Saturday, 2 February 2008

Las Trompetas del apocalipsis / I Caldi amori di una minorenne / Perversion Story

There's a cartoon by the American artist Raymond Pettitbon which shows a naked, Manson-esque tripping hippie leaping off a building, a thought bubble indicating that the drum solo he's hearing is so good he wants to take it with him.

It's an image which came to mind when watching this 1969 giallo that opens with not one but two such leaps, those of music professor John Stone and student Catherine Milford.

News of Professor Stone's death significantly prompts a desperate attempt to save Catherine from her fate

The police unimaginatively conclude that they are dealing with two separate suicides. Stone had a history of mental illness, whilst Catherine was distraught at the break-up of her relationship with her erstwhile boyfriend, Boris the Romanian. Though a throughly unpleasant and unsympathetic character – traits that seem linked to his foreign status, which everyone incessantly remarks upon – he had a solid alibi.

Moreover, Catherine's room was locked from the inside, making it been impossible for anyone else to have thrown her out the window – unless, of course, you've read any S S Van Dine or seen, say, The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh. Yet why then did she leap out a closed window, rather than an open one like Stone?

It's questions like this which impel Catherine's flatmate Helen and brother Richard, recently returned from overseas to an unfamiliar London and news he did not anticipate, to conduct their own investigation. Their quest for the truth takes them into the city's hippie underworld, centring on the trendy nightclub the Mouse Hole and its denizens, further murders and / or suicides and ultimately the kind of shock ending which stretches credulity, even by the standards of the form.

Moody lighting

The film is also one of three, all released in the same year, to have somewhat confusingly borne the Perversion Story AKA in English release, along with Lucio Fulci's giallo Una sull altra and historical drama Beatrice Cenci.

The Fulci connection can be taken further, insofar as Spanish writer-director Julio Buchs' take on Swinging London is rather similar to the one Fulci scripted for Riccardo Freda's giallo A Doppia Faccia and later presented in his own Lizard in a Woman's Skin. It's that same mixture of fascination, distaste and non-comprehension, half South Park's Mr Mackie's “drugs are bad” and half Eric Cartman's nightmares of “filthy hippies,” and one which was no doubt useful in both selling the film to young Spanish audiences and justifying it to the Francoist old guard in the censors office.

Drugs are bad, mkay?

The film also exhibits that amusingly skewed outsider's view of its location also seen in so many krimis and a number of gialli, with the dubbing voices talent a mixture of mockney accents and the urban geography creative to say the least, where the taxi taking Richard to Catherine's goes from the Houses of Parliament to Piccadilly Circus to A N Other street and the chimes of Big Ben can apparently be heard anywhere within the city.

Gianni Ferrio's soundtrack is also all over the place, mixing experimental horror movie music, jerk beat, wild jazz, easy listening, syrupy strings and psychedelic cues. At least this is clearly the intention, however, as a means of further foregrounding the clash between conservative / conservatory and contemporary cultures and idioms:

Richard: “We know each other, don't we – you work at the Mouse Hole?”

Harry: “Yes, I work as a disc jockey at that horrible place. Surprised to see a low-brow job like that given to Stone's star pupil? He hated the music played there as much as I do. But it's a way of earning my living [...] I'm like everyone else – I must eat after all. So at night I put beatnik clothes on, put a beatnik wig on with all the trimmings. And for hours I play that sickening so-called music at the Mouse Hole.”)

Is that a thinner Harry Knowles on the right?


Brett Halsey makes for a uncomplicated, no-nonsense lead, quick to resort to his fists or revolver, while Marilu' Tolo is adequate as Helen but lacks the spark which an Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet would have brought to the role.

And the hurdy gurdy man

Tellingly in the light of the film's conservatism, a romance develops between the two but doesn't go particularly far beyond this, with there likewise remaining a clear division between the suspects in the crime and the non-suspects. This is emphatically not the kind of film where we are going to learn that Helen was in fact Catherine's lover and killer, motivated by Catherine's leaving her for another woman and that she subsequently moved to seduce Richard to throw him off the scent.

Buchs' contribution is bland and predictable, the kind of direction where you can predict when there will be a shock zoom, when handheld camera is going to be used or when there will be some expressionistic distortions to convey a drug state or suchlike. The cinematography does look good, however, with effectively moody lighting and/or vibrant colours.

Ultimately your response to the film is likely to come down to its McGuffin. Personally I can't decide if it's smart, dumb or something of both. I can't help thinking, however, that a more imaginative director could have made something special out of the film and its McGuffin, the titular Trumpets of the Apocalypse, while avoiding its too easy demonisation of the hippie.

The film was issued on video by Retel in the UK, with a AVI file of it being available from Cinemageddon; Ferrio's soundtrack can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Nice to know that there're still some Minutemen fans around.
I'm pretty sure there's a German "Krimi" from the mid-late 60s that's very similar (not the Freda one though), but I can't seem to remeber the title, but it also had someone jumping through a closed window for no apprent reason.

Lars Nilsen said...

I have a film print of this with the title MURDER BY MUSIC, just throwing that bit of trivia in for scholars.

K H Brown said...

I'm a big fan of the Minutemen and that whole early 80s US hardcore SST scene. Looking for that Pettibon picture actually led me to some cool interviews on Mark Prindle's website:

I don't know of the krimi, or can't remember it, but the central premise did make me think of Lovecraft's Music of Eric Zahn or whatever it is, which I believe Jesus Franco or somebody like that borrowed from as well.

Thanks for pointing out another AKA for the tile Lars - I didn't really go into the Italian title and what it must have made the audience going to see the film for Romina Power must have expected ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm a pretty big minutemen fan myself, but llike fIREHOSE even more. You probably already know the website, but: is a pretty good resource for minutemen material.