Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972) - Part 1 of 3

The masterpiece we’re going to consider next is the Italian thriller with the English title The Case of the Bloody Iris, from 1972. In your backward universe, this film would be called a giallo, which means yellow in Italian. The name giallo is ridiculous. The reasons for it are shrouded in history. (Please don’t write to tell me about yellow book jackets. That makes no sense. The reasons are shrouded in history, I tell you.) In my Universe-Prime, these films are called jello films because the color and sometimes the consistency of the blood on display are reminiscent of a red gelatin dessert. A much more sensible name for the genre.

This film’s original Italian title is Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer? (What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?), which puts the film in the company of the surprisingly few jello--that is, giallo--titles that are also questions, along with What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974), and Who Saw Her Die? (1972). This is an odd case where the original title could be considered more literal than the English title, though the English title has the advantage of ambiguity: Does “iris” refer to a flower, or a part of a camera, or a part of the human eye? Answer: It refers to a flower [spoiler].

The movie opens in a phone booth where a blonde woman named Lorna makes a call. “Come on up,” the female voice on the other end says. “I’m alone.” Accompanied by a very 1972 light rock score, she walks to an apartment tower, unaware she is being followed by a man in a car. This leads directly to the film’s first suspense set piece. Lorna gets on a packed elevator. There are closeups of the passengers’ faces watching the floor numbers light up. The elevator stops on floor 6, where several passengers get off. Suspense is only increased by the fact that the lights on the outside of the elevator indicate the elevator is between floors 3 and 4. One man in a dark overcoat gets on. We don’t see his face. In the elevator, we see him pull on a pair of yellow rubber dishwashing gloves. (Perhaps this is where the name "giallo" comes from in your universe...)

Soon the elevator is nearly empty. On lucky floor 13, the last passengers except for Lorna and the man in the dark coat get off. Before the door even closes, the man presses a cloth against Lorna’s mouth and pulls a scalpel from his pocket. What are his intentions?

Unfortunately for Lorna, his intentions are to stab her repeatedly with the scalpel, after which he quickly exits on floor 16, pushing the button for floor 20. Lorna’s body crumples to the floor.

On floor 20, just about every resident of the floor is loitering at the elevator lobby. There is the beautiful young black woman named Mizar wearing a fur coat, the elderly bespectacled gentleman, and the even more elderly, even more bespectacled woman.

The fateful elevator arrives. Lorna is sprawled on the floor with her blood draining away. The residents are confused. Who is this girl? They don’t think she lives in the building. It is very important to them to establish whether they know the girl or not.

Mizar has to hurry or she'll miss a rehearsal, so she heads off toward, presumably, the stairs. The elderly woman just walks back to her apartment. Soon the grumbles of disgruntled tenants rise from the stairway due to the elevator not moving. "A girl's been murdered here, if you must know," the elderly man calls down the stairway. Then he walks off as well.

In a lesser movie, one of the tenants might display more than mild annoyance at a brutal murder. But one of the strengths of this film is that it has places to go, things to do, characters to introduce. It doesn't have time to waste on emotion.

Case in point: We cut immediately to a photo shoot. (It can't be a 1970s giallo movie without a photo shoot.) A photo of Mizar, the young woman from the apartment building, is under consideration for a modeling job. The photographer--the actor plays him as a quirky Woody Allen impersonator, but more racist--describes her as "black, but not too black."

The photographer's gesticulations indicate he is probably enrolled in an Introductory Red Herrings course at the local technical institute. His client, on the other hand, acts a bit less suspiciously--he is an architect looking for print materials to sell the apartments in his newly constructed building. The architect--Andrea, played by George Hilton--watches the photo shoot and one of the models--Jennifer, played by Edwige Fenech--strikes his fancy.

But enough about them. The film has no more time for them. It cuts to a nightclub that features Mizar as the headliner. Her act is perhaps a little unconventional, though perhaps variations were common in Italy in the 1970s. She appears onstage in a bikini and the men in the audience volunteer to attempt to have their way with her while she fights back. It’s like those wrestling demonstrations where ordinary citizens are offered cash prizes to last three minutes in the ring with Gorgeous George, only with 100% more (attempted) rape.

Andrea happens to be in the audience during the performance. He talks to the bartender to try to make a date with Mizar.

But the film has no time to find out how this works out. It cuts to another photo shoot with the Woody Allen impersonator and Jennifer. Jennifer sees a man lurking at the back of the photo studio. She whispers his name, Adam. Shocked, she knocks over a light, prompting Woody Allen to say “She must be crazy! Crazy! Crazy!” But Adam isn’t really there. He was all in her mind. Maybe she is crazy crazy crazy.

As Jennifer leaves the studio, we find out that she is in fact not crazy crazy crazy. She did see Adam, and she sees him again. He signals his presence by dropping a white iris (the flower, not the part of the camera or the eye) on the sidewalk. It turns out that the iris is the symbol of the group that Jennifer used to belong to. A fuzzy flashback shows us this group was some kind of group sex cult, and Adam was not only their leader, he was also Jennifer’s husband. He wants her to return but she refuses: “I feel so ashamed. I need to belong to someone, and no one else.” 

Naturally, Adam is incensed that he can’t be the man in her life. Apparently having passed his Introductory Red Herrings course with flying colors and moved on to Advanced Red Herrings, Adam threatens Jennifer with a hypodermic needle. She brushes him aside and runs into the streets of Rome.

Having cast serious doubts about Jennifer’s taste in men, the film cuts back to Mizar as she returns to the apartment tower. She has a flashback about Lorna’s body in the elevator so she walks up to her apartment on floor 20. At the top, she is slightly annoyed by the climb but not winded in the least.

We are 20 minutes into the movie, so it’s time for a suspense sequence in Mizar’s apartment. The lights don’t work. Someone is stalking her inside the dark apartment. She strikes a match so she can see who is there, but he appears behind her and gives her a karate chop with his yellow dishwashing gloves. Though she fends off aggressive men for a living, she is no match for a karate chop.

We see a little more of the killer this time—he wears a black hat in addition to the black coat and yellow gloves, but his face is covered by a black cloth hood. He ties her up and moves her to the bathtub. She wakes up as he turns on the water. Soon the water rises over her head and she drowns in the bathtub.

With this second murder, we shall close Part 1 of our investigation into The Case of the Bloody Iris. Only 22 minutes have elapsed, but we have already witnessed two murders and been introduced to a number of potential killers: the elderly man, the elderly woman, the architect, the Woody Allen impersonator, the nightclub would-be rapist, the model with the poor taste in men, and her ex-husband. What could possibly happen next? Will there be more murders? The answer is yes [spoiler]. Will there be more red herrings? The answer is also yes [spoiler]. Farewell until next time!

Read Part 2 here.