fredag 22. februar 2008

Death on the Fourposter/Delitto allo specchio

Italy/France, 1964

Directed by Jean Josipovici and Ambrogio Molteni

Michel Lemoine, Antonella Lualdi, Mario Valdemarin, Maria Pia Conte, Vittoria Prada, John Drew Barrymore, Luisa Rivelli, Alberto Cevenini, Gloria Milland, Jo Atlanta [Pino Polidori], José Greci, Monique Vita, Massimo Carocci, Giuseppe Fortis

This very obscure little film introduces us to a large group of wild, carefree 1960s youths. As we meet them, the youngsters are made up five girls and five boys. The girls are Frankie (Gloria Milland), a sweet good-girl; Edie (Monique Vita), an air-headed bimbo; Lucy-Ann (Vittoria Prada), a rich but mousy and bookworm-ish girl; Kitty (José Greci), a pretty but nondescript character; and Nikki (Maria Pia Conte), a sweet girl who is the newcomer in the gang. The boys consist of: Charlie (Mario Valdemarin), a suave charmer; Georgie (Massimo Carocci), a nerdy, bespectacled guy; Paul (Pino Polidori), a risk-taker who is a bit too fond of gambling; Lulu (Alberto Cevenini), the youngest, least bright and decidedly horniest in the group; and finally Ricky (Michel Lemoine), a rich, shifty-eyed playboy.

The merry gang of youths

Ricky owns a large castle out in the country, and the group decides it would be a great idea to spend the weekend there. So off they go in their cars, but not without taking numerous stops to “act crazy” while “Rock Around the Clock”-style music plays as the boys run around carrying the girls on their backs, or throw the flirtatious Edie around.

After some goofing about, they finally arrive at Ricky’s castle, where they are greeted by Catherine (Luisa Rivelli), the stern and sinister housekeeper. While the giggling girls head to the bathroom to freshen themselves up, the eager boys gather to discuss who will get to couple up with which girl. There are a few couples in the group that seem to be going steady already but in the end all the boys are satisfied no matter who they get to pair up with since all the girls are quite good-looking.

But there’s another resident at the castle too: the creepy-looking, old caretaker Aldo (Giuseppe Fortis). Aldo is quite the voyeur and of course takes the opportunity to spy on the girls while they are changing in the bathroom.

Catherine the housekeeper

The voyeuristic caretaker

What the peeper saw

Finally, the girls are ready and head downstairs to the boys. They waste no time and pretty soon they are all kissing and making out.

Just your typical 1960s party

But in the midst of all the fun, another girl arrives for a surprise visit. It is the flirtatious and provocative Serena (Antonella Lualdi), the enfant terrible of the group. While some of the kids are pleased to see her, there are others in the group who appear far less enthusiastic about this last minute arrival. Serena has brought along a handsome date named Anthony (John Drew Barrymore), and she immediately sets out to spice up the party. She whips out a record called ‘Sexy Party’, which Anthony has composed, and tells Ricky to put it on. Serena then starts doing a sexy dance routine and pretty soon she has all the others joining her in a big group dance while Anthony’s funky music plays.

Serena turns up the heat

The group is now quite cheerful but Serena has no intention of stopping here. She quickly organizes a silly ‘Truth or Dare’-style party game called ‘Shattering the Illusion’, which leads to a lot of flirtation and fuss – resulting in some jealousy and re-couplings. Still not content, Serena announces that Anthony is actually a psychic and pushes him into conducting a séance. Anthony goes along and predicts that something terrible is going to happen to the group.

Upset by his own visions and angry at Serena, Anthony breaks off the séance and leaves the castle in anger. None too concerned, the friends continue to have fun and go about exploring the castle. Unfortunately, Anthony’s predicaments come through as one of the friends is discovered murdered. With no telephone installed at the desolate castle, the understandably frightened kids decide to leave immediately but discover to their horror that they can’t reach their cars because someone has stolen the keys to the garage…

Anthony makes grim predicaments

Death on the Fourposter is one of the earliest Italian gialli – if it can really qualify as that. Made before Mario Bava’s landmark giallo Blood and Black Lace (1964), this very early entry can’t really be seen as part of a trend because the genre hadn’t really taken off yet. It also lacks many of the characteristic giallo traits such as the black-gloved killer or the flashy murders. Indeed, this film has a very low body count and all the killings take place off-screen. Nevertheless, it does contain many elements that would later become typical of the giallo, like the voyeuristic caretaker, the sexy shenanigans and the twist ending, which is surprisingly clever and highly effective.

With the film being set in an old castle, this could easily have become one of those hybrids between old-fashioned gothic horror and modern-day thriller but that isn’t the case. Other than the castle setting, some dark, secret passageways and the sinister housekeeper, there aren’t many gothic elements to be found here. The music and the feel of the film are both very modern (well, modern à la 1964, of course), and all the characters are your typical carefree and fun-loving 1960s types.

Death on the Fourposter still is a hybrid of genres, though, as it starts out like a fun youth movie of sorts; with dancing, flirting and partying before settling into more of a traditional thriller about halfway through. The first murder doesn’t occur until around the 50 minute mark, which may be too late in the proceedings for some viewers. But, really, the first part of the film – while without any real thriller elements – is not boring. Far from it! It’s terrifically fun and enjoyable, if somewhat cheesy. Things get especially steamy after the Serena character arrives, as she really stirs up some emotions. The sexy dance routine and the cheesy dialogues all lend an irresistible camp appeal to the proceedings.

Sexy party with Serena

Once the first murder takes place, the mood shifts somewhat but the film remains just as entertaining. A few decent thrills are stirred up and, as mentioned, the final climatic twist is very effective and suspenseful but the film never really becomes too serious – frequently retaining a tongue-in-cheek approach. What’s really amazing are the three sleuthing characters in the group: smart, bespectacled Lucy-Ann; pretty and spunky redhead Nikki; and the nice but somewhat cowardly Lulu (figures, with a name like that for a boy), who all play an important part in unmasking the killer. The amazing thing about these three kids is that they are very reminiscent of Velma, Daphne and Shaggy from the animated Scooby-Doo series that would premiere in 1969.

Possible inspirations for Velma, Daphne and Shaggy?

Technically, this is a good-looking and well-shot film that uses some nice camera work to create atmosphere and stylish images. Unfortunately, some of the compositions are partly ruined by the commonly seen fullscreen versions. The music is typical of the time period but fits the film very nicely.

Various stylish sequences

Unfortunately, Death on the Fourposter is very obscure and hard to get hold of. It was originally released in the UK under the title Sexy Party (the name of the record the characters dance to in the film) but has also been broadcast on television in the US under the Death on the Fourposter title. This review refers to the US television print, which may have been shorn of some nudity or other naughty bits. The opening credits states that the film is directed by Jean Josipovici – followed by a credit that reads ‘American version directed by Ambrogio Molteni’, who wrote stuff like The Sexorcist (1974) and Crazy Desires of a Murderer (1976) but never directed anything else. Not quite sure what this credit means but it could be there’s a ‘sexier’ European version out there somewhere. In any case, the film is worthy of far greater recognition.

The cast is also fantastic and several of the actors warrant special mention. Many of them may not be too well-known to giallo and horror fans but they have all had very solid careers. The best presence in the film is easily the attractive Antonella Lualdi as the trouble-making temptress Serena. Lualdi steals every scene she is in and looks like she really enjoyed herself during filming. American actor John Drew Barrymore is also a very welcome presence even though his role is relatively brief, and the always watchable French actor/director Michel Lemoine with his creepily intense eyes is wonderful as the troubled playboy who owns the castle.

Other interesting actors include the sweet Maria Pia Conte as the spunky Nikki. This was one of Conte’s earliest roles – she later appeared in numerous fotoromanzi (photo novels) and notable genre films like The Hanging Woman (1973), The Arena (1973) and Spasmo (1974). I also confess to having a particular fondness for Vittoria Prada who plays Lucy-Ann, the plain girl with the glasses – only you can clearly see that she’s a very sweet girl underneath those big glasses. Prada had a very short-lived but interesting career, which included films like Max Pécas’ Sweet Ecstasy (1962) and Renato Polselli’s The Vampire of the Opera (1964).

But there are more familiar faces too, such as José Greci, who had a tiny role in Ben-Hur (1959) and numerous peplums; Luisa Rivelli, a popular actress at the time who appeared in many spy and adventure film; the gorgeous Gloria Milland, a peplum and spaghetti western veteran; and the great Giuseppe Fortis, known from films like Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) and The Beast in Space (1978), who is wonderfully creepy here as the peeping caretaker.

Overall, the entire cast does a great job and all the 1960s babes look wonderful – even Catherine the maid sexes it up at one point when she lets her hair out and slips out of her maid’s uniform.

Catherine sexes it up

Simply put, Death on the Fourposter is superlative early giallo that provides sexy, campy fun from beginning to end. If you thought the earlier gialli were boring and not worth checking out, this one is proof of the contrary. Later that same year, John Drew Barrymore and Luisa Rivelli would both go on to appear in Game of Crime (1964), another early and highly obscure giallo. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing it but if it’s anywhere near the same league as Death on the Fourposter, it should be worth tracking down.

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

Michel Lemoine as Ricky

Antonella Lualdi as Serena

Mario Valdemarin as Charlie

Maria Pia Conte as Nikki

Vittoria Prada as Lucy-Ann

John Drew Barrymore as Anthony

Luisa Rivelli as Catherine

Alberto Cevenini as Lulu

Gloria Milland as Frankie

Pino Polidor (a.k.a. Jo Atlanta) as Paul

José Greci as Kitty

Monique Vita as Edie

Massimo Carocci as Georgie

Giuseppe Fortis as Aldo

3 kommentarer:

MarioBava sa...

Sensational I articulate Johan....I have it a while ago and I have never dared to see it....



Johan Melle sa...

Thank you very much :-)

I was surprised by how much I liked this film. What is the version you have, Jose? Is it also from TV, or is it a Spanish VHS release?

MarioBava sa...

hi Johan

I don't have Spanish edition...Neither I think that it was published....

My copy is the same one that his...

Best regards