A masked figure stalks the halls of a private hospital for wealthy young women with emotional problems. Making use of medieval weapons, he begins a killing spree by decapitating a nurse out in the grounds…
Softcore giallo from writer-director Fernando Di Leo, who was obviously far more interested in the former elements of his tale than the latter. The story takes place in an isolated, old manor house which is now home to Professor Osterman (John Karlsen), assistant Doctor Clay (Klaus Kinski), and their small team of orderlies and nurses. The clinic caters to patients with psychological problems, on condition that they are rich young women who look great with their clothes off.
But what a strange institution it is! Far be it from me to criticise the practices of a seasoned medical professional like Karlsen, but, for a start, he seems to have a slightly cavalier attitude towards health and safety. Rather unusually, one corridor boasts an actual real life iron maiden, this torture device being secured by a chain that looks inadequate to protect a tricycle. What’s it doing there? I have no idea. It is a creepy old house, I suppose. But I have to flag him for another minor code infraction because close by is an open display cabinet filled with medieval weapons! There’s a big sword, a dagger, a crossbow, a mace and a noose. The last item is a slight concern as the patients are allowed to roam freely and we’re told at least a couple of them have attempted suicide in the past.
And then there’s the good Professor’s clinical practices. He doesn’t seem to have any. The only medical advice he offers throughout the entire film is to tell nymphomaniac Rosalba Neri to go take a shower! Predictably her issues are the only ones we find out anything about; all the other women have cheerfully vague problems, such as Margaret Lee’s overwrought nerves, and Gloria Desideri’s occasional homicidal urges.
Di Leo admitted than he did zero research into mental health issues or institutions before he penned his script, and it really shows. Because that’s not what we’re here for, is it? We’re here for naked babes in deadly peril! Both Lee and Neri are drop dead gorgeous and we see a lot of both of them; everything in Neri’s case, although a double may have been used for some shots. I’m certainly not complaining, but they get to do very little else, and it is frustrating to see two such talented actresses being exploited like this, although hopefully they understood the nature of the project when they signed on and were decently paid. We also get perky redhead Monica Strebel as a naughty nurse with a very ‘hands on’ approach to black patient Jane Garret (in her only film). They’re about to indulge in some distinctly unprofessional activity when they stop to dance to the radio in Garret’s room. For about five minutes. At this point, there’s not a lot of the movie left. Shouldn’t we be building up to some kind of a climax (pun intended)?
There are a few killings along the way in all this, of course, but there’s no creativity to the staging or execution and no real effort is made to bring the audience into the mystery. Two policeman turn up in the last quarter of an hour and, instead of waiting for the reinforcements that are on the way so the clinic can be thoroughly searched, they set Lee up as bait for the killer! She’s happy to agree to this ludicrous plan, probably because it finally gives her something to do and, considering she’s second billed in the cast, it’s about time. But even this is a seriously damp squib with the killer initially revealed to have a serious, legitimate motive, as in most giallos, but then just going on a demented rampage with the mace! Lucky, one of our lawmen has that gun with an inexhaustible supply of bullets, which is always handy in such situations.
Di Leo began his film career in westerns as an uncredited contributor to the script of Sergio Leone’s classic ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964). He was involved with several of the spaghetti westerns that followed, including ‘Django’ (1966), and he wrote ‘Navajo Joe’ (1966), an early vehicle for Burt Reynolds. His career as a director was somewhat less distinguished and, if this example of his work is anything to go by, that’s no surprise.
The plotting is lazy, the musical soundtrack distracting, and the cast get nothing to work with at all. Kinski just hangs around looking vaguely odd and suspicious (pretty much his default setting!) and a lot of the supporting cast seem flat and disinterested. Even the usually excellent Lee seems unable to drum up much enthusiasm for once (and no wonder!) Only Neri seems to be really giving it her best, but her role is barely two-dimensional, and she can’t have been under any illusions as to the reasons that she’d been cast.
It’s quite an achievement to waste such a beautiful and talented cast so completely, but Di Leo takes up that challenge and succeeds effortlessly. For fans of the leading ladies only.