Judge Bill Gibron warns you that the only sting you'll feel from this disjointed Italian thriller is one of disappointment, not death.
There's always room for giallo!
Lisa Baumer is a very unhappy woman. She is trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man, and she longs to be with her much younger boyfriend. So when hubby dies in a plane crash, it seems like things will finally work out for everyone. Her late spouse left her a million dollar life insurance policy, and the money is just a flight to Greece away. Unfortunately, once she arrives in the Mediterranean mainstay, she discovers her husband's double life—a blousy redheaded mistress with a murderous eye on the money. Soon, people are dying at the hands of a shadowy, sadistic killer and all paths seem to lead to Lisa. Insurance investigator Peter Lynch wants to get to the bottom of the mystery. So does reporter Cleo Dupont. They will discover, however, that blackmail, adultery, and greed are nothing compared to the deranged determination of a heartless psycho. As the bodies pile up and the blood flows, everyone becomes a suspect in this Case of the Scorpion's Tale.
Though it occasionally has plot holes the size of the Parthenon and stumbles like a cockney flower girl reciting the Queen's English, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is actually a fairly decent Italian thriller. Crafted in the typical giallo style (named for the yellow—"giallo"—covers of lurid sex/crime pulp novels published by the Mondadori Company in the late 1920s and '30s) and featuring a fair amount of chills ands blood spills, this often overcomplicated story should satisfy anyone who is a fan of the genre, or Italian style shivers in general. Director Sergio Martino has a bad habit of keeping his movie constantly askew, never getting the macabre and the mundane elements to gel together properly or precisely. Sometimes, he gets completely bogged down in movie minutia and we loose all interest in the basic terror tale he is telling. But for most of the film's 90-odd minutes, we feel we are moving effectively and workman-like through a blueprint for what will eventually be a myriad of similar themed murder movies.
Created in 1971, Scorpion's Tail can't hold a terror torch to some of the classics of the genre that came before—specifically, Dario Argento's 1970 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, or the film that many consider started the entire giallo craze in Italy, Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace. Since it contains all the essential elements of said cinema—complicated plotting; a black glove wearing, weapon wielding killer; a proclivity toward gore-drenched melodrama—it would be easy to see Martino as a natural progression in the paisan school of shockers. But there are problems with Scorpion's Tail that it doesn't share with its fellow fright flicks. For some reason, Martino and his screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi seem more interested in the lurid details of the sexual betrayal between husband and wife than the random slaughter. The nicely executed killings, which include gutting, throat slashing, and eye gouging, appear haphazardly tossed in, almost as if the filmmakers thought, "Oh yeah, we need to have another death in here somewhere." Instead of the murders pushing the story forward, they seem to be roadblocks to the tawdry tale Martino and Gastaldi really want to tell.
Also, the movie has far too many dangling subplots to be effective and clockwork. Several times during the story, we cut to a tiny apartment where a half-dressed stewardess is talking to someone in another room. While there is a pay-off (albeit paltry), when we eventually learn who the other person is, these narrative rest stops destroy any dread or mood Martino may have built up. In addition, Scorpion's Tail loves to play Psycho with us, meaning that it gives us characters who we are supposed to become involved with and sympathize with/suspect, only to kill them off in decidedly out of left field fashion. This makes the mystery fairly obvious, since the possible predators get systematically narrowed down over the course of the film. And this all leads, naturally, to a less than successful conclusion, where we don't really care whodunit, or if said person gets their criminal comeuppance. Instead, we just wonder how Martino will justify several of the shortcomings that arrive with the denouement. Unfortunately, the answer is "not very well," leaving us with a certain feeling of dissatisfaction when all is said and done.
Still, there are moments when The Case of the Scorpion's Tail threatens to join its far more famous fellow fright films in the shocker set piece hierarchy. Lisa's confrontation with her husband's bitchy mistress in an abandoned theater has the right air of decadent dementia that a movie like this needs, and when said on-the-side strumpet finally meets her maker, it's in a gruesome, groovy fashion. And there is never anything wrong with a knife to the eye.
But the reliance on red herrings—like the oddly disconcerting Interpol agent—keep driving us, as an audience, to fear-fleecing distraction. Besides, there is no sensational twist here, no "bet you didn't see that coming" moment that defines some of the genre's best works. Instead, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is a basic primer for what others would eventually do better—and bloodier—in the years to come. It doesn't confound expectations or twist the tenets of its cinematic variety to explore or expand on the type. Instead, it's an efficient, if far from effective, thriller that can't quite make its many diverse elements co-exist in complete entertainment harmony.
As they did with their releases of Boccaccio '70 and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, NoShame gives us a glorious, near pristine print of this more or less forgotten film. After 34 years, it's hard to imagine that The Case of the Scorpion's Tail ever looked this good, even when it played first run in theaters. The colors are crisp and the details are sharp. But before we start handing out the home theater accolades, there appears to be a major issue with the actual aspect ratio.
According to the DVD cover art, the movie is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Well, the image definitely offers the 16x9 option, but the letterboxing is a little off. Indeed, it looks like an additional window has been placed around the print, reducing the amount of information on the top and bottom of the screen. While it doesn't cause a lot of problems in the long shots, the close-ups lose valuable components, like people's mouths and eyes. Why such a substandard job was done with the framing only undermines what is, in general, a nice restoration. The company claims the movie is remastered from the vault original 2P negative. We will have to take their word for it.
On the sound side, there is really nothing too special here. You can choose between a decent English dub (containing the usual dopey Western weirdness) or a much better Italian track. The subtitles do a good job of translating the dialogue, but there are gaps when characters are speaking and nothing appears onscreen. Either this was a conscious choice by the director (leaving certain elements a mystery for a foreign audience) or just a mistake in the DVD production.
NoShame also attempts to assert itself into the pantheon of considered content providers as they supply an excellent 30-minute conversation with director Martino, producer Luciano Martino, writer Gastaldi, and star George Hilton (who played insurance investigator Peter Lynch) as part of the DVD bonus package. Along with the biographical and historic information contained in the accompanying booklet, we get a very good view of how this movie was made and the people behind the production. The filmmaker explains why the movie was shot in London and Greece, and his approach to violence. Gastaldi tells us what elements he thinks are necessary to make a good story, while Hilton is just happy to reminisce about the experience, and fetching co-star, actress Anita Strindberg (who played reporter Cleo Dupont). Together with a trailer and a gallery of poster art and stills, this upstart company is proving it can supplement its titles with the best of them, even if it is in the service of a less than stellar title.
Anyone interested in giallo in general would probably be better served seeking out Argento's terrific takes on the cinematic style (including what is perhaps the ultimate illustration of the genre, 1975's Profondo Rosso), or peruse a previous box set from Anchor Bay, containing such worthy examples as The Case of the Bloody Iris and Short Night of the Glass Dolls. While it's a pleasant enough diversion, and has enough viscera and vital fluids to satisfy those with such a sanguine proclivity, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail just doesn't add up to very much in the macabre department. This is one supposedly lethal entity undermined by its tepid temperament.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: NoShame Films
• "Creepy Crawl: The Scorpion's Shadow" Interview Featurette with Director Sergio Martino, Producer Luciano Martino, Writer Ernesto Gastaldi, and Star George Hilton.
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