stalked and killed by an unseen assassin. Her drunken husband, John Reed (Robert Burton, real name Mario Milita) is accused of the crime by local plod, Inspector O’Connor (Thomas Walton, real name Gino Rossi). Medical examiner Dr Edward Dalton (Bernard Price, real name Giotto Tempestini) is less convinced of the man’s guilt, but it’s his household that eventually provides the solution to the mystery.

His main headache is beautiful daughter, Muriel (Diana Martin) who’s in love with poor boy Henry (Tony Kendall, real name Luciano Stella). He’s been away for a while, although we never find out why he left or where he’s been. The two lovebirds are meeting secretly in the woods, actions mirrored by Tempestini’s dodgy assistant, Dr Finney (James Harrison, real name Angelo Dessy). He’s having some kind of clandestine affair with rich city girl Elizabeth (Claude Dantes), but he’s much more interested in heroine Martin. When an unidentified corpse turns up in the woods, it seems there’s a serial killer on the loose. Could it be that the Hyena of London has returned from the grave, or is the killer someone much closer to home…?

La jena di Londra/The Hyena of London (1964)

There was trouble in paradise for love’s young dream.

Despite its heroic efforts to appear as an American (or possibly English!) production, this historical thriller manages little more than to lull its audience gently to sleep with its slow and tedious story development. Proceedings are assembled in a flat, lifeless package by writer-director Henry Wilson (real name, Gino Mangini). Most of the time, the notion of a supernatural killer is almost entirely irrelevant, and the emphasis is placed instead on the less than riveting romantic entanglements of the main characters. The fact that Kendall gets banged up for trespassing on Tempestini’s property is a curious way to place him in the crosshairs of Inspector Rossi and only serves as an excuse to bring him into the frame as the possible killer. In the end, things are tied up in a hasty and incredibly lame conclusion that hasn’t been foreshadowed in any way and completely fails to convince.

The young Kendall went onto become quite the stalwart of European Cult Cinema over the following couple of decades. He’d already played the thankless ‘handsome hero’ role in Mario Bava’s creepy, gothic horror ‘The Whip and the Body’ (1963) and was only two years away from his first appearance as agent Joe Walker in the ‘Kommissar X’ series of Eurospy films. He also took time out to appear as one of ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967) and as Western gunman Django in ‘Django Defies Sartana’ (1970). Further roles followed for Spanish director Amando de Ossorio in ‘The Loreley’s Grasp’ (1972) and ‘Blind Dead’ sequel ‘Return of the Evil Dead/El ataque de los muertos sin ojos’ (1972). There was also cheap and cheerful ‘King Kong’ knock-off ‘Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century’ (1977).

La jena di Londra/The Hyena of London (1964)

‘You mean I’m stuck in stuff like this for the rest of my career?’

Elsewhere in the cast, there’s a welcome appearance by Luciano Pigozzi, playing a servant, and well on his way to assembling a credit list of Cult Cinema titles unrivalled by almost everyone in the business. Dantes also turned up in a supporting role in Mario Bava’s seminal ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). Although she and Martin seem to be the only members of the cast not hiding behind Anglicised pseudonyms, the two actresses managed less than a dozen screen credits between them and, with no biographical information available, it’s quite probable that both of them were Italian as well.

It’s is hard to stir up much enthusiasm for a film where so little happens and, by the time the film limps to its weak conclusion, most of the audience are likely to have checked out.

Blood and Black Lace/6 donne per l’assassino (1964)

Blood and Black Lace (1964)Guaranteed! The 8 greatest shocks ever filmed!’

A young model is brutally slain by a masked killer in the grounds of a major fashion house on a stormy night. Without an obvious motive for the crime, the police investigation flounders, but then another girl is killed. Is the culprit a crazed psychopath or is there something more behind the murders? It seems that everyone involved has got something to hide …

Massively influential horror thriller from Italian director Mario Bava which has rightly earned the status of a cult classic. The avalanche of Giallo thrillers that dominated the Italian film industry until the mid-1970s may have been unleashed by Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969), but his debt to this film is clear. Its fingerprints are also all over the American slasher craze of the early 1980s, even if those films are painfully simplistic by comparison.

There are dark secrets aplenty at the fashion house owned by Contessa Cristiana (Eva Bartok) and managed by her lover, Massimo (Cameron Mitchell). The killing of top model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) ignites a whirlwind of murder, violence and death. Next to go is blonde bombshell Nicole (Arianna Gorini) who has the misfortune to discovers Ungaro’s diary and is killed at the antique shop of her drug-addicted lover, Franco (the excellent Dante DiPaolo).

Too many suspects is a major issue for poor police Inspector Silvestri (Thomas Reiner).  Possible motives and alibis make for a bewildering puzzle. Is designer Cesare (Luciano Pigozzi) the victim of a psychosexual obsession? What’s up with his pill-popping assistant Marco (Massimo Righi) and does the Marchese Morelli (Franco Ressel)’s relationship with dark haired model Greta (Lea Lander) play a part? Although the escalating violence of the crimes suggests a male perpetrator, suspicion also falls on models Peggy (Mary Arden) and Tao-Li (Claude Dantes) who have secrets of their own to protect.

The central mystery here may owe some debt to writers such as Agatha Christie, but it’s well-balanced and genuinely surprising, with twists and developments unsuspected right until the end. But what sets the film apart is the stylisation that Bava brings to the table, creating something little short of a visual masterpiece. Almost every shot is a perfect blend of technique, lighting and colour, evoking a unique atmosphere that drips with fear and menace, whilst still drawing the audience deeper into the mystery. The interiors are almost impossibly rich in detail, giving the impression that the director hand-selected every single prop on display, and positioned it on the set himself. Given that the film takes place in a world of haute couture, where appearance is everything, this approach is a perfect fit.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)
There are no main characters in the film either; it’s most definitely an ensemble piece. This provides further uncertainty as to how events will develop and heightens the tension. The fine cast is another plus; Mitchell is enigmatic, Bartok regal, and all the other players invest their roles with a distinct personality, Lander’s nervous beauty being the quiet standout. Mention must also be made that filming took place in English and it was actress Arden who tweaked the script’s dialogue to sound more natural. She was a top model herself, having appeared on the covers of Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and in other top fashion magazines.

Bava began his career as a cinematographer and graduated to the director’s chair with gothic classic ‘The Mask of Satan/Black Sunday’ (1960); a reward for being a multi-talented ‘fix-it man’ on more than a few projects abandoned by other directors. Although this film was not a big hit at the time (and he followed it with a western!), it’s influence has become legendary. As per usual, all was achieved on a shoestring budget, dolly shots realised by placing the camera in a child’s red wagon and riding it around the set. This is particularly notable in the fashion show scenes where multiple characters move in and out and across the moving frame in what must have been tightly choreographed sequences.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Given the graphic nature of the kills on display, and some are still pretty strong, it was inevitable that the film was mangled by censors worldwide. There’s not too much blood on show here but, before this, murder on-screen was generally a ridiculous swift occurrence with victims barely putting up a fight. The women here are struggling for their lives with a far greater determination. This increases both the realism and the uncomfortable nature of those scenes for the audience.

The fact that the victims are beautiful women, mostly in some state of undress, has given rise to accusations of misogyny and objectifying women, but that’s a very superficial interpretation of the film. These female characters are objectified already, by the fashion industry in which they work, one that has caused many, many more real-life tragedies than a single motion picture could ever achieve. Bava portrays it as a world of artifice with a sleazy underbelly, brilliantly assisted by the moaning brass and jazzy touches of Carlo Rustichelli’s outstanding musical soundtrack. Additionally, Reiner’s ultimately fruitless investigation concludes that the killer is a ‘sex maniac’, but that’s not the case at all; each of the murders has a very specific motive woven into the complex narrative, and are driven by necessity rather than just bloodlust.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mitchell worked with Bava on several pictures, although only two where he occupied the canvas seat, Viking epics ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961) and ‘Knives of the Avenger’ (1965) and went onto appear in many Cult Cinema titles, of extraordinarily variable quality. This was Barktok’s penultimate big-screen role as she was retired by the close of the decade. She was married four times, although two were marriages of convenience, and gave birth to one child, a daughter, in 1957. Although still married at the time to actor Curd Jürgens, she later claimed that the father was Frank Sinatra, with whom she had an affair when working on ‘Ten Thousand Bedrooms’ (1956), her only American picture. In the early 1950s, she worked in the UK, starring in a couple of minor science-fiction entries; ‘The Gamma People’ (1956) and ‘Spaceways’ (1953), an early Hammer production. Most of the other female members of the cast have few additional credits. Arden appeared in Giallo ‘A For Assassin’ (1966), the underwhelming adaptation of the successful stage play by genre stalwart Ernesto Gastaldi, but enjoyed far greater success as a prominent globe-trotting businesswoman after she retired from the screen.

A masterful exercise in filmmaking with a breathtaking visual tapestry, this groundbreaking work proved to be a significant influence on the horror genre as well as crystalising the elements of what modern audiences consider to be an Italian Giallo film. It’s an outstanding motion picture and the work of a true cinematic genius.

(This is a revised and expanded version of a post originally published on 3rd January 2017)