søndag 3. februar 2013


Italy, 1986

Directed by Giovanna Lenzi (with supervision by Sergio Pastore)

Saverio Vallone, Jeannette Len [Giovanna Lenzi], Tony Valente, Michela Miti, Gianfranco Gallo, Louis Dek [Luigi D’Ecclesia], Debora Ergas, Alessandra Izzo, Giorgio Ardisson, Michel Clinford, Laura Troschel, Remo Capitani, Solvi Stubing, Gianni Dei, Lara Orfei, Sacha Maria Darwin, Vittorio Forte, Emy Valentino, Alessandro Croce, Simonetta Gallese, Giovanni Nardoni
Linda Christian

Sergio Pastore (1932-1987) was one of Italy’s strangest directors. He churned out no small number of interesting genre films, yet practically all of them seem to have vanished into complete obscurity and are impossible to get hold of. His debut film, the giallo Omicidio a sangue freddo (1967) with Rita Calderoni, was never released; his wonderfully titled western Chrysanthemums for a Bunch of Swine (1968) is generally considered to be the rarest Italo-western; and his erotic films Diario proibito di Fanny (1969) and Occhio alla vedova! (1976) are equally elusive. The only exception is his most famous film, the enjoyable giallo The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972), which did receive some fair worldwide distribution.

While Pastore’s output from the 1960s and 70s appears to have been made with decent funds, his films from the 1980s were apparently made more or less for nothing. They consist mostly of oddities which were sometimes based on literary sources, such as La donna del mare (1984) – freely inspired by Ibsen’s “The Lady from the Sea” – and are as unobtainable as Pastore’s earlier films. Once again, the only notable exception is a giallo, Delitti. While hardly a widely distributed film (an English dub does not appear to exist), it did at least get an Italian VHS release. Delitti is not a true Sergio Pastore film, though, as it was actually directed by his wife, actress Giovanna Lenzi, who starred in nearly all of her husband’s films under the anglicized pseudonym Jeannette Len, and who wrote all of his films from the 1980s. Since Lenzi had never directed before, Pastore supervised the direction (under the pseudonym Serge Vidor) but Delitti nevertheless stands as the first – and so far only – giallo to have been directed by a woman.

‘Delitti’ translates to ‘crimes’ in English and it is with a crime that it all begins. A man has been killed during a lurid sex party which he himself was hosting, and the police are baffled to find that the man’s face has been completely mummified. After some examination, a young medical examiner concludes that the victim was killed by a poison made from coffee and uric acid. The two ingredients are harmless together but when mixed with sugar it produces hydrogen cyanide in the body – resulting in near instant death and the mummification of the victim’s face!!

The grotesquely mummified corpse

In charge of the investigation is the experienced Inspector Sanders, who sets about interviewing the various participants from the sex party. He’s particularly interested in talking to a sleazy midget named Jimmy (Luigi D’Ecclesia – credited as "Louis Dek"), who was filming a bit during the party. Inspector Sanders hopes that the footage will provide a clue to the killer’s identity, but rather than ask Jimmy to see it he comes barging in on him while he’s getting it on in bed with his sexy girlfriend (Emy Valentino). Jimmy makes a run for it, and after a hilarious fight with the inspector, the little man manages to escape.

Inspector Sanders leads the investigation

Jimmy the midget gets hassled by the temperamental inspector

The annoyed inspector instead meets Jimmy’s girlfriend at a nightclub and tries to get her to reveal what Jimmy told her about the happenings at the party. Unfortunately, the mysterious black-gloved killer is able to spike the girl’s coffee with the deadly poison, and before she can tell Inspector Sanders what she knows, the girl takes a deadly sip. The poison quickly kills her and mummifies her face – but not before she writhes around on the floor in agony long enough for her top to slide down and her breasts to come jutting out!

The black-gloved killer poisons the coffee while an inevitable J&B bottle is on display in the background

The deadly poison works its wonders

In the meantime, Bob Rawling (Saverio Vallone), a handsome playboy, journalist, photographer and mystery novel writer, is also taking an interest in the case, and does some amateur sleuthing by looking into people connected to the first victim, Harry Francis (Gianni Dei), who it turns out was a transsexual. Harry nevertheless had a girlfriend named Julie Garrett (played by director Giovanna Lenzi herself under her usual "Jeannette Len" moniker), who is heartbroken by his death. Julie tells Bob that Harry didn’t really confide in her too much but that he was very close to his sister Mirta (Laura Troschel). Perhaps too close, she alludes.

Bob the amateur detective

Giovanna Lenzi casts herself as the grieving Julie

Julie, too, is eager to catch Harry’s killer and starts snooping around a bit on her own, and there’s no shortage of suspects to look into. Aside from Harry’s mysterious sister there is also William Becker (Gianfranco Gallo), who owns the villa where the sex party was held, and who has an affinity for wearing black leather gloves and behaving suspiciously. William’s buxom girlfriend Betty (Michela Miti), an aspiring actress whose favorite pastime is to entice her boyfriend with long stripteases, was present at the sex party and may not be as innocent as she appears. Other suspicious characters from the party include the shapely blonde Susan (Debora Ergas), who is acting curiously nervous, and Susan’s aggressive friend Helen (Alessandra Izzo) and her chubby, mustachioed boyfriend Rhett, who seem to be harboring some dark secret.

William and his nympho girlfriend Betty are two of the possible suspects. And, yeah, this is one of those silly movies where the men always keep their pants on during sex!

Meanwhile, the mysterious masked and black-gloved killer continues to bump off anyone with a connection to Harry and the party. The killer’s modus operandi changes a bit, however, as he begins favoring strangling or knocking his victims unconscious before whipping out an extremely poisonous snake that bites them and causes their faces to mummify.

The bizarre killings continue

Wow! Where do I begin with this one? Before watching Delitti I’d heard a few things about it – none of them good – so I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a great film. But even with my expectations set very low, I still wasn’t prepared for what was to come. Delitti is without a doubt one of the absolute worst films to come out of Italy. It is so irredeemably awful, cheap-looking and incompetently put together that it makes even the worst of the “Lucio Fulci presents”-movies look like masterpieces by comparison.

Everything in the film is an utter failure – starting with the laughable special effects, if one can call them that. Clearly, there wasn’t any room in the budget for effects, and hence the scenes were the snake poison mummifies the victims’ faces are achieved by using a fisheye lens to distort the actors’ faces and then cutting in some quick images of what looks like cheap, home-made Halloween masks which Lenzi and Pastore probably got at a discount at a garage sale. These so-called effects are utterly pathetic and impossible to take seriously but they are certainly good for some great laughs.

One of the many hilarious mummification effects

The film’s cheapness is also evidenced by its production values, or rather the lack thereof. The best example is a scene at Bob’s workplace, where instead of a wall there’s just a big curtain, and the name tag on his desk is nothing more than his name written by hand on a folded piece of paper.

Cheapness aplenty

But Delitti is not merely a cheap-looking film – it’s also a distinctly ugly-looking one, with static and grotty camera work complemented by garish wallpaper and hideous 1980s fashions. The abrupt and erratic editing appears to have been done with a chainsaw – frequently cutting from one scene to the next, and then back again, without any rhyme or reason. A particularly jarring example is when the film cuts away from a steamy sex act to the middle of a chase scene, only for it to end shortly afterwards. In fact there is little build-up to most of the murders, and the chases are short and unconvincing. It’s clear that Lenzi has no clue whatsoever as to how to mount any tension and her attempts to add some suspense to the proceedings by slapping on recycled music from Lamberto Bava’s A Blade in the Dark (1983) are all in vain. The only memorable aspect to the stalkings and killings are their sheer tackiness. Slasher films are continuously accused of objectifying women and anyone thinking that a woman in the director’s chair will change that is in for a surprise as Lenzi piles on the sex and nudity just as heavily as her male counterparts. The undisputed highlight is an incredibly sleazy scene where a lingerie-clad Michela Miti is bound and gagged with her own stockings by the black-gloved killer, who then rips off her bra and caresses her naked breasts.

Strip nude for your killer!

Delitti is practically brimming with trashy moments like these, and they provide spectacular amounts of unintentional hilarity. Contributing further to the fun is the illogical and wildly unprictable writing, which results in a series of WTF-moments that truly beggar belief. The most notorious is a scene in which a woman is making a call to the police from a phone booth and gets terrified because a sinister-looking man with a hat, sunglasses and a scarf covering his face comes walking towards her. But all of a sudden the man stops in the middle of the street, takes his coat off and breaks out into an impromptu street dance before vanishing as suddenly as he appeared!!!

The killer? Nope, false alarm! Just a random dancing dude!

Then there’s the matter of the opening sequence when the police are examining the crime scene and we clearly see two dead bodies covered by white sheets on the floor. But throughout the film, the police consistently refer to the crime as one murder – that of Harry Francis. The other corpse (whoever it was) is never mentioned at all!

There are clearly two corpses but apparently only one of them is of any interest to the police!

Another amazing moment comes when Inspector Sanders and his men take some time off from their murder investigation to beat up and arrest a couple of young men for no apparent reason. It’s an entirely irrelevant and randomly thrown in scene that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot!

And let’s not forget the thoroughly silly striptease scenes performed by the voluptuous sex comedy mainstay Michela Miti (somewhat of a poor man’s Serena Grandi). She strips and struts her stuff like there’s no tomorrow, and she does it so frequently that it soon becomes laughable.

Silly or not, to many viewers these scenes will no doubt be the high point of the film

Other demented moments worthy of special mention include the crazy fight scene between Inspector Sanders and Jimmy the dwarf, and the scene were a woman attempts to calm the nerves of her worried friend by strangling and threatening her – only for them to hug and be chummy seconds later. Finally, there’s a sequence in which the masked killer chases after not one but two characters – only for the scene to cut away without revealing the outcome of the chase. Whether or not the two characters were killed or managed to escape is anyone’s guess because they’re never seen or mentioned again! Incredible! There’s simply no end to all the silliness.

One thing that I rather liked about the film, though, was the presence of an old man nicknamed Chewing Gum, who pretends to be blind so he can more easily eavesdrop on other people’s conversations and blackmail them if he hears incriminating things. This character is no doubt a reference to Pastore’s earlier giallo, the far superior The Crimes of the Black Cat, in which the protagonist is a blind man who overhears a blackmail conversation which proves to be an important clue to the film’s mystery. It’s a nifty reference and a pretty amusing gag.

The fake blind guy

Another connection between the plots of The Crimes of the Black Cat and Delitti is that they both feature a completely far-fetched modus operandi for the killer. In the former, the killer poisons a black cat’s claws with deadly curare and then places it in a basket covered with a shawl doused with cat repellent. When the intended victim removes the shawl to look inside the basket, the cat jumps out and scratches the victim with its poisonous claws – resulting in a deadly heart attack! The murder method used in Delitti isn’t quite as imaginative, and the notion of a killer who carries an extremely poisonous snake on him while he chases and knocks down his victims is completely ridiculous (and the silliness is amplified by the fact that a tiny toy lizard is used for the snake) but Pastore and Lenzi nevertheless score some points for originality. They may have made a terrible film but it is never boring, and that is an admirable achievement!

The none too impressively sized snake takes a bite at one of its victims

Part of the reason why Delitti is never boring is its unpredictability. It is a film full of surprises, and that also applies to the casting – starting with the unexpected appearance of Linda Christian. Yes, the Linda Christian who was a popular Hollywood actress in the 1940s and 50s, and a favored object of the yellow press due to her marriages to Tyrone Power and Edmund Purdom. She was even the very first James Bond Girl, having appeared in a television adaptation of Casino Royale in 1954. Christian eventually settled in Italy, where she starred in a couple of films but retired from acting in the 1960s. In fact, Delitti was her first film in 18 years, and it’s a bizarre comeback role to say the least. She appears only at the start and end of the film as a narrator of sorts – speaking directly to the audience about how the events in the film could just as well happen to us, and cautioning us to choose our friends carefully and make sure none of them are snake lovers!!!

Linda Christian makes a bizarro comeback to the screen

But Linda Christian was not the only well-known actor Pastore and Lenzi were able to coax into appearing in this film. There are in fact numerous familiar faces that make surprise appearances – starting with Giorgio Ardisson, who plays Inspector Sanders’ superior. The athletic and handsome Ardisson had been very popular as a leading man in several Eurospy adventures in the 1960s but his career was in pretty bad shape by the 1980s, and he actually wound up being a regular in Pastore’s films.

Another familiar face from the good old days is German actress Solvi Stubing. A prolific presence in Italian B-movies and fotoromanzi, Stubing was nevertheless best known as the sexy blonde girl in a long series of print and television commercials for Peroni beer, which you can read about here. By the time Delitti was made, Stubing had retired from acting and embarked on a new career as a film journalist – making this another case of a bizarre comeback.

Appearing in the role of the first victim’s sister is Laura Troschel, who is not too well-known to non-Italians but in Italy she was a popular actress in comedies and television dramas, as well as being a singer. Troschel’s career was pretty solid around the time this was made, so her presence is definitely unexpected.

Finally there’s Gianni Dei, who appears briefly as the first victim. Dei, too, is a prolific actor with credits going back to the 1960s but he appeared mainly in trash movies such as Giallo a Venezia (1979) and Patrick Still Lives (1980), so seeing him in this isn’t actually all that surprising.

Overall, though, it is undeniably baffling to find so many old pros appearing in such a terrible film, which couldn’t have looked good even in script form. Most likely it has to do with the fact that prior to becoming a director, Pastore used to work as a journalist and press agent. He presumably made a lot of friends and connections in those days, and was probably able to hire them cheaply later on. Then again, I doubt anyone of the old veterans worked on the film for more than a day or two. They only appear in a few scenes each, and don’t get much to do. The only exception is Ardisson, who actually has a fair supporting role. He even gets involved in a bit of action, even if he does look rather old and tired.

Good old Giorgio Ardisson's still got it!

Also of interest is the casting of the younger actors, who are in large part made up of children of famous actors. Saverio Vallone, who stars as the journalist/mystery writer, is the son of the internationally famous Raf Vallone, and a familiar face to Euro cult fans due to his leading role in the gore classic Antropophagus (1980). There’s also Debora Ergas, daughter of the renowned Sandra Milo, in the role of the nervous and imperiled Susan. This was Ergas’ second and final film role, and that’s no wonder because she’s an absolutely terrible actress who can’t even act scared convincingly. More amusing is Lara Orfei, the daughter of peplum queen Moira Orfei, in her sole film appearance as Inspector Sanders’ teenage daughter who is obsessed with mystery novels. Thrown in for good measure is Austrian actress Sacha Maria Darwin, younger half-sister of the great Romy Schneider, as the inspector’s wife who complains that he’s never at home. Unfortunately, Darwin only appears in a single scene but was later featured more prominently in other trashy escapades such as Lucio Fulci’s Touch of Death and Mario Bianchi’s The Murder Secret (both 1988).

This rare photo printed in the "La Stampa" newspaper in January 1986 shows actors Saverio Vallone and Debora Ergas together with Sergio Pastore

Moira Orfei’s daughter Lara in a small but amusing role as the inspector’s giallo-novel-loving daughter

The spectacularly awful Debora Ergas does her best attempt at looking scared

Many of the female roles in the film are relatively brief – featuring several characters who basically just show up to get killed. The only really substantial female part is that of Julie Garrett, which Giovanna Lenzi made sure to award herself. In her mid 40s at the time, Lenzi is clearly much too old for the role and makes for what is probably the most awkward "final girl" of all time. But – like everything else that fails in this film – it only adds to the unintentional hilarity.

Lenzi as the final girl

I don’t think there is much else to be said about Delitti. It is simply a staggeringly incompetent train wreck of a film that gives a whole new meaning to the term bad. But while it fails miserably as serious entertainment, it is still an absolute riot due to its demented storytelling and all-around ineptness. Delitti is nothing less than a trash masterpiece of epic proportions and must not be missed by aficionados of crazy, demented schlock.

© 2013 Johan Melle

The cast:

Saverio Vallone as Bob Rawling

Giovanna Lenzi as Julie Garrett

Tony Valente (???) as Inspector Sanders

Michela Miti as Betty

Gianfranco Gallo as William Becker

Luigi D'Ecclesia as Jimmy

Debora Ergas as Susan

Alessandra Izzo as Helen

Giorgio Ardisson as The Chief of Police

??? as Rhett

Laura Troschel as Mirta Francis

Remo Capitani as 'Chewing Gum'

Solvi Stubing as Harriet Anderson

Gianni Dei as Harry Francis

Lara Orfei as Lara Sanders

Sacha Maria Darwin as Inspector Sanders’ wife

??? as Herbert

Emy Valentino as Jimmy’s girlfriend

Alessandro Croce as The Medical Examiner

??? as Inspector Sanders’ Assistant

??? as Lara’s Friend

Giovanni Nardoni as Bob’s Colleague

Linda Christian as The Narrator

Ingen kommentarer: