Monday, April 23, 2007

Review of The Case of the Bloody Iris

With a cumbersome English translation title like “Why Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on the Body of Jennifer?” it’s no wonder that the British release re-titled this giallo as “The Case of the Bloody Iris.” Not that the bloody iris is a particularly important clue, but since the twisty plot consists of about 99% red herrings, it’s about as representative as any other adjective-noun combination that appears in the film.

“The Case of the Bloody Iris” (1972) starts with a woman being murdered during a tense elevator ride up a towering apartment complex. After the first person on the scene of the crime (a nightclub performer) is also murdered, the police take a serious interest and begin interviewing anyone who might be related, including the victim’s landlord (Andrea played by George Hilton), employer, photographer and neighbors. Jennifer (Edwige Fenech) is a model who moves into the 2nd victim’s apartment and has begun to fall in love with Andrea even though he’s the prime suspect. The plot doesn’t quite hold water despite all the red herring swimming around (I love mixed metaphors), but the story remains thoroughly engrossing all the way through.

The film stars the handsome George Hilton (best remembered in the “Sartana” spaghetti westerns) and the luminous Edwige Fenech (a giallo favorite), which is sort of the less-talented giallo equivalent of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Their relative fame ensures they won’t die in the first half of the film, but the script wisely keeps this from being a disadvantage by playing up their chemistry and making it clear to the audience that they are not disposable (a rare honor for any giallo character).

[Image: The world’s only Piet Mondrian style sex scene]

The rest of the cast is just the right level of bad to be entertaining without ruining the experience. The police commissioner in charge of the case is hilariously inappropriate, aggressively accusing everyone of being a murderer, physically harassing innocent suspects, drinking hard liquor on the job and making sexist, racist and homophobic comments completely inexplicably. At one point he pockets a victim’s mail, possibly an important clue, because he wants to add the rare stamp on the envelope to his collection. How he keeps his job is a mystery. Even better is his dim-witted gumshoe (apparently the only other detective on the force) who is recognized as an undercover cop by nearly everyone in the film, including random extras. Meanwhile, Jennifer’s blonde roommate walks around making ditzy non-sequiturs (like, “I can’t stand orgies. I get motion sickness.”) and failing woefully at leavening the mood. The role screams, “I will be brutally killed before this movie ends” so loud that she’s lost her voice by the time she’s finally done in.
Giuliano Carnimeo direction is surprisingly good, with almost every scene filmed in an expressively unusual way. After the opening murder, the film takes a while to really kick-start, spending a conspicuous amount of time with a brilliantly flamboyant and obnoxious photographer (looking and dubbing like a poor-Italian-man’s Woody Allen). Carnimeo is never too stuffy to join his (essentially extraneous) character in training his lens on the female cast members. It’s clear that the director wants to get his money’s worth from Fenech and her outrageous parade of revealing 70’s outfits (ranging from a paint-on leather jacket to a green vest over an orange blouse) is certainly memorable.

Once the narrative momentum picks up, the camera finally has more to do than dolly around voyeuristically. In “The Case of the Bloody Iris” no minor prop (typewriter, bottles, bathtub faucets, etc.) is too insignificant to be used as an odd deep focus framing device.

The staging is actually quite good with a mix of wide-angle close-ups and long distance arrangements on large, inventive sets (an automobile junkyard and trendy-nightclub/wrestling-ring combo amongst them). One of Carnimeo’s scariest concepts comes from his motif of arranging murders in highly public, brightly lit areas (a crowded elevator, a busy street) where the characters (and viewer) would usually feel safe.

Though not the best giallo, this thriller is sure to be a safe bet for fans of the genre and doesn’t have any major faults that make it hard to watch. The performance/presence of the leads is easily above average and the mystery is satisfactorily convoluted and fun. The red herrings aren’t even frustrating (simply confusing when considered retrospectively) and the images are distinct and potent enough to rank amongst the mid-level works of the more famous giallo directors.

Walrus Rating: 6.5

[Image: one final gratuitous Edwige Fenech shot]


Unknown said...

My first thought: "Gee, that iris sure is bloody."

This one was pretty enjoyable, although you're right that some of it (a lot of it?) makes less sense in retrospect. The female lead totally rules (and looks like less of an animal in this than usual?) and has AMAZING outfits.

Having the recaps (AND SCREENSHOTS) really makes it much easier for me to remember and re-enjoy the giallos we watch. The titles are sometimes so tangentially related to the plot that it's hard to remember them from that alone.

Mad Dog said...

I think someone likes Edwige Fenech.

And speaking of that, Katie...


Mad Dog said...

Also, that orgy/motion sickness line is hilarious.

FilmWalrus said...

I had never even heard of Edwige Fenech until I started getting into giallos, but she is definitely one of the most frequent and successful scream-queens of the subgenre. To be honest, I thought she looked really weird the first times I saw her (very non-classical face), but she has definitely grown on me. She walks the fine line between talent, kitsch and sex appeal that I enjoy quite a bit. I don't know if I'd have reacted the same way if I saw the movies in their original era, accepted her performance as entirely sincere and actually new people who dressed in the "trendy" fashions.

Unknown said...

At the end credits final scene, please explain that final scene of a new woman calling on the phone, and the other woman asking her to come by, I'm assuming that was the Edwige Fenech character on the other end of the phone telling the woman to come by the apartment??????? Email me

Unknown said...

I loved that movie!!!!!! Very complex, but exciting giallo thriller!!!!!!! My other favorite giallo thrillers are Dario Argento's "Deep Red", "The Cat O'Nine Tails", "Four Flies On Grey Velvet", "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage", & Sergio Martino's "Torso"-(1973),& "Dario Argento's "Tenebrae"& "Phenomena"!!!!!!!!!!!!!