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.

Devil’s Ransom/Senza via d’uscita (1971)

‘We’ll never persuade him; that man’s a psychopath.’

A street photographer flies to Stockholm to take part in a kidnapping plot. The victim is the young son of a high-ranking bank courier and his beautiful wife. The initial part of the scheme goes well, but the husband refuses to steal from his employers, and the kidnappers are forced to apply extra pressure…

Convoluted kidnap thriller that ventures into Giallo territory due to the twists in the story’s second half. An unusual Italian-French-Spanish-Swedish co-production shot mainly in Stockholm under the watchful eye of director Piero Sciumè, who also contributed to the script.

Professional man Gilbert Marchaud (Philippe Leroy) is stuck in a loveless marriage with the frigid Michèle (Marisa Mell), whose world revolves around their young son. The family is under the surveillance of Kurt (Roger Hanin), who is planning to work a little kidnapping with the aid of Leroy’s mistress, Britt (Lea Massari). One day at work, when in conference with bank president Mr Bergman (George Rigaud), Leroy gets a panicky call from Mell. Their boy has been snatched, and the kidnappers demand a hefty ransom.

Leroy takes charge of the situation, but there’s little he can do. Hanin demands the couple carry on with their lives as if nothing has happened, and Leroy elects to keep the police out of it. The ransom is $20,000, and, as Leroy’s job involves carrying large sums of cash around, the amount is within his reach. However, he refuses to steal from his employer, forcing Hanin to target Mell, who he takes to his studio. There he photographs her in various kinky poses and having group sex. When Leroy sees the footage, he blows his top, of course, but capitulates to Hanin’s demands, informing him of the travel arrangements of his latest trip to Switzerland.

This is a fairly unusual Giallo for several reasons. It begins with shots of Hanin hustling for cash on the streets of Barcelona, taking snaps of tourists and trying to sell them. Then he visits a produce market as the credits play before returning to his flat to face an angry landlady demanding the rent. All this is shot in almost a Cinéma vérité style, with Sciumè’s hand-held camera documenting Hanin mixing with real-life pedestrians and traders. It’s about as far as you can imagine from the carefully composed shots and precise framing of directors like Bava and Argento, who popularised the Giallo. Furthermore, the story kicks off like a standard crime drama, with Hanin spying on Mell in her apartment via a long lens camera and the offscreen abduction of her child. There are no exotic dancers or serial killers in sight, and no extravagant, carefully orchestrated kills to satisfy gorehounds.

Instead, it’s a slow, patient buildup as Leroy stands his ground against Hanin. Despite the kidnapper’s constant threats, he refuses to steal from his bank. His obstinacy drives the photographer to the next level as he pays a visit to Mell, surprising her naked in the bath. It’s not just the full-frontal nudity that’s more in keeping with Giallo, but the way Sciumè presents the scene. Events unfold from Mell’s point of view, a strange mixture of dream and reality that sit at odds with the film’s prior approach. Previously, her fragile mental condition was seemingly attributable to the abduction of her child, but now her problems seem to run even deeper. The situation escalates with the visit to Hanin’s studio, where she is a willing, if strangely distracted, participant. It’s here where the twists start to come, and although credibility is a little strained, it all hangs together at the end.

Given the realism of Sciumè’s visual approach, a lot of the dramatic burden falls on the cast, and it’s pleasing to report that both Mell and Leroy are excellent as the principals. His banker may seem a little too stoic early on, but there are enough signs of repressed emotion to keep the audience invested. This pays off with a late scene where he provides some surprising character insight, which is one of the obvious highlights of the picture. Mell gets a welcome respite from her usual femme fatale persona and is good value as the distraught Michèle. There’s a nice balance between their performances, which helps build suspense and drama.

However, it is slow-paced, and there is little in the way of action. The Stockholm locations may be different, but they don’t add a substantial visual signature to proceedings, and the work of cinematographer Cecilio Paniagua and composer Piero Piccioni aren’t particularly distinguished. Considering that there are four credited screenwriters, including the director, some more plot wouldn’t have gone amiss. More creativity was badly needed to help the sequence where the ransom finally changes hands. Granted that bad weather may have snowed in all the airports, it still beggars belief that Rigaud sends Leroy off with more than $20,000 in cash on the train (around $140,000 in today’s money). I guess it is only a short 1,250-mile hop from Stockholm to Geneva, and I’m sure Leroy will be perfectly fine on his own. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

This was Sciumè’s only outing as a director, and his entire filmography consists of work on just five films, one as an actor and one in the Script and Continuity Department. His only other substantial creative contribution would appear to be as co-writer and assistant director on poorly-regarded crime comedy ‘Riuscirà il nostro eroe a ritrovare il più grande diamante del mondo?’ (1971). On the other hand, Leroy has amassed a massive amount of credits in a 50-year screen career. ‘Castle of the Living Dead/Il castello dei morti vivi’ (1964) found him in a leading role opposite Christopher Lee and was less prominently featured in outstanding Giallo ‘The Possessed/La donna del lago’ (1965). Further projects in the sub-genre included ‘Cross Current’ (1971) and ‘Naked Girl Murdered in the Park’ (1973). He’s probably best remembered as Klaus in Liliana Cavani’s controversial ‘The Night Porter/Il portiere di notte’ (1974).

Some may find its lack of incident frustrating, but there are some interesting aspects to this unusual Giallo.

Marta/…dopo di che, uccide il maschio e lo divora (1971)

‘When you live alone in a house like this, even a visit from the police helps.’

A rich young man is haunted by nightmares of a night of sex and his mother’s fatal accident. Left alone on his estate over the weekend, he takes in a beautiful woman who is on the run from the police. She is unsure of his motives until she discovers her striking resemblance to his absent wife, who either left of her own free will or was murdered…

Understated Giallo mystery from co-writer and director José Antonio Nieves Conde, who focuses on suspense and intrigue rather than working his way through a long roster of murders. It was a Spanish-Italian co-production reuniting the co-stars of Conde’s previous film ‘The Great Swindle/Historia de una traición’ (1971), although this feature made it to the big screen first.

Wealthy landowner Don Miguel (Stephen Boyd) lives the quiet life on his rambling country estate with old married couple Arturo (George Rigaud) and Elena (Isa Miranda). Sure, he has his little eccentricities, such as having a telescope permanently set up so he can view the insane asylum down the road where his father died. There are also those strange, green-tinted dreams where the wife who suddenly left him and his stern, disapproving mother (Nélida Quiroga) seem oddly interchangeable. Perhaps it’s understandable when the one met her fatal interaction with the attic stairs so soon after the other departed.

When the faithful servants take a weekend break to visit their son, Marta (Marisa Mell) comes into his life, being chased halfway across his estate by his pack of guard dogs. He soon finds out that she’s fleeing a crime scene, leaving behind the seriously injured man who tried to assault her. Not only does Boyd put her up in one of the spare rooms for the night, but he also hides her when policemen Jesús Puente and Howard Ross come a-calling. The fugitive soon discovers that she bears a striking resemblance to Boyd’s wife, Pilar (Mell again, as a blonde), who left him two years before.

Boyd is initially reluctant to engage with his new guest, preferring instead to play the perfect host and watch her undress through a convenient peephole and then wander the dark passageways at night carrying a poker. However, Mell knows how to push his buttons, and the two soon tumble into bed. The following day marks Boyd’s annual pilgrimage to his mother’s grave, and Mell wants to go along for the ride. They dress her up as the missing Pilar to avoid official interest, using the missing woman’s old clothes and a blonde wig. Red flags all around, of course, but the fact that Mell cheerfully goes along with the masquerade only confirms something the audience has already begun to suspect; her arrival on the scene was much more than a lucky coincidence.

Conde’s drama poses two self-evident questions; what secret lurks in Boyd’s past, and what is Mell’s game? Given that this is basically a two-hander with no other characters being of much consequence, it’s pleasing to report that Mell and Boyd shoulder the responsibility well. Boyd is particularly eye-catching, alternating between a passive calm and occasional emotional outbursts which arrive unexpectedly. Mell also gets a role she can sink her teeth into, something she was rarely offered during her career. Yes, she has some of her usual ‘bad girl’ moments, but there’s more depth to Marta than that, and she presents a complete, rounded character with surprising vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, the performers are better than the script. It’s a slow burn for the most part but starts kicking into gear around the hour mark with some surprising revelations. These arrive a little earlier than might have been expected, but it’s excellent timing as it sets up some intriguing possibilities for the final act. Sadly, Conde fumbles the ball, discarding these opportunities in favour of a generic, all-too-predictable climax that lacks imagination and any true creative spark. On the plus side, however, the shifting dynamics of the Mell-Boyd relationship over the runtime are nicely handled. There are a couple of wonderful moments where an excited Mell confronts her new lover with a secret she has uncovered in the hope of provoking an unguarded response. Instead, he simply shrugs his shoulders, reveals he knew about it all the time and off-handedly throws her another crumb of new information.

Considering that the film has little action and what does happen is almost exclusively confined to the rambling house, Conde does an excellent job of maintaining a level of suspense and audience interest. The drama could easily come across as a small scale, made for television production, but it’s to his credit that it never does. The principal cast is an immense help in this regard, of course, and there is also solid, professional work from cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri. He was a camera assistant on Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960) and received full credit on the director’s ‘Ginger and Fred’ (1986). By then, he’d worked many times for Franco Zeffirelli, including celebrated films such as ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ (1972) and ‘La Traviata’ (1982). He finished his career with over 120 feature film credits, including Vittorio de Sica’s ‘The Garden of the Finzi-Continis’ (1972), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Having starred in two films together, Boyd and Mell began a real-life tumultuous love affair which culminated in an (unofficial) gipsy marriage shortly after filming wrapped, the union being sealed with blood! The couple even attended an exorcism ritual, and Mell reflected in later years that they had been lovers in several previous lives. However, the relationship didn’t last, with Boyd deciding to leave and never see the actress again. He’d made his mark on the big screen as Messala in William Wyler’s epic ‘Ben Hur’ (1959) and featured in other notable big-budget projects in the 1960s. There was the musical ‘Billy Rose’s Jumbo’ (1962) with Doris Day, a starring role alongside Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness and James Mason in ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ (1964) and as the lead in science-fiction favourite ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1966). He died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of just 45.

A promising Giallo, which unfortunately turns out to be much less than the sum of its parts. Worth watching for the leading performances, however.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)‘With this suit, I could swim through the centre of the sun.’

A notorious criminal mastermind steals 10 million dollars from under the noses of the police. The authorities escalate their campaign to apprehend him, forcing an underworld kingpin and his mob into taking action against the thief. Can the villain stay one step ahead of both the combined might of the forces of law and order and the criminal underworld?

Stylish and extravagant big-screen adaptation of the popular Italian comic book series from director Mario Bava. Unlike the maestro’s previous offerings, this was a big studio production with backing from well-known producer Dino De Laurentiis, big-name stars and shot on various locations, but mostly at his studio in Rome.

The film opens with the latest diversionary tactic employed by Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) to snare super heist merchant, Diabolik (John Phillip Law) and his lover and partner in crime Eva Kant (Marisa Mell). Instead of ten million dollars in banknotes, the cargo protected by a convey of motorcycle policemen is just blank paper. The real deal is going with him in an unmarked car with a much smaller escort. Law isn’t fooled, of course, and uses a smoke machine on a road bridge and a dockside crane to grab the swag. Piccoli is called in to face Minister of Finance Terry-Thomas but, after a humiliating press conference which Law and Mell disrupt with laughing gas, Piccoli gets special powers to end the Diabolik menace.
Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Squeezing local mobster, Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) by raiding on his clubs and businesses, the detective strikes a deal with the crimelord: hand over Diabolik and the pressure will be off. Meanwhile, Law pulls off another daring heist; snatching an emerald necklace and escaping via a rise with a catapult. But Celi kidnaps Mell and offers Law an ultimatum: the ten million dollars and the emerald necklace in exchange for her safe return. Law accepts the deal, but still has a few tricks up his sleeve when they meet for a showdown.

Diabolik was a character created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani whose instant popularity created a whole new sub-genre of Italian comics known as the ‘Fumetti neri’ (‘black comics’). In his original incarnation, Diabolik was a ruthless criminal genius, who let nothing stand in his way but, over time, and after legal actions by an outraged ‘moral majority’, the character softened into more of a hi-tech ‘Robin Hood’. Fumetti neri in general split into two distinct camps, those targeted more at a juvenile audience and those ‘prohibited to minors’ which emphasised more adult themes, including far higher levels of sex and violence.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

A project to adapt the character to film had begun several years earlier with Jean Sorel in the title role and Elsa Martinelli and his lover and partner in crime, Eva Kant. However, the project collapsed quickly, and it’s unclear if anything more was shot than publicity stills. De Laurentiis acquired the rights and brought Bava on board, intending the film would accompany his production of Roger Vadim’ ‘Barbarella’ (1968) into theatres. Law was under contract to appear in that film, but delays caused by working with the SFX allowed him to take on the role of Diabolik first.

Bava was happy with his casting but less so with Catherine Deneuve who De Laurentiis selected for the role of Eva. As it was, she only lasted a week into filming before Austrian actress Marisa Mell replaced her. By all accounts, this was because Deneuve refused to disrobe for the film’s most iconic scene, where Diabolik and Eva make love naked on a revolving bed covered in money. However, given her subsequent filmography and the fact that the final scene is not explicit, it may be that Bava was able to use the situation as a way to get her released.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


The finished film is a kaleidoscope of 1960s pop culture, with bright, eye-popping colours and a wonderful mixture of striking production design and Bava’s genius for optical effects. Rather than presenting the action in a static way to reflect its comic strip origins, Bava keeps his camera moving, deliver a fast-paced narrative decorated with stylistic flourishes which give the film a feel of hyper-reality. Bava achieved the apparent scale and complexity of Diabolik’s underground headquarters by combining the actors with Bava’s matte paintings. Other visuals were created by cutting pictures of buildings, aircraft and other items from magazines, posting them on to a sheet of strategically placed glass and then shooting the action through it. Although it sounds like a terrible idea, Bava makes it work.

There are some other noteworthy touches too. Bava uses animation to draw lines on a map, and for a photo-fit device used by the police to try and identify Eva. He also employs his usual trick of foregrounding objects to give depth to scenes, sometimes shooting through some that break the image into squares approximating the comic book panels, such as empty bookshelves and a bedstead.
Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

There’s a flamboyance and a real sense of freedom to the picture, fueled by a playful, liberated sexuality, displayed not by promiscuity, but the unfettered passion between Diabolik and Eva. It helps that Law and Mell have such sizzling chemistry and give note-perfect performances, sensibly resisting the temptation to play to the gallery. Celi is his usual, reliable self as boss of the criminal underworld and Piccoli underplays beautifully as our larcenous duo’s official nemesis. Thomas also provides a beautiful cameo as the government minister, begging the populace to pay their taxes voluntarily after Law and Mell blow up the tax office and destroy all the official records!

The cool 1960s vibe also gets a major assist from composer Ennio Morricone, who delivers a jazzy, uptempo score that’s an integral part of the film’s ambience. Sadly, the original tapes are no longer available, having been destroyed in a fire, and the only way to enjoy his work is to watch the film, although a re-recording from 2014 is available. Also on hand to deliver his expertise is artist Carlo Rambaldi who designed Diabolik’s iconic mask before going on to significant work in Hollywood, rewarded eventually with 3 Oscars, including one for ‘E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial’ (1982).

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


The character of Diabolik has his roots in older fictional masterminds, such as Germany’s ‘Dr Mabuse’ and the French ‘Fantomas’. Like those characters, in the source material, he plays with notions of identity, using lifelike masks to take on the appearance of anyone he chooses. This idea was dropped from the film, leaving him more in common with later villains such as ‘Kriminal’. He was developed as a direct rival to Diabolik but arrived on the big screen first in the form of Glenn Saxson. In a sly tip of the hat, the bank manager who hands the ten million dollars over to Piccioli at the start of this film is played by Andrea Bosic, who served as Saxson’s official opponent in those earlier ‘Kriminal’ pictures.

There are some flaws in Bava’s film, though. The process shots and rear-projection are so hideous and poorly done that it’s tempting to believe that it was a deliberate choice, made by the director to contribute to the comic-book aesthetic. If so, then it’s one of the few visual missteps in his career. The script, credited to several writers, including Bava, is a little scrambled and untidy, but that may have been intentional too, as it does lift some sequences directly from the source material and contributes to the freewheeling atmosphere.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


Diabolik’s return to the big screen any time soon seems an unlikely proposition, even though the global audience today shares some of the feelings of the public who first elevated the character to its iconic status in Italy after the Second World War. Specifically, a distrust of authority figures who increasingly excuse graft and political corruption by using the loopholes in a legal system designed solely for their benefit. This growing cynicism would embrace a subversive character such as this, but any new iteration would need to walk a very fine line. After all, a lot of his actions would be interpreted by most as aspects of domestic terrorism, even though he has no political agenda or desire to enforce change on the system.

Bava’s cut-price optical effects helped bring the film in for a cost of approximately $400,000 when it had originally been allocated a budget of $3 million. De Laurentiis offered him the chance to direct a sequel with the unused money, but Bava turned it down, unhappy with what he felt was interference from the studio during the filmmaking process. Perhaps the money would have been better used smoothing off some of the rougher edges of this film anyway.

A thoroughly enjoyable Sixties romp, tinged with psychedelia and filtered through the genius of Mario Bava.

One On Top of The Other/Perversion Story/Una Sul’altra (1969)

One On Top of The Other (1969)‘You drop in for a few bumps and grinds, or maybe a few kicks?’

After the sudden death of his invalid wife, a handsome young doctor finds himself suspected of murder by the police. There seems no evidence of his guilt, beyond a financial motive and his playboy lifestyle. Then a mysterious phone call takes him to a club where he meets a stripper who looks almost exactly like his dead wife…

This is one of the best of the early Giallo films, that species of horror thriller that helped to inspire the American Slasher movies that took the world box office by storm in the early 1980s. Although this example bears little resemblance to the knife-wielding antics of that generation of masked killers, it’s still an engaging and excellent mystery that comes complete with a satisfying denouncement. That’s quite a surprise considering there are not only three credited writers, including director Lucio Fulci, but another three who don’t receive acknowledgement. So many cooks can make for an uneven result, and, although it is true that the film does ramble a little over the 108-minute length, for the most part, it remains tightly focused on its central puzzle and is a fine exercise in audience misdirection.

Doctor Jean Sorel runs a private clinic with his brother Alberto de Mendoza. Whilst the latter does all the actual medical work, Sorel is the public face of the business; a ruthless self-promoter and publicity hound. He spends most of his time tapping up investors with unrealistic promises and screwing around with photographer Elsa Martinelli. Yes, he has a wife at home, played by Marisa Mell, but it’s a marriage in name only; she’s a virtual recluse who suffers from chronic asthma. When she dies, he’s surprised to discover that she’s taken out some heavy insurance policies and made him the sole beneficiary. Of course, that puts him in the crosshairs of police inspector John Ireland, but there’s no evidence of murder and he was out of town on the night in question anyway.

One On Top of The Other (1969)

Rushing the costume fitting had not been a good idea.

Things begin to unravel for our leading man when an anonymous telephone call takes him to a local night spot. Naked girls hang from the ceiling on swings covered in flowers (it was the 1960s) and the floor show features a motorbike and a stunning blonde. The odd thing is that stripper Monica (Mell, again) is the spitting image of Sorel’s dead wife.

Compelled to investigate, he ends up sleeping with her (not creepy at all!) before he’s satisfied that it’s all just a coincidence. But is it? The insurance company have remained suspicious of Sorel and, when their investigator gets a look at his new girlfriend, he goes to see flatfoot Ireland. A quick toss of Mell’s swinging pad turns up a scrap of paper where it looks like she’s been practising the signature of Sorel’s dead wife, and the plot has more than its fair share of twists and turns before it reaches its conclusion.

If this sounds like the template for dozens of erotic thrillers that went direct to video in the 1980s, then there is a definite resemblance, but it owes more to the work of hard-boiled thriller writer James M Cain, who created ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’. Yes, we have the handsome, morally flexible alpha male and the seductive femme fatale, and a cash prize at the end of it. But who is playing who? And is it really all that simple? Pleasingly, when the answers come, the solution is both surprising and credible.

One On Top of The Other (1969)

The ‘Hart To Hart’ reboot was taking a slightly more adult tone…

However, it is worth mentioning that the film is very rooted in its era, and is a little dated in some respects. It’s not just the fashions and occasional psychedelic trappings, but some of the story developments wouldn’t hold water in more modern times, but it’s fine if you’re prepared to suspend a little disbelief.

It’s also an interesting signpost on the Giallo’s developing journey for a couple of reasons. Here, we get two American stars, even if neither was no longer at the top of their game. Ireland had notable supporting roles in some of the biggest movies of his day; working with John Ford on Oscar-winning westerns like ‘My Darling Clementine’ (1946) and ‘Red River’ (1948) and was nominated for the Academy Award himself for classic noir ‘All The King’s Men’ (1949). Faith Domergue, who plays Sorel’s sister-in-law, had a less stellar career but is fondly remembered for a trio of cult items made around the same time: ‘Cult of The Cobra’ (1955), ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955) and ‘This Island Earth’ (1955).

Perhaps a more significant sign that the Giallo was growing in stature is that a large part of the film was shot on location in San Francisco, a fact which director Fulci seems keen to remind us of at every possible opportunity! He was a typical member of the Italian film community, making musicals, comedies, crime capers, Spaghetti Westerns and whatever other commercial product was required at any given moment. Inevitably, there were further Giallo pictures after this, including ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971) and ‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ (1972). Greater fame, and notoriety, came his way at the end of the decade when he unleashed the controversial ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979), and followed it with continued attempts to bother the British Board of Film Classification. Stylish horrors such as ‘City of the Living Dead’ (1980), ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) and ‘The Beyond’ (1981) may not have made a lot of narrative sense, but they certainly delivered on the gore and possessed a strange, nightmare-like quality all their own.

This is a fine thriller and a step-up in quality for the burgeoning Giallo movie. Somewhat ironically, however, it would prove to be one of the last of the bloodless ‘murder-mystery’ examples; a touch more horror was just a few months around the corner.

New York Calling Super dragon/New York chiama Superdrago (1966)

Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966)‘Tell me, have you ever had a bath in electricity?’  

An ex-secret agent comes out of retirement when one of his old colleagues dies in a mysterious road accident. Taking over the operative’s last assignment means investigating some strange goings on a college campus in Michigan…

This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ running around continental Europe (well, Amsterdam and Michigan actually!) is U.S. actor Ray Danton, who tangles with guns, girls and gadgets in his efforts to thwart the dastardly schemes of super villain Carlo D’Angelo. The fiend has been road testing a behavioural modification drug called Synchron in small town, USA and it’s sending the kids like wild, man. Well, getting them to beat each other up if you want to be more specific, rather than something of a more psychedelic (or interesting) persuasion.

Danton recruits convicted lifer Babyface (Jess Hahn) as his bodyguard, which proves an astute choice as he turns out to be a kind of mobile ‘Q’ Division, furnishing our underwhelming hero with a series of gadgets, including a bulletproof vest, a model mini-submarine and a watch that activates inflatable buoyancy balloons (handy when you’ve been put in a coffin and dumped in the canal). Oh, and there’s a little torch, which allows him to read messages written on a mirror in what looks like lipstick (but probably isn’t). That’s about it on the gadget front, but Danton does get to tussle with a fine selection of lovely Euro-babes including Margaret Lee (England), Marisa Mell (Austria) and Adriana Ambesi (Italy).

Apart from that, it’s the usual round of double crosses, semi-convincing fisticuffs, and undercooked story elements. There’s some silly malarkey about a bunch of guys in silver masks buying Ming vases at a charity auction, and a rather muddled climax that arrives suspiciously quickly, probably due to the influence of an over-enthusiastic American distributor. Unfortunately, the film has absolutely no sense of dynamism or style, an accusation which could be easily be expanded to include Danton himself, who’s certainly no Sean Connery (or Tony Kendall, or Roger Browne for that matter!) On the plus side, it is better than Jess Franco’s ‘Lucky The Inscrutable/Agente Speciale L.K.’ (1967), another EuroSpy which starred Danton, although that’s not saying very much! What really sinks this enterprise is the unmistakable feeling that no-one’s trying very hard, including director Giorgio Ferroni.

Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966)

The Green Hornet suspected that Kato had been skipping his sessions at the gym…

Danton began his career on TV in the 1950s and graduated quickly to supporting roles in big studio movies, such as ‘I’ll Cry Tomorrow’ (1955) with Susan Hayward, and ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ (1958) with Errol Flynn. He also took the title role in Allied Artists’ factually dubious ‘The George Raft Story’ (1961), but the film was not a success and he decamped to Italy a few years later. There he made a string of films; several in the EuroSpy genre. In the following decade, he headed back to the States, and many guest slots on network TV shows.

Mell sealed her place in film history as John Phillip Law’s leading lady in Mario Bava’s cult classic ‘Diabolik’ (1968), but also featured in Joe D’Amato’s appalling ‘Quest For The Mighty Sword’ (1990) at the twilight of her career. Sadly, she lost her fight with cancer just a couple of years later, at the age of just 53. Despite combining beauty with bags of screen personality, Lee never made it out of continental genre flicks, despite appearing opposite her namesake Christopher in ‘Circus of Fear/Psycho-Circus’ (1966). She also made a good showing in the brilliantly trashy ‘Dorian Gray’ (1970), which is still one of the best versions of the Oscar Wilde classic, but probably not a film to include on your CV if you’re trying to make it as a serious actress!

These half-hearted EuroSpy shenanigans are really for die-hard fans of the genre only.