‘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 comapny 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 prsenting a procession of stytlised 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 cicrumstances of its hurried production. This is a smooth, efficient thriller with a decent level of intruigue 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 geat 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.
Terchnically, 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), ‘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.