The Red Queen Kills Seven Times 1972 ****

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‘Even the police know I’m an incredible nymphomaniac!’ is a good sample line from Emilio Miraglia’s wonderfully overcooked giallo, which keeps one guessing by being so nutty that placing a bet on who-dunnit is all but impossible. Barbara Bouchet is Kitty, one of two sisters (Marina Malfatti is the other, Franziska) who have been brought up to fear a family curse that may lead to murder; a flashback reveals that Kitty already has reasons to feel guilt. The death of their grandfather promises a liquidation of finances and potential windfalls for all of the Wildenbrück family, but his will proves inconclusive. The action shifts to a successful fashion house which seems to be called Springe; Kitty is having an affair with the company’s boss Martin (Ugo Pagliali) whose wife is mentally ill. With various murders taking place, could the supernatural Red Queen be taking her revenge on the family, or is the solution something more practical? The real solution is so complicated that even several readings of the Wikipedia page fail to clarify exactly what happened, but it’s fun getting there; the costumes and décor are super-stylish, as are the Bavarian locations. This is a lively giallo, full of twists and turns, never boring and often intriguing; the great Sybill Danning also appears as a windfall bonus.

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The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion **** 1970

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The titles of classic 1970’s giallo can be quite abstract, so it’s something of a relief when Luciano Ercoli’s Barcelona-set drama turns out to be about forbidden photos of a lady above suspicion. The lady in question is Minou, played by Dagmar Lassander, who is introduced planning to tell her industrialist husband Peter (Pier Paulo Cappoli) that she’s leaving him for another man; she sees this as a way of keeping him keen. Before she can get this plan into action, she receives a warning that her husband is a murderer, and is guided to a cassette-recording of him ordering the death of a man using the decompression chamber essential to deep-sea divers. But that’s only the first piece of bait in an elaborate blackmail plot; but who is responsible? Does mutual friend and lover Dominique (Nieves Navarro) have anything to do with it? The prolific Ernesto Gastaldi is the screenwriter here, and he weaves a story of unusual restraint for a giallo; violence and murder take a back seat to intrigue and suspense, and a conclusion that’s both surprising and inevitable in Mametian terms. There’s also an air of sexual expression that’s fairly wild; women invite each other over to watch projected slideshows of their latest nude photographs. Incidental pleasures include a nightclub straight out of Austin Powers and a groovy lounge-core score from Ennio Morricone. If some giallos seem a little nasty, Forbidden Photos is a good example of a non-exploitive one; there’s a touch of Breaking The Waves about the way the female protagonist links her own degradation to her husband’s well-being. It’s a stylish, perverse entertainment, and looks great on this fresh transfer, currently streaming on the Arrow channel.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key 1972 ****

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Also known as Gently Before She Dies, or Eye of the Black Cat aka Excite Me!, Sergio Martino’s giallo is an original and untypical affair that lifts elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Black Cat, but also has a unique angle of its own. A Cat Called Satan would be an accurate title, since a moggy with that name as a pivotal role here; genre favourites Edwige Fenech and Luigi Pistilli star here; he’s Oliviero, an author who hasn’t written a word for years and makes money by selling off the antique furniture in his country pile with his wife Irina (Anita Strinberg) who he likes to humiliate at their regular orgies. After one of his students his murdered, and then his maid, Oliviero becomes an obvious suspect, but is he gas-lighting his wife or vice versa? His niece Floriana (Fenech) picks an odd time for a social visit, and it proves the catalyst for all manner of sexual and violent behaviour, with Satan included in the domino effect of killings, mutilations and seductions. Cream seems to be a theme, and choice cream-related dialogue includes ‘Hey, hot potato, got any cream in your tricycle? ‘ and ‘Satan’s favourite meal is snake-eyes and cream!’; this is a wonderfully lurid, pervy and overheated melodrama that’s constantly surprising. The magic of streaming is that films like this used to be incredibly hard to find and see, often in poor condition. That a potentially huge audience can see this, at the cost of a couple of free subscriptions, promises that such outré fare might just make a mainstream impact again, for the first time since it was made. Viewed on the Arrow Video Channel.

Weekend Murders 1970 ***

weekendmurders5Where do Amazon Prime get these films? Even the most rigorous cineaste must frown and shrug their shoulders at entries like 1970’s Weekend Murders. Of course, it’s a hidden gem, a engagingly daft country-house murder mystery in the Italian Giallo style but filmed in the UK. Directed my Michele Lopo, best knows for his gladiator flicks, Weekend Murders features some distinguished British actors, including Richard Caldicot (The Navy Lark) and Ballard Berkley, instantly recognisable as the Major from Fawlty Towers. The investigative team is an odd-couple pairing matching The Godfather’s burly Gaston Moschine with Lance Percival, and turning the tables by making Percival the smart one of the two. Somerlyton Hall in Suffolk looks great, the mystery is confusing but fun to resolve, and the dubbing is all over the place; Also known as The Story of Crime, Weekend Murders manages to rein in typical giallo sex and gore, and the result is something of a hoot from start to finish.

The Fifth Cord 1971 ***

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The title doesn’t make any sense, even if it sounds better than Evil Fingers and Silent Killer, the other two titles given to Luigi Bazzoni’s giallo thriller from 1971. Based on a book by DM Devine. Franco Nero dons his trademark shades and raincoat as alcoholic journalist Andrea Bild, who finds himself the police’s main suspect during a series of slayings. His troubled personal life under the microscope, he sets about working out who the killer really is, with a set of tense but not particularly violent set pieces to counterpoint his investigation. The Fifth Cord looks fantastic due to rather grand locations and great photography by Vittorio Storaro; if you’re not a giallo fan, The Fifth Cord is an ideal taster for the genre. Beware,  the you tube version is missing the last ten minutes.

Deep Red 1975 ****

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Dario Argento’s Deep Red is a clever riff on Blow Up, featuring the same star David Hemmings, and working a fresh variation of the idea of a man who witnesses a murder and has to put together the fragments of memory to unmask the killer. Marcus Daly (Hemmings) is a jazz pianist in Rome who sees a famous psychic struck down; he embarks on a search for the killer with the help of a reporter (Daria Nicoldi), and gets more than he bargained for. With an aggressive score by Goblin, Argento demonstrates why he’s the giallo master; clockwork toys, tinkling children’s songs, and brutal, bloody murders make Deep Red a genre classic.

Berberian Sound Studio 2012 ***

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Writer/director Peter Strickland’s low-budget horror was released to praise and confusion in 2012; lacking in any real incident, it was something of a turn-off for genre fans, but it’s a strange little film that rewards patience. Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a put-upon sound engineer who unwisely takes a job in Italy in the 1970’s, where he’s all-at-sea amongst sexual and studio politics. Although Strickland’s film opens with the credits of the film Gilderoy is working on, The Equestrian Vortex,  the audience is left to guess what kind of content it has; as he slices up cabbages under microphones and recoils from the macho producers, it’s clear that Gilderoy is slipping into a private and personal hell. If you can get your head around the fact that nothing much happens, Strickland’s film is an atmospheric and disturbing meditation on the timidness of the British male abroad, well played by Jones.