Present-day London is in the grip of a serial killer whose modus operandi recalls that of Jack the Ripper nearly a century before, suggesting someone with surgical training – or at least the skills of a butcher.
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This evidence suggests that the crimes may be the work of Pedro Dorian (Paul Naschy). A Spaniard who attended medical school for a couple of years in his home country, he also happens to have a limp, sustained as the result of a circus accident, and thus fits a young eye-witnesses' description of the man the police are looking for.
Classic giallo imagery
But while academic amateur investigator Windsor Derby Christian (Andrés Resino) is convinced Dorian must be the man responsible for the crimes, his professional counterpart and friend Commissioner Henry Campbell (Renzo Marigano) continues to have his doubts – at least until the bodies and the evidence against Dorian begin to mount, most notably when an anonymous tip off leads to his being found with his date from the previous night, dead, mere days after the murder of his own wife...
This 1971 Paul Naschy vehicle sees the Waldemar Daninsky star trying to board the giallo bandwagon, with mixed results.
For while featuring the obligatory black gloved, knife-wielding killer, his identity concealed by various point-of-view shots, along with a decent body count, the film never really goes all out on the sleaze front, with little nudity to speak of, a tendency for the victims to die somewhat neatly after one or at most two stabs and a preference for telling us rather than showing us the more extreme of the ripper's depradations.
Nor does the whodunnit aspect amount to much. Working on the premise that Naschy cannot be the murderer, both for the extra-diegetic fact that it's not his style to draw his audience in and pull the rug from under us, that the typically tragical nature of his monster figures depends on our knowing their true nature, and the diegetic sense that someone is trying too hard to make him the most – i.e. too – obvious culprit, we're left with only really two other candidates in a population of seven million: Windsor and Henry.
Given that the filmmakers approach to the Scotland Yard authority figures seems rather more krimi than Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion – and here also remembering that the Spanish half of co-production team were still subject to the strictures of Francoist censorship – the genre-literate viewer may soon quickly reduce this short list to one.
If all this starts to read like a spoiler, bear in mind that the typical viewer for the film is likely to have seen a fair number of better gialli and Naschy entries; certainly when I watched the film with a friend who had never seen Seven Murders for Scotland Yard but who possesses this wider awareness he had no difficulty whatsoever in correctly picking out the guilty party almost as soon as he had appeared on screen.
If similar points could be made about many other gialli, they are usually at a bit better at finding a number of other suspects.
One telling point of comparison here, given the nature of their killers and use of locations foreign to the filmmakers is The New York Ripper, with the coincidences further enhanced by the presence of another foreign suspect marked out as different, in the form of Mickey Scellenda with his missing finger, and of an suave and sophisticated, intellectual, chess-playing investigator / suspect, in Dr Davis, within Fulci's film.
What Fulci succeeds in doing, however, is really conveying a sense of New York-ness to his film and, more significantly, making this sense and integral part of the overall sensibility of his film through the way in which his other characters, those with no real counterparts in Seven Murders for Scotland Yard, are made part of the warp and weft of the film.
Though Naschy and company clearly did travel to London to pick up some location shots of his character wandering around Soho these paradoxically lessen the overall effectiveness of the piece precisely because they jar with the other, rather too obviously Mediterranean exteriors found elsewhere in the film. (Much like their more pervasive counterparts in The New York Ripper there's also a nice incidental documentary aspect to these images, showing the difference between the still relatively staid Soho of 1971 with posters for films and shows promising more than they likely ever delivered, and the hell-on-earth of 42nd Street just prior to the AIDS and crack epidemics; in characteristic displays of British reserve many of the bystanders also do their best to move out of the camera's gaze or to cover their faces.)
Seven Murders for Scotland Yard is also rather lacking in pace. In part this is quite literally the case, thanks to the Naschy character's disability and the longer than usual shots of his walking from one scene to another that result. But it's also down to the curious almost real-time pacing of the film, where scenes and shots have a tendency to be held beyond the moment when their dramatic point has been made in a manner that is oddly, if presumably unintentionally, reminiscent of Antonioni.
Consider the opening murder: For two minutes we have shots streets of Soho from the POV of the unidentified killer. He then silently picks up a prostitute. They enter the block where she has her room and ascend the stairs, watched by a girl, Margaret, whose eye-witness testimony will later prove important. Once in the room, the woman then proceeds to slowly strip off, the camera alternating between close-up and longer shots that probably no longer correspond with to the killer's POV insofar as he as busy taking out his knife; we're now at the four and a half minute mark.
The killer then advances on the woman, whose look turns from one of feigned pleasurable expectation to terror, and, after all this build up calmly stabs her twice. A few credits roll over the freeze-framed, red tinted image of the dead woman's body on the bed and the killer slowly makes his exit, taking us to almost the seven minutes in before the second sequence starts.
This sees Naschy's character in a nearby bar, nursing a wound to his hand. After finishing his drink, he gets up and walks home, arriving there about the 8 minutes 30 seconds mark.
As far as the performances go Naschy is, well, Naschy, complete with the regulation bare-chested and mano a mano fight scenes, no fewer than three of them.
Indeed, given that the aforementioned footage of him shuffling around Soho proves remarkably reminiscent of similar scenes in the later Waldemar Daninsky entry Dr Jekyll versus the Werewolf and that a final showdown in the madman's dungeon-cum-laboratory could easily have also come from just about any entry in the same series, you half expect him to transform at just about any moment.
Oops, I've done it again?
Still, whatever Naschy may lack as an actor he compensates for in the sheer commitment he always brings, coupled with a surprising willingness to take on somewhat unsympathetic and unheroic roles. Here Pedro does little more than drowning his sorrows with one whisky after another. If this leads to some obligatory giallo traumatic flashbacks, tinted blue to hint at an ambiguous association with the red tint over the opening murder, that his whisky of choice is Vat 69 rather than J&B again seems to foreground the Spanishness of the production.
The other performers are satisfactory in their one-note roles although the exaggerated dubbing accents used on the English-language version adds further unintentional humour to what is already often some rather doubtful dialogue:
“It's alarming how many crimes of a sexual nature are being committed at the moment.”
“Did you say anything dear?”
“No, nothing – I was merely thinking aloud”
“Jack – Jack the Ripper!”
“Yes, his signature's all over the bodies of those two women.”
“But surely Jack the Ripper's dead, isn't he?”
“Undoubtedly – or extremely old”
Piero Piccioni delivers some engaging jazzy themes which affords him plenty of opportunity to whizz around the keys of his Hammond. Unfortunately these themes never really integrate that well with the film as a whole, giving the impression of being library music or at least pieces originally composed for some other purpose.