THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TALE ****
Directed by Sergio Martino. Starring George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto de Mendoza, Ida Galli, Luigi Pistilli. Horror/Thriller, Italy/Spain, 94 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on Monday 16th July 2018.
1971 was something of a banner year for the giallo what with Mario Bava's A BAY OF BLOOD and Dario Argento's FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET and CAT O' NINE TAILS all pushing the genre forwards by upping the gore and moving away from the tropes established during the previous decade, tropes that were now becoming cliché. Also that year director Sergio Martino (TORSO) followed up his popular giallo THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH with THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL, a movie that was very much a callback to the 1960s style of thriller but with a harder 1970s edge to some of the violence.
In this mystery story Lisa Baumer (Ida Galli – LA DOLCE VITA) is a woman in an unhappy marriage to rich husband Kurt. Whilst Lisa is ‘entertaining’ her lover one night she receives a call to say that Kurt’s plane has crashed and there are no survivors, and despite their problematic marriage Kurt has left his widow one million dollars from his life insurance which Lisa will have to collect from Athens, Greece. Unfortunately, there are a few eyes watching Lisa, including insurance investigator Peter Lynch (George Hilton – THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH) and Interpol agent John Stanley (Alberto de Mendoza – HORROR EXPRESS), and once Lisa collects her cash she intends to head off to Tokyo but will she make it that far and just how involved in her husband’s death was she?
Naturally, this is an Italian giallo so the answers aren’t going to be straightforward and you have to pay attention to everything that is said so you can piece it together along with the characters on the screen but you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you? Sergio Martino directs the movie with flair and despite throwing in a few red herrings to try and throw you off the scent the plot never goes down the path of being totally ridiculous like some less notable Italian thrillers do, and the jet set aesthetic gives the movie a similar vibe to the early Bond movies, showing off some exotic locations that would have been less accessible to audiences of the time than they are now and accentuating the air of intrigue. Using a cast of recognisable genre faces and a few character stereotypes keeps things familiar but Martino peppers the story with some graphic violence that echoes what Argento was doing at the time, also throwing in a couple of Lucio Fulci-esque moments that may cause a few sniggers when put up against modern effects but this was 1971 and would have been considered quite brutal for the time. And naturally, along with the blood there is the sex and nudity that the genre calls for and THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TALE has both, not explicit but enough to titillate and the late ‘60/early ‘70s glamour and fashions provide some retro cool with a dash of kitsch that is a refreshing change from the often po-faced detective procedurals that a lot of giallo movies ended up being.
Backed with new interviews with director Sergio Martino and actor George Hilton, an audio commentary from writer Ernesto Gastaldi, a video essay from Troy Howarth and an analysis of Sergio Martino's giallo movies, THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL looks fantastic thanks to a 2K restoration that brings out the vibrant colours of the European locations and Bruno Nicolai's moody score sounds wonderful when put through some decent stereo speakers. THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL is not only arguably Sergio Martino's finest giallo but also one of the best of that period of European cinema, being perfectly paced, well acted and getting the balance of storytelling and gore just right. The actual reveal of who the killer is hardly comes as a surprise and the atmosphere feels a little flat compared to the surreal undertones of Bava and Argento but these are small quibbles compared to how engaging and enjoyable the movie is. Overall, a superb release of an often overlooked gem.
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