Death Carries a Cane/Passi di danza su una lama di rasoio (1973)

‘You’d better cut that jazz out and get back into bed, y’hear?’

A woman witnesses a murder through coin-operated binoculars, but the police don’t believe her. When they find the body, it links up with a previous killing, and the woman’s boyfriend becomes a prime suspect…

A weary and generic Giallo from director Maurizio Pradeaux that still musters a few notable moments. Nieves Navarro stars under her usual screen name of Susan Scott, and she’s supported by Robert Hoffmann and Jorge Martín.

In an idle moment when waiting for her boyfriend Alberto Morosini (Hoffmann), photographer Kitty (Navarro) looks through a tourist viewfinder that provides a panoramic view of the city. Unfortunately, it’s not such a beautiful sight when she sees a woman through a window brutally murdered. The killer is a figure in black, but she can’t see its face nor be sure exactly where the incident happened. Police Inspector Merughi (Martín) is sceptical of her story, and artist Hoffmann is likewise offhand about it. However, a few days later, a body is found, confirming the truth of her account.

Evidence left at another killing suggests that the killer walks with a cane, which brings Hoffman into the Inspector’s cross-hairs as he is walking with a limp after allegedly spraining an ankle a few days earlier. The detective is also trying to field off the persistent questioning of nosy reporter Lidia Arrighi (Anuska Borova). Her composer boyfriend Marco (Simón Andreu) is working on a show that Navarro and Hoffman hope will include some of their artwork.

Despite a professional presentation and some positive aspects, this is primarily a turgid experience that looks thrown together hastily and with little enthusiasm. The story is obviously inspired by Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage/L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo’ (1970), with Navarro unexpectedly witnessing a murder and unable to intervene. The culprit is another unknown figure in black, complete with a hat, and a programme of slaughter follows, with the killer’s identity revealed at the end. So far, so Giallo. It’s the standard template. Yet rarely has it been delivered in such an offhand fashion.

The problems are evident within the first few minutes. After witnessing the murder, Navarro tries to grab someone to help, but no one wants to get involved. When Hoffman arrives, instead of going straight to the police, they take Navarro’s aunt and uncle to the airport to catch a plane. When they discuss the situation on the way back into the city, their chat has all the urgency and passion of a discussion about last week’s weather. When they finally talk to Inspector Martín, he seems as bored as they are. Is their indifference supposed to be satire? It’s certainly not very thrilling.

As the story unfolds, there’s an increasing sense of characters being introduced simply to bump them off. The justification for most of their appearances is a photograph that was apparently snapped by a tourist when the killer was escaping. It appears on the front page of a newspaper and conveniently provides the killer with a list of targets. Although it might be assumed that hotshot reporter Borova is behind its publication, the script never addressed how the photograph got into print or who took it in the first place. It’s no surprise that it doesn’t feel as if any of these developments are occurring organically, more that the filmmakers needed to fill one chunk of running time after another until reaching the denouncement. When that finally arrives, it’s hopelessly rushed, probably because it has little foreshadowing and doesn’t make more than rudimentary sense.

The characters could also be better-defined and more sympathetic. Navarro and Hoffman are artists, apparently; their latest project involves Hoffmann disembowelling mannequins and Navarro photographing the results. They try to interest Andreu in their work for his show, but that seems to consist of a single dancer doing a half-hearted striptease on a darkened stage while he plays classical piano. Later on, we learn she’s a ballerina! Oh, and the connection between the victims is blindingly obvious from the start, but Martín misses it completely, and it only hits Hoffman with about twenty minutes of the film remaining. Of course, he follows it up himself, rather than bothering with the police.

Perhaps the silliest scene involves Martín recruiting Navarro to act as bait during a stakeout in a park. When he suggests the idea to Hoffmann, her wonderful boyfriend is happy to accept on her behalf because ‘she’ll leap at the chance.’ And what girl wouldn’t? Especially when it involves pulling on a red Afro wig and a leather micro-skirt and posing as a prostitute! Strangely enough, the scene ends on a humorous note, again suggesting satire, but that quality is almost entirely absent elsewhere.

No one involved seems to be showing much interest, and that’s strange in Martín case as he gets a script credit. Thankfully, at least director Pradeaux knew where his priorities lay: sex and death. So there’s a lot of the usual nudity and writhing around for Navarro and more of the same for journalist Borova, who also plays her bitchy twin sister, Sylvia. Her boyfriend is Giallo gun-for-hire, Luciano Rossi, who manages to look suspicious just by existing.

The undisputed highlights of the film, though, are the murder scenes. The killer favours a cane and straight razor combination, a unique method which allows Pradeaux to stage some impressive sequences. These include the murder of the Chestnut Vendor (Gualtiero Rispoli) and a victim slashed through a bedsheet (which makes it seem all the more brutal). The final confrontation between the killer and Navarro in a greenhouse is shot better than anything else in the film. Unfortunately, even in this regard, Pradeaux fumbles the ball with one attack coming from the back seat of a car. It would be reasonable enough, except the victim is driving at the time, and the vehicle is moving at high speed. Obviously, it’s a given that Giallo killers are psychologically damaged, but I didn’t know that made them incredibly stupid too.

Pradeaux began his film career with a handful of production jobs before debuting as a writer and a director on Spaghetti Western ‘Ramon il Messicano’ (1966) starring Robert Hundar. He followed that with two vehicles for action star Richard Harrison, the second of which was the war movie ‘Commando Attack/I Leopardi di Churchill’ (1970), which also starred Klaus Kinski and Helga Liné. He also returned to the Giallo with ‘Death Steps in the Dark/Passi di morte perduti nel buio’ (1977), and made his final movie in 1989. None of his films seem very well-regarded today.

A few great moments in search of a decent film.

Kill the Poker Player/Hai sbagliato… dovevi uccidermi subito!/Creeping Death (1972)

‘I haven’t seen a snake of such dimensions such Mississippi.’

An insurance investigator arrives in a frontier town on the track of a man involved in a bank robbery two years earlier. Soon after his arrival, people start dying as a mysterious killer gets to work…

Unusual mashup of the Giallo and the Spaghetti Western from co-writer and director Mario Bianchi. American leading man Robert Woods hits the trail again with Frank Braña and Nieves Navarro along for the ride.

English investigator Jack Pinkerton (Woods) arrives in the small Western town of Redstone. As a representative of Lloyds of London, he’s looking for the third man who walked away with the spoils from a bank heist two years before, leaving his two compatriots dead of snake bites. His first stop is with Sheriff Lewis Burton (Braña), but the lawman is unimpressed with his credentials. Similarly, saloon barmaid Kate (Nieves Navarro) gives him a frosty welcome. Woods offers a very generous reward for anyone who’ll help him identify his quarry, and local rancher Clinton (Ivano Staccioli) and saloon owner Karl (Carlo Gaddi) both show an interest.

However, Woods finds himself unpopular in general and has to defend himself with his fists on several occasions and dodge the bullets of a mysterious assassin. Local oddball Dr Torres (Ernesto Colli) is also experimenting with deadly snakes, which have a way of getting loose. The bodies start to pile up, and Woods realises his target will stop at nothing to retain his freedom.

Despite the popularity and proliferation of both the Giallo and the Spaghetti Western at the time of production, very few attempts were made to combine the two. Lorenzo Gicca Palli’s satirical effort, ‘The Price of Death/Il venditore di morte (1971), demonstrated some of the difficulties involved. Bianchi mostly plays it straight, but the results aren’t any better.

The film’s main virtues lie in its cast. Woods was a reliable leading man with many miles in the saddle since his first leading role fronting Alfonso Balcázar’s routine ‘Five Thousand Dollars on One Ace/Pistoleros de Arizona’ (1965). So he knows the ropes and has the moves. The scheming Kate is a role firmly in the wheelhouse of Giallo vet Navarro, although she’s woefully underused. Experienced character players Staccioli and Gaddi fit seamlessly into their roles as prime suspects, and Colli’s eccentric snake wrangler is also a good addition.

However, not even a strong cast can make something out of nothing, and the script by Bianchi, Paola Bianchini and Luis G. de Blain has little to offer. Once Woods arrives in town and the main setup is established, the mystery never develops in an exciting or coherent way. Instead, the story disintegrates into little more than a series of violent encounters where various lackeys and sidemen try to beat him up. Unfortunately, the punch-ups are unimaginative, poorly executed, and have no specific consequences. They often feel inserted just for the sake of killing some runtime.

It’s a pity because the pre-credit scene is a strong one. The film opens with the two-year-old bank robbery and the unseen third man gunning down the manager and his staff with a pistol fitted with a silencer. He then catches up with his colleagues in the desert and uses snakes to kill them. These events are all accomplished without dialogue or music, just the sound of the gunshots, galloping hooves and the wind out in the desert. It’s very effective; even the snakes aren’t all that convincing, and silencers weren’t available until 1902. To be fair, though, the film doesn’t specify exactly when the action is taking place.

Unfortunately, the credits kick in accompanied by jaunty, inappropriate soft rock, and everything goes downhill from there. Some of the music cues are baffling, and I can only hope for the sake of credited composer Carlo Savina that they were added by the American distributors. Scoring a midpoint fight sequence with carnival clown music is just weird. At times, the film does seem to have its tongue in its cheek, but Bianchi never commits to this as a comedy. Woods is supposed to represent Lloyds of London, and hence an Englishman, but the efforts to play his ‘fish out of water’ status for laughs feel very half-hearted. It’s no surprise to find out later on that he’s flying under false colours anyway.

A few interesting ideas are scattered here and there, principally focused on the snakes. Colli’s oddball scientist (he wears a white lab coat in the Old West!) is milking the reptiles to create an anti-venom. Although such medication wasn’t widely available in the US until the late 1920s, it was successfully developed in France before the turn of the century. Someone doing their own research into the possibilities at this time is just about plausible. Much more importantly, it provides a valid excuse to have the reptiles on hand and available to be utilised as a murder weapon. This method comes into play at the climax, but, unfortunately, the scene is clumsily staged, probably due to the practical difficulties involved.

Another issue is that the film has lost some running time in its journey from the continent to American shores, perhaps as much as fifteen minutes. Trimming would explain why some sequences are very short, and the lack of establishing shots in places. This unfortunate combination makes for some very abrupt transitions between scenes, giving the film a rushed and fractured feel. The English language dub track also does the film few favours. The original release cut might leave a more favourable impression.

This was Bianchi’s second feature after Spaghetti Western ‘The Masked Thief/In nome del padre, del figlio e della Colt’ (1971). He diversified into sex comedies as the appeal of the Old West began to fade with audiences, and by the end of the decade, he was making thrillers about organised crime. He moved into horror with the poorly-regarded ‘Satan’s Baby Doll/La bimba di Satana’ (1982) and then into the adult video market as Martin White. Accounts vary as to the extent of his contribution, but he also worked on the TV movie ‘Sodoma’s Ghost’ (1988) after dissatisfied director Lucio Fulci walked off the set. Two more mainstream projects followed before he returned to the adult arena, where he worked until 2001.

A passable way to kill 90 minutes on a wet afternoon if you’ve nothing better to do.

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

‘He has this morbid passion…for corpses.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So sweet, so dead…and so anonymous too.

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.

Death Walks at Midnight/La morte accarezza a mezzanotte/Cry Out in Terror (1972)

‘Drugs are worse than broken windows.’

Tripping on a new hallucinogenic drug, a top model sees a woman being murdered across the street with a spiked, metal glove. The journalist who paid her to participate in the experiment doesn’t believe her story. Instead, he reveals her identity when the story is published, placing her firmly in the sights of the killer…

Italian-Spanish Giallo set against the background of the international drug trade from genre director Luciano Ercoli. Nieves Navarro and Simón Andreu are the familiar faces in front of the camera, and some of the names behind it were regular participants in thrillers that dwelt on the border between mystery and horror.

Hotshot redhead model Valentina (Nieves Navarro) has negotiated a cool payday with journo Gio Baldi (Simón Andreu). He’s writing a story on a new experimental hallucinogen called HDS, and she’s agreed to take it under controlled conditions so that he can observe its effects. However, she gets far more than she bargained for during the session. Under the influence, she sees a man in dark glasses commit a brutal murder in the building opposite, ramming a spiked metal glove repeatedly into a young woman’s face. Andreu puts it down to the effects of the drug and reneges on his promise to keep her identity a secret. He names her when he publishes his story, and she loses her job.

Things only get worse for Navarro from there. It turns out that there was a murder in that location, but it happened six months earlier. Not surprisingly, Inspector Serino (Carlo Gentili) is a bit sceptical of her statement and prefers to concentrate on real police work. His disinterest only intensifies when Navarro identifies the woman she saw is a recent suicide rather than the victim of the old killing. The poor girl doesn’t get much more sympathy from Andreu or her sometime lover, sculptor Stefano (Peter Martell). The killer believes her, though, which is a bit unfortunate.

Efficient, entertaining Giallo that makes up for what it lacks in the logic department with solid performances, a swift pace and a good quota of suspense. Director Ercoli keeps a tight hold of the narrative for the most part, and it’s only in the hurried rush of explanations at the climax that it becomes clear that the mystery was rather a mundane affair, after all. It’s a little disappointing, considering one of the team on script duty was Ernesto Gastaldi, who could reasonably be regarded as ‘the Godfather of Giallo’ from a writing perspective.

However, the film does have some very positive aspects, principally the fine performance of Navarro, who balances the different elements of her character with great skill. Rather than a damsel in distress or air-headed window dressing, this is a woman who has carved out a successful career and is facing the world on her own terms. She’s often selfish, very money-orientated and has quite the temper. However, Navarro shows a slightly softer side in the quieter moments. It’s never enough to compromise the character’s core but enough to keep the audience on her side. And she can be forgiven for the occasional tantrum when dealing with the men in her life. Most of them won’t take her very seriously because…well, she’s ‘only a woman’ after all.

There’s also good work in some of the supporting roles. Navarro is contacted by the enigmatic Verushka (Claudie Lange), the sister of Hélène, the girl murdered six months earlier. She wants the model to identify the man convicted of the killing, junkie Nicola Radelli (Luigi Norossi). He’s serving out his sentence at the asylum run by her husband, Professor Otto Wuttenberg (Ivano Staccioli), who Lange believes was actually behind the crime. There are also a couple of apparent hit men on the loose, one of them played with manic glee by Luciano Rossi, not to mention sinister handyman Pepito (Fabrizio Moresco), who likes to hang out with dead cats. So there are plenty of suspects to keep the pot boiling.

It’s also a nice break with tradition to see the killer from the first, rather than have him revealed as one of the familiar faces at the climax. The kills are also surprisingly graphic, and Ercoli delivers these in very brief shots, which adds to their impact. However, this approach does give Navarro’s view of the murder the quality of almost a psychic vision. The distance between her apartment window and the building opposite is clearly too great for her to see much of anything, let alone a close-up of the murderer’s face. Perhaps this was a conscious decision to cast doubt on what she sees, but it just comes across as confusing and illogical.

This was Ercoli’s third film as director, following on from other Gialli ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene’ (1970) and ‘Death Walks on High Heels/La morte cammina con i tacchi alti’ (1971). He co-produced these projects with Alberto Pugliese, and Gastaldi and Mahnahén Velasco were behind the typewriter each time. Andreu and Navarro, billed under her usual pseudonym of Susan Scott, featured in all three, the latter taking leading roles in the last two. That’s not much of a surprise when you realise that she and Ercoli tied the knot in 1972 and remained married until he passed on 43 years later.

Navarro was born in Almeria in Spain and began her career as a fashion model before working in television commercials. An auspicious screen debut starring opposite star comedian Totò in ‘Totò d’Arabia’ (1965) led straight to an impressive performance in Duccio Tessari’s excellent Spaghetti Western ‘A Pistol for Ringo/Una pistola per Ringo’ (1965), an important early landmark in the genre. She did some of her best work in the superb ‘The Return of Ringo/Il ritorno di Ringo’ (1965), which was a sequel in name only and she may have become typecast, although many of these Westerns were at least partially filmed in her hometown. The advent of the Giallo does seem to have given her career a shot in the arm, though. Her work in the sub-genre was not confined to projects with Ercoli. She featured in Sergio Martino’s ‘All the Colors of the Dark/All the Colors of the Dark’ (1972), ‘So Sweet, So Dead/Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile’ (1972) and ‘Passi di Danza su una lama di rasoio’ (1973). In later years, she moved into supporting roles, including several in the ‘Emanuelle’ series, including the first of the title roles in ‘Emanuelle e Lolita’ (1978). She retired from the screen in the 1980s.

Not one of the most notable examples of the Giallo, but still a brisk, entertaining thriller helped by an excellent central performance.

Death Walks On High Heels/La morte cammina con i tacchi alti (1971)

Since you’re so good at throwing knives, why don’t you get a job in a circus?’

An exotic dancer is hounded by both the police and a mysterious criminal. They believe that she has possession of the fabulous diamonds her father stole in his final heist. She flees to London in the company of an infatuated eye doctor who takes her to his country hideaway. But is he the innocent dupe that he seems, or is he also on the trail of the gems…?

Solid Giallo mystery from director Luciano Ercoli based on a screenplay co-written by genre veteran Ernesto Gastaldi and Mahnahén Velasco. The trio had already delivered the efficient thriller ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)’ and cast members Nieves Navarro and Simón Andreu also return from that earlier project.

After a diamond thief is slain aboard an express train, the search is on for the haul from his last job. The authorities believe that he’s passed the booty on to his daughter Nicole Rochard (Navarro, billed as Susan Scott). It’s a view shared by a shadowy figure who threatens her over the telephone using an electronic voice-changer. She also suspects the motives of her alcoholic boyfriend, Michel (Andreu), who has links to the underworld. So it’s a godsend when her nightclub act catches the eye of a respected British eye surgeon, Dr Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff). Navarro sees a chance to escape her troubles and accompanies him back to London.

The besotted surgeon soon has her installed at his country cottage while he commutes to his clinic in the Big Smoke. However, their romantic idyll is soon under threat. Not only has Wollf’s estranged wife, Vanessa (Claudie Lange), become aware of their arrangement, but hidden eyes are observing Navarro as she walks about the cottage at night, often in states of partial undress. Could Andreu, or the mysterious caller, have followed her from the continent, or could it be a member of the less than friendly local population? One-handed caretaker Hallory (Luciano Rossi) certainly seems a likely candidate. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Baxter (Carlo Gentili) is also not oblivious to the situation.

As in their previous collaboration, director Ercoli and screenwriters Gastaldi and Velasco provide an intricate plot filled with twists and turns, some more predictable than others. A few push the necessary suspension of disbelief, particularly the convenient presence of blind man Smith (José Manuel Martín) as an ‘eyewitness’ to one of the significant story developments. Still, the plot strands do tie together with a neat resolution. The fine cinematography of Fernando Arribas also provides the film with a classy look, and there’s a catchy soundtrack by prolific composer Stelvio Cipriani.

The film’s major strength lies with its cast, who produce well-rounded performances that draw the audience into the drama. Wolff is as quietly charismatic as ever, and Andreu delivers too, even if his character is not particularly complex. The eye-catching Navarro brings a lot of personality to the table and is more than equal to the dramatic demands of one of her first leading roles. Her nightclub performance might raise an eyebrow or two in these more politically sensitive times, but her commitment to the physicality of the scene can’t be denied. Her subsequent appearances in Giallo included Sergio Martino’s ‘All the Colors of the Dark/Tutti i colori del buio’ (1972), and ‘So Sweet, So Dead/Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile’ (1972). ‘Death Walks at Midnight/La morte accarezza a mezzanotte’ (1972) was another assignment for director Ercoli, which was hardly surprising, considering the two married that year. They remained hitched until he died in 2015.

It’s also worth pointing out the acting chops of Gentili, who gives a wonderfully understated, dry performance as the chief representative of law and order. Although he has about a dozen other acting credits, he spent far more time on the other side of the camera, with over a quarter of a century of work in various Art Department roles on more than 50 pictures. These include credits as a Set Decorator, Costume Designer and Production Designer. His work can be seen in various cult subjects such as Italian-French science-fiction film ‘Omicron’ (1963), and Euro-Horrors ‘Castle of the Living Dead/Il castello dei morti vivi’ (1964), which starred Christopher Lee, and The Devil’s Wedding Night/Il plenilunio delle vergini’ (1973) with Rosalba Neri.

Another entertaining example of the Giallo from an experienced team on both sides of the camera. It’s no classic by any means but makes for a satisfying viewing experience.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)‘These plans could revolutionise underwater breathing’

A beautiful woman is threatened with a knife on a lonely stretch of beach. However, instead of harming her, the stranger tells her that her husband is a murderer and leaves. Later on, she learns that one of her husband’s business associates has died under mysterious circumstances and the timing seems almost too convenient…

This Italian-Spanish Giallo was the directorial debut of Luciano Ercoli, who was better known in the industry as a producer. The project was born of necessity with a quickly delivered, commercial hit required to bail out the production company owned by Ercoli and his partner, Alberto Pugliese. The duo recruited screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who had the appropriate experience and, better still, a script already in development.

Highly-strung Minou (Dagmar Lassander) finds her world beginning to crumble after she’s approached on a nighttime beach by a mysterious motorcyclist (Simón Andreu). Despite being armed with a blade and using it to cut her dress open, he doesn’t force himself on her. Instead he accuses her husband Pierre (Pier Paolo Capponi) of murder and rides away. Later on, she discovers that one of her Capponi’s creditors has died at sea, in circumstances that could have been replicated in the new decompression chamber being developed at her husband’s company which makes diving equipment.

Andreu contacts Lassander again, of course. By now, she’s struggling to bury her doubts about Capponi, especially when Andreu plays her an alleged recording of the murder over the phone. She’s seen the handsome young blackmailer in a pornographic photograph too, apparently bought in Copenhagen by her free-spirited friend, Dominique (the charismatic Nieves Navarro, appearing under her usual pseudonym of Susan Scott). Lassander agrees to visit Andreu’s art studio to pay him off but it turns out that his demands are sexual rather than financial. The rough sex is not nearly as unpleasant as she expects, but the experience pushes her further into a reliance on pills and liquor and, when it turns out that Andreu has photographed their encounter, the strain becomes almost unbearable.

This is a Gaillo where the emphasis is firmly placed on the ‘mystery’ element of the tale, rather than presenting a procession of stylised murders committed by an unknown killer. Instead, the audience is left to consider who is manipulating Lassander and what they hope to get out of it. Unusually for this type of film, she is not independently wealthy with Capponi reliant on her financial support, so the motive doesn’t seem to be money. Perhaps the conspiracy is the result of Lassander’s own neuroses; at one point she confesses to Navarro that Capponi has been her ‘husband, lover and father’ to her, a statement that raises a few red flags. And does she really need yet another drink?

It’s a credit to everyone involved in the film that, at no time, does it betray the circumstances of its hurried production. This is a smooth, efficient thriller with a decent level of intrigue and some cleverly ambiguous exchanges of dialogue. The resolution is a little underwhelming, however, and the audience may be left waiting for one last twist that never arrives. The performances are good, with a great deal of the dramatic burden falling on Lassander’s shoulders. Victim roles can be a tightrope, characters can appear too passive and lose audience sympathy, but Lassander is never less than engaging as she struggles toward self-belief and positive action.

Technically, the most noteworthy scenes are the ones that take place in Andreu’s art studio. There are definite echoes of the work of horror maestro Mario Bava here, with lighting and gels used to create the splashes of bright colour often demonstrated in his films. This small set also features a selection of bizarre objet d’art, including statuettes, porcelain hands and wall masks, most memorably one fo the devil. These parts of the film are moody and atmosphere and the whole picture benefits from the classy cinematography of Alejandro Ulloa. His 30-year career included Eurospys like Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966), Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins’ (1968), Lucio Fulci’s classic Giallo ‘One on Top of the Other’ (1969) and Cushing-Lee’s elegant shocker ‘Horror Express’ (1972), as well as more than a hundred other credits.

Ercoli’s previous experience in differing roles within the industry were obviously helpful in his first stint behind the megaphone. He’d briefly worked as assistant director in a quarter of pictures in the 1950s and, as a producer, he’d been responsible for comedy Giallo ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?’ (1964), comic book adventure ‘Fantômas’ (1964), a couple of episodes in the adventures of Spaghetti Western hero Ringo and Eurospy ‘OSS 117: Mission for a Killer’ (1965). Within a couple of years, he and actress Navarro had married and they went onto team up again with screenwriter Gastaldi on ‘Death Walks In High Heels’ (1971), ‘Death Walks at Midnight/Cry Out In Terror’ (1972) and crime thriller ‘The Midnight Daredevil’ (1973). Ercoli retired from the business in the late 1970s after coming into a large inheritance but Navarro carried on, although career drifted more into the adult end of the exploitation market.

A brisk, efficient Giallo that is an engaging viewing experience, although it may not live too long in the memory.

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)‘Yes, it’s true; this strong alcohol causes powerful psychic erythrism.’

A teacher is stripped naked, raped and murdered by teenage delinquents after they get drunk in class. At first, the case seems straightforward enough but the investigating detective begins to believe that their actions were prompted by an outsider, who had their own reasons for wanting the teacher dead…

Late 1960s borderline Giallo picture from director and co-writer Fernando Di Leo. He began his career as an uncredited writer on Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy and graduated to the megaphone in 1968. Here, he delivers a poorly paced and rather flat take on the mystery genre, whose approach is more in keeping with the police dramas that he directed later on in his career.

Superintendant Duca Lamberti (Pier Paolo Capponi) is having a bad day. Called in to investigate a murder at night school, he finds that the victim is a pretty young teacher (Anna Maria La Rovere) and the culprits are her class of teenage boys, obliged to attend due to various run-ins with the law. Someone brought in a bottle of strong booze and things got way out of hand. Back at headquarters, he interviews all the suspects who weren’t detained at the scene but were picked up later on. None will co-operate, although Fiorello Grassi (Giuliano Manetti) seems ready to crack. The others are all blaming him for bringing in the alcohol anyway.

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)

‘I am sooo going to buy you some new ties…’

The investigation stalls and Capponi becomes increasingly frustrated by the restrictions placed upon him because he’s dealing with minors. Why he’s not even allowed to slap them around during interrogations! Pretty young social worker Livia (Nieves Navarro, appearing under her usual alias of Susan Scott) brings him around a little by pointing out the disadvantages of the kids’ home lives. However, the fact that his edge starts coming off is probably due as much to the fact that she is pretty, rather than the awakening of any social conscience. Eventually, the two take young Carolino (Marzio Margine) out of detention for a week to play happy families and convince him to talk. Standard police procedure, I guess.

This is an odd little thriller in several ways. The movie opens with the rape and murder scene, albeit shown under the credits. Although Di Leo resists the temptation to make it too exploitative, it is repeated in a lengthy flashback later on, and it’s still unpleasant and very disturbing. That’s how it should be, of course, but the problem is that there’s nothing else remotely like it in the rest of the film; the tone elsewhere is not nearly so dark, although Capponi does his level best to bring as much intensity to his performance as possible. It’s an effort matched by Silvano Spadaccino’s heavy-handed classical soundtrack which lumbers in now and then to considerably less effect.

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)

‘You mean, my scene is completely pointless?’

The most prominent issue, however, is that the drama is all talk. There’s nothing wrong with taking a realistic approach to a criminal investigation in a film, but that investigation needs to develop in surprising and interesting ways. Instead, Di Leo chooses to spend almost the entire first half-hour of his story in the interrogation room with Capponi quizzing delinquent after delinquent and getting little back but sullen silences and smart-aleck remarks. Of course, they are all played by actors in their early twenties, which doesn’t assist credibility. It is a good touch that Capponi deliberately spills the alcohol everywhere to try and make them feel sick, but none of these characters even look remotely hungover. That’s quite an achievement considering they were necking 85% proof the night before! Booze that strong might not kill you, but there’s a good chance that it would!

After that, there’s just more interviewing as Capponi and his colleagues go out and about, talking to friends and family. A lot of these conversations are just marking time as they do nothing to advance the plot and seem to exist solely as half-hearted attempts to set up possible suspects. Then the film comes to a screeching halt in the last half an hour when Capponi, Navarro and Margine start passing the marmalade at the breakfast table. Eventually, the kid takes a powder, of course, and the cops follow him to the villain’s hideout. Yes, the final reveal is a surprise, but it’s not a very clever twist, and the concluding action is underwhelming at best.

Naked Violence/The Boys Who Slaughter/I Ragazzi del Massacro/Sex In The Classroom (1969)

‘Come back, and finish your sprouts!’

Director Di Leo took another turn at the Giallo a couple of years later with the dreadfully slapdash ‘Slaughter Hotel/La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo’ (1971). However, he finally found his groove with a series of police procedurals and mob thrillers which came out in the wake of ‘The Godfather’ (1972). Particularly notable are the loose trilogy of films comprising ‘Manhunt in Milan’ (1972)‘Milano Calibro 9’ (1972) and ‘The Boss/Murder Inferno’ (1973) which demonstrate Di Leo’s flair for tough thrillers and action scenes. Amazing the difference it can make when a director is fully engaged with his material.

Like many actors working in Italy during the period, Capponi appeared in several Giallo films, usually as a detective. There was ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene’ (1970), ‘Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It/Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo’ (1970), Dario Argento’s ‘The Cat O’Nine Tails/Il gatto a nove code’ (1971), and ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids’ (1972) directed by Umberto Lenzi. He went onto work with Di Leo again on ‘The Boss/Murder Inferno’ (1973) and had previously appeared as the lacklustre, costumed crimefighter ‘Mister-X/Avenger X’ (1967). Navarro also appeared in ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene’ (1970), and as the female lead in ‘Death Walks on High Heels//La morte cammina con i tacchi alti ‘ (1971) and ‘Death Walks at Midnight’ (1972), all of which were directed by her then-husband, Luciano Ercoli. She also took major supporting roles in other notable Giallo films ‘So Sweet, So Dead’ (1972) and Sergio Martino’s ‘All The Colors of the Dark’ (1972).

A Giallo thriller with little suspense or interest, partially redeemed by the efforts of its leading man.