Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer? / The Case of the Bloody Iris

En route to a meeting. presumably with a client, a high-class hooker is slashed to death in the elevator of a high-rise apartment block. Shortly thereafter one of the three people who found her body, an exotic dancer named Mizar Harrington (Carla Brait) is in turn murdered, being drowned in her bath by a masked assassin.

Did Brian De Palma see this film prior to making Dressed to Kill?

As the characteristically incompetent police investigate, a couple of models, Jennifer (Edwige Fenech) and Marilyn (Paola Quattrini), move into the Mizar's apartment at the suggestion of playboy architect Andrea Barto (George Hilton), the building's designer and also, as it happens, one of the last people to see Mizar on the night of her murder, having gone to see the “black, but not too black” (!) model at the recommendation of his campy, gay-coded photographer friend and business associate Arthur.

Professor Isaacs, Mizar Harrington and Mrs Moss discover the woman's body

Mizar is drowned in the bath; isn't it suspicious that Andrea has a claimed aversion to the sight of blood?

Andrea isn't the only suspect, however, seeing as Jennifer also find herself being stalked by by her possessive ex-husband Adam (Ben Carra), who wants her to rejoin him and his sex-cult. (“You belong to us now. You pledged yourself to us and you swore to me above all. You're my wife, remember that.”)

The titular iris, the symbol of Adam's love-cult

Obligatory psychedelic orgy sequence with kaleiodoscopic lens effect

Frightened Fenech #1

Furthermore the apartment black is also home to all manner of suspicious and suspect neighbours, any one of whom could be the killer, like old lady Moss, with her curious interest in horror comics like Killerman (“To really like horror tales you have to be nuts. She only buys horror tales – if you ask me, she's got something loose up here”) and a reluctance to be, well, neighbourly, or predatory lesbian Sheila Hendricks (Annabella Incontrera), clearly pleased to have two potential new girlfriends in the apartment and possibly not adverse to terrorizing them into her waiting arms...

Frightened Fenech #2

The iconic killer

Mirror, mirror...

...and again...

Known by a plethora of different titles – the more literal translation of Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer as What are those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body, the more suggestive Erotic Blue – besides the more mystery-like Case of the Bloody Iris is perhaps the quintessential giallo, the one with everything that aficionados love about the form (well, almost – while the killer's chooses to wear brown surgical gloves he or she makes up for this fashion faux pas by eventually exit by the de rigeur fall from a great height) and which condemns it in the eyes of detractors as stupid, even offensive, trash.

Frightened Fenech #3

It's sleazy, cheesy and, I find at least, a sheer pleasure from start to end in its willingness to shamelessly contrive cliché and stereotype after cliché and stereotype; the production line, known – and knowing - quality of the piece perhaps best summarised by the way the closing scene neatly and needlessly echoes its opening counterpart as another woman goes into a phone booth, makes a call and is invited to “come on up”. Edgar Wallace may have developed the idea of the plot wheel, but on this showing at least it was the Italians who were the most enthusiastic about spinning it again and again...

Lesbian seduction interrupted?

The credits are a who's who of golden age exploitation all'italiana: Luciano Martino produced; Ernesto Gastaldi provided the script and Bruno Nicolai the score, whilst future directors Michele Massimo Tarantini and Stelvio Massi were assistant and cinematographer respectively.

The cast is likewise full of familiar faces, ranging from top-billed Edwige Fenech and George Hilton, playing very much to type as the frightened woman and the suave, shifty suspect / red herring – what trauma lies behind his aversion to blood, or is it just a convenient alibi? – down to reliable support from the likes of Oreste Lionello, as Andreas's campy, bitchy photographer friend; George Rigaud, as Sheila's perpetually violin-scraping father, a dottore in his dotage; or Alan Collins / Luciano Pigozzi, as the sweaty, shifty majordomo of the nightclub where Mizar worked.

Gratuitous shots of Fenech #1 to #4

Perhaps the only thing that the film does not have going for it is the sense of directorial sureness that Sergio Martino would likely have brought to it – I mention him by name precisely because this is a case where we can single the director's contribution out, as a comparison with The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh or All the Colours of the Dark will demonstrate. (Whether this makes Martino an auteur or merely a higher-ranking metteur en scene is another matter, as is whether such critical distinctions really matter in a case like this.)

It's not that spaghetti western specialist Anthony Ascott / Giuliano Carnimeo has an empty bag of tricks, more that what he does at the helm too often comes across as self-conspiously trickery and frippery, deployed without that sense of thought as to what it is actually contributing in terms of visual storytelling. Note, for example, the way in which a complex mirrored composition showing Marilyn and Jennifer say nothing about the duality or duplicity of either character – the former is just too much of the dumb blonde for subtext, the latter a straightforward damsel-in-distress who simply wants to put her past behind her rather than having half-submerged sadomasochistic yearnings like her counterpart in Strange Vice...

Still, precisely because the film doesn't aspire to be art, gives its target audience what they expect and cheerfully owns up to its own raison d'etre (“Andy, what really sells beer, when you come right down to it?” “How should I know? How about alcoholic content?” “No! What sells beer is a bare-assed broad holding a barrel, or a bottle, or a beaker, right here, between the tits... You've got to have a nude in there somewhere!”) it can in the end be said that this really doesn't matter.


herman said...

So good to see a review of this little gem. It is a film that makes my all time favourites list. The whole film has this wonderful aesthetic.

The killing in a public space (that in a funny kind of way reminded me of the murder on a train in tsotsi) left me asking questions about people' pre occupations with their own affairs and fail to notice whats going on around them.

The cult scenes themselves are so well composed and the use of colour remind me of the dream/trip sequences of Tenebrae.

Bloody Iris=a classic.

Tiffany said...

Have not seen this one in awhile!
This is the one that peaked my interest in Carla Brait, though one never hears mention of her anymore.

Johan Melle said...

Excellent summation of this highly enjoyable film. It's the perfect textbook example of a giallo - playing a giallo drinking game to this film could probably be quite amusing!

I love Carla Brait too! She's great here - very sassy and sexy. Her premature departure was actually one of the few quibbles I had with this film as I find Carla to be a far more compelling heroine than Edwige.

Apparantly, Carla was really a dancer and only a part-time actress. She also appears uncredited in The Etruscan Kills Again (1971), as one of the stage show dancers.

K H Brown said...

Thanks for the feedback folks. Funnily enough I watched Enzo Castellari's The Bronx Warriors yesterday evening and Carla Brait is in, as the leader of a gang of bowler hat wearing dancing thugs - kind of A Clockwork Orange meets The Warriors in terms of their look, if that makes any sense.

Wildenbruck said...

Fantastic, ironic, vicious
One of my favs, mostly appreciated above all for its murder under the sun (reprised in Tenebrae by Argento) and the elevator slash!
Thumbs up!

Tiffany said...


Thank you for the heads up: The Etruscan Kills Again.

Yes, I was sorry she did not last that long in the film. I want to see everything she has been in.