On the surface, it’s an odd combination to say the least – a Cornell Woolrich story serving as the basis for an Umberto Lenzi film. Woolrich was the author of several stories during the fifties that were turned into such film noirs as Black Angel and Phantom Lady. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window was also based on a Woolrich story.
Lenzi is best known as king of the cannibals for his Cannibal Ferox, Deep River Savages, and Eaten Alive films. But he was also proficient earlier in his career with thrillers in the giallo mold including Spasmo and Orgasmo so maybe it isn’t such a surprise that itt all works much better than you would suspect, resulting in an easily digestible confection of mystery, graphic violence, and Antonio Sabato.
And you better believe that I am talking Antonio Sabato, Sr. here! This isn’t some slab of beef fresh off a Calvin Klein ad or Karate Rock!
The original recipe Sabato finds himself up to his neck in woman corpses, beset by lazy and unimaginative cops and hampered by an old lady whose memory only seems to kick in whenever it’s time for her to cough up a red herring.
He’s even so busy investigating a series of brutal murders that when he’s trying to sweat a guy who might have some clues for him, he regretfully announces that he doesn’t have time to beat his face in! I hate when you get that swamped with work!
As is the tradition in movies like this, we open up with a scene of hookers prowling around looking for tricks and only finding terror! One of them meets a guy in a cornfield which immediately ratcheted the suspense up for me because I didn’t have any idea they grew corn in Italy!
A guy with black gloves beats her to death and leaves a crescent-shaped medallion in her hand. He’s obviously read up on what it takes to make it in today’s competitive serial killer market.
You have to have a hook or a gimmick that the press can use to generate a catchy nickname for you. Until you have a catchy nickname, you’re just a guy committing a series of seemingly random, unconnected murders and not getting credit for being the true psycho that you are. After doling out enough of these crescent-shaped things though, our killer achieves some level of success as the press start referring to him as the “half-moon maniac.”
That recognition doesn’t come until later though. First he needs to follow up his killing of the hooker with another victim. After offing some chick whose cats he had to poison, his next target is Giulia. She’s planning on getting married to Sabato’s fashion designer Mario. During a train ride, she gets attacked by the killer and left for dead with one of those crescent medallions.
The police stake out her funeral and take pictures of everyone, hoping that the killer shows up or that Mario might be able to shed some light on some of the attendees and hopefully deliver someone with a motive to kill Giulia. Nothing much comes of this and it’s revealed that Giulia isn’t dead at all, but that the police are having her pretend to be dead so the killer won’t come back to finish her off.
When she finally leaves the hospital, she notices that Mario has one of those crescents on his key chain! Giulia freaks a little bit and Mario lamely explains that the cops gave it to him as a souvenir. After all, everyone knows that during an ongoing investigation, the cops usually hand out bits of crucial evidence as mementos to crime victims and their families.
Giulia remembers that an American who stayed at her hotel a few years back had a key chain like that. They head back there to check the registry for the day in question to see if something leaps out at them. Well, something sure does! Some cheater tore the freaking page clean out of the dang book!
They do recognize the women’s names from the days before and after the missing page. Some have been murdered already. There was also a maid murdered and with the attempt made on Giulia, that means that the Half-Moon Maniac is hunting down all the babes that were at the hotel during the day the missing page represented!
Mario tracks down some of the other guests at the hotel during this time and does a sketch based on the recollections of a guy with a photographic memory. The sketch though looked like nothing more than Antonio Sabato, Sr. demonstrating why he went into acting instead of art.
After a botched effort to trap the killer by revealing that Giulia was still alive and using her as bait, as well as the killer’s own botch by knocking off the twin sister of one of his intended victims (a wholly unnecessary twist that doesn’t add anything to the film), we get all the answers to Mario’s questions.
The film was missing the super twisted freakishness of Lenzi’s Spasmo and it was a little deflating that the outcome of Seven Blood-Stained Orchids as well as the identity of the killer was a bit more mundane. Still, on its own terms, it was a well-constructed thriller and Lenzi, aided by good score from Riz Ortolani, is able to keep us involved in Mario’s relentless efforts to unravel these knotty murders and ensure his loved one’s safety.
Lots of familiar tricks are pulled in this one from the old false confession gag, to the fake suicide, all the way up to that all too common case of mistaken identity where a character is describing someone and another character thinks he’s talking about someone else and neither one actually knows the other is mistaken, but they’re all put in the story artfully and serve to keep Mario and us on our toes. A good warm up for Spasmo which would be released two years later.
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