Friday, April 10, 2009
A Discussion Of Martino's Tail and Itallian Giallos
First I’d like to apologize for my delay in posting this review. My work, albeit minimal, and family life have kept me quite busy over the past month. I have, however, been actively viewing films since the last post and maintain the intention of posting more frequently. In addition, I’d like to mention that although I understand many of you reading this blog are familiar with the genres I am referring to (i.e. pink films, giallos, etc.), I will continue to give a small description of the genre for the film I am discussing only the first time it is introduced to the blog for readers that might be unfamiliar with these genres. In other words, after describing what pink films are in the last post, the next review I give that falls within the pink genre will be discussed without explanation as it has already been defined. And with that said…
Today I plan to review a film that lies within another one of my favorite genres of exploitation cinema, the Italian giallo. I have studied this genre much more thoroughly than the Japanese “pink” cinema I previously posted about. Yet, over the years, I have been exposed to more obscure films and film makers that I feel deserve recognition. The term giallo comes from the Italian gialli meaning yellow and refers to a series of violent murder mystery pulp novels released in Italy around the 1940’s which adorned yellow covers and became the inspiration for the genre. Most people will agree that the very first giallos came from the Italian maestro Mario Bava. The first being The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) and then continued by a segment entitled “The Telephone” in his anthology Black Sabbath (1963) and next with his beautiful masterpiece Blood and Black Lace (1964). While Bava introduced and created the blueprint for the giallo, it was his protégée, Dario Argento, who refined the genre and became much more popular with these films. His directorial debut The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1969) and ultimately his magnum opus, Profondo Rosso or Deep Red (1974) are notable early entries. I have heard it said before that Bava created the giallo while Argento perfected it. Well, I believe that is an argument best reserved for when I discuss a film by one of these two masters of Italian horror. Although the classic characteristics of the black gloved murderer, sleazy atmospheric violence, multiple red herrings and characters that are, at best, morally challenged never changed, the 70’s did see an increase in the genre’s levels of sex and violence depending on the film maker. There have been many great contributors to the giallo genre over the years such as Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Aldo Lado, and certainly Sergio Martino, who are all worth mentioning when speaking of this uniquely Italian type of cinema.
A couple of weeks ago I received a copy of The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail (1971) directed by Sergio Martino (now out of print, so grab it if you can!) , and was very edger to see this film as I had recently viewed two of his other giallos: All The Colors Of The Dark (which will be reviewed shortly) and You Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key. Now, I have seen countless giallos over the years and I am often presented with the usual dilemma: am I watching a film with any sort of artistic merit or am I watching a film that has been made simply to satisfy my perversely voyeuristic need to observe an obscene amount of nudity and violence hidden within a murder/mystery story? In most cases it is the latter that I find to be more accurate. However, it is Sergio Martino that has seemed to bridge that gap between art and trash which he uses to create a more cohesive, yet still subversive, storyline accompanied by an elegant visual style comparable to Bava and Argento. In fact, Martino began making films around the same time as Argento and I would not be surprised if they did not “borrow” from one another from time to time, as their styles are similar in several of their films.
I believe Martino has created a superb giallo with The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail. Inviting the talents of genre veterans George Hilton (All The Colors Of The Dark) and Anita Strindberg (A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin), he solidifies his place as one of the top directors in the genre. The film’s plot begins with a promiscuous woman who inherits a million dollars after her husband dies in, a supposed, accidental plane crash. The insurance company, suspicious of the man’s death, assigns an agent to investigate the matter further. But when the widow is found murdered and the million dollars stolen, the floodgates open to a cast of suspects and subsequent murders. The agent and a rather nosey journalist join forces to try to find out who is responsible for the increasing deaths surrounding this mystery.
Fast paced and direct in it‘s plot development, this film plays out with few flaws. The character development is surprisingly full and I found myself understanding even the most minor characters, despite the pace of the film. And without giving away any spoilers, I will just say that the film is successful in keeping the killer’s identity hidden quite well until it‘s climax. This is a very beautifully filmed giallo that is able to extract anxiety or fear from the viewer by presenting the story through masterful cinematography and an affective color scheme, something that many films of this genre attempt to express but rarely succeed in executing. I found myself staring at the screen hypnotically a few times just observing the colors of the clothing, sets, lighting and landscapes. I’m not sure if all of this is intentional, but it’s existence is certainly an effective mood stabilizer. The acting in the film is rather well done, for the most part, and believable even when the scenario might seem quite ridiculous. All of the actors seem to find a common ground with one another and, as with many films in this genre, this is what sometimes keeps together a otherwise unbelievable story. Meanwhile, the powerful musical score by Bruno Nicolai creates a mood reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s work of the same time period which elevates the film to yet another level of excellence. All of these elements combined present a solid film that clearly stands on it own within the genre.
Absolutely not to be mistaken for a film maker trying to cash in on the Italian giallo genre, Sergio Martino has proved with The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail (not to mention several of his other giallo entries) that he is truly one of the founders and masters of the giallo!