This US-set giallo opens with an attack by a priest – for added iconic value he offers his victim a doll beforehand, which then bounces down the steps with head and body separating before coming to rest – and an an attack on a priest.
Classic broken doll imagery
A nice juxtaposition of modern and traditional architectures and Vincenzo Tomassi hiding being an Anglo pseudonym
It's an attention grabbing, risk taking opening of the where-do-we-go-from-here variety. The answer is into more conventional Hitchcock / Clouzot thriller territory as the three principal characters and a wealth of backstory come thick and fast.
Joanna is a rich, wheelchair bound heiress who has found new purpose in life through the activity centre for the handicapped she has set up and her own training for a paralympics type event.
Craig is Joanna's physical therapist cum trainer, who professes to have fallen in love with her and is thus contemplating a proposal of marriage.
Ruth is Joanna's personal carer and assistant, who admits to regarding Craig as an rival for her affections in a could-this-be-a-sapphic-infatuation kind of a way.
The evils of panning and scanning
Joanna is about to give most of her fortune away to her local church – the same church as we saw the priest being killed in earlier – as was her father's wish.
Her paralysis is the result of having been violently attacked and raped by an insane priest-impersonating maniac – possibly the incident glimpsed in the pre-credits sequence. (Giallo aficionados will also recognise this stratagem from Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye and Who Saw Her Die: present a killer priest for anti-clerical shock value but then say the man is not really a priest in case of too great a controversy arising.)
Joanna is menaced by the killer priest / priest killer
Curiously, however, the next piece of exposition also throws the status of the pre-credits sequence as a straightforward flashback into doubt – perhaps significantly the sequence uses slow-motion, a technique unused elsewhere in the film – as we are then told that Joanna does not remember the traumatic incident. Indeed, attempts to make her remember were soon abandoned after it became clear that the shock of remembering could strain her weakened heart to breaking point.
Craig wonders whether making sex with Joanna might incur similar risks, but is reassured by Joanna's personal physician Dr Sernich that this would be safe by virtue of being an act done out of love – the little death of orgasm will not lead to death itself.
Accordingly he and Joanna marry, their nuptials being overheard with apparent disgust by the seemingly now out of the picture Ruth.
While all this has been going on the killer priest / priest killer has also struck again...
Given the predictability of the set-up thus far, along with the film-makers themselves now showing their hand – or at least revealing part of it by way of a possible bluff – it's not likely to spoil your enjoyment to reveal that Craig is indeed only in it for the money...
7 Hyden Park: la casa malaedetta / Formula per un assassinio / Formula for a Murder is the kind of old-fashioned giallo that one can imagine enjoying more had it been made roughly 15 years earlier, with reliable troupers like George Hilton, Carroll Baker and Anita Strindberg in place of David Warbeck – delivering a solid performance as per usual – and two-no name actresses, along with more 70s visuals, designs and scoring.
The last aspect does need some qualification, however. There are two sort of cue used, droning synthesizer pieces that sound like out-takes from The House by the Cemetery and funkier numbers that previously saw service in The New York Ripper. Though not a patch on the classic 70s giallo sound, these at least allow for some nice in-jokes when the newlyweds visit The Big Apple on their honeymoon and Craig decides upon the Staten Island ferry as an ideal place to kill.
All done with mirrors
Zombie, The New York Ripper and Formula for a Murder – The Staten Island Ferry makes another bid for its SAG status
A traumatised but unexpectedly resilient Joanna, wearing a yellow raincoat...
... the killer attired in the same...
... and the obligatory straight razor
While the plotting and dialogue leave much to be desired, throwing in more than the usual quota of credulity straining twists and turns, motivations and lines, the participants attack this material with the kind of enthusiasm that wins the viewer over with the courage of their convictions, as if we'd never seen a Les Dialoboliques or Taste of Fear.
At the helm Alberto De Martino likewise goes all out, handling the suspense and shock set-pieces with energy and endeavouring to impart a degree of visual style to the proceedings as a whole, with a particular penchant for mirrored shots.
If one is again reminded of earlier gialli to Formula for a Murder's detriment, inasmuch as there is rarely that sense of this particular angle, movement or cut having been carefully chosen for what it brings to the whole, the small number of characters and comparative lack of opportunities for enigma do somewhat lessen the director's options.
Likewise, it also has to be noted that characteristically insensitive panning and scanning make it harder to know for sure – a original aspect ratio release would be welcome.