Sunday 8 December 2013

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (Umberto Lenzi, 1972) Review

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“Let's make a hypothesis – two dead girls and a single killer.” Umberto Lenzi (Eyeball, Oasis of Fear) traditionally kicks off his films with a quick-firing few minutes to get the audience's pulse racing, and Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is no different. A black-gloved killer driving through the night accompanied by composer Riz Ortolani's laid-back grooves, the ever-present flick knife gleaming in the moon light, a home invasion, and then the savage bludgeoning of a prostitute – Lenzi isn't one for hanging around during his opening act.

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“The Police always score big fat zeros.” A serial killer is on the loose in scenic Rome, nick-named 'The Half-Moon Killer' as a result of the superstitious trinkets left at the crime scenes, and one of the intended victims is Giulia (Uschi Glas), the rich daughter of a Hotelier who's getting married to fashion designer Mario (Antonio Sabato). Naturally, the Police are lagging behind in their investigation – with little to go on other than a symbol, they'll just have to wait until the next body turns up.

“Let's put it all down to a maniac who runs around killing and presents trinkets to all of his … girlfriends.” On the train towards their honeymoon, Giulia is attacked by the black-clad psychopath but lives to tell the tale – except the Police have convinced her and Mario to pretend that she's dead to keep her safe as they struggle for clues. However, when a man confesses under duress that he's the one slicing up the city's residents, the Police are quick to breathe a sigh of relief … but Mario is far from convinced.

“You might even say your alibi's almost perfect.” With the morgue continuing to fill-up with guests, Mario figures there's only one option and so, in classic giallo fashion, he plays detective to solve the mystery on his own. The cops aren't to be trusted – they're either inept or disinterested – all except Inspector Vismara (Pier Paolo Capponi, TheForbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion), who constantly rails against his incompetent subordinates. Wearing out his shoe leather, Mario dives into unravelling the reason for this killing spree, but will he figure it all out in time?

“Nothing makes any sense in this story, and now three women have been killed.” After a brash and eager start, Lenzi's film gradually begins to dawdle until eventually, come the middle portion, the reliance on an under-written whodunit saps most of the tension. With little to connect any of the dots until very late in the film, Mario's dogged one-man search for the truth (thus side-lining Giulia) does much to challenge the viewer's attention span. Mario slowly peels away layers of obfuscation, but the search becomes tedious – the sense of danger is missing, as is, seemingly, Lenzi's trademark fervour.

“Naturally that's one thing you can be sure of, all criminals are out of their minds.” Like a kettle going off-the-boil, the tension one would expect from a series of escalating murders actually decreases as the minutes tick by. A simple revenge plot becomes apparent, and one that is not terribly convincing come the final ten minutes as the truth is laid bare … it's all a bit of an anti-climax to a moderately twisted tale that holds less intrigue than it should.

“You see today, even those representing God must rely on advertising.” A handful of stabs at religion would have been daring and rather pointed at the time – especially in the deeply devout Italy of the 1970s – when a confession-booth doubling as a coffin would have ruffled a few feathers. Indeed, the changing times of the era are ever-present here; hippy hangouts mask sexual aggression and heroin-haze with gaudy colours and free love, and Priests try to plug the leak from their slowly dwindling congregations.

“I'm tired of pretending to be a live corpse.” In spite of the lack of chemistry between the two leads, and a somewhat uninspired plot, Lenzi still manages to pull off a handful of stand-out sequences. The aforementioned bludgeoning and attack on the train are brutal and panicked respectively, with a blood-spewing death-by-electric-drill sequence helping to inject at least a little more vigour into proceedings.

“Strange, orchids stained with red.” Ultimately though, this is one of Lenzi's weaker outings. Arterial spray doesn't splatter the screen crimson, the dialogue is functional and rather uninspired, and even scattered attempts to spice things up with a few glimpses at bared breasts seem to lack any real sense of a thrill. Seven Blood-Stained Orchids could do with a shot of adrenaline, snappier exchanges, and a punchier script. It's a generally serviceable giallo with some beautiful locations, but all-bar-one of the red herrings fail to convince, and after everything is put on the line you come away thinking “is that it?” Sure, part of the reveal would have been shocking at the time, but the film just feels a bit lifeless in comparison to other examples of the genre.

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