From the sublime to the ridiculous – there is really no other way to summarise the difference between Death Occurred Last Night and this 1972 giallo which, lacking style, substance or budget, throws everything it can at the audience in hope that something will connect in that all-but-patented Dick Randall way.
The big gimmick, as signalled by the alternative The Bogeyman and the French Murders title is the presence of professional Humphrey Bogart lookalike Roberto Sacchi as the detective investigating a series of call-girl murders. He cannot really act – or more kindly is not given the opportunity to show that he can – but does seem to have his model's look and mannerisms down pretty well.
His case, introduced via flashback to allow for some 1940s film noir style voice over from Sacchi's English dubber and some quick scene setting via a Citroen DS pulling up beneath the Eiffel Tower, from which an unidentified silhouette then plunges – an undeniably effective opening, with the animated silhouette a refreshing departure from the more usual dummy and probably used because they could not get away with throwing one off the structure – at first seems open and shut.
Bogey lookalike in Paris
Following the theft of some jewels Gottvales (Peter Martell / Pietro Martellanza) retreats to the brothel belonging to Madame Colette (Anita Ekberg) to see his favourite girl, Francine (Barbara Bouchet). He wants her to leave with him, but she declines, causing him to get violent.
The next thing we see is Gottvalles leaving the scene in a hurry as American writer Randall – confusingly played by Raf Valentu / Renato Romano rather than Randall, though the producer does have one of his customary cameo roles later – who is researching for an article on the place, finds Francine's bloody corpse.
There are two things wrong with this picture - Bouchet is not naked and her character is already out of the film
A negative image like Alphaville, remembering that Howard Vernon was in Godard's film
or a cop out of A Bout de souffle; really any resemblance is purely coincidental
Inspector Bogart and his men quickly hunt down Gottvalles who protests his innocence. No-one really believes him, however, nor feels inclined to challenge the circumstantial nature of the evidence against him, and thus he is found guilty and condemned to be guillotined. Crazed, Gottvalles swears that he will have revenge on the judge and those who have betrayed him.
En route to what seems a hastily scheduled execution Gottvales seizes the chance to escape, but is then decapitated when his motorbike slams into a parked truck with an (in)conveniently positioned razor-sharp ledge.
The same person later did the effects on Alien and E.T., believe it or not
As Professor Waldemar (Howard Vernon) remarks it seems as if a kind of divine justice has intervened.
Then there is a second murder with the same modus operandi as the first. Either Gottvales has returned from the grave or they got the wrong man and the real maniac is still at large.
The list of suspects is, as usual, a long one. The Professor himself is distinctly of the mad scientist variety and was in possession of the dead man's head. Then there is his friend, the Judge; handsome assistant and beautiful daughter who – for good measure – are also carrying on a clandestine relationshp against his wishes. Then we have Gottvales's ex-wife Marianne (Rosalba Neri) and her current lover, a sleazy nightclub impresario with a wandering eye. And assorted other suspects / red herrings.
More of this, please
Only one thing is really certain: this list will be much shorter by the time Inspector Bogart delivers his summing up.
The French Sex Murders' co-writer and director Ferdinando Merighi – credited as F. L Morris – looks to be one of the forgotten me of Italian genre cinema, with only a fistful of other credits to his name. On this evidence, it is both understandable and probably for the best. Excepting some experiments with inverted and tinted images there is a distinct lack of visual flair to the proceedings, with insufficient dynamism and inventiveness to overcome the flat lighting and functional set-ups characteristic of Randall's low budgets.
La dolce morte of la dolce vita's Anita Ekberg x3
A piece of near-classic giallo imagery
Despite coming from future Academy Award winner Carlo Rambaldi the set-piece gore effects are marked more by enthusiasm than accomplishment. Again this seems more down to limited resources than anything else. The previous year Rambaldi had, after all, managed to create mutilated dogs on Fulci's Lizard in a Woman's Skin that were sufficiently convincing for him to have to produce them to prove he was not guilty of animal cruelty.
Although the cast looks good on paper and is further bolstered by some uncredited cameo appearances the ensemble nature of the piece prevents any individual from getting as much screen time, characterisation or – putting things squarely in exploitation terms – physical exposure as one might like. Rosalba Neri does at least deliver a seductive singing number, but Bouchet does not even get naked before her character is killed off. Likewise, while there is plenty of nudity and softcore fumbling amongst the rest of the cast, is it consistently – and unintentionally no doubt – subverted by the an all-pervading 70s porn ambience.
A nod to Fritz Lang's classic, remembering that Howard Vernon was his great friend in later life, post The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse
Bruno Nicolai's score is a definite plus, but also sounds suspiciously like it has been taken from other films; the kind of secondhand, mix and match approach that seems, in fact, to typify the entire enterprise. (Unless – and I suppose it is possible, given the sheer number of scores most of the usual suspects amongst Italian composers were turning out at this time and the sometimes questionable attribution of certain scores to one or another – the cues originated here or were of a more library nature to begin with.)
The French Sex Murders is available on a nice DVD from Mondo Macabro, released as part of their Dick Randall collection. For the more casual giallo fan, however, the same company has also released the far superior The Killer Must Kill Again, accompanied by better – and more giallo-centred – extras.