At an isolated clinic in the country, festooned with medieval weaponry and torture implements, a black-clad figure skulks along the corridor before entering the room of a writing, naked patient, Cheryl Hume. But before the figure can strike, she rings the service bell...
Come morning and a new patient is being driven the clinic by her husband. It is for her own good, he assures; a place where she can get the help she needs for her suicidal tendencies.
Meantime, nymphomaniac Anne Palmieri, eyes up the scythe-wielding handyman, while nurse Hilde makes lesbian advances towards the agarophobic Claire and sinister Dr Clay – cynics might say that being played by Klaus Kinski has the effect of making any character sinister – does his daily rounds.
Night falls and Anne sneaks out to a rendezvous with the handyman, narrowly missing a scythe -wielding assassins who then decapitates one of the assassins. Oblivious, Anne takes a shower...
Thus it continues until the presence of a murderer in their midst is belatedly realised and the culprit unmasked shortly afterwards, precipitating a final killing spree that doubles the body count in the space of a few minutes and allowed for some typically opportunistic and tasteless marketing that drew comparisons with the real-life case of Richard Speck.
As a conventional giallo Slaughter Hotel can only be considered a failure. There is not really anyone for the spectator to identify with while the traditional detective element is pretty much non-existent. Indeed the plot synopsis above is instructive in this regard, paradoxically telling you everything yet nothing.
Nor is there any particular motive provided for the crimes. Here it is worth noting that this Slaughter Hotel edit is only one of many, other versions including the English dubbed Asylum Erotica and the French Les Insatisfaites Poupes Erotiques du Docteur Hichcock, suggestive of a line of descent from Spellbound through Freda, perhaps.
Most intriguing, however, is a credit given Heinz Konsalik, a popular German author of medical themed thriller and war novels. While unfortunately I know nothing of his work in general nor Das Schloss der blauen Vögel specifically, they do seem to suggest a stronger raison d'etre for the clinic as a place where rich men can get rid of troublesome wives and a reason for all those implements of death conveniently zuhanden.
What we do get are a procession of sex and murder scenes, interspersed with rather too many flashbacks that singularly fail to advance the narrative but do pad out the running time. The mix-and-match exploitation aspect, meanwhile, is made all the more evident by the way in which the pudenda on display during some of the masturbation inserts here are all too obviously not those of the performers listed in the credits. As Tim Lucas has pointed out Rosalba Neri, who plays the nymphomaniac, has an operation scar visible on her stomach in one scene which is then conspicuously absent from the other lower body on display in the harder material.
Such moments also remind us of how easy it can be to over-analyse the cult films. One could well imagine a reading of this fragmentation of the female body into a succession of parts here as being all about male fetishism, disavowal, castration anxiety and so on, to which a putatively feminist full body erotics would then be contrasted. What such a reading – and I freely admit it has something of the straw (wo|hu)man about it – omits is the purely pragmatic aspect, of filmmakers pre-empting the need to edit material like Neri's body double's antics in or out.
This also makes it all the more difficult to fairly evaluate a Slaughter Hotel, as you do not know what was intended by the film-makers – or, less kindly, whether they even had any aspirations beyond endeavouring to deliver something for everyone.
Nonetheless, I would tend to lean towards the latter position in this case, in accord with director and co-writer Fernando Di Leo's refreshingly candid remarks on the interview contained among the extras on Shriek Show's DVD.
For despite having all that sleaze and splatter and a quality cast going for it, I find the film curiously unengaged and unengaging, especially when compared to something like Renato Poselli's Delirium as a film that occupies the same territory yet nevertheless emerges as something that could only really have emerged from the fervid mind of its unmistakable auteur.