After her car breaks down, a model asks an unseen figure for help. He or she then pursues the model through the woods and kills her with a pair of scissors.
Though we're immediately got a likely suspect / red herring in the form of the mentally retarded, lurching figure introduced moments before alongside a piece of text about the importance of intelligence as the thing which distinguishes man from animal, the police apparently have not got a clue.
Following this we're introduced to some of the other denizens of the area, a village some 30km outside of Rome, a motley assortment which suggest the investigators' problem might be a surfeit of other potential killers – a blind innkeeper; a wheelchair bound scientist who according to rumour keeps his wife prisoner; and the scientist's butler, a “strano tipo” according to the folks at the inn.
Parallel with this is we also meet the next likely victim, in the form of another beautiful woman whose car breaks down, leaving her stranded in the village. She takes a room at the inn for the night, only to be stabbed to death and have her body removed.
In the morning the woman's friend, Giorgio D'Amato – an in-joke surname, one wonders – arrives to collect her, wondering where she has got to. Being dissatisfied with the answers he receives, he starts to investigate...
La Polizia brancola nel buio is a difficult film to analyse. By any conventional criteria it's an abject failure, yet exerts a strange fascination that recalls the likes of Crazy Desires of a Murderer or wide tranches of the work of such idiosyncratic auteurs as Jess Franco and Jean Rollin.
In Franco's and Rollin's cases the viewer can at least understand what they're getting and what the filmmaker is doing, that there is a method to the seeming madness. Here, however, you wonder exactly what the filmmakers were thinking when they made it and are left without other reference points in that it's director Helio Columbo's one and only credit. Just what were he and his collaborators thinking when they made it? Who did they think it would appeal to beyond those so starved for the sight of breasts and blood that they would watch just about anything?
Will victims to be never learn?
Part of the answer, I suspect, lies in the film's distinctive provenance. It was an Italian-Turkish co-production, with Cuneyt Arkin – billed in the Italian version under review as Joseph Arkim – in a prominent role. And, if there was one audience with a higher tolerance for 'bad' cinema than the Italian terza visione, it must surely be their Turkish counterparts; doubters are advised to check out the Killink films or the Tarkan vs the Vikings / Deathless Devil double bill, the latter part of which makes this close to a masterpiece of cinematic art by comparison.
The title – literally the police are blundering around in the dark –is also both revealing and misleading. Many gialli present the police as incompetent or hampered in their investigations in one way or another. It's a convenient device in a number of ways. It allows the filmmakers to make politicals points if they desire whilst the usual corresponding move, that of bringing the amateur investigator in in the professional's stead, allows for greater audience involvement and suspense, in that we're now following someone more 'like us', ill-trained and equipped to deal with the situation. Here, however, the police aren't so much in the dark as almost completely absent, not just ineffectual in solving the series of murders of young women that has plagued the area but also seemingly somewhat uninterested in them full stop. This wouldn't matter if someone had clearly been put in their place. The first thing here is that Arkin's investigator proves a somewhat unsatisfactory substitute. Introduced refusing to pick girlfriend A up after her car breaks down because he's in bed with girlfriend B at the time, he might be a model of macho virility but is hardly a heroic or particularly sympathetic figure. The second is that the other investigator, the one who eventually solves the case, has hitherto been presented as just another suspect.
Black gloves, bared breasts and blood – what more could a man want?
Under the circumstances the main pleasures are thus in the incidentals – the gratuitous tits out for your killer scenes; the antics of the wheelchair bound mad scientist type and his blinkenlights laboratory and mind-reading / control device; lines of dialogue that its impossible to take with the straight faced seriousness the filmmakers seem to expect, the guess-when-there's-going-to-be-a-zoom direction, and the heard-it-all-before-but-it's-still-enjoyable scoring.
[The film is available for download from Cinemageddon with custom English fansubs; thanks to the uploader and subber for giving us the opportunity to see this rarity.]