So Sweet…So Perverse/Così Dolce…Così Perversa (1969)

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)‘Don’t get yourself so upset. You see corpses everywhere…’

A philandering playboy, caught in a loveless marriage, becomes intrigued by the mysterious blonde who has taken the apartment upstairs. Before long, they are having a passionate affair, but she is still seemingly in thrall to her abusive ex-boyfriend…

In many ways, this is the archetypical late 1960s Giallo thriller. This cocktail of death and sex is served up by journeyman Italian director Umberto Lenzi, who had just come off the similarly themed ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Why is it so typical Well, there’s a small cast of principals whose loyalties and alliances are continually suspect. There’s a low body count, no blood to speak of, and the nudity is kept mostly under wraps. There’s also a twisting plot more reminiscent of a ‘mystery of the week’ than the kind of borderline horror picture that helped to inspire the American Slasher craze of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Our less than perfect protagonist is Jean-Louis Trintignant, already experienced in this kind of picture. Here, he’s a casual businessman approaching a mid-life crisis. Why is a little hard to understand. After all, he’s hitched to the beautiful and wealthy Erika Blanc, and they live in a wonderfully gothic old building in the centre of Paris. But Trintignant is a serial player with a roving eye and other wandering parts of his anatomy, and his various infidelities have left him at loggerheads with Blanc. Enter beautiful blonde Carroll Baker, who takes the apartment upstairs. Blanc had wanted to rent it for expansion purposes (or perhaps as a retreat from Trintignant), so the couple has a key. Trintignant finds a dropped earring in the elevator, which seems to belong to Baker, and well, you can guess the rest.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘This is the last time I let the boss drive me home from work..’

As usual, the game is to guess who’s in league with who and what they might be planning to do to someone else. The wild card is the last member of our featured quartet; violent bully Klaus (Horst Frank), who runs a photography studio. He still has some hold over Baker despite their relationship being over. Or is it?

Baker was getting quite experienced at playing out these kinds of scenarios, and she’s the stand out here. Her character turns on a dime so many times that it sends Trintignant into a complete spin, and constantly wrong-foots the audience. Is she victim, or perpetrator? Damsel in distress or cold-hearted femme fatale? Elsewhere, Blanc gets a bit of a thankless role as the cast-aside wife, but there is a nice piece of business where she walks around her flat staring up at the ceiling, following the sounds of Baker and Trintignant making love in the flat upstairs. There’s also some casual exploitation with stripper Beryl Cunningham in a ‘swinging’ party scene, and Helga Liné is completely wasted as a family friend. It may have been a nothing role, but at least it was another credit for the hardest working actress in 1960s Europe.

Probably the film’s greatest asset is that Lenzi resists a lot of the tricks and flourishes he’d employed on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), although there is one sequence where he throws the camera around and puts coloured filters on the lens. But it’s brief, and most of the time he chooses to shoot in a way that serves the story, rather than distracts from it. The twists are better executed too, happening more organically throughout the film. This helps to keep the audience interested, even if the final resolution isn’t particularly satisfying and the end product is ultimately a little bland.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘Thank you, but I’m not interested in a new set of vacuum cleaner brushes.’

The film’s most remarkable feature is the presence of so many people on both sides of the camera who became closely associated with the Giallo film. Behind the scenes are co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi and producer Sergio Martino, both of whom leant their talents to many similar outings.

Baker had only just finished working on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) with Lenzi and went on to star in half-dozen or so similar projects into the 1970s. Here, she is dubbed by another actress in the English language version; presumably, her voice-track not being available after the original Italian dub. It’s not as disconcerting as similar instances involving actors such as Christopher Lee, as her voice is not as distinctive, but it’s still a little distracting.

A solid thriller. Not a bad example of the genre, but a little unmemorable.

The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah (1968)

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)‘And now watch out, I like to eat little girls.’

A bridegroom takes his American wife to his old home town of Geneva on their honeymoon. When they arrive, he discovers that his ex-lover has committed suicide and it’s not long before the couple are being subjected to strange happenings and mysterious threats…

The ltalian ‘Giallo’ movie is now recognised as a precursor to the American slasher craze kicked off in earnest by John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978), but the term originally simply referred to a ‘murder mystery’ and this film falls squarely into that category. So there’s a notable absence of the familiar tropes we expect when viewing films from that sub-genre today, but nevertheless this was an important steeping stone in their development, although not so much for what actually appears on the screen.

Handsome Swiss hunk Jean Sorel is showing new wife Carroll Baker the sights of Europe when they stopover in his old stomping ground on the shores of Lake Geneva. A seemingly chance encounter with old friend Philip (Liugi Pistilli) turns nasty when Pistilli informs him of the suspected suicide of Sorel’s ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Evelyn Stewart) in a car accident.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

‘Shake it Baby!’

At Stewart’s abandoned old home, they hear spooky music and Baker gets a phone call threatening her life. Believing Pistilli was in love with Stewart and is seeking vengeance, the couple rent an isolated villa in the country, but it seems they can’t escape Sorel’s shady past. And what’s their dangerously handsome next door neighbour George Hilton got to do with it all?

The film starts rather slowly with Sorrel and Baker as loving newlyweds. The intention is to establish character and get the audience invested, which is a fine idea. Unfortunately, both Baker and Sorel seem disengaged with the material and there is little chemistry between them. After their visit to the spooky old house, suspicion raises its ugly head on both sides and the cracks in their relationship begin to show. Their quiet sense of distrust in each other is nicely played and these are probably the film’s best scenes.

So, after a somewhat rocky opening, toward the half way point things seem to be building up nicely. But then there’s no more story development until the last 15 minutes when all the threads come together. It’s this lengthy and very dull second act that really derails the film. To its’ credit, we still not exactly sure of what’s happening until pretty near the conclusion but when the pieces fall into place it’s not exactly a surprise and an attempt at an additional twist at the end is rather ambiguous and makes little sense.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

 In the 60s people really knew how to party… 

Director Romolo Guerrieri is keen to catch that 1960’s zeitgeist by dressing Baker in funky outfits and employing some ill-advised (if pretty) slo-mo in some of the romantic flashbacks. The musical soundtrack by Nora Orlandi is very much of its time and there’s a slightly odd sequence where Baker and Sorel play ‘Twister’ in their back garden to the sound of a marching band!

Considering all this is a fairly tepid experience, then why is it an important step in the development of the ‘Giallo’ as we know it today? Because of the people that were involved – on both sides of the camera. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who co-authored the screenplay) was already becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for these kind of convoluted thrillers and co-writer/producer Luciano Martino went onto fulfil the same roles on several notable examples, including ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wrath’ (1971). That last film was directed by his brother Sergio who served as production manager on this film and actually starred Hilton who top-lined several other similar projects in subsequent years. And the same can be said of Pistilli and Sorel! Perhaps it just shows how tightly knit the Italian film industry was at the time.

Baker was a Hollywood actress who had fame almost as soon as she stepped in front of the camera with a featured role in the James Dean epic ‘Giant’ (1956) and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character of Elia Kazan’s ‘Baby Doll’ (1956). Partly due to the nature of that role and the national controversy which the film provoked, she found it hard to get decent roles afterwards and often argued with producers and studios to escape type-casting. When big budget biopic ‘Harlow’ (1965) was a box office disaster (and her performance in the title role panned by critics) her stateside career was effectively over and, after a short break, she relocated to the continent. Subsequent to this film, she made a string of ‘Giallo’ pictures: ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘The Fourth Victim’ (1971) among others.

This is not a bad thriller by any means, but a dull middle section betrays the lack of an interesting plot and there’s not enough suspense or surprise to satisfy mystery fans. And those familiar with the more extreme elements of later ‘Giallo’ pictures are likely to be severely disappointed.

lsland of the Fishmen/L’Isola Degli Uomini Pesce (1979)

Island of the Fishmen (1979)‘This island is inhabited by zombies! The Living Dead! That’s why the graves are empty!’

1891: A prison ship is wrecked in uncharted waters and the few survivors wash up on an empty beach. The island’s owner isn’t pleased to see them and it becomes obvious that he has more than one secret to hide. What is his connection to the strange, amphibious humanoids that live out in the swamps?

Cast adrift in a boat with no food or water and only convicts for company, it would seem that things can’t get much worse for ship’s doctor Claudio Cassinelli. Unfortunately, he’s also got to deal with arrogant autocrat Richard Johnson, whose household consists of pretty young wife Barbara Bach, and native servants who seem more interested in voodoo than their household chores. Oh, and he’s keeping elderly Professor Joseph Cotten in a secret laboratory under the stairs.

Yes, what with the murderous fishmen out in the reeds, it seems we’re back in ‘Dr Moreau’ territory again for another round with H.G. Wells’ classic novel. But what’s that lying in the depths offshore beneath the coral reef? Why, it’s the lost continent of Atlantis, of course, which puts rather a different spin on things. As well as that, Johnson’s housekeeper Shakira (Beryl Cunningham, not the pop star) is carrying out strange ceremonies in a cemetery in the woods. This tropical boneyard has been abandoned by everyone, including the residents! Questions pile up for Cassinelli as he investigates, inevitably falling for Bach along the way as his convict charges becomes fish food one by one.

This all sounds like quite a heady mix with lots of possibilities, but it all falls rather flat under the direction of journeyman Sergio Martino, whose only real cinematic claims to fame are the controversial ‘Slave of the Cannibal God’ (1975) and delirious Mad Max ‘homage’ ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983). The main problem is the lack of originality in the script and the sheer predictability of events. Barely a quarter of an hour has gone by before the local volcano starts rumbling, effectively signposting the way to the climatic conflagration and inevitable stock footage. What is it with these mysterious islands and their volcanos? It seems one isn’t complete without the other. And there’s little else in the way of real action either; with the voodoo subplot going nowhere and our amphibious friends doing little until some aquatic shenanigans in the final act. To the production’s credit, the creatures don’t look particularly ridiculous, just a little unconvincing.

Island of the Fishmen (1979)

Bach’s choice of boyfriends wasn’t always perfect.

Bach was a Bond Girl in the era when it was a double-edged sword. Although it brought instant fame, it could also be a career curse and she struggled to escape the shadow of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977). Subsequent projects were less than stellar Eurotrash such as ‘The Great Alligator’ (1979) and ridiculous ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-off ‘The Humanoid’ (1979). She met Ringo Starr on the set of prehistoric comedy ‘Caveman’ (1981), became his wife and virtually retired. It was probably for the best, as she is a distinctly vapid presence here, and her dialogue seems to be dubbed.

Spare a thought for Cassinelli too, whose part entirely consists of looking rugged and asking endless questions. So acting honours go to Johnson, who gives a performance so dastardly you expect him to start twirling his moustache at any moment. Cotten, on the other hand, is obviously just picking up a cheque, and probably wasn’t on set too long to get his brief scenes in the can.

This has all the ingredients of a cult classic but fails to deliver on almost every level. lt’s not so bad that it’s good, and not good enough to be very entertaining.

Hands of Steel (1986)

Hands_of_Steel_(1986)‘It’s impossible – no hand could do that kind of damage.’

In a polluted near-future, a blind political leader stands up against the corporations who are poisoning the planet. People listen and he takes on almost messianic status so a dodgy businessman has a cyborg created from a badly wounded soldier and sends it to kill him.

Sergio Martino (credited here as ‘Martin Dolman’) followed up his trash classic ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1982) with this not-so classic ‘Terminator’ (1984) re-boot. Our hero – part mechanical, all beefcake – is played by U.S. actor Daniel Greene and the main villain by b-movie legend John Saxon (‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973), ‘Blood Beach’ (1981) etc, etc).

The film has some promise at the beginning as Greene sneaks into a backstreet tenement to carry out his mission. At the last moment, his human side wins out over his programming and he goes on the run instead. Unfortunately, when he holes up in Janet Agren‘s truckstop motel, the proceedings come to a shuddering halt. There’s some arm wrestling and snake decapitation with George Eastman’s local bullies while both the villains (Claudio Cassinelli in charge) and the FBI close in before a bullet soaked climax.

His new combat technique featured a mean seagull impression.

His new combat technique featured a mean seagull impression.

This is so 1980s and typical of the kind of flick you’d find down your local video store. There’s the usual pounding synthesiser score, the female cyborg is a dead ringer for Darryl Hannah in ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and our muscular hero looks like he’s been to Mel Gibson’s hairstylist. Sadly, it’s not a patch on Martino’s previous film; this is just a generic actioner with a science fiction gimmick. There’s lots of bad dubbing and a couple of big explosions near the end. That’s about it, although the final freeze frame and caption is pleasingly nonsensical.

John Saxon refused to film his scenes in the U.S. because it was a non-union shoot. The American filming featured a helicopter in which he and Cassinelli were supposed to be travelling. It crashed and Cassinelli was killed instantly.

Buy ‘Hands of Steel’ here