Mondo Macabro // 1972 // 90 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 8th, 2005
Bogus Bogart + goofy gory Giallo = middling movie experience
Madame Colette (Anita Ekberg, Intervista) runs a very swanky upper class house of ill repute. One night, crazy Gavalles seemingly kills Francine, one of the more popular prostitutes. He swears he is innocent. Still, a high-powered judge sentences him to death. Gavalles swears revenge on all concerned, and escapes in an attempt to settle his scores. Unfortunately, his neck meets with some construction equipment on the back of a truck, decapitating him. This intrigues a local doctor. If he can get the accused killer's head, he could study the brain and determine the madman's bloodthirsty dementia.
Soon, the pledged retribution begins, and bodies start piling up. A very Bogart-based detective (Robert Sacchi, The Man with Bogart's Face, Cold Heat) must try to make sense of all the slashing. It seems that an angry scientist, skulking around the edges of the action, may be involved. Or it could be the corrupt club owner, who chases everything in a skirt. Whatever the case may be, our pseudo-Sam Spade bumbles and stumbles about, seemingly incapable of discovering who indeed is responsible for this seedy series of French Sex Murders.
There are certain formulaic elements of the whodunit that you just have to stick with if you want to make a thriller that ticks, no matter how experimental or innovative you plan on being. Beyond all the deductive reasoning and clue combing, the narrative has to have suspects, and people to pin the crime -- and eventual punishment -- on. But someone forgot to tell the makers of Casa d'appuntamento this.
Reconfigured and released as French Sex Murders, this incredibly average Italian/German production kills off almost everyone in its cast before realizing it needs a few faces to take the blame for all the death dealing. As a suspense yarn, Sex Murders is silly. As a slice of slasher shock, it offers a few choice morsels. But when you're being dragged along on a theory of possible guilt, and your potential portents of culpability are turning into corpses, you destroy all the dread you are trying to build. As a result, you get a film that fails as a mystery, only minimally enlivened by some sporadic bloodletting.
Indeed, one can say that French Sex Murders is all upsurge and comedown. When you consider that this is a story centered on a sex-for-sale brothel run by Anita Ekberg (Grrrrrrroooowwwllllll!!!), filled with willing young women unafraid of shuffling off their skivvies at the drop of a drachma, the anticipation of something arousing is palpable. But we soon learn that the cops have to close down the carnal cathouse because the publicity makes the police look lenient. So our promise of sin ends up being anulled. Thankfully, we get some gratuitous ancillary scenes, but they are still not enough to replace the bordello's broken promises.
Similarly, the crime spree angle is also a lot of fire without heat. Our shadowy slayer does kill off some characters in rather gruesome ways, but there is never a real feeling of fear. Instead of suspense or shock, we get a point-by-point procedural display of homicidal inventory taking. Of course, this is part of the problem. When a killer states that he will systematically murder every person on his unlucky list, and then goes about the task, there's not much tension to be established or expressed. Unless you have some reason to relish the killings, you'll quickly grow aggravated by the automatic atrocities.
Thankfully, future Oscar owner Carlo Rambaldi (ET: The Extra Terrestrial) was on hand to produce all the gore. As a result, we get decapitations, torso tearing, eye gouging, face smashing, body spearing, and skull spelunking (including a nice juicy bit of ocular autopsy), all meant to highlight the psychotic nature of the individual involved. In reality, the gore almost saves French Sex Murders, since it tries to make up for the less than successful elements of the narrative.
But there is just so much mediocre material here, so many misfires of casting, direction, screenwriting and storytelling that there's not enough to wipe out the waste product. While some will find this tedium fresh and farcical, others will immediately faint away from sheer monotony. About the closest French Sex Murders comes to those yellow Italian pulp paperbacks is the ancillary "giallo" moniker plastered on the production. Otherwise, this is just Agatha Christie for macabre kindergarteners, a whodunit that spells outs its solution in connect-the-dot directness.
Technically, Mondo Macabro's DVD release of this obscurity is only fair. The 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen image is acceptable, with lots of faded colors, optical errors and other source defects. The image also seems awkwardly cropped, as if the project was originally filmed in one format and switched over into another (though the IMDb argues that this is the proper OAR). On the sound side, there's not much that the Dolby Digital Stereo can do with a poorly dubbed original aural offering. The voices overwhelm the subsidiary sonic aspects of the film and have an obvious edited-together quality. Decibel detectives out in home theater land are in for a treat, as Lawrence "Joe Cabot" Tierney does the vocal work for the baffled Bogart here.
On the bonus side, Mondo Macabro makes up for the mediocre transfer and less than adequate auditory elements by piling on the pluses. Though we don't get a commentary track, we do get a fascinating 30 minute documentary on producer Dick Randall. Randall was famous for making cinematic chicken salad out of a lot of half-baked filmic offal, doing it with both panache and a real huckster's hubris. Infamous for such strange selections as Los Nuevos extraterrestres (otherwise known as Pod People to you MSTies out there), For Y'ur Height Only (a James Bond spy spoof featuring a 2' 9" leading man named Weng Wang) and dozens of Bruce Lee/Kung Fu rip-offs, this crazy entrepreneur loved making movies -- any kind of movies. The story of his stint in the less then bright limelight makes for a fascinating featurette, far better than anything else on the DVD -- including his own wannabe giallo. The rest of the bonus features include two deleted scenes, a still and poster gallery, a series of trailers and a text-based history of the production. All in all, this is one case where the supplements supplant the film they are supposed to enhance.
Frankly, that wouldn't be hard to do. French Sex Murders is tedious fare perked up by its predilection toward grue-based terror. If it wasn't for the stabbings and garrotings, we'd have nothing more than a failed attempt at the whodunit formula. While it's not 100 percent wrong, French Sex Murders is miles away from its intended intense thriller designs.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Documentary -- The Wild, Wild World of Dick Randall
* Production Notes
* Deleted Scenes
* Still Gallery