Welcome to Part 4 of my stubbornly-random tour through the sexy-violent world of the Italian thriller. As in previous instalments, titles viewed in Italian-language only (i.e. for those discs without English subtitles/audio) will be marked “IT-LANG”. Films are listed by Italian title first, followed by the most commonly-known English title, with AKAs collected below them.
NOTE: The first three parts can be found at the following links:
D: Maurizio Pradeaux. S: Arpad de Riso, Maurizio Pradeaux. P: Aldo Ricci, Dimitri Dimitriadis. Cast: Leonard Mann, Robert Webber, Vera Krouska, Nino Maimone, Barbara Seidel, Imelde Marani, Susy Jennings, Nikos Verlekis. DVD (Italy): NoShame [IT-LANG], (US): Cult Action.
Public transport and the classical unities have been a natural fit for some time. Since Maupassant stuffed ten strangers into a rickety stagecoach in “Boule de Suif” (1880), pedlars of group jeopardy have revelled in cramming quirky ensembles into confined moving spaces: Golden Age detective writers (Agatha Christie: The Mystery of the Blue Train, Murder on the Orient Express), blockbuster novelists (Arthur Hailey: Airport), Western auteurs (John Ford: Stagecoach), Masters of Suspense (Alfred Hitchcock: Lifeboat), disaster-movie moguls (Irwin Allen: The Poseidon Adventure), creepshow directors (Eugenio Martin: Horror Express) and horror authors (Richard Matheson: The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”). Giallo wunderkind Dario Argento was intrigued enough by the formula to use it in an early draft of Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971); though the vignette was cut before shooting for reasons of pacing, it subsequently emerged as a standalone episode of Argento’s 1973 TV series La porta sul buio (“The Tram”), in which puzzled cops must discover exactly how a young girl came to be murdered on a busy public tram. Constrained by the more prudish standards of the small screen, the show is less a study of Sadean violence than a painstaking exercise in Holmes-like deduction, allowing Argento to indulge his fascination (and ours) for technical detail.
Sadly, not all practitioners in this field share Argento’s gift for fusing the mathematical with the visceral. Awkwardly straddling the rails between Dario and Dame Agatha is Death Steps in the Dark, another so-so thriller from Death Carries a Cane director Maurizio Pradeaux (whose filmography contains little of note besides his two gialli and the 1970 war film Churchill’s Leopards, with Klaus Kinski). This Italo-Greek co-production opens on the Istanbul-Athens Express, where a Sinister Black-Gloved Killer™ first sabotages the electrical supply to the lights before contriving to murder a young French woman in a crowded compartment, just as the train passes through a tunnel. Upon the train’s arrival in Athens, the police inspector (Robert Webber) must decide which of her five fellow passengers did her in. Is it the middle-aged Anglican cleric, who keeps an improbable young hottie in his hotel room? Black nightclub singer Ulla (Susy Jennings), or her shifty lover Raoul (Nikos Verlekis)? Ditzy Swedish model Ingrid (Vera Krouska), or her Roman photographer boyfriend Luciano (Leonard Mann)? Given that the knife used to stab the girl belongs to Luciano, he seems the obvious candidate – and therefore, just as obviously innocent, though he becomes prime suspect anyway. When further circumstantial evidence appears to confirm his guilt, Luciano must go on the run to unmask the real killer and clear his name.
With a convoluted plot worthy of Ernesto Gastaldi at his most fiendish, Death Steps in the Dark is certainly crammed with incident. Adding to the confusion is a blackmailing sub-plot involving a pair of gloves carelessly discarded by the killer – a presence represented, incidentally, by a series of macro-closeups of a staring eyeball, in much the same manner as Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails (1971). (Argento, of course, borrowed that from Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase (1945), but we know by now where Pradeaux finds his inspiration.) Unfortunately Pradeaux ruins the effect by showing the killer’s eye widening in surprise too many times, lending him the air of a Tex Avery cartoon; it lacks only a comical “boiiing!” on the soundtrack to make the image complete. The director makes a couple more stabs at stylisation later in the film, each characterised by a half-hearted arbitrariness that’s more puzzling than effective. For instance, it’s to his credit that he tries to stage the obligatory lesbian sex scene with some degree of visual originality, presenting it as an abstract series of geometric close-ups (tongues, fingers, mouths and other body parts) – but it’s cut short before it even gets going, more likely the result of exhausted inspiration than of censor interference. For the film’s climax Pradeaux throws in a slow-motion chase sequence, tinted blood-red, in a failed attempt to disguise an otherwise dull denouement. Still, I have to admit it: inconsistent and random these ideas may be, but without them the film would seem even more bland. Sometimes, a non sequitur in the right place can make all the difference.
But for most of this film, convention rules the roost. After a Poirot-like gathering of the surviving suspects, the killer’s motive is revealed as the usual throwaway nonsense. The murders themselves are chiefly colourless variations on the razor-killing theme, though the film takes a jarring detour into sexual violence when it comes time to bump off a scheming Sapphic blackmailer. (Viewers can draw their own conclusions here, I’m sure.) Detracting from the nastiness, though not in a good way, are the wearisome comic elements, from a dizzy brace of girl safe-crackers to the hero dragging-up as a dockyard hooker (really, don’t ask). Broad humour was always a staple feature of Italian popular culture – blame the Commedia dell’Arte for that – but its presence here threatens to overwhelm what little dramatic conviction the film can muster.
While the Athens locations are undeniably spectacular, the human performers are rather less so. American-born Leonard Mann (real name: Leonardo Manzella), later in Aldo Lado’s The Humanoid (1979) and Deodato’s Cut and Run (1985), is broadly okay as the put-upon hero, with Greek actress Vera Krouska dottily endearing as his scatterbrained girlfriend. Robert Webber brings his usual stolid professionalism to his role as the chief cop, a character so generic he doesn’t even have a name; all we need to know, it seems, is that he’s gruff, likes spicy food, and is a martyr to heartburn. (Three qualities inherent to the heroic condition, as this writer can personally attest.) With a better cast, a pacier narrative and more bloodthirsty conviction, Death Steps in the Dark might have been a pleasant little time-waster along the lines of Pradeaux’s Death Carries a Cane – no classic, admittedly, but a serviceable clone of the Argento formula. The chief problem here is that everything seems so painfully rote, so doggedly predictable, right down to the 48 hours the cop gives our hero to prove his innocence. Making the disappointment complete is Riz Ortolani’s middling score, which it’s safe to say is not one of his best. “Thoroughly adequate” about sums it up – and we deserve better than that, don’t we?
For an English-friendly DVD release, the dedicated viewer must forget what’s legal, and do what’s right – namely, descend into the murky waters of the so-called “grey market”. Cult Action’s DVD-R is a PAL-to-NTSC standards conversion, likely sourced from NoShame’s region 2 Italian DVD. Picture quality is excellent, as sharp and detailed as you’d expect from an HD-restored master (and framed at the correct ratio of 2.35:1), though the English audio is more problematic: it’s extremely soft, requiring more amplification than usual, and to judge by the constant digital susurrations has been subject to some kind of inexpert manipulation. Still, as NoShame’s original disc carried Italian audio only, beggars can’t be choosers. Immediately following the main feature is the (unsubtitled) Italian trailer, which come al solito packs in all the nudity and much of the violence. Cult Action’s packaging design is quite attractive, featuring artwork from the Italian locandina. As knockoffs go, this one’s not half bad; shame about the film, though.
D: Romolo Guerrieri. S: Alessandro Continenza, Sauro Scavolini. Story: Sauro Scavolini. Novel: Libero Bigiaretti. P: Gino Mordini. Cast: Ewa Aulin, Jean Sorel, Lucia Bosé, Silvano Tranquilli, Marilu’ Tolo, Sergio Doria, Antonio Pierfederici, Bruno Boschetti, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart. DVD (US): Cult Action.
Parking his car in an underground garage, Frank (Jean Sorel) encounters a strange old man (Antonio Pierfederici) who promptly unloads a pistol into his guts. Hovering on the brink of death, Frank recollects, in piecemeal fashion, the events that led up to this moment… What follows is a series of flashback-memories, arranged in non-chronological order, describing Frank’s empty rich-boy existence with Italian sexpot wife Lucia (Ewa Aulin). Frank’s an affluent, glum dilettante, a qualified architect too lazy to seek out paid commissions. Full of big talk, but short on action, he covers his idleness with smooth self-deprecations and easy evasions, tactics that soon wear thin with his young wife. “You’re just boring and pretentious and conceited and neurotic,” she informs him during one of many rows; with a little foresight, she might also have added “And jealous and inadequate”, too, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Holidaying in Morocco with Lucia, trying to escape the truth of his own failure, Frank sinks ever-deeper into solipsistic gloom. Jealous of his wife’s presumed infidelities, powerless to control her, his figurative impotence at last becomes real. His spirits are lifted when Lucia’s mother Nora (Lucia Bosé) unexpectedly flies in to join them; chic and vivacious, she fast becomes the idealised object of Frank’s obsession. But when they meet hunky Eddie (Sergio Doria), “a genuine American hippy”, Frank finds himself brusquely sidelined again. Both mother and daughter are fascinated by free-and-easy Eddie, who represents everything the uptight Frank could never be. Humiliated by the double-rejection of the two women, Frank forces himself on Nora one night – a violation that affords him little lasting relief. Shaken, Lucia’s mother returns to Rome the next day, with the obsessed Frank in hot pursuit. Now in full-blown stalker mode, he breaks into Nora’s home only to find Eddie lying dead on the living-room floor. Assuming Nora has killed him, and desperate to protect her, Frank disposes of the body – but there are further surprises in store…
Nominally based on a 1968 book by Libero Bigiaretti, a poet and novelist celebrated for his portraits of bourgeois life in pre- and post-fascist Italy, The Double’s true inspiration would appear to be cinematic, rather than literary. True to its title, Romolo Guerrieri’s film reflects two sources: John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) and Alain Resnais’s Je t’aime je t’aime (1968). All three films make clever use of montage to play games with time and memory, fragmenting their narratives into non-linear mosaics of subjective experience. From Point Blank comes The Double’s ambiguous framework – are the flashbacks we see to be trusted as fact, or just the wish-fulfilment fantasies of a dying man? – blending that with the aggressively experimental editing scheme of the Resnais film, creating a murder-mystery jigsaw where the pieces are the jagged, jumbled moments of a man’s spent life. As in Je t’aime je t’aime, the boundaries between memories, dreams and fantasies are never clear, the one often bleeding into the others. It’s the most unreliable narrative of all – the one we tell ourselves about who we are.
So who, or what, is The Double? There’s no single answer to that question; the film posits a number of complementary opposites, or reflections, as if to suggest the essential dualities underpinning our existence – life and death, jealousy and trust, action and inertia. The double, in Gothic literature, was a foreshadowing of death; the symbolic doubles which confront Frank (Lucia and Nora, Frank and Eddie, Frank and his killer) could be said to serve the same purpose. The similarities between Lucia and her mother are obvious – two women, blonde and desirable, each a kind of mirror of the other. Eddie, the Ginsberg-quoting hippy drifter, is just as much of an idle loafer as Frank – the crucial difference being that Eddie is, at least, fun to be with. (My tolerance for Ginsberg-quoting hippy drifters being fairly low, I’m willing to take this point on trust.) Finally, the old man in the garage could almost be Frank himself, a quarter-century hence: a man consumed by jealousy, a man with no true understanding of love, only the obsessive need to possess. (“You’ve got the mentality of an old man,” Lucia tells Frank. “You’ve had it.”) Perhaps it’s Frank’s inability to live that kills him in the end.
Frank’s memories are filled with a yearning for life: a golden girl on a beach he suspects never loved him, her elegant mother he must rape to possess. Both women wind up despising him, and who can blame them? The man who fears life makes a ghost of himself, and ghosts hold no appeal for the living. Much like Sorel’s character in Short Night of Glass Dolls the same year, Frank seems gripped by an existential paralysis which prevents him engaging with the world around him. This may reflect the dying Frank’s precarious hold on life itself, somatic panic flooding his senses as the body starts to shut down, one piece at a time – but it might also reflect a more poignant truth. His was a life without love: like the old man, he knew only desire, the desire to possess. Frank departs this life as uncomprehendingly as he entered it – but if his time on earth has taught him nothing, the viewer perhaps is now a little wiser.
It’s a solid role for Jean Sorel, if a decidedly unflattering one. Sorel – who also starred in Guerrieri’s pivotal “sexy-giallo” The Sweet Body of Deborah in 1968 – played more than his share of enervated, semi-impotent bourgeois types over the course of his giallo career. This passivity would have made him the ideal hero of an Argento film – marginal, feminised, disempowered – so it’s curious that the two never worked together. (Had David Hemmings not been perfect casting for Deep Red, Sorel might have made a very creditable Marc Daly.) Sorel’s Frank is a ridiculous figure, more an absence than a presence; having no real life, he has to invent one, indulging in murderous daydreams in which he kills Eddie with a speargun or a telescopic rifle. As Resnais did in Je t’aime je t’aime, Guerrieri presents these fantasies as unembellished reality; it’s only later that the viewer realises they were fiction. The visual design of the film is very strong, the controfigura theme often echoed by clever visual “doubling” – the flames that destroy a photo of Nora, for example, become the fires of the furnace that will later consume Eddie’s corpse. (It’s tempting to wonder if Argento was influenced by The Double in his creation of the “rhyming images” for Deep Red .)
As for the rest of the cast, Swedish nymphette Ewa Aulin (Candy) is on hand to supply some very welcome uninhibited nudity; whether by accident or design, her giallo roles were almost all at the artier end of the spectrum (before The Double, she’d also made Deadly Sweet/Col cuore in gola  for Tinto Brass, and Death Laid an Egg  for Giulio Questi). Lucia Bosé (Fellini Satyricon) is the picture of elegance as the sexiest mother-in-law alive, and would later pair up with Aulin again for Jorge Grau’s Legend of Blood Castle/Ceremonia sangrienta (1973). Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Crimes of the Black Cat) has a bit part as Sorel’s over-achieving brother, while Marilu’ Tolo (My Dear Killer) has a similarly brief role as a swinger with designs on Frank; Tolo would later have a turbulent relationship with Dario Argento, and in 1973 had small parts in both his film Le Cinque Giornate and TV show La porta sul buio. Finally, Armando Trovajoli contributes a very fine score, alternating between soaring Nora Orlandi vocals and eerie, discordant piano notes hinting at the ultimate mystery Frank will soon solve. The Double is a class act on every level, and fully deserves wider exposure.
Incredibly, The Double has yet to see a legitimate DVD release anywhere in the world – an oversight which, grazie a Dio, the grey market has stepped in to rectify. Cult Action’s DVD-R is mastered from a better-than-average widescreen VHS source, anamorphically-enhanced at a ratio of 1.78:1, and married with an English soundtrack of notably lesser pedigree. (Expect a fair degree of roaring hiss.) Brief missing sections have been filled-in with inserts from a Greek VHS tape, with much hotter colours and an overall fuzzier resolution; these passages also carry oversized Greek subtitles, liable to induce wistful flashbacks to the bootlegs of yesteryear amongst fans of a certain age. As is their custom, Cult Action have used original Italian poster art for their cover design, which is very attractive indeed. While the overall quality is not on a par with their Death Steps in the Dark, it’s more than acceptable – and as the only game in town, it will just have to do for the time being. Come on, Camera Obscura: this one just has to be on your hit-list. Se non è vero, è ben trovato…
D/S: Elo (Angelo) Pannacciò. P: Rolando Conti.
Cast: Susanna Levi, Jessica Dublin, Sergio Ferrero, Franco Garofalo, Camille Keaton, Donal O’Brien. DVD Dist (Italy): Cecchi Gori/Cinekult. IT-LANG.
As its title suggests, this borderline giallo is more concerned with sleaze than plot. Given that that often dovetails with my own philosophy, you’d think I’d have enjoyed this one more. It’s directed by one Elo Pannacciò, who clearly thinks a lot of himself to judge by the size of his on-screen credit: a gigantic caption in big fuck-off Clockwork-Orange-style font. Sadly, he handles both the “drama” (family members gathered for the reading of a will are killed off one by one) and the seedier elements (the killer usually molests the lady victims first) in the same pedestrian style; the film plods unhurriedly from scene to scene, without much sense of excitement or purpose.
The killings are pretty bland: blunt-object bludgeonings and throat-cuttings, tepidly-staged. Things perk up a bit with the sex content, with future I Spit on Your Grave actress Camille Keaton amongst the starlets flashing their stuff; prior to this, she’d had bit parts in What Have You Done to Solange?, Tragic Ceremony and Decameron No 2. (Unusually, the killer opts to leave her alive, albeit in a state of catatonic shock following a torrid bout of Krueger-style breast-clawing.) The revelation of the killer’s identity is almost absurd enough to make it all worthwhile – something to do with a family curse and magical sex-swapping. The actress playing the randy parlour-maid not only gets the bulk of the nude scenes – usually with the drooling, mono-browed butler (lucky girl) – but also the film’s final, utterly nonsensical “enigmatic” shot: cackling wildly as the camera moves in for a closeup of her knickers, over which the film’s title is superimposed. One for Cahiers du Cinéma to get their teeth into, I think. The supposedly “English” setting is laughably bogus, with what appears to be sun-drenched Tuscany standing in for Worcestershire; Danielle Patucci’s easy-listening score is OK, though nothing special. With a delirious talent like Renato Polselli at the helm, this might have been a real gem, but as it stands the film is wholly dispensable.
Sex of the Witch has enjoyed some enthusiastic write-ups in the fan community of late, largely (I suspect) because it was until recently fairly rare. Fansubbed bootlegs of a widescreen VHS version were the only option for some time, until the arrival of an official Italian DVD release from Cecchi Gori/Cinekult – tireless defenders of the Eurotrash cause, whose only real flaw (from an Anglo perspective) is that their discs are not English-friendly. (Of course, adding extra audio/subtitle tracks would bump up production costs considerably, with probably not much of a corresponding hike in sales, so their parochialism is understandable.) Image quality is excellent, a very clean anamorphic ‘scope transfer framed at 2.35:1. Italian audio with optional Italian hard-of-hearing subs are the only options, though fan-created subs are available online if you need ‘em. Cinekult have included an interview with Keaton as an extra; still a handsome woman, she discusses her childhood in Arkansas and her early Italian film roles in a mixture of heavily-accented Italian and English. (Unfortunately, the camcorded interview is conducted in a noisy café, making the audio hard to decipher.) The colourful cover image is taken from the Studio Paradiso poster art, itself clearly influenced by locandina art for Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970).
D: Anthony M. Dawson [Antonio Margheriti]. S: Antonio Margheriti, Giovanni Simonelli, Ted Rusoff. Novel: Peter Bryan. P: Luigi Nannerini.
Cast: Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Francoise Christophe, Venantino Venantini, Doris Kunstmann, Anton Diffring, Serge Gainsbourg, Alan Collins [Luciano Pigozzi], Franco Ressel. Dist: (UK – Blu-ray) 88Films, (US – DVD) Blue Underground.
A middling giallo, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye is remarkable chiefly for its unusual period setting, sometime around the 1920s – or so one assumes, to judge by heroine Jane Birkin’s couture. Clutching gamely at straws, the reviewer also notes that the film’s source novel was penned by a certain “Peter Bryan”. Is this the noted Hammer scribe and purveyor of bloody, beastly, moth-eaten Gothic clichés? Search me, but it’s not impossible. And that, unfortunately, is about the sum total of Seven Deaths’ appeal; Giacomo-of-all-trades director Margheriti has about as much flair for the giallo as fellow hack Umberto Lenzi, though at least he frames his shots with some care.
With its cobwebbed décor and pulp-horror elements, Seven Deaths resembles more closely the lurid thrillers of Edgar Wallace than the typical 70s giallo fare. In creepy Dragonstone Castle, ancestral seat of the MacGrieff family (somewhere in an Italian’s idea of Scotland), it’s said that any MacGrieff killed by one of his own blood will return as a vampire to avenge his own death… Um, but hang on a tick: wouldn’t that then necessarily imply that his victim would then also sprout fangs and start a second vendetta against his killer? What a tangled web these Scotch vampires weave. Anyway, needless to say that’s all a daft smokescreen for the usual string of not-very-thrilling murders, investigated in laconic-verging-on-catatonic style by Inspector Serge Gainsbourg (hilariously dubbed with a hoots-mon Scots accent). Adding to the fun is an uproariously unconvincing man-in-a-gorilla-suit lurking about the castle, which becomes even funnier when it’s finally described as an orangutan. Best of all, though, is the eponymous moggie: a gigantic ginger tomcat with a tail like a bog-brush, who silently witnesses all the foul deeds. He’s the screen sensation of ’73, and reason enough to hunt this one down. Sorry: doon.
Blue Underground’s region 1 DVD looks very fine, presenting the film at its correct ‘scope ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The disc contains a brief interview featurette with co-writer Giovanni Simonelli, including a spot of on-set footage of Antonio Margheriti explaining the origins of his Anglicized pseudonym. The definitive release for many years, it’s been recently bested by the UK blu-ray from 88 Films, which as expected boosts resolution and contrast substantially (while also adding an additional Italian audio option, with English subtitles).
Shooting titles: Le stranezze della Signora Grant, Terror in Room 2A
D/S/P: William L. Rose. Co-P: Dick Randall. Cast: Daniela Giordano, Raf Vallone, John Scanlon, Angelo Infanti, Karin Schubert, Rosalba Neri, Brad Harris. DVD (US): Mondo Macabro.
Dick Randall, the colourful American sexploitation producer who sired such guilty pleasures as My Bare Lady (1963), The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (1968) and Pieces (1982), spent a good deal of his career sleazing it up in Europe, where co-production deals flowed like wine. In 1972 he’d co-financed the mind-boggling giallo The French Sex Murders, and the following year he returned to the genre with The Girl in Room 2A – this time with writer/director (and fellow New Yorker) William Rose in tow. Rose, like Randall, was a veteran of the adult-movie circuit; under the name “Werner Rose” he’d shot a number of roughies like Olga’s House of Shame (1964) before moving into the director’s chair for Rent-a-Girl and The Smut Peddler (both 1965). (His 1968 film Pamela, Pamela, You Are… is said to be interesting, an acid-tinged fusion of soft porn and underground arthouse sensibilities.) His script for The Girl in Room 2A is a return to Olga territory (young women kept in bondage by a stern martinet), with some giallo elements tossed into the mix; students of the absurd will also enjoy the echoes of Mickey Hargitay’s Crimson Executioner, from Massimo Pupillo’s Bloody Pit of Horror/Il boia scarlatto (1965). While Room 2A won’t blow your mind, it’s a decent enough thriller with fun pulpy elements and a lovely female lead; it doesn’t make a great deal of sense, mind you, but that’s something of a Dick Randall trademark.
The film opens with a young woman named Edie being kidnapped, chained nude in a cellar and poked with a long spike by a crimson-hooded torturer, before being unceremoniously chucked off a cliff. We’re then introduced to our heroine, Margaret Brady (Daniela Giordano), who’s just been released from jail after being falsely imprisoned on drugs charges. In need of somewhere to stay, the police give her the address of a nearby hostel run by the ingratiating Mrs Grant (Giovanna Galetti), where she’s given room 2A. It doesn’t make a great first impression: the windows are sealed shut, and there’s a large red stain on the floor, partly-covered by a rug. Hmm. Resolving to make the best of her situation, Margaret briskly cleans the stain away – but when she returns to her room later on, it’s come back. Hmm. Still, at least Mrs Grant seems nice – um, until she sets off on a rant about natural justice, and how all criminals deserve everything they get. Mr Grant, we learn, was killed in a hit-and-run incident some years ago; now his widow lives in the hostel with her son, Frank (Angelo Infanti), an aspiring set designer. Margaret befriends Frank, but is puzzled when he tells her that his father drowned, and his body never found. Hmm.
Then there’s the creepy Mr Drees (Raf Vallone), saturnine boss of a secret “group” that’s attracted the interest of a journalist named Johnson (Frank Latimore). Attempting to infiltrate the group, Johnson is unmasked and introduced to the crimson-hooded torturer for his pains; after another session with the poking-stick (a ritual, claims Drees, that will purify him of his sins) Johnson leaps out of a window to his death. His body is put back in his car, before (you guessed it) being pushed over a cliff. Boom. Meanwhile, Margaret meets up with Jack Whitman (John Scanlon), brother of Edie – you remember, the girl murdered at the start of the film. It seems Edie had also been staying at Mrs Grant’s hostel just before she died – and, like Margaret, had recently been wrongly jailed by the police. And that’s not all: it’s possible that other missing girls have also passed through Mrs Grant’s establishment. Could it be – gasp! – that Drees, Mrs Grant and the Crimson Executioner are running an illegal prison for wayward women, kidnapping them, poking them with long spikes and chucking them off cliffs…?
Yes! Whatever one says about Dick Randall, no-one could call him a minimalist. His productions are generally packed with lurid incident, and Room 2A is no exception. More loose ends are left flapping in the wind after the end credits roll here than in any film of recent memory – and I say that after watching over fifteen of these things, back-to-back. Rose and Randall display an airy disregard for narrative cogency, presumably reasoning that if they throw in enough nudity and action their audience won’t have time to ask questions. While it’s true that loopy trash like this doesn’t really warrant detailed analysis, that doesn’t entirely absolve the makers of their obligations to good storytelling. What’s the reason for the magically-reappearing bloodstain under the rug? Why do the villains entertain Margaret with a Grand Guignol magic-lantern show in her room? Whose is the severed head on the floor? Why are there tubes filled with blood in the cellar? Even the business with the journalist Johnson is so badly-garbled in the film that the version of events reproduced above is really only my own best guess as to what’s going on.
But if the plot makes no sense, at least the cast puts in the effort. Daniela Giordano, Miss Italy 1966, had previously starred in Dick Randall’s production of the Mario Bava sex comedy Four Times That Night (shot in 1969, but not released until 1972); she’s near-perfect as the plucky heroine, and if the script makes her seem a bit slow on the uptake, well, that’s hardly her fault. Busy character actor Raf Vallone (The Italian Job, The Greek Tycoon, The Godfather Part III) makes an equally fine steely-eyed villain, oozing sly charm from every pore – not unlike a Calabrian Charles Gray, in fact. Fans of Rosalba Neri (Amuck!, The French Sex Murders) may be disappointed by her relative lack of screen time – but though she remains fully clothed, at least the costume’s memorable. There’s even a last-minute appearance by Karin Schubert (Bluebeard, Black Emanuelle), who sticks around long enough to bare her breasts and get killed by a really big sword. (Hers is an unhappy story: financial woes later led her to enter the hard-core porn industry, at the age of 41. That takes guts.) Composer Berto Pisano (Interrabang, Strip Nude for Your Killer) does his giallo groove thang, with crashing electric guitar chords a-plenty. The Girl in Room 2A was destined to be Rose’s last film as director; after this he seems to have dropped out of the film business almost for good, with only a couple of sporadic later credits to his name (including dialogue director on Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo , of all things).
Mondo Macabro’s all-region DVD is another high-quality product. The film is presented at a ratio of 1.66:1, with anamorphic enhancement and a choice of either English or Italian audio (with optional English subtitles). The film was apparently shot in English, so for once, the export dub would seem to be the preferred option. Supplements include a video interview with Daniela Giordano, originally conducted for the Eurotika! TV show in 1999; charming, intelligent and extremely self-effacing, she’s under no illusions as to the quality of the films she starred in. Other extras include the film’s trailer and liner notes on the background to the film. A respectable package for a chaotic, though amusing, low-tier giallo.
Note: The film is variously listed as a 1973, 1974 or 1975 release, according to which source you choose. (Antonio Bruschini and Stefano Piselli’s “Giallo & thrilling all’italiana” [Glittering Images, 2010] hedges its bets by citing all three years.) There seem to be a couple of different ad campaigns for the Italian release, suggesting a later relaunch – could that account for the date discrepancies? One thing’s for sure: with Dick Randall, anything’s possible.