Directed by “Willy Pareto” (Riccardo Freda). Starring Dagmar Lassander, Luigi Pistilli, Anton Diffring, Valentina Cortese, Arthur O’Sullivan, Werner Pochath, Dominique Boschero, Ruth Durley, Niall Toibin. Italy / France / Germany 1971 Certificate: 15 95 mins.
Released on Blu-Ray and Vinyl by Arrow Video on April 8th 2019.
Stelvio Cipriani’s lovely, swoon-inducing title theme accompanies valuable footage of early 1970’s Dublin at the outset of this engaging giallo from the latter part of Riccardo Freda’s career. Overwhelmed with red herrings, twitchy suspects, ominous back stories and shock moments accompanied by sharp musical stings, it’s a particularly lively entry in the cycle and has a satisfyingly nasty edge. The current abundance of lovingly restored, beautifully illustrated, extras-laden releases of vintage giallo like this is one of the great pleasures for dinosaurs like us who still worship at the altar of high quality physical media.
Like so many of its sub-genre, it opens with the tropes and tricks of too many later American slashers to count. A woman alone at home discovers her telephone line has been cut while a prowling camera representing the mystery killer’s point of view forces us to share the intruder’s voyeuristic pleasure. Although the mutilation of attractive female characters was a regular element of giallo movies, this is more visceral than most as the ill-fated young woman receives a shocking splash of acid to the face followed by a gaudy, bloody close-up of her slashed throat.
The corpse is discovered wrapped in plastic in the boot of Anton Diffring’s limo. He’s the frosty Swiss Ambassador to Ireland and expresses no emotion when eye balling the body while his cuckolded wife (fur-clad Valentina Cortese, gradually conveying a sense of emptiness and unhappiness bordering on madness) moans about the rain. Possible murderers are regularly unveiled, starting with step-son Werner Pochath, who is milking them for cash, a chauffeur (Renato Romano) whose bad conjunctivitis forces him to wear the same sunglasses as the killer and a grinning weirdo doctor (Niall Toibin) who fondles the kind of straight razor responsible for the killings, shows admiration for the killer (“a specialist like me”) and happens to be hanging around various subsequent murder scenes. Aloof bastard Diffring is also implicated, particularly when his buxom, blackmailing lover (Dominique Boschero) is killed in her dressing room.
The puzzled authorities rope in former detective Luigi Pistilli, his career destroyed by the savage beating of a suspect (and the suicide that resulted) and his life still revolving around an endless search for his wife’s murderer. We first see him coming on to Dagmar Lassander, the daughter of the ambassador, whom he woos in fine style (“are we going to have it off in the bushes or round the back”). To keep us on edge, Pistilli briefly puts his hands around her throat while they enjoy a cliff top tryst during an otherwise picturesque romantic interlude. In the film’s most amusing sub plot, Pistilli’s old mum (Ruth Durley) is an amateur Miss Marple convinced she knows who the killer is despite her own struggle to complete simple tasks like finding her glasses.
Boasting a creature-based title typical of the cycle (and explained on screen by a key character), this benefits enormously from its unusual backdrop, and the significant production value brought by location shooting in Dublin and on the East Coast of Ireland. Pistilli has an earthy charisma as the ostensible hero, Lassander is typically beguiling as the promiscuous heroine and veteran Diffring brings icy indifference to a character defined as a collector (“he just happens to collect women”) who, in one notably jarring moment, completely loses it with his long-suffering wife : “You fucking bitch…bitch…bitch!” Amidst a range of dodgy Oirish accents are a bartender who looks like he thought he was entering a George Best Lookalike Contest, while the hilariously daffy Ruth Durley appears to be auditioning for “Are You Being Served” : “My precious pussy!” / “That’s right, my pussy!” Alas, her beloved pussy turns out to be one of the unlucky ones.
Durley also figures in a terrific, suspenseful and unusually cruel climax – notable for its brutal treatment of an old woman, a mean spirited fate for a (gratuitously near-naked) teenage girl and a typically mental reveal of a suitably demented killer. All of which only confirms this movie’s status as “essential” for your precious, growing collection of Blu-ray giallo.
Arrow’s great-looking disc arrives in stores the same day as their vinyl release of Cipriani’s score. On the extras front, Richard Dyer dissects the marvellously confusing plot, highlighting (among other things) the presence of three different male suspects with similar ginger moustaches. Lovely Jon provides an affectionate, enthusiastic potted history of Cipriani, his influence on dub music and his evocative use here of harpsichords, female vocals and strings. Dagmar Lassander reflects on her long, prolific career and her work with genre masters like Freda, Bava and Fulci, wryly noting how she was labelled “the parsley of Italian cinema”.