Directed by Helia Colombo
Joseph Arkim, Elena Veronese, Halina Zalewska, Gabriella Giorgelli, Francisco Cortéz, Richard Fielding, Danny P. Gerzog, Robert Trewords, Margaret Rose Keil, Sonny Crowell, Daiana Murpy, Erika Fisher
I really love hunting down obscure, forgotten gialli from the 1970s. There is so much amazing stuff out there that’s just waiting to be rediscovered. Unearthing these old movies can be a two-sided coin, however, because sometimes you come to realize that there’s actually a pretty good reason why certain films have languished in complete obscurity for decades. This is certainly the case with La polizia brancola nel buio (translation: The police are blundering in the dark), which is arguably the worst giallo to emerge from the early 1970s. Made in 1973 by one-time-only-director Helia Colombo under the laughable shooting-title Il giardino delle iattughe (translation: The lettuce garden), it sat on the shelf for two years before finally receiving a limited theatrical release in 1975. After that it completely disappeared and never got a single VHS release. The only known version of the film to have turned up anywhere is a battered-looking Super 8 print, which has since been transferred to video and made available to an unsuspecting Euro cult audience.
It all kicks off in the countryside, where a pretty blonde model is despairing because she’s gotten a flat tire. She asks a passerby (whose face is unseen by the audience) for help but instead he attacks her with a pair of scissors – conveniently ripping her blouse open in the process. With the scissor-wielding maniac in hot pursuit, the poor girl runs off into the woods while her exposed boobs keep bouncing around.
After providing the requisite amount of screaming, tripping and bouncing tits, the girl is caught and stabbed to death with the scissors. Her lifeless body then slumps to her knees – resulting in a tasteless shot of the dead girl on her knees with her face pressed up against her killer’s crotch. This is a hilariously tacky opening sequence and it immediately sets the standard of quality for the rest of the film.
Next, we learn through some newspaper headlines that the unfortunate victim is the fourth model in 18 months to go missing in this area, and that the clueless police are blundering in the dark (hence the title of the film). It turns out that all the missing models had been photographed nude by an eccentric photo artist named Edmondo Parisi, who lives in a secluded country villa. Now, you’d think that this would make Parisi a likely candidate for being investigated by the police but apparently this hasn’t occurred to the cops. You’d also think that Parisi would have a pretty hard time managing to convince any more models to come to his house to get photographed naked, but since nothing in this film seems to make much sense, a sexy blonde model named Enrichetta (Margaret Rose Keil) still shows up to get her picture taken. But unfortunately for Enrichetta, she too gets a flat tire on her way back. To make matters worse, there’s a bad rainstorm going on, so Enrichetta seeks refuge at the local inn, where she calls her journalist boyfriend Giorgio D’Amato (whose car she was using) and asks him to come get her. However, Giorgio is just getting it on in bed with another woman, and tells Enrichetta he hasn’t got time to come get her until the next day. Nice guy, eh?
Anyway, that leaves Enrichetta with no other option than to rent a room at the inn. Luckily for her (and for the male viewers) there’s a big fireplace in her room, so she quickly gets out of her wet clothes and prances around naked. That is, until she discovers that the scissor killer has been inexplicably hiding behind the curtain (he wasn’t there when Enrichetta was looking out the window a few minutes earlier and there’s nowhere he could have come from in the meantime but, like I’ve already mentioned, things don’t make a great deal of sense in this film). So, naturally, poor Enrichetta ends up being victim number five. This really wasn’t a very good day for her!
Cut to the next morning, as Enrichetta’s idiot boyfriend Giorgio finally comes to get her. Of course, she is nowhere to be found, so Giorgio heads to Edmondo Parisi’s villa to check if he knows anything more. Parisi turns out to be a rather weird, wheelchair-bound hippie-ish type who looks a bit like a gay version of Hyde from That ‘70s Show – sans the sunglasses.
Parisi isn’t able to shed any light on what has happened to Enrichetta (and Giorgio doesn’t seem very interested in finding out either – although that may be down to bad acting) but he invites Giorgio to stay for dinner. And thus we get acquainted with the rest of the Parisi household, which consists of Parisi’s miserable wife Eleonora (Halina Zalewska), who hates living in the countryside and who apparently suffers from a hyper-maniacal state called ‘erotomania’; their beloved orphaned niece Sara (Elena Veronese); and Dr. Dalla, the village doctor, who doesn’t actually live with the Parisis but he apparently never has any patients so he spends his entire days moping around in their villa. Then there’s the domestic staff, which consists of the sinister and newly-employed butler, Alberto, who takes an immediate dislike to Giorgio’s presence; and the busty maid, Lucia (Gabriella Giorgelli), who is an insatiable nymphomaniac that will fuck anything or anyone – not even the local village idiot gets turned down by her!
But there’s more going on too. During dinner, we see Parisi secretly pressing a button on some weird devise, which causes the eye of his golden Buddhist statue to flash strangely. It turns out there’s actually a camera hidden in the statue but it’s no regular camera. No, Parisi has actually managed to invent a revolutionary camera that can photograph people’s thoughts!!!
Now, I have to admit that all this sounds like the recipe for a thoroughly enjoyable – if somewhat crazy – giallo but, sadly, it's nowhere near as cool as it sounds. Once Giorgio arrives at the Parisi villa, the plot just grinds to a halt as the characters almost never do anything but dine or indulge in idle chit chat. It seems like the director ran out of ideas and could think of nothing better to pad the running time with than long, boring interior shots of people discussing irrelevant matters. Sure enough, at some point another woman (and you can probably guess who) bares her breasts and gets stabbed to death and then Parisi solves the crime by developing the thought-photographs he took of everyone during dinner. And that’s pretty much everything that happens. Seriously! Oh, and just forget about an explanation for the killer’s motivation because there just isn’t any.
In case you haven’t figured it out already, La polizia brancola nel buio is an extremely trashy affair that is very badly plotted and acted. One could easily overlook these flaws had the film at least provided a bit of suspense, or some stylish murder set-pieces like we’ve come to expect from a giallo, but unfortunately, there’s no such stuff to be found here. Writer-director Helia Colombo seems to have no eye for visual style or flashy imagery, so instead he tries to compensate by making sure that all of the female victims are flashing their tits when they get killed. Not helping matters any is the fact that the film seems to have been made on a virtually non-existent budget. It looks every bit as dirt-cheap as it undoubtedly was – especially in the beat-up Super 8-sourced version that’s currently doing the rounds. The cinematography is stale and boring, and the frenetic musical score by a certain Aldo Saitto (who doesn’t appear to have scored any other films) is annoyingly repetitious.
There are nevertheless a few interesting ideas thrown in – particularly the concept of the machine that can photograph thoughts. In Dario Argento’s excellent Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), a victim’s eyeball is examined by a machine, which is able to extract the image of the last thing the person saw before dying. That in itself was pretty fanciful stuff but here Helia Colombo manages to take the idea one step further, and one has to sort of admire him for employing such a wild, science fiction-like plot element in a film that is otherwise... erm... realistic. Still, Colombo hardly does much justice to the idea, which is handled in a rather arbitrary fashion.
The majority of the actors are ultra-obscure and don’t seem to have appeared in anything else, although it’s hard to say for sure since most of them are hiding behind ridiculous anglicized pseudonyms that betray the filmmakers’ poor grasp of English – Daiana Murpy, anyone!? I don’t even know the identity of the actor who plays the leading role of the womanizing Giorgio D’Amato but whoever he might be, he’s a pretty uncharismatic guy as well as a useless protagonist. One initially expects him to be the amateur sleuth that solves the case but in the end it is Parisi who exposes the killer with his thought-photographing devise, while Giorgio proves to be as ineffective as the conspicuously absent police. In fact, Giorgio does nothing useful throughout the film and he’s a pretty unlikable character, too, due to his attitude towards women (his introductory scene where he refuses to help Enrichetta because he’s getting it on with another woman is just one example).
There are, however, three familiar faces in the film – all of them actresses. The most famous of these is the voluptuous Gabriella Giorgelli, whose long and prolific career includes appearances in westerns (Day of Vengeance, 1967), gialli (Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, 1972), sex comedies (The Virgin Wife, 1975), violent crime films (The Cynic, the Rat & the Fist, 1977) and much more. Giorgelli’s performance as the sex-hungry maid is one of the film’s few real highlights as she clearly savors the opportunity to show off her impressive physique in a steamy shower scene as well as in her hilarious sexual encounter with the village idiot.
Another familiar face is that of blonde German beauty Margaret Rose Keil, who at the time was well-known to Italian audiences for her appearances in a long-running series of TV commercials and prints ads for the vermouth brand Punt e Mes, as well as a bunch of sexy film roles. But unlike Giorgelli, Keil is poorly utilized in the rather thankless role of poor Enrichetta – she basically just gets naked and dies. Finally, there’s Polish-born actress Halina Zalewska (the older half-sister of the more famous Ely Galleani) in the role of Parisi’s frosty and dissatisfied blonde wife. Zalewska had a very successful acting career in the 1960s, when she appeared in such memorable films as the Antonio Margheriti’s gothic chiller The Long Hair of Death (1964) alongside Barbara Steele, the spaghetti western The Bounty Hunter (1967) and the bizarre crime/giallo hybrid Date for a Murder (1967). But, unfortunately, Zalewska’s career took a nose dive in the early 1970s – in fact this was to become her final film as she died tragically in a fire in her Roman apartment in 1976. La polizia brancola nel buio was hardly a good swansong for her as she isn’t given anything interesting to do here.
There isn’t much more to say, really. No one in their right mind would ever mistake La polizia brancola nel buio for anything even resembling a good film. It’s simply an awful piece of celluloid, and yet it is strangely endearing in all its awfulness. I suppose it’s the film’s sheer rarity and tastelessness, coupled with its glaring amateurishness and complete lack of logic sense that somewhat manages to work in its favor if you’re in a rather generous state of mind. Plus we do get a fair amount of tits and gore – and usually at the same time too – so if boobs and bloodshed satisfy your needs (even when it’s executed without any sense of style), or you just feel like exploring the very tackiest depths of the giallo format, then La polizia brancola nel buio is unquestionably a film for you!
© 2010 Johan Melle
??? as Edmondo Parisi
Elena Veronese as Sara
Halina Zalewska as Eleonora Parisi
Gabriella Giorgelli as Lucia
??? as Dr. Dalla
??? as Alberto
Margaret Rose Keil as Enrichetta
??? as The village idiot
??? as The inn-keeper
??? as The inn-keeper’s wife