Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Case of the Bloody Iris

Making it a hat trick for the Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies Italian horror movie blog-a-thon ...

Fired up after reviewing 'Don't Torture a Duckling' and 'A Lizard in a Woman's Skin' for the blog-a-thon, I spent a fruitless hour in the garage yesterday digging through still unpacked boxes (the house move was nearly two years ago!) in search of some old videos on the Redemption label. I knew there were a few Mario Bavas kicking around, as well as Antonio Bido's 'The Cat's Victims' and 'Blood Stained Shadow' and Massimo Dallamano's 'What Have You Done to Solange?'

Could I find them? Could I hell.

The only title that came to light, and perhaps the least of all the gialli in my collection, was 'The Case of the Bloody Iris'. So on it went. My estimation of it didn't improve all that much, but it's worth writing about for a couple of reasons: (a) it presents a decent checklist of giallo tropes, and (b) it stars the deliriously attractive Edwige Fenech.

So what makes it an archetypal giallo? Everything but the title, really. If director Giuliano Carnimeo had only put a number, a colour or an animal in the title - something like 'Six Bloodstains on a Yellow Canary' - it could have been a textbook example of the genre. As it is, Argento's 'Four Flies on Grey Velvet' retains its crown as the ultimate giallo title. I actually prefer the original Italian language title, 'Perche quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer' (literally: 'What Are These Strange Drops of Blood on the Body of Jennifer'). It's so unwieldly and bludgeoningly literal that it's almost genius.

Setting aside the title, what 'The Case of the Bloody Iris' offers the (un)discerning viewer is:

1. The glamour model milieu of 'Blood and Black Lace' and 'Strip Nude for Your Killer' ... and the liberal helping of nudity that said milieu implies.

2. A rain-coated, leather-gloved killer (okay, tan leather gloves instead of the regulation issue black but I'll let that one slide) who also wears a stocking-cum-face-mask type affair that makes it look like Rorshach from 'Watchmen' has made a stop-off in 1970s Italy for the express purpose of menacing our Edwige.

3. A pass-the-parcel selection of potential suspects including a disfigured recluse, a psychotic ex-husband, a dodgy nightclub owner, a predatory lesbian and a too-smooth-by-half property baron.

4. Two stupendously useless coppers: a casually racist, casually homophobic licenced thug ("You know the reputation we have for police brutality?" he asks a suspect before punching him in the face; "It's a good reputation to have"), and his comic relief sidekick who indulges in a little stakeout voyeurism and completely misses a murder committed slap bang in front of him because he's too busy tucking into a sandwich.

5. A series of fetishistically depicted murders including stabbing, drowning and scalding to death.

6. A beleaguered victim-in-waiting, failed by the police, who resorts to amateur sleuthing in an attempt to unmask the killer.

7. Vertiginous camera angles including the obligatory staircase shot. (I don't know what it was with giallo directors and staircases, but they're as omnipresent in these kind of films as bottles of J&B.)

8. Speaking of which, I can't actually swear to the stuff putting in an appearance in 'The Case of the Bloody Iris'; whenever Edwige Fenech was on screen, I wasn't exactly scrutinising the background.

9. A psychedelic tinge to the camerawork, set design and randomly incorporated flashback sequences.

10. A denouement in which the killer's motivation is as arbitrary as their identity.

11. Edwige Fenech looking gorgeous. I may have mentioned this already.

'The Case of the Bloody Iris' opens with a woman (possibly a hooker) making a call from a phone box. She's summoned to a swanky apartment block. Taking the elevator to one of the uppermost floors, she's stabbed with a scalpel and left for dead. Mizar (Carla Brait) - an Amazonian type who makes a living from a sub-dom style nightclub act - discovers the body. Not unsurprisingly, she's the next to die. It's into her now vacant apartment that our heroine Jennifer (Fenech) moves, along with her flibbertigibbet room-mate Marilyn (Paola Quattrini).

Jennifer is trying to make a new life for herself having run away from her husband (Ben Carra), a member of a cult whose initiation ritual seems to consist of all and sundry getting it on with Jennifer. The trauma of his intermittent reappearances, where he variously tries to drug her and rape her, is exacerbated by the tendency of Jennifer's neighbours to either turn up dead or give off the kind of menacing vibes that lead her to suspect the killer is just a few doors away.

'The Case of the Bloody Iris' holds no surprises, but provides an entertaining 90 minutes. Carnimeo - better known as a director of spaghetti westerns - stages the set-pieces proficiently. The murder which our sandwich scarfing policeman fails to notice is particularly memorable, Carmineo interweaving POV shots and effectively exploiting the bustle of a busy street, most passers-by not even realising what's happened even as the victim stumbles forward, clutching their stomach, blood gouting from between their fingers. Elsewhere, a scrapyard and a boiler room provide appropriately shadowy backdrops for scenes of suspense.

The performances are generally utilitarian and not helped, at least in the Vipco DVD I watched, by some shoddy dubbing. Paola Quattrini in particular is overdubbed by someone who sounds like they'd ingested a large amount of helium prior to the recording session. The cinematography is decent, but never shoots for the baroque brilliance of Bava or Argento. The murders are bloody and often brutal, but more shocking is the script's unreconstructed racial and sexist epithets.

'The Case of the Bloody Iris' is, at best, a good giallo starter kit, offering viewers new to the genre a comprehensive grounding in what to expect, as well as introducing them to the charms of Ms Fenech; the pleasure will be in discovering just how many better gialli there are - and how many of them feature the lady herself.


Samuel Wilson said...

Isn't this the one with nightclub wrestling? I remember it being more sleazy than scary, but an Edwige Fenench movie is acceptable either way.

Neil Fulwood said...

The very same. And you're right: the sleaze definitely outweighs the scares.

There are a couple of decently suspenseful moments (though so much more tension could have been established in the junkyard scene) but nothing that really gives you the creeps as in the best of Argento's gialli.

The sleaze factor, though ... where to the begin? The ferrety, effeminate photographer; the creepy club owner; Mizar's wrestling act at said club; the Commissioner with his improper comments about ethnic minorities and lesbians; the flashbacks to Jennifer's involvement with the cult; the voyeuristic nudity.

I think that's what I love about gialli: with their emphasis on voyeurism and viscera, they're exactly what you thought these kind of movies would be like when you were too young to watch or rent them.