Tag Archives: murder thriller

The Bloodstained Butterfly

The Bloodstained Butterfly
The Bloodstained Butterfly

Format: Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD)

Release date: 22 August 2016

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Duccio Tessari

Writers: Gianfranco Clerici, Duccio Tessari

Cast: Helmut Berger, Giancarlo Sbragia, Ida Galli, Silvano Tranquilli, Wendy D’Olive, Gunther Stoll, Carole André

Original title: Una farfalla con le ali insanguinate

Italy 1971

95 mins

Duccio Tessari’s stylish murder-mystery is a forgotten, unusually complex gem of giallo cinema.

A most unusual entry in the giallo cannon of explicit murder-mystery thrillers, this very fine courtroom whodunit – delivered in its entirety for this glorious restoration – boasts a breakout turn from German import Helmut Berger, here cast as a wealthy businessman’s son with women on the mind.

The action begins in classic giallo fashion: a girl is murdered while out walking by an unseen assailant with a knife. Witnesses soon identify the apparent killer: well-known sports TV personality Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia). But the trial soon throws up more questions than it answers, particularly when we see that the accused and his legal team know more than they are willing to let on. Before long, the murders resume, and the accused is out on bail.

Tessari’s handsomely photographed film – the framing and texture of the Bergamo locations is exquisite – shies away from gratuitous violence (very little blood is actually spilt) and the trademark giallo eroticism, despite some soft-focus nudity. Even the requisite animal, a butterfly, of all things, is modest by giallo standards.

The wealthy are typically up to no good, of course (two lecherous middle-aged men salivating over teenagers being a case in point), with the ever-diligent police always a few steps behind. A running gag about undrinkable coffee (from a machine!) is a nice touch. A generous amount of detail over police forensics, quaint by modern standards, adds some gravity to proceedings. The opening sequence (cut from the original in several territories) introduces a fine cast with colourful precision.

Some typically Italian flourishes will inevitably raise eyebrows, particularly the access a television crew appears to have to the crime scene (filming right next to the victim’s body, no less). The director’s cameos, complete with carnations, and his wife’s casting as a key player complete a series of in-the-know gags.

Casting well-known Italian faces and a clutch of German imports, Tessari finds time to pass comment on the ethics of money in sports, while all around the faint hangover of the 1960s lingers in the air. These characters are far too nattily dressed to be leaning towards counterculture (we are near Milan, after all), but there is sufficient subversive content to keep our minds engaged. The recent Blow-Up was an obvious influence on Tessari. Interesting, too, to note some brightly coloured macs early on, which predate Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now by a year or more.

A forgotten, unusually complex gem of giallo cinema, this welcome reissue by Arrow Video comes complete with interviews with some of the key cast, essays on the film, a pair of commentaries and photo galleries.

Ed Gibbs

Phibes Triumphant

The Abominable Dr. Phibes
The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Complete Dr. Phibes

Format: Limited edition 2-disc Blu-ray

Release date: 16 June 2014

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Robert Fuest

Cast: Vincent Price

UK/USA 1971-1972

94 mins (Abominable) 89 mins (Rises Again)

Arrow present a handsome Blu-ray set of Robert Fuest’s two campy, art deco black comedies celebrating the sinister machinations of an evil genius played by Vincent Price, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972). Rather than a mad scientist, Anton Phibes is a doctor of musicology and theology, studies he relies upon when he decides to revenge himself upon the surgical team who failed to save his wife’s life. It’s a slender motivation, but a very thorough revenge, murdering the medicos according to his own interpretation of the 10 plagues of ancient Egypt.

Co-writer and director Robert Fuest was an art director in the early days of commercial television in Britain, graduating to director on early episodes of The Avengers, where he obviously responded to the campy, surreal sense of Englishness. (He also introduced Richard Lester to the music of the Beatles, whom he had made amateur recordings of.) A heavy drinker, rumoured cross-dresser, and a favourite of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, Fuest made only a few features, and the last two were heavily compromised, but between Hitchcockian thriller And Soon the Darkness, pop art sci-fi apocalypse The Final Programme, and his two Phibes films, his cult reputation is assured. His first film, comedy Just Like a Woman, is a funny and convincing portrayal of 60s media people, and his version of Wuthering Heights (1970) with Timothy Dalton is actually one of the finest Bront&#235 adaptations.

The first Phibes film inaugurated the mini-sub-genre of themed murder movies continued in Theatre of Blood and Se7en, and is a precursor of the slasher genre: the plot is essentially a string of elaborate killings, with the authorities continually several steps behind, so as not to interfere with the fun. The themed killings are sometimes horrible, sometimes enjoyably ludicrous, but it’s actually the incompetent investigation following Phibes that provides most of the fun.

Price, that inveterate ham, is somewhat muted by the script’s casting him as a man with a prosthetic face and no vocal chords, relying on a gramophone plugged into his throat to communicate. It’s almost as if the filmmakers wanted to constrain Price’s mugging… The presence of Joseph Cotten points up the film’s debt to Citizen Kane, joining disparate scenes together with witty links, in which a spoken question is answered by the first image of the following scene. All in all, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a unique, crazy, and rather personal film, devoted to Fuest’s love of jazz, elaborate art direction and costume design, fruity performance, and naked sadism.

The sequel struggles a bit, lacking the structure of 10 curses, and has to keep inventing excuses to kill people in ridiculously elaborate ways, and shuffling guest stars on and off, but it benefits from Robert Quarry’s faded matinee-idol charm, and a rather intriguing mythological grounding, capitalising on the 20s-30s enthusiasm for Egyptology. Rather than relying on a virtuous hero (ditching Joseph Cotton’s crusty protagonist), the film pulls off a nice trick by opposing Phibes with an equally ruthless villain, while Inspector Trout scurries in their wake, perpetually baffled.

Like the original, it lurches from one gruesome highlight to another, sometimes stumbling, but helped along by grace notes of performance (Terry-Thomas, Beryl Reid) and set design (by Brian Eatwell, consistently ravishing). And Peter Jeffrey, as Trout, accompanied by his truculent, yapping terrier of a boss, John Cater, is a joy, delivering some truly awful joke dialogue with stiff-upper-lipped aplomb.

David Cairns

Watch the trailer for The Abominable Dr. Phibes: