Wednesday, 13 June 2012

5 Donne per l'assassino / Five Women for the Killer

As Giorgio Pisani’s (Francis Matthews’) flight arrives – i.e. a classic giallo opening – he is called to the phone – i.e. a key giallo technology – over the intercom. It is his wife, and she is about to give birth.

Pisani contacts family friend Dr Lydia Frantzi (Pascale Rivault) and hurries to his home, finding his newborn son – and his wife dead; Lydia could not save her.

Later, at the hospital, Pisani finds his medical record left on a desk, as if for him to read. Doing so, he learns that he is infertile (apparently a hereditary condition, whose logic thereby makes one wonder.)

Over the next few days two women, whose only points in common are that they are both pregnant and have encountered Pisani, one fleetingly and the other on multiple occasions, are murdered. The method (graphically shown) is the same in both instances: A blade from the pubic region, upwards.

Pisani is brought in for questioning by a police inspector (Howard Ross/Renato Rossini), but released since there is nothing concrete against him.

It’s about this point that Stelvio Massi’s 1974 giallo begins to lose its way. The basic problem is that up until this point we’ve been following Pisani. Now, however, he becomes a suspect while the focus of the narrative shifts to other characters and the police investigation. (That some of the murders show the killer wearing the same distinctive driving gloves as Pisani helps reinforce the suspicion.)

We’re thus given no clear point of identification, in the manner that a Hitchcockian double-pursuit narrative, with Pisani seeking to identify the killer in order to demonstrate his own innocence to the authorities, would have provided.

This tends also to bring out the weaknesses in Massi’s direction. It is not that it lacks style, with there being plenty of hand-held camera work, shock zooms, rack focus, and compositions foregrounding objects before the characters or mirrors. Likewise, in contrast with Mikel Koven’s prosaic narrative/poetic set piece division of scenes, there are potentially poetic touches in even the more routine scenes – the kind of thing that arguably elevates Argento’s work above the generic norm.

This, however, is where the problem arises. For, unlike Argento, there is little sense that Massi’s stylistic devices are employed with any consistent or coherent logic, such that form informs content. The zooms, for instance, sometimes work to heighten dramatic impact, but sometimes just appear to have been used for economy/convenience. As such, they also lack the self-consciously excessive quality that their counterparts in, say, the opening moments of Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon have.

This also applies to Giorgio Gaslini’s jazzy score. It’s certainly good and would warrant an extended version CD re-release (it was available via a 1996 Japanese disc, running barely 30 minutes). Unfortunately sometimes it isn’t clear how it fits into the film and its images.

There are, however, some moments when all comes together. One example is the funeral of Giorgio’s wife, where Massi nicely introduces several of the suspects and red herrings. Another is the scene in which one of the titular five women senses she is being stalked and nervously goes to her door and looks through its fish-eye lens, only to find her eccentric but entirely harmless neighbour there. Suspense is thereby built up and deflated, only for shock to then be privileged as, after said neighbour has left, she is suddenly attacked by the killer.

Another point of interest for giallo fans is seeing Ross cast against type as the detective/investigator rather than a perpetrator or suspect, as with the aforementioned Bava film and Fulci’s The New York Ripper.

Hammer enthusiasts, meanwhile, may find it intriguing to see Francis Matthews of Dracula Prince of Darkness and Rasputin the Mad Monk in a contemporary setting.

Future porn queen/MP Ilona Staller has a brief role as a sexually liberated foreigner whose pregnancy precipitates her demise.

Not bad, just not as good as it could have been with a bit more care and attention.

Again thanks must go out to the community for bringing us this composite Italian/German sourced version, in widescreen and with English fansubs. It certainly beats the panned and scanned, Italian-language, VHS-sourced version of the film I viewed a few years back.

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