Sunday, August 9, 2009

Concerto per pistola solista (1970)

...aka: Butler Didn't Do It!, The
...aka: Killer's Weekend, The
...aka: Story of a Crime
...aka: Weekend Murders, The

Directed by:
Michele Lupo

A murder-mystery co-produced by Italian and Spanish backers, set in England, containing a mixed international cast (most of whom are dubbed), farcical elements (it almost plays out like an Agatha Christie spoof), some distinctly British humour and an all-too-familiar reading-of-the-will set-up might sound like a recipe for disaster but - surprise! - this is anything but. Despite being written off with a middling review in Adrian Luther Smith's Blood & Black Lace: The Definitive Guide to Italian Sex and Horror Movies, I personally found THE WEEKEND MURDERS to be a mostly successful and amusing concoction and certainly one of the most entertaining Italian genre productions of the 1970s. Things open with an amusing golf game as a bunch of stuffy characters uncover a human hand in a sand trap. The film then jumps back a few days as an extended family show up at a country estate soon after obscenely wealthy Henry Carter has passed on. Apparently, he didn't get along too well with anyone aside from his niece Barbara (top-billed Anna Moffo), who brought some peace and serenity to his final years, so she ends up receiving the bulk of the valuables while everyone else is left fuming and conspiring about how they can get their share. Almost immediately after, someone begins killing characters off one by one.
The mile-long list of quirky suspects (and in many cases the actors bringing them to life) and their interactions is one aspect that makes this one stand out amongst others of its type. One of the most unusual is a perverted would-be rapist and mama's boy named Georgie (Christopher Chittel), who seems to have taken inspiration from Bud Cort in HAROLD MAUDE and stages a bloody fake bathtub suicide and a fake knife murder just to annoy everyone. He has a strange Oedipal relationship with his domineering mother Lady Gladys (Marisa Fabbri), can't handle the come-on's from sexually aggressive maid Evelyn (Orchidea de Santis) after he tries to rape her and finally ends up being broken in by Pauline (Beryl Cunningham), a black woman Henry's obnoxious playboy nephew Theodore (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) claims he married just to piss everyone else off and who's also sleeping with the valet, Arthur ("Robert Hundar"/ Claudio Undari). Henry's only child Isabelle ("Eveline Stewart"/ Ida Galli) has just recently lost her baby, is having a falling out with her unemployed husband Anthony (Peter Baldwin) - who is secretly in love with Barbara, anyway - and ends up picking up a strange guy (Franco Borelli) in town and brings him back to the mansion. To round out the list of possible suspects, there's also Henry's brother Lawrence (Quinto Parmeggiana), butler Peter (Ballard Berkeley), lawyer Mr. Thornton (Richard Caldicott) and a gardener (Harry Hutchinson) who isn't too happy that Henry didn't leave him his prized flowers in the will.
Bringing in most of the more obvious comedy are local bobby Sgt. Aloisius Thorpe (Gastone Moschin) and Scotland Yard's Inspector Gray (British comedian Lance Percival). Moschin's character; a goofy, buck-toothed, bumbling type, turns out to be the most clever person in the film and is the one who finally uncovers the killer. Both actors work off each other very well. The humorous elements run the gamut from obvious slapstick to blackly humorous commentary on class and racism to some mildly tasteless bits, but a surprisingly amount of it is actually funny, and consistently so. There are lots of dramatic zooms (obviously meant to parody similar films), as well as some weird-but-slick editing cuts featuring close-ups of various suspects accompanied by the sound of gun shots. The film also works adequately as a mystery. While the script may not be as convoluted, the writing's actually better than what you'll find in most other gialli and the killer's identity is a genuine surprise, as is their modus operandi.
PETA members might not like seeing a bunny rabbit getting shot, but otherwise this is a good-natured and amusing little diversion. MGM handled the theatrical release in the U.S., but they never bothered to issue the film to VHS here. Code Red has this on their list of 2009 DVD releases, so I guess we can expect a decent copy here soon.
Debuting on my Top 10 for 1970 list at #5.

Shadows of Blood (1988)

Directed by:
Sydney Ling

By the late 80s, Paul Naschy's career had certainly seen better days. After making his name as Spain's top horror star of the 70s, he'd had a huge financial flop at the turn of the next decade (1981's THE CRAVING aka NIGHTS OF THE WEREWOLF), then was forced to seek funding in Japan for future projects (1983's THE BEAST WITH THE MAGIC SWORD) and finally hit rock bottom when he ended up in the Netherlands speaking phonetic English in this very amateurish and very obscure shot-with-a-camcorder production. How obscure is it? It's so obscure it's not even listed on IMDb, there's only one other online review for it (on The Mark of Naschy) and there's no VHS box or poster anywhere to be found. I'm not even sure if this title ever officially left its country of origin. Fortunately, there's a silver lining on this particular cloud as the whole thing is hysterically funny from beginning to end. Of course it wasn't intended to be funny, but I'll take what I can get!

The extremely stupid premise involves two serial killers ("They're known as super sadists!") named Pancho Aguila (Naschy) and Jim Habouf (Barry Fleming) who've just escaped from a French nuthouse in Normandy and now want to "have some fun" in Amsterdam. Pancho is supposedly a former Spanish horror star and champion weight lifter (just like the actor playing him), while Jim is some deranged artist. Together both men have killed 40 people and are about to kill many more unless local police detectives Peter (James Malkovich), Anna (Judith Hirsch) and Hank, as well as imported Interpol agent George Lewis, can stop them. During one hilarious scene, our heroes stand around looking clueless as Jim heckles them and runs right past them on the streets in broad daylight. Knowing this person has already killed quite a few people since his escape, no one even really tries to shoot or apprehend him so he's free to just run away and keep on killing. He also gets to romance a single mom. He tells her his favorite hobby is painting with blood. She agrees to go on a second date with him (?) so they visit the Anne Frank house (!)

Naschy's grasp of the English language is poor, so he's mostly handed one-liners here. Thankfully what the actor lacks in dialogue he makes up for during the hilarious murder scenes. One of the first has him jumping on a boat and suddenly strangling the elderly captain to death. He rents a hotel room and breaks a maid's neck, drills another woman (and licks the blood) and sneaks into a diner and drowns a girl in her soup in full view of some guy who just sits there and watches. In an alleyway, he strangles a woman, puts his cigar out on her face and then turns to his buddy, does a thumbs up and says "Professional!" The absolute funniest scene, though, is an actual blooper left in the film where Naschy grabs a woman walking down the street and then suddenly the two of them slip and fall down some concrete stairs backwards! Ouch. An eyewitness describes Naschy's character as "short and fat." Double ouch.

Speaking of short and fat, our pudgy middle-aged heroine (a producer of this project) also gets her own hilarious stunt-gone-wrong blooper when she attempts to jump over something and falls down on the sidewalk! Even better, she gets to sing the hilarious Shadows of Blood theme song:

Shadows of blood
Over Amsterdam
Means dealing with DEATH
Where do I start to begin?
Where do I start to end?
Ending the killing spree
In. My. Town.

To make things even weirder, there's some awful special effect thrown in at the very end of some red hand superimposed over repeat footage of the killings while the heroine says "He gets away, and there's nothing I can do to stop him. Perhaps it's better this way. Some people never change." (?!?) It only runs 70 minutes (fast-forward the slowww credits and it's an hour) so if you can find a copy I highly recommend it to fans of super-cheap super-crap about super-sadists starring slumming Spanish superstars.
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