Thursday, September 1, 2016

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

This is Part 3 of our discussion of The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972). Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. At this point, three people have been murdered and the police are stumped.

Now it is time for the film to pile suspicion on another red herring: the elderly lady in the apartment next door. We see her buying a magazine called "Horror Tales" from a newsstand--the news agent tells her, "Full of blood and gore this week. You'll love it," then tells the commissioner's assistant Renzi that the old lady must have a loose screw. (This is followed by a funny scene in which a parking officer rips up a ticket he was going to put on Renzi's car--the running gag is that everyone knows Renzi is a cop even though he's undercover.)

After a love scene between Jennifer and Andrea at his house full of artistic touches--a shot through a window that looks like a Mondrian painting, the lovers' reflection in a television screen--it's time for the narrative to shift into high gear. The yellow-gloved killer approaches Marilyn in a shopping center. She says hi, clearly recognizing him, before he stabs her with a scalpel. She finds Andrea on the sidewalk and smears blood all over him, but due to his paralyzing fear of blood he can't react. Renzi chases the red-handed architect through the streets of Rome but quickly loses him.


Jennifer defends Andrea. The killer must be someone else. Taking advantage of the fact that she apparently has keys to all the apartments on her floor, Jennifer breaks into the elderly woman's home and finds yet another red herring in the form of the woman's horribly burned and scarred son. Could he be the killer, the scars the reason he hides his face and hands? The answer is no, as we've already seen the killer's hands as he slipped on the gloves, and they are not scarred.

Like most of the men in the film, he starts to manhandle Jennifer, but his mother tells him to leave her alone.

Then his mother starts to manhandle Jennifer, shoving her out of the apartment.

Jennifer gets a phone call from Andrea, who is on the lam. He suggests meeting at an automobile junkyard. When she arrives at the junkyard, Jennifer makes her way through the labyrinth of wrecked cars, which is particularly dangerous in Italy, where cars spontaneously fall from the tops of high piles.

Missing Andrea at the junkyard, Jennifer runs into Sheila outside their apartment building. When they reach the elevator, the controls don't work and the lights turn off. The elevator moves down to the subbasement. "Oh, it's all right now," Sheila says. "We can walk up." They set off into the maze of boilers and furnaces to find a stairway.

Sheila is assaulted by a massive blast of steam, which horribly scars her face before it kills her.

Jennifer only escapes when Andrea finds her in the subbasement, but now she is convinced Andrea is the killer. As Jennifer climbs the stairs, the commissioner and Renzi and about a dozen policemen come to her rescue, chasing Andrea back in to the basement. But they only find a hidden door leading to a back alley. Andrea has escaped.

Speaking of hidden doors, upstairs the elderly woman brings food to her son in his secret room littered with comic books with titles as bizarre as Killerman and The Mighty Thor. The room is unoccupied--her scarred son David has escaped.

It is finally time for the suspenseful climax. (As is your universe's backward custom, I am obligated to indicate that there are spoilers below.)

Jennifer waits in her apartment for her photographer friend, Woody Allen, to pick her up and take her away from the building. We hear the professor--distraught over his daughter's disfigurement and death--playing the violin. The yellow gloves pull aside the curtains as the killer enters Jennifer's apartment.

Jennifer manages to elude the killer and run to the professor's apartment. She runs inside only to find a tape recorder playing violin music! Brilliant! And the dead body of the scarred David sits in a chair wearing yellow gloves! Shocking!

The killer enters the room and pulls off his hat and mask to reveal the professor! He is the killer! Astounding! He murdered all those girls because they corrupted his daughter, whom he mistakenly murdered in the basement thinking it was Jennifer. Now he must kill Jennifer and blame it on David. He casually tosses David's body down the stairwell and tries to do the same to Jennifer, but, not being dead yet, she struggles.

In another shocking development, Andrea emerges from the elevator and rescues Jennifer, though he is quickly beaten up by the elderly professor's karate chops. Andrea and the professor struggle, and Andrea manages to use the professor's scalpel against him, slashing his hand, which results in drops of blood falling on Andrea's face. This forces Andrea to recover a suppressed memory of the car accident in which his father died--the source of his phobia about blood! Somehow Andrea manages to push the professor over the railing. The killer falls to his death!


In the final twist, the evidence proving the identity of the murderer is the tape recording of the professor threatening to murder Jennifer, made when Jennifer fiddled with the recorder and inadvertently hit the record button.

And in the final scene, another girl walks through the streets to a phone booth. She dials a number, and the woman on the other end says "I'm alone. Come on up." Is the entire story happening again? Or is this a flashback to an event before Mizar and Sheila were killed?

I have no idea. Such is the power and brilliance of The Case of the Bloody Iris.

The plotting and twists of The Case of the Bloody Iris are its main strengths, so it is no surprise that this is one of several gialli written by Ernesto Gastaldi. He wrote Riccardo Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, Antonio Margheriti’s Horror Castle and The Long Hair of Death, and Mario Bava’s The Whip and The Body. He wrote many movies for Sergio Martino, including  Blade of the Ripper and All the Colors of the Dark, both of which starred Edwige Fenech and George Hilton--Jennifer and Andrea from The Case of the Bloody Iris. Gastaldi also wrote Martino’s Torso. Gastaldi’s experience handling dozens of characters—main characters, suspects, red herrings, comic relief—is masterful in this film, the peak of giallo entertainment in the 1970s.

No less impressive than the screenplay is the direction by Giuliano Carnimeo, directing as Anthony Ascott. Most of his direction is naturalistic, shot on the streets in natural light, but occasionally he remembers he is working on a 1970s giallo so he bolts some style onto the proceedings. For example, as Andrea unlocks his car door, the camera suddenly turns on its side, filling the horizontal frame with the vertical height of the apartment building Andrea designed.

The junkyard scene snaps the camera’s focus from Andrea to Jennifer to Renzi following in the distance. If these moments of stylization were not so few and far between, they might make this film even more of a giallo masterpiece.

The performances are also exceptional. Edwige Fenech as Jennifer is as adept at dismissing ridiculous police theories as she is at undressing. George Hilton as Andrea is able to bug his eyes at the sight of blood better than any other actor on earth. The supporting cast is just as good--Giampiero Albertini as the sneering police commissioner, Paola Quattrini as the ditzy Marilyn, Franco Agostini as the comical policeman Renzi. Perhaps most notable is Oreste Lionello as Woody Allen as photographer Arthur, though this is not surprising as Lionello, a Woody Allen impersonator, dubbed Mr. Allen's voice in the Italian versions of many films.

But the brilliance of this film is best represented by its casual racism, sexism, and homophobia, all of which soar above and beyond even the high standards of the 1970s giallo film. In my universe as in yours, social mores and customs change with time, and some things that used to be acceptable are less so today. Modern expectations of decency make some of the dialogue in The Case of the Bloody Iris far more disturbing than the violence. Examples abound. The only black character, Mizar,  has her race constantly called out, especially with the commissioner's poetic, racist comment that he wants her color to corrupt him. The women are just objects; Adam even says that Jennifer is his object to do with what he pleases. The photographer says "It's hard to find a girl with a body like the one Mizar Harrington had." Even Andrea, portrayed as a sensitive man, is chauvinistic when he banters wittily with Jennifer, saying that he seems nice now but wait until he tries to "make it" with her; then she'll see what a bastard he is. Attitudes about lesbianism are universally negative. Not only is Sheila's sexual preference the motivation for her father's murder spree, but the police also treat her with condescension and derision. The commissioner says to her, "It's a shame to see a beautiful girl like you wasting her talents. Try the opposite sex. That's what we're here for."

Even if the performances, script, and direction were not so masterful, The Case of the Bloody Iris would at least be here to remind us of a time, not so very long ago, when people were very, very, very stupid.