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Horror, Sexploitation in Italian Cinema

Quad presents six newly restored ‘60s-‘70s giallo films

“The Fifth Cord” screens July 20-25.
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From July 19-26, the Quad Cinema presents a program of six newly restored giallo films from the 1960s and 1970s. This distinctive genre of Italian cinema often features a combination of elements raging from horror to mystery to sexploitation. The highly stylized entries in this program consist of pulpy and even campy films that sometimes feature lesbianism for titillation and the occasional homoerotic undercurrent. Here is a rundown of the six films in this fun, sexy, and bloody series.

“Strip Nude for Your Killer” is easily the best-named film in the series. It also has the strongest queer content. A fatal mishap during an abortion triggers a mystery killer to target Albatross, a modeling agency. First an assistant photographer, Mario (Claudio Pellegrini) — who may have been a homosexual — is killed. Then Lucia (Femi Benussi), who was sexually involved with Gisella (Amanda), the head of the agency, ends up dead. One agency employee, Magda (Edwige Fenech), discovers a clue and hopes that she and her boyfriend Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo) can catch the killer before they become victims. “Strip Nude for Your Killer” is entertaining as various characters engage in blackmail, adultery, stalking, and murder. The film features extensive nudity, bloody violence, and a funky score. The women barely keep their clothes on, the men are mostly abusive, and the killer’s motivation for all the slaying is a bit far-fetched. But as a prime example of the genre, “Strip Nude for Your Killer” delivers both sleaze and cheese in equal measure. It’s fun if you’re in the right frame of mind.

Arguably the best film in the program is “The Fifth Cord,” a taut little thriller, based on D.M. Devine’s eponymous novel. After John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is hit over the head in a tunnel and nearly killed, several people start dying. Reporter Andrea Bild (Franco Nero), who starts investigating, unfortunately knows all of the victims, making him a potential suspect. This impressive murder mystery exudes style, with dazzling cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. There is some nice sexual tension between Andrea and his girlfriend Lu (Pamela Tiffin), two tense murder sequences, some naughty episodes involving voyeurism as well as an exciting finale where Andrea hopes to unmask the culprit. “The Fifth Cord” is controlled when it comes to both gore and sex; there are only brief snippets of violence and nudity. While Nero slapping Lu is unpleasant — though not atypical of the genre — his otherwise solid performance makes this twisty mystery worthwhile.

“The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire” is an offbeat giallo that is set and partly shot in Ireland. The murders start at once with a woman getting acid thrown in her face before she is killed, her throat sliced open in graphic detail. When her body is discovered in the trunk of a car belonging to the Swiss ambassador (Anton Diffring), Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan) is put on the case. He takes the unorthodox move of having Detective John Norton (Luigi Pistilli) investigate. John is soon caught up in a web of scandals, lies, and multiple murders that gets complicated when clues are dropped at various crime scenes. The film, which takes its title from the reptile disguising itself, keeps viewers guessing, especially as the murderer wears opposite-gender clothes to commit one killing. There is also some mild queer subtext involving one character being disappointed that his invitations (made in a sauna) for an all-male evening are rejected. The mystery is intriguing, but the film is pretty bloody — a scene involving an animal’s death is both gratuitous and gruesome. While “Iguana” is mostly satisfying, the jarring music every time a pair of sunglasses are seen is unintentionally hilarious.

“Perversion Story (aka One on Top of the Other)” has San Francisco doctor George Dumurrier (Jean Sorel) spending time with his mistress, Jane (Elsa Martinelli), in Reno when he learns that his asthmatic wife, Susan (Marisa Mell), has died. When George and Jane meet Monica (Mell in a double role), a stripper in a club, they marvel at her likeness to Susan. George sleeps with her to satisfy his curiosity, and Jane has a seductive photo session with Monica hoping to uncover her… identity. However, George, who inherited Susan’s insurance policy, is arrested for her murder. As he faces the gas chamber, it becomes a race against time to prove his innocence. “One on Top of the Other” features copious sex — one fantastic sequence of George and Jane in bed is shot from the mattress’s point of view — but very little violence. This film is very much a melodramatic mystery with a large debt to “Vertigo.” If the film sags a bit during the investigation, the ending, where the truth is revealed and consequences ensue, is a corker.

“The Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion” is also a melodramatic mystery but this giallo is notable for featuring a woman in the central role. Minou (Dagmar Lassander) is threatened by a man (Simón Andreu) at knifepoint one night. He tells her that her husband, Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi), who is in debt, is a murderer. When she recognizes the man in some pornographic photos her friend Dominique (Susan Scott) shows her, Minou is suspicious. However, the man blackmails Minou — threatening to turn in her husband unless she has sex with him (which she does). But when Minou confesses what has transpired, no one believes her. Is Minou being gaslighted? The film builds very little tension as the plot, which is hardly airtight, unfolds. But there are many pleasures from the costumes, art direction, and production design — the houses are fabulous — as well as the effective score by famed composer Ennio Morricone. Lassander is fine as the lead, doing her best with a weak role, but Scott (Spanish actress Nieves Navarro, acting under an Anglo pseudonym — a common practice in pop Euro cinema) gives a delicious supporting performance that is all sex appeal and sultriness. Her flirtation with a man she asks for a cigarette is a highlight in this otherwise underwhelming effort.

Rounding out the series is “The Possessed,” a black-and-white entry from 1965. Bernard (Peter Baldwin) is a writer who heads to a lakeside town on the off-season hoping to reconnect with Tilde (Virna Lisi). Once there, he discovers Tilde is dead from an apparent suicide. But Bernard learns she may, in fact, have been murdered. As he investigates, Bernard has vivid dreams and even imagines things. “The Possessed” is certainly atmospheric, with gorgeous cinematography and some nifty visuals that capitalize on the film being shot in black and white. However, the thin plot unfolds too slowly. Even when a death occurs and people act strangely, the effect is soporific, rather than suspenseful. As an early giallo, “The Possessed” is not as pulpy or as naughty as the other films in the series — and it comes off as the weakest.

FRESH MEAT: GIALLO RESTORATIONS PART II” | Quad Cinema 34 W. 13th St. | Jul. 19-25 | quadcinema.com

Updated 9:13 am, July 18, 2019
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