Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Pretty Girl is Never Ridiculous

It probably says something that I remember thinking 1972’s THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS was a particularly sleazy giallo entry when I first saw it a few years ago. Looking at it again, that vibe is still there for me but maybe not quite as much. Maybe that says something about how many other giallos I’ve seen by now. Maybe it says something about how I’ve gotten used to all that 70s sleaze. The film isn’t the best or the most elegant or the most fun but it is pretty enjoyable in its own nasty way. And it has Edwige Fenech, which makes it even better.

A beautiful young woman is stabbed to death in the elevator of an apartment building (resembling a scene Brian De Palma would shoot a few years later—come to think of it, the woman even looks like Angie Dickinson) and soon after another young woman (TORSO’s Carla Braidt) who was one of the people who discovered her is also killed, by being tied up in her own bathtub, then drowned. Just then, the owner of the building Andrea Barto (George Hilton) happens to meet model Jennifer (Edwige Fenech) who, with her best friend Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) is looking for a new place to live. Since he owns a building and she’s Edwige Fenech, Andrea decides to help Jennifer out by leasing the two girls the now-vacant apartment. Marilyn, the ditz of the two, seems to find everything about the murders absolutely hysterical. Jennifer, a recent escapee from a sex cult (presented in hyper-real flashbacks) is still being stalked by her husband who was in charge of the cult, soon finds herself terrorized by the masked killer. But is it the killer? Is it her husband? Is it the mysterious lesbian down the hall? Could it be Andrea, who claims he has an aversion to the sight of blood? Why do all the men in these movies look like George Hilton? And why can’t I stop watching this thing?

IRIS, also released under the extremely awesome title WHAT ARE THOSE STRANGE DROPS OF BLOOD DOING ON JENNIFER’S BODY?, is a bit of an odd duck, containing more genuine weirdness than usual but also a surprising amount of intentional laughs, most of them coming from the police inspector who seems more interested in stamp collecting and bemoaning his salary than ever actually solving the crime (The actor playing him, Giampiero Albertini, also dubbed Peter Falk’s Columbo in Italy, which seems significant). He also has to deal with the incompetence of his unlucky second-in-command, leading to more laughs. As that detective follows Fenech & Hilton, in the midst of their new romance he reports in on the police radio what’s going on with the pair: “Don’t be surprised if instead of a corpse, we get a birth on our hands.” The sex cult subplot feels more than a little tacked on to everything, but I don’t think I’d want the movie to be without it and besides, it does go with the particularly sordid world view here. Everyone in the movie is abnormal somehow, even the old lady next door who’s addicted to horror magazines (“To really like horror tales, you have to be nuts,” says the news vendor who sells them to her).

It should be noted that the dubbing is particularly bad, even for these movies. It honestly doesn’t effect my enjoyment at all, but it might be a little tough to accept for somebody not already used to this sort of thing. I’m not sure how well it works in any language for a dead body to be discovered and then a few seconds later someone calmly says, “I think I’d better go now, I’ve gotta be at rehearsal in an hour.” Of course, maybe I need to do some research into how brutal violence may have been calmly accepted in Italy during the 70s. At one point George Hilton’s character, during a particularly heated confrontation with the police, blurts out, “You mean to say, Commissioner, that I might be a suspect, that I could go crazy and murder a girl like that?” and it’s stated with all the emotion of a radio reporter giving traffic updates. Anyway, the one time this feels at all damaging, for me anyway, is when we (briefly) hear the voice of the masked killer and, sounding like it comes from a twelve year-old, it drains any tension at all from the scene (I also don’t buy that whoever is playing the killer is also the character eventually unmasked, but whatever).

The film is directed by Giuliana Carnimeo, credited as “Anthony Ascott”, who helmed a number of spaghetti westerns, and it’s a continually interesting looking film. The visuals always feel slightly off kilter, slightly elegant in their trashy way and there are a lot–a lot- of zooms. There’s one murder sequence which has been pointed out by many as being similar to a scene Argento would later shoot in TENEBRAE and by all logic it should be one of the best scenes in the film. Unfortunately, it’s hurt in the cutting be being too dragged out (a few seconds less would really make all the difference) and also by having a character in the scene act in a completely illogical fashion, possibly to maintain their status as a suspect. On the other hand, this very sequence also contains a cut from the body in question falling to the police detective trailing the other character, yawning, putting his sandwich together. It zooms out from the sandwich, of course, and is an elegant little touch in the middle of the mayhem. For the record, the DVD contains an “Alternate Stabbing Scene” which is in fact shorter but actually cuts it down way too much. The script by Ernesto Gastaldi contains the puzzle-like structure you expect from these movies. It moves fast but not fast enough that it doesn’t leave a few plot holes behind. But it’s so enjoyable that I really don’t care. The score by Bruno Nicolai ranges from sharp, slightly up-tempo suspense tracks to the luxurious easy listening cues that you expect from this sort of film, especially when Edwige Fenech is in the middle of one of her deliriously erotic love scenes with George Hilon.

And it’s Edwige Fenech that I should be talking about it here. Introduced sporting body paint on herself for a photo shoot, at times dressed in some terrible 70s fashions and at other times wearing nothing at all, she really is mind-bogglingly beautiful here and is quite wonderful to watch as she is repeatedly terrorized over the course of the film. As for The Bloody Iris, it doesn’t figure into the plot all that much, unless you want to accept the film as a metaphor of all these people connected by their immorality being broken apart by the blood on that flower (looking at it that way, the fade-out almost manages to make sense). Jennifer is told in flashback by her sex cult leader-husband, “They are the symbol of what our group has formed. A single body made up of many members. As this flower has many petals.” It’s the best I can do for finding meaning in the name and if it helps, there are in fact very few drops of blood on Jennifer’s body during the film. It’s ridiculous and still pretty sleazy but still lots of fun. And remember, never waste a stamp by mailing a letter.

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