Color, 1978, 86 mins. 57 secs.
Directed by León Klimovsky
Starring Ágata Lys, Heinrich Starhemberg, Ricardo Merino
POLICE ARE BLUNDERING IN THE DARK
Color, 1975, 86 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by Helia Colombo
Starring Joseph Arkim, Francisco Cortéz, Richard Fielding, Gabriella Giorgelli, Robert Trewords, Elena Veronese, Halina Zalewska,
THE KILLER IS ONE OF THIRTEEN
Color, 1973, 95 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Javier Aguirre
Starring Patty Shepard, Simón Andreu, José María Prada, Trini Alonso, Jack Taylor, Paul Naschy, Dyanik Zurakowska, Carmen Maura, Eusebio Poncela, Ramiro Oliveros
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The definition of a giallo would seem to be cut and dry: an Italian murder mystery frequently highlighted by sex and violence and often with strong horror elements. However, pinning it down precisely can be difficult given the nature of international co-productions and tricky plots that sometimes tread so far afield that debate still continues about whether they even qualify at all. On top of that, several countries during the giallo heyday took their own stab at cashing in on the craze ranging from Greece to Turkey. Spain proved particularly adept with a handful of entries like A Dragonfly for Each Corpse, Seven Murders for Scotland Yard, The Corruption of Chris Miller, and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, all of which fit the mold so well they're sometimes considered honorary gialli anyway. In 2020, Vinegar Syndrome highlighted that slippery situation with a limited 5,000-unit, three-disc Blu-ray set, Forgotten Giallo: Volume 1, which features two of those Spanish contributions and one bona fide Italian giallo.
First up is Trauma, one of the final films by Spanish horror director (and onetime dentist) León Klimovsky. The Dracula Saga's Heinrich Starhemberg (who also executive produced and is credited here under the name "Henry Gregor") stars as Daniel, a writer with a strange sartorial sense who has retreated to the countryside due to his inability to satisfy his wife. He ends up staying at a bed and breakfast run by the beautiful Veronica (Lys), who occasionally runs upstairs to do tortured striptease routines for her reclusive husband. Someone starts bumping off the guests with a razor (including Jess Franco mascot Antonio Mayans), and it's possible that the oddball Daniel (who tends to wear black leather gloves, for God's sake) could be the culprit... but is there something more sinister at work?
Highly entertaining in that off-kilter fashion common to Spanish horror of the era, Trauma doles out everything you'd want including plentiful sex and nudity (though be warned that includes Starhemberg in his big sex scene), bloody slashing effects including a pre-New York Ripper face gashing, and nutty characters and plot twists galore. Exactly how giallo this really is can be debated since the story is also reminiscent of 1960s psycho thrillers in more ways than one with a plot twist you'll probably see coming a light year away, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Just sit back and enjoy. The Vinegar Syndrome release is touted as the longest version ever available on home video (certainly true compared to the barely bootlegged Spanish VHS), complete with tons of footage that the Franco regime never would've allowed to the screen. The 2K scan from the original negative looks pretty impeccable throughout and makes the film feel extremely fresh and vibrant; some minor film-related issues can be spotted for a second or two at times but it's very minor. As with the other films in this set, the DTS-HD MA mono track (Spanish with optional English yellow subtitles) sounds great and comes with a puzzling Dolby Digital mono option as well. The big extra here is a new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of the pertinent So Deadly, So Perverse: Giallo-Style Films from Around the World, Vol. 3, who notes that he's reassessed this film (and Lys' performance in particular) quite a bit since his last viewing when writing the book. He goes into Klimovsky quite a bit and makes a case for him as more than the hack journeyman status he has among some, and he also gets some comic mileage out of his cat's squeaky toy in the background as well. A promotional gallery of four images is also included.
The lone directorial credit for music composer Helia Colombo, Police Are Blundering in the Dark is the only bona fide giallo in the set (being Italian in origin) and easily has the most flaws. Clearly made to cash in on the success of Dario Argento's animal trilogy (including a weird sci-fi psychic angle straight out of Four Flies on Grey Velvet and The Cat o' Nine Tails), the film evidently sat on the shelf for quite a bit before it barely played theater in 1975 in the wake of the post-Deep Red giallo resurgence. Strangely, this one slightly foreshadows that Argento masterpiece with its junky car used for comic relief, but otherwise it's a fairly middle of the road outing that throws in enough topless nudity and stage blood to keep you watching until the head-scratching climactic revelation.
When a model out for an afternoon drive stops for help in the middle of the countryside, she ends up being stalked by a blade-wielding assailant and slashed to death against a tree. She turns out to be the fourth such victim in just over a year in the area, which doesn't bode well for Erica (Keil), a blonde model whose car breaks down near the same spot outside Rome. Unable to find a mechanic, she calls for help to her philandering reporter boyfriend, Giorgio (Arkim), who's busy in bed with another woman. Giorgio refuses to come out to help her, so poor Erica has to shack up for the night in a room over a tavern only to meet her doom as well. The next morning, Giorgio finally shows up to help only to find the abandoned car and a string of odd clues leading him to the Villa Eleonora, an estate currently inhabited by a very peculiar cast of characters. Among them are a sexually dysfunctional and paraplegic photographer, a raging nymphomaniac (Zalewska), and a very peculiar butler and housemaid, not to mention a pivotal lettuce garden that might have something to do with the mystery.
It's worth noting that this film's title comes from an early newspaper headline rather than any actual police involvement, which is completely nonexistent until the very end. Mostly it's a murder mystery with more than a few red herrings, with a resolution that actually feels a bit irrelevant in the end. However, it's the strange narrative choices that also make this stick in the memory a bit-- particularly the concept of a statue able to capture people's thoughts on film, the Argentoesque device mentioned above. Making its worldwide Blu-ray debut as well, this film looks very impressive here with a fresh 2K scan of the original camera negative and easily obliterating the terrible dupey gray market copies that have been floating around. Note that the shaking of the actual letters in the opening titles comes from the original optical printing and is not a defect of the transfer. The DTS-HD MA Italian mono track is also in solid condition and comes with optional English yellow subtitles, as well as a superfluous Dolby Digital track. Critic Rachael Nisbet provides a separate audio essay touching on the state of the giallo at the time and Colombo's contribution, openly acknowledging its faults and general pedestrian nature while touching on some of its more worthy points of interest. A promotional image gallery is also included consisting of three images.
Finally we get to the most accomplished film in the set (and also the one with the lowest sleaze factor), The Killer Is One of Thirteen (or El asesino está entre los trece). Helmed by a Klimovsky runner up, Javier Aguirre (who directed Count Dracula's Great Love and Hunchback of the Morgue along with this film all the same year), it's advertised here as a riff on Agatha Christie's pioneering body count classic Ten Little Indians-- which is accurate as far as the set up goes, though the story veers off in its own direction after that. The real draw here is an absolutely insane cast of Spanish cult movie staples all gathered together for what feels like a Fantasy Island episode for the Euro horror crowd, complete with a rousing final half hour when the gory murders start to fly fast and furious.
Two years after the plane accident that claimed her attorney husband's life over the English Channel, the enormously coiffed Lisa Mandel (The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman's Sheppard) invites a slew of friends to her fancy country house for the weekend. Among them are conceited actor Harry Stephen (The Blood Spattered Bride's Andreu) and many members of the faux elite, all of whom are a bit peeved at dinner when it turns out that Lisa's called them together to ferret our her husband's barbiturate-dispensing murderer (who was disguised at the scene in a coat and sunglasses). Cattiness, paranoia, and murder ensue as the guest list is quickly whittled down before the final unmasking.
Buoyed by a very fun, very '70s score by Alfonso Santisteban (The Killer of Dolls) that earned a well deserved soundtrack release paired up with Horror Rises from the Tomb, this is a smooth, sunny, and diverting thriller that takes its time to really get going but offers plenty of pleasures along the way. The real kick here is seeing so many familiar faces tossed together including the obligatory Jack Taylor (Female Vampire and tons of others), the legendary Paul Naschy in a small but important role as a valet-gardener-mechanic who takes out the guests' mode of escape, Cannibal Apocalypse's Ramiro Oliveros, Cauldron of Blood's Dyanik Zurakowska, Tepepa's Paloma Cela, Pieces' May Heatherly, and two actors who would become crucial in the early films of Pedro Almodóvar, Carmen Maura and Eusebio Poncela (hot off of Cannibal Man). The fact that the film is ostensibly (and very unconvincingly) set in England puts this in the same company as films like The Weekend Murders and the Edgar Wallace cycle, which of course is also part of the charm if you're familiar with the era. Despite its pedigree and entertainment value though, this film never received English-language distribution of any kind and only hit DVD once anywhere in the world as a Spanish-only release in 2008 from Filmax. Needless to say, the presentation here is going to be a treat for many as it looks excellent as well with natural film grain and extremely eye-pleasing colors throughout. Again some minor damage can be seen when opticals are involved like the opening credits, but that's to be expected. No issues with the DTS-HD MA Spanish mono track either. Diabolique's Kat Ellinger provides an enthusiastic new audio commentary that's very much in line with her Spanish horror track for Vinegar Syndrome's Secta Siniestra, as she notes that the sparse production info out there means she gets to contextualize this in the broader picture of the giallo, bourgeois mindsets, and Spanish cinema in general. That means you get some fun intersections here (like calling Andreu the Spanish George Hilton), and of course, it wouldn't be a Kat commentary without a wee detour into Gothic territory. Her reading into the whole "nymphomaniac" stigma here is pretty great, too. The disc also features the heftiest gallery of the bunch with a nice batch of lobby cards.
Reviewed on May 8, 2020.