Giallo-A-Go-Go: A Random Tour Through the Sexy-Violent World of Italian Thrillers (Part 1)

Giallo-a-go-go compositeUnconstrained by such trifles as academic rigour, gender politics or linear chronology, I’ve chosen to plunge head-first into the soothing waters of the Italian giallo, wallow obscenely and publish my findings. In other words, I’ve got a fresh stack of Eurotrash, and I plan on binge-watching as much of it as possible in the next few weeks. To mitigate the self-indulgence factor, I’ll include relevant DVD release details so the interested few can hunt this stuff down for themselves. Of necessity, certain films have been viewed in Italian-language only, either because the titles in question have had no English-language DVD release, or the Anglophone version was not available for review (e.g. NoShame’s prohibitively-expensive OOP Luciano Ercoli Death Box from several years back); such titles will be marked “IT-LANG”. Each film is listed primarily under its Italian title, then by its most commonly-known English title. Additional aliases are listed below those. D’accordo? Allora, andiamo…


death walks on high heels locLa morte cammina con i tacchi alti/Death Walks on High Heels (Italy/Spain 1971)

A.k.a. Death Stalks in High Heels

D: Luciano Ercoli. S: Ernesto Gastaldi, May Velasco, Dino Verde. P: Alberto Pugliese, Luciano Ercoli. Cast: Frank Wolff, Susan Scott, Simón Andreu, Carlo Gentili, George [Jorge] Rigaud. DVD (Italy): NoShame. IT-LANG. (No subs.)

If you’ve a penchant for impossibly glamorous Euro actresses, sporting chic Milan fashions and too much mascara, running around all overwrought and shrieking “Assassino! ASSASSINO!!” at the top of their lungs, you’ll be in seventh heaven with this one. Add a splendidly catchy Stelvio Cipriani score, nice UK location-work and welcome dollops of nudity and you have one of the more breezily-enjoyable examples of the post-Argento giallo. DeathWalksOnHighHeels3Susan Scott (Nieves Navarro, a.k.a. Mrs Luciano Ercoli) plays a Parisian stripper drawn into the usual tortuous web of intrigue when her diamond-thief dad is murdered on a train, prompting a series of murders as the killer attempts to locate the stash. Red herrings abound: there’s our heroine’s violent boyfriend (Simón Andreu), her eye surgeon admirer (Frank Wolff), plus any number of shady types when the action relocates to an English coastal village where a stoical British plod (“Baxter di Scotland Yard”) and his dozy sergeant soon find themselves knee-deep in corpses.

DeathWalksOnHighHeels4Susan Scott makes an appealing leading lady, performing a number of enthusiastic strip routines – including one, incredibly, while blacked-up (complete with tight Afro wig!) – proving again that the giallo is informed more by the male leer than the male gaze. High Heels is enormous fun, much more in the vein of Sergio Martino’s films with Edwige Fenech than Ercoli’s own previous foray into the genre, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (which, despite a lovely Morricone DeathWalksOnHighHeels2score and the even lovelier Dagmar Lassander, is about as thrilling as three-day-old pizza). An extremely sadistic final-act twist supplies the film’s most graphic gore scene, which is genuinely shocking. The plot, co-written by gialloholic Ernesto Gastaldi, is one of the most crazily-convoluted of the form; even with the benefit of English subtitles, I’d have been hard-pressed to tell you what was really going on. (It didn’t impair my enjoyment one jot.) DeathWalksOnHighHeels5Among the film’s many incidental pleasures: Susan Scott, dressed to the nines in a fresh-from-the-catwalk ensemble, in an English pub ringed by pint-supping locals; a typically-enlightened 1970s attitude to homosexuality (the mincing exemplar here helpfully carrying a great big pansy); and a laugh-out-loud moment where hung-over Simón Andreu projectile-vomits from a high window directly onto a copper’s tall hat (a scene which had me snorting for the next ten minutes).

death walks on high heels dvdThe DVD (from the Italian wing of NoShame) has no English options, but boasts an HD-sourced transfer of stunning quality; frankly, you might be fooled into thinking you’re watching a blu-ray. The ‘scope image is razor-sharp, colourful and remarkably film-like. The film is paired with its immediate follow-up, Death Walks at Midnight (on a second disc), and retails for around ten euros. It’s highly recommended. (Giallo expert Michael Mackenzie has undertaken a detailed comparison of the US and Italian releases at his Land of Whimsy site here.)

Death Walks on High Heels (Fantasia Tragica 1 & 2) – STELVIO CIPRIANI

death walks at midnight2


La morte accarezza a mezzanotte/Death Walks at Midnight (Italy/Spain 1972)

A.k.a. Cry out in Terror

D: Luciano Ercoli. S: May Velasco, Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Corbucci. P: Alberto Pugliese, Luciano Ercoli. Cast: Susan Scott, Simón Andreu, Peter Martell [Pietro Martellanza], Carlo Gentili, Ivano Staccioli. DVD (Italy): NoShame. IT-LANG. (No subs.)

Director Luciano Ercoli was back the following year with this followup, employing much the same cast and crew. Alas, composer Cipriani was not one of the returnees, and while replacement Gianni Ferrio supplies a pleasing theme song (“Valentina”) his score is otherwise fairly run-of-the-mill. That goes for the film, too: an uninspired, and death walks at midnight1disappointingly anaemic run-through of the usual giallo tropes. This time Susan Scott is a famous photo-model, conned by a photographer friend (Simón Andreu again) into taking a psychotropic drug so he can record her experiences for a magazine article. But the drug has an unexpected side-effect: in the midst of her trip, Susan experiences an alarming vision of a woman being murdered with a medieval spiked glove. Dismissing it as a hallucination, she quickly discovers it’s very real indeed – and it’s not long before the killer is hot on her trail, determined to shut her up for good…

Death-Walks-at-Midnight-Nieves-Navarro-15Spagwest specialist Sergio Corbucci – who actually co-wrote the first “official” giallo, Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) – is credited with the story on this second-tier entry, and his love of throwaway gimmickry is very much in evidence here. The ESP angle is just an empty plot device with zero payoff, and was exploited to far better effect in the John Carpenter-scripted giallo-homage Eyes of Laura Mars (1978). The film is not completely without merit: Andreu is amusing as the conceited photo-journalist, with Ercoli death walks at midnighttaking delight in undermining his ego every chance he gets, and Scott’s druggie vision (revisited several times) is appropriately lurid. As you’d expect from a Gastaldi script, complications breed like germs in a petri dish, with the first killer (in regulation raincoat and shades) later joined by a brace of giggling Spanish hit-men. Narrative credibility is never a high priority in these things, but this pair seems to have strayed in from one of Corbucci’s westerns. Everything is resolved in a rooftop punchup/chase, which is no great shakes. Despite the lascivious possibilities of the fashion-model milieu there’s no nudity whatever, nor much in the way of violent excess (save a few closeups of the killer’s spiked glove dripping grue, a la Blood and Black Lace); consequently, the film fails to deliver on the basic giallo requirements, and can be recommended only to completists.

death walks on high heels dvdNoShame’s Italian DVD, paired with Death Walks in High Heels, is a bit of a mixed bag. The transfer is noticeably inferior to its companion piece, being somewhat softer in overall appearance; more problematic still are the missing patches of audio, where the restoration team were unable to locate a usable soundtrack. (These fleeting moments, amounting to thirty seconds or so in all, unspool in eerie silence.) NoShame’s US edition, similarly paired with High Heels in a “Luciano Ercoli Death Box”, apparently fixed this issue; a more thorough comparison of the Italian and American NoShame releases can be found here. Still, despite its technical shortcomings, the Italian disc is certainly streets ahead of the UK Mondo Macabro release (also OOP), which in addition to a grungily-unappealing image was also cropped to 1.78:1.

Death Walks at Midnight (Valentina) – GIANNI FERRIO


french sex murders it posterCasa d’appuntamento/The French Sex Murders (Italy/Germany 1972)

A.k.a. The Bogey Man and the French Murders, Call Girls for Inspector Bogart, Das Auge des Bösen

D: Ferdinando Merighi. S: Marius Mattei, Ferdinando Merighi, Robert Oliver [Ramiro Oliveros], Paolo Daniele. P: Dick Randall, Marius Mattei. DVD (Germany): FilmArt.

Colourful US entrepreneur Dick Randall funded a few Eurotrash quickies in the early Seventies, including Lady Frankenstein (1971) and this oddball giallo (a German-Italian co-production partly shot in France). Each of the participant companies had their own set of requirements, based on their respective home markets, so the film exists in a number of bespoke versions tailoring the salacious content to a greater or lesser degree. Mondo Macabro released a US disc some years back, compiling all extant versions into a single mind-boggling edition; that disc has long been OOP, but German DVD producers FilmArt french sex murders 2have since released a region 2 edition which largely replicates that hybrid version with a couple of minor differences. (While the Mondo disc presented some scenes in French with English subs, FilmArt use the Italian track; there’s also a brief section filled-in from a German VHS tape, in German-language without subtitles.) As you might expect, the resulting film has a somewhat crude and patchwork quality, comparing poorly with the more elegantly-shot gialli released that year. Still, the sleaze factor is high, and Bruno Nicolai’s score – recycling cues, cheekily, from earlier assignments(including All the Colours of the Dark) – helps to gloss over the various infelicities of the production. And it’s certainly not lacking in incident.

french sex murders 1The film revolves around a Parisian brothel (the “casa d’appuntamento” of the Italian title) run by portly madam Anita Ekberg, where one of the most popular girls (Barbara Bouchet) is found brutally murdered after a visit by violent client Antoine Gottvalles (Pietro Martellanza). Antoine goes to ground, but is eventually captured and sentenced to die on the guillotine; from the stand he promises to return from the grave to revenge himself on those he believes turned him in. To the consternation of his guilty ex-cohorts Antoine escapes on a motorcycle, only to be decapitated on a piece of sharp farm machinery. Police doctor Howard Vernon is awarded custody of the head, which he plans to use in some sort of experiment – the science here is not exactly clear – but his assistant is alarmed when the dead man’s eyes seem to move… And soon after, those whom Antoine blamed for his capture begin to die. Are they victims of a supernatural curse, or could the killings have a more earthly explanation…?

frenchsexmurders-03The plot for this one is all over the place, seemingly written by half-a-dozen people with their own take on the material. Money was presumably very tight, as the locations and production values are uniformly tawdry and cheap (much like Carlo Rambaldi’s tailor’s-dummy beheading FX). The film starts, unusually, at the end (with a cel-animated human body plummeting hilariously to earth from the top of the Eiffel Tower), before jumping back several weeks to recap the events leading up to it. In a film stuffed with baffling decisions, most baffling of all must be the casting of Bogart lookalike Roberto Sacchi as the investigating cop; the American dubbing artist even affects a Sam Spade-like delivery on his dialogue, adding to the film’s bizarro charm. (The Bogeyman and the French Murders is one of the film’s more outrageous retitlings.)

french sex murders 3Puzzlingly, given her unabashed performance in Alla ricerca del piacere the same year (also with Neri: see below), giallo fave Barbara Bouchet elects not to bare all for the sake of art, though the bright red bra-and-pants set she models here is undeniably fetching. The rest of the cast, male and female alike, display none of Babs’ reservations, stripping off with abandon at regular intervals. Euro goddess Rosalba Neri is on fine form as a nightclub chanteuse, lip-synching convincingly to a French ballad, while Renato Romano has an amusing role as a writer-in-residence at Anita Ekberg’s brothel; the character (“Mr Randall”, a cheerfully amoral peddler of sensational tat) seems a self-deprecating reference to the American producer.

french sex murders dvdFilmArt’s DVD (released under the title Das Auge des Bösen/The Evil Eye, but carrying the onscreen title The French Sex Murders) is #1 in their Giallo Collection, and looks okay in the main. Its composite nature, and the low-budget nature of the original production, mean this isn’t going to give anyone’s home theatre setup a workout, but the disc does the job competently enough under the circumstances. The 1.66:1 anamorphic image looks quite nice on occasion, though grunge is always just around the corner. Extras include a German-dubbed version with alternate opening credits (claiming the film is based on “Edgar Allan Poe’s The Evil Eye”!), a German trailer, a couple of alternate scenes (including a solarised version of the courtroom sequence, and psychedelically-recoloured versions of the OTT murder scenes, which repeat all the gory bits half-a-dozen times or more) and a somewhat pointless recreation of the Italian titles with video-generated credits. The disc comes with striking yellow cover art and matching Amaray, duplicating the look of the old Mondadori paperbacks. A bit pricey, but a worthwhile purchase.

The French Sex Murders (All the Colours of the Dark) – BRUNO NICOLAI


vestito bianco per mariale posterUn vestito bianco per Marialé/Spirits of Death (Italy 1972)

D: Romano Scavolini. S: Giuseppe Mangione, Remiglio Del Grosso. P: Franca Luciani. Cast: Evelyn Stewart [Ida Galli], Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Pilar Velázquez, Edilio Kim, Gengher Gatti. Blu-ray/DVD (Germany): Camera Obscura.

First off: despite the export title, there’s no supernatural content here. What we have instead is a pretty strong (if ultimately conventional) giallo from director Romano Scavolini, a name most horror fans will recognise from his later US slasher Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1980). Scavolini seems to have disowned this early entry in his filmography, for some reason, though for my money it’s streets ahead of the overrated Nightmares (notable more for its inclusion on the UK Video Nasties list than for any inherent cinematic qualities, no matter what the authors of “Spaghetti Nightmares” think): Marialé is stylish, engrossing and chock-full of eccentric characters, perverse behaviour and colourful deaths. Prime giallo fare, in other words.

vestito bianco 2Marialé (Evelyn Stewart, a.k.a. Ida Galli) is unhappily married to shifty toff Paolo (Luigi Pistilli), who keeps her confined to the grounds of his sprawling estate. Marialé has been in a state of nervous shock since she witnessed her mother (and mum’s lover) shot to death by her jealous dad; the white dress her mother was wearing at the time, replete with gory bullet holes, is kept in a strange shrine in the cellar, along with a set of mannequins in baroque fancy dress. Unknown to Paolo, Marialé (desperate for human company) has secretly contacted a number of her old friends, inviting them to stay at the palazzo. The guests arrive, and despite his reservations Paolo is obliged to let them in: a decadent collection of tarts, cuckolds, racists and lesbians. Let’s get this party started! At Marialé’s urging the revellers descend to the cellar and pick the costumes of their choice, with Marialé (of course) donning her late mother’s dress. A wild bacchanal ensues upstairs, after which events quickly spiral out of control. And one by one, the guests begin to die…

vestito bianco 1A pleasing oddity,full of the usual irrational content: unmotivated situational Sapphism (whereby two straight hot women randomly “lez up”, just because they can); a Satyricon-like house party, with a topless black girl freaky-dancing with a strap-on dildo; and a trip to the palazzo’s catacombs, mysteriously ravaged by an illogical wind-storm. The cast of genre stalwarts includes Luigi Pistilli (Your Vice is a Locked Room and only I Have the Key), Evelyn Stewart (Case of the Scorpion’s Tale) and the vestito bianco 4lovely Pilar Velázquez (Naked Girl Killed in Park), plus everyone’s favourite steely-eyed giallo villain Ivan Rassimov (The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, et al) – this time cast against type as the steely-eyed hero. All this, and a “Ten Little Indians” murder plot, too: Ambassador, you are spoiling us. Un vestito bianco per Marialé (A White Dress for Marialé) benefits from rich cinematography, solid direction and a wonderfully Gothic location (the Palazzo Borghese, also used in Bloody Pit of Horror and Zefirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, amongst others). The pre-credits sequence, depicting Marialé’s childhood trauma, includes an amusing nude cameo vestito bianco 3by Gianni Dei (the telekinetic coma patient in Patrick Still Lives, 1980) as the mother’s lover; his mid-air pirouette as he gets shot is priceless. The rather nice elegiac score is by Fiorenzo Carpi (with Bruno Nicolai twirling the baton). As a mystery, Marialé is not exactly taxing: the identity of the killer seemed pretty open-and-shut to me, though certain online reviewers seem less sure, claiming that the resolution is left spookily ambiguous. Hmm. One to watch again, I think.

vestito bianco per mariale dvdCamera Obscura’s German blu-ray release is well up to their usual high standard. The 2.35:1 image seems pretty flawless to me, beautifully capturing the film’s elegant colour scheme. The film is presented in Italian language with English subtitles (or German, should you prefer); supplements include a half-hour interview featurette with Scavolini, trailers and a booklet with liner notes by Kai Naumann. A fine release, well worth picking up – though you may have to sell one of the kids to afford it.

Un vestito bianco per Mariale – FIORENZO CARPI/BRUNO NICOLAI


spasmoSpasmo (Italy 1974)

D: Umberto Lenzi. S: Massimo Franciosa, Luisa Montagnana, Pino Boller, Umberto Lenzi. P: Ugo Tucci. Cast: Robert Hoffman, Suzy Kendall, Ivan Rassimov, Adolfo Lastretti. Blu-ray/DVD (UK): 88 Films.

Let’s get this out of the way straight off: I’m not the greatest Umberto Lenzi fan. Now, I like Nightmare City as much as the next idiot, but no-one could call it a carefully constructed mood piece. If it’s thick-ear action you want, Lenzi’s your guy; as for suspense, forget it. I haven’t yet seen his tetrad of thrillers with Carroll Baker (Paranoia, 1967; So Sweet…So Perverse, 1969; A Quiet Place to Kill, 1970; Knife of Ice, 1972), so it’s entirely possible I’ll be forced to retract that sweeping statement before long – but I have seen Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972), Eyeball (1975) and this, so I know whereof I speak re: his basic cack-handedness in the giallo realm. He is, in a word, useless. From a technical standpoint, he’s a notch above Jess Franco – Lenzi does at least bother to frame his shots, and make sure they’re in focus – but shares Franco’s essential impatience with the process of filmmaking, favouring haste above care, the obvious above innovation. That’s not to say there aren’t ancillary pleasures to be found in his work – but these are entirely due to the quality of his collaborators, in each and every case.

spasmo3So, with a sigh, we turn our attention to Spasmo. It’s not inept, it’s not unwatchable – but nor is it especially compelling, exciting or fresh. It just sits there, as if waiting for the viewer to supply the entertainment. To be fair, it begins well, with the discovery of a female mannequin strung up inside an old ruin; we’ll see more of these effigies later on, dotted through the narrative. Robert Hoffman (also in Naked Girl in Park, and an episode of Argento’s Door into Darkness TV show) is our hero, drawn into the  spasmohangusual web of et cetera when he and his girlfriend find the body of an unconscious young woman (Suzy Kendall, of Bird with the Crystal Plumage) lying on the beach. To his surprise, the woman scarpers before he can find out her name, but he meets her again when he gate-crashes a party on a yacht. The two decamp to a nearby motel to take their friendship to the next level; however, romance is shelved when Hoffman is attacked in the bathroom by a hit-man (Adolfo Lastretti), who ends up shot dead by his own gun. But the body mysteriously vanishes before Hoffman can prove his story, and it seems the hit-man is still very much alive and dangerous…

spasmo4Lots more happens, none of it worth recounting. The resolution is about as credible as Shutter Island, which is to say not very credible at all. Spasmo – a title that’s had me giggling into my hand since I first saw the video box at my local VHS rental library, back in the early Eighties – offers precious little in the way of gore, nor much in the way of sex (though if your tastes run to women with alarming cosmetic surgery scars, this is the film for you). On the plus side, the film boasts one of Ennio spasmo2Morricone’s most beautiful themes, and it does at least look quite attractive. The dangling latex mannequins are marvellously eerie, reappearing at unexpected moments throughout the film to great atmospheric effect, though they’re little more than creepy set dressing. And Ivan Rassimov is great value, as ever, this time firmly back in full-on scrote mode as Hoffman’s shady brother. But the negatives largely outweigh the positives. After an intriguing opening, the film quickly descends into a plodding checklist of clichés, which wouldn’t be so bad if Lenzi had injected a bit more reprehensible content here and there. (It seems odd to be lecturing the director of Cannibal Ferox on this point, but there it is.) The discovery of the girl on the beach, too, is staged with typical Lenzi indifference – just compare it with a similar sequence in Vicente Aranda’s The Blood-Spattered Bride (1972), to see how a talented director might have handled it. Imagination’s a wonderful thing – it’s just a shame Lenzi has never heard of it.

Spasmo_2d_Bluray_packshot_largeThe UK blu-ray release from 88 Films looks pretty good, showcasing a colourful 2.35:1 image with no real issues to note; the image is a trifle soft, but this would appear to represent the original cinematography. In short, a far better presentation than the film likely deserves. The feature can be viewed either in Italian with English subs, or via the cruder English dub. The main supplement is a recent Q&A interview with Umberto Lenzi, recorded at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films; unfortunately, Lenzi’s halting English makes this a tough watch. (I gave up after a few minutes.) Rounding out the package are the original Italian credit sequence and the amusing trailer (“Spasmo…Spasmo…SPASMO!!”).

Spasmo (Bambole 1 & 3) – ENNIO MORRICONE


ALLA RICERCA DEL PIACEREAlla ricerca del piacere/Amuck! (Italy 1972)

A.k.a. In Pursuit of Pleasure, Hot Bed of Sex, Maniac Mansion, Leather and Whips

D/S: Silvio Amadio. P: Italo Zingarelli. Cast: Farley Granger, Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri, Umberto Raho, Patrizia Viotti, Dino Mele. DVD (US): Code Red. [“Spaghetti Cinema” Double-bill w/Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women]

Wow. Just…wow. While this is, in all honesty, a fairly middling giallo, it earns its place in Italian genre history several times over thanks to its pairing (nudge nudge) of giallo icons Barbara Bouchet and Rosalba Neri. For once, the UK release title (Hot Bed of Sex) is right on the money. (“Some versions cut” is all the BBFC website has to say. I’ll bet they were.) Director Silvio Amadio seems to have had little to do with the amuck_poster_01genre before this, having helmed a number of unremarkable adventure-thrillers in the Sixties (titles like White Slave Ship, 1962, and Assassination in Rome, 1965) before hitting his stride with 1969’s L’Isola delle svedesi/Twisted Girls, the first of several erotic dramas with chic lesbian trappings. The same year as Amuck! he made another giallo (also with Neri), Il sorriso della iena/Smile Before Death (1972), said by some to be his best; at time of writing, however, it remains frustratingly unavailable on DVD. (Though it’s sometimes listed as a giallo, Amadio’s later Peccati di gioventù/So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious [1975, with Gloria Guida and Dagmar Lassander] is really just a sexy melodrama with lesbian-blackmail ingredients, a cruder and spicier variant on Gastaldi’s Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion formula.) Alla ricerca del piacere was released in the US several times, under a number of different titles, best-known of which is Amuck! Sexploitation outfit Group 1 employed a canny marketing campaign emphasising the raunchy content, including a salacious trailer (helpfully summarising all the best bits) with staged interviews from “audience members” astonished and outraged by what they’d just seen. (It’s included on the Code Red DVD as an extra.) The campaign makes the film sound like a flat-out sex film, which it really isn’t: it’s actually a decent thriller, with a likeable heroine, predatory villains and solid suspense.

amuck6Greta Franklin (Barbara Bouchet) arrives at the palazzo of celebrated novelist Richard Stuart (Farley Granger), on the outskirts of Venice, to take up the position of his new secretary. Stuart’s former secretary, Sally (Patrizia Viotti), has disappeared under mysterious circumstances – and Greta (Sally’s lover, unknown to her employer) is determined to find out why. Pretty soon Stuart’s wife Eleanora (Rosalba Neri) is giving Greta the eye, and Stuart invites her to sit-in on the screening amuckof a blue movie (with his youthful entourage of louche hangers-on). Greta is shocked to find Sally is one of the performers in the film, but Stuart shuts it off when he twigs she knows more about Sally than she’s letting on. Greta is sure Sally has been killed, but where is the evidence? The police are no use – and that’s not Greta’s only problem. After a duck-hunting trip turns sour, and Greta becomes the target, she’s convinced her hosts want her out of the way…

amuck barbara-bouchetCzech-born star Barbara Bouchet was extraordinarily busy in 1972 (Calibre 9, The French Sex Murders, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, Don’t Torture a Duckling – and those are just the ones I’ve heard of). She pulls off the difficult trick here of remaining demurely innocent, while wearing a completely transparent shorty-nightie; no mean feat. Co-star Rosalba Neri was no less in demand, though her assignments that year were less high-profile, at least outside Italy: Decameron ‘300, Watch Out Gringo: Sabata amuck rosalba neriWill Return, Smile Before Death. (An iconic role awaited her the following year, though: Countess Dracula in The Devil’s Wedding Night. Not a great film, but a fun one.) Neri positively glows with feral sexuality, and looks like she’d happily eat Babs alive. Farley Granger, along way past his Hollywood prime but still in fine fettle, convincingly channels his Rope persona as a decadent Übermensch with very camp trimmings, and a taste for cat-and-mouse mind-games. (He appeared the same year in the rather dull giallo So Sweet, So Dead, and in Massimo Dallamano’s later What Have They Done to Your Daughters, 1974.) Providing solid support is Umberto Raho (a perennial favourite of Italo horror, sometimes credited as Humi Raho), shimmering in and out as The Sinister Butler. All in all, a fine ensemble.

amuck2All well and good, I hear you say: but what about the Good Stuff? I’m happy to report the Good Stuff is very good indeed. There are substantial nude scenes from all the female cast, including an extended lesbian tryst between Bouchet and Neri which Amadio films in veeeeeeeery sloooooooooow motion. Viewers will either find this utterly amuck5mesmerising or utterly tedious, according to taste. (Amadio thoughtfully applies the same technique to Bouchet’s sexy waterfall flashbacks, showcasing yet more Sapphic action. Alongside militant communism and J&B whisky, Hot Lesbo Sex seems to have exercised the Italian imagination no end in the Seventies.Whatever the reasoning, it’s hard to fault their enthusiasm.) Composer Teo Usuelli supplies a funky cue (“Piacere Sequence”) to accompany the film’s key flashback scene, featuring an overexcited female vocalist breathily repeating its singular lyric to comical-delirious effect (“Sexually!”); it’s fab.

amuck dvdWhich brings us to the matter of Amuck! on DVD. Code Red’s US release (paired with Alfonso Brescia’s super-naff Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women/ Superuomini, superdonne, superbotte, 1974) is almost the stuff of legend; so few people have seen it, no-one can be sure it really exists. Afforded the company’s usual stealth distribution, the title was briefly available through the Code Red site before vanishing forever into eBay hell. Well, let’s begin with the positives: the transfer is anamorphic, reasonably sharp and colourful, and framed correctly at 2.35:1. Now for the bad news. The version presented here is a shorter US cut (under the crudely spliced-in title of Maniac Mansion), which removes most of the opening credits sequence of Bouchet in Venice and trims a fair bit of her mooching around Granger’s palazzo in search of clues; it’s missing around 14 minutes of amuck4material in all, a not-insubstantial shortfall, though none of the excised footage affects the Good Stuff. (The full-length version has only seen release on a bootleg disc some years back, sourced from a full-frame VHS tape.) And there’s more bad news: the print used for the transfer is heavily-worn and unrestored, with damage especially bad at the reel-change points. Expect blown-out contrasts, green and white specks, and torn frames. It’s still watchable, of course, but needless to say the definitive presentation has yet to be released. As of now, Code Red’s is the only game in town. My advice: start scouring eBay now – though be prepared to pay through the nose. It’s worth it.

Postscript: German home video outfit Camera Obscura will be answering every gentleman’s prayer in 2017, when they release a blu-ray edition of Alla ricerca del piacere: an edition which should render the Code Red disc obsolete. A less costly alternative exists in the form of the UK blu-ray from 88Films, which utilises Camera Obscura’s HD transfer (and actually hits the street before the CO disc).

Alla ricerca del piacere (Piacere Sequence) – TEO USUELLI

Click here for Part 2

The Giallo in Britain 1965-1983: Feature Article by Sim Branaghan