One thing needs to be discussed before I start to look at Umberto Lenzi’s 1970 thriller A QUIET PLACE TO KILL and that is to clear up the confusion over the title. It is known in some territories as PARANOIA, not to be mistaken with a 1968 Lenzi film also called PARANOIA which itself has the alternate title ORGASMO and which also stars Carroll Baker. Then there’s the 1971 film DIRTY PICTURES (again a Lenzi flick) which sometimes goes under the name of IDEAL PLACE TO KILL. Confused?
The film starts, not so much with a bang, more with a psychedelic ‘woah man’ as the opening credits play over images from later in the film in groovy negative. Helen (Caroll Baker) is a racing driver who one afternoon gets distracted thinking of her dreamy ex-husband and forgets to turn left and smashes straight into a wall. The car is a write off and leaves Helen in debt. As she is discharged from hospital she gets a telegram from Maurice (Jean Sorel), the aforementioned ex-husband, inviting her to stay with him and his new wife Constance at their luxury villa in Mallorca.
On the way to the villa, she has to stop to ask for directions, a scene which had my sniggering into my Malibu and pineapple juice….er…. I mean beer. You see, it’s a common occurrence for me to become obsessed with some very minor moment in a film. Usually I can let them slip by without comment but on this occasion I just can’t keep it to myself. It’s a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ appearance by a woman wearing the most absurd sunglasses I have ever seen in my life. I’m talking ‘two bicycle weeks attached to the head’ type enormity. If you are struggling with the languid pace of the first 30 minutes of the movie then enormous sunglasses lady will certainly wake you up with a jolt.
Meanwhile, when Helen arrives at the villa we discover that it was in fact Constance who invited her with the goal of trying to get Helen on board with her scheme to murder Maurice. Helen doesn’t take much convincing as her new found friend offers to settle all her debts, although we see in a flashback that Helen had tried killing him once before so she probably needed little persuasion. The night before the assassination is due to take place, Maurice and Helen get better acquainted by indulging in an evening of ‘adult hugs’. On their yacht the next morning, the two women go about instigating their plan but when it comes time to shoot her ex with a spear gun, Helen chickens out. Constance, a little miffed at her would be accomplices’ change of heart, tries to grab the gun off her and in the melee is stabbed. With a boat party of friends approaching, the duo fake a capsizing to make it look like Constance has fallen overboard, weighing down her body in the misguided hope that it will not be recovered. Shortly after this ‘accident’ Constance’s daughter, Susan, arrives on the scenes with immediate suspicions that something untoward is going on. From here, the film focuses on Maurice and Helens attempts to conceal their crime. In this respect, the plot resembles Lenzi’s aforementioned film from the following year OASIS OF FEAR (aka DIRTY PICTURES). And like that film, A QUIET PLACE TO KILL is not what you would strictly call a typical giallo. It is more Hitchcock like in its structure with virtually no ‘stalk and slash’ element, focussing more on the psychological meltdown of its lead character. Just look at the body count for proof that we are not in FRIDAY THE 13TH territory. What we have is a plot dealing with double crossing, sex, money and dubious attitudes to sexual equality, which makes it sound more like the absurd soap antics of DYNASTY or DALLAS. Our lead female, Helen, starts out as a feisty, independent racing car driver but ends up as an alcoholic, Sue Ellen-type wreck, reaching for the bottle every 5 minutes as another clue takes her one step closer to being discovered. Jean Sorel’s Maurice is pure JR Ewing in his role as the misogynist pig with little more than money on his mind.
The film doesn’t really get going as a thriller until after the ‘accidental’ murder of Constance, forcing Helen and Maurice to go to great lengths to cover their tracks. Which isn’t to demean the early portion, as it provides necessary exposition explaining the, sometimes odd, relationships between the central three characters. Lenzi creates several juicy moments of tension as the guilty duo are forced to look on as some fisherman seem convinced they have found the missing body of Constance only for it to turn out to be some general flotsam. Later they have to sit and watch some film footage which may possibly contain the murderous event. As for the final twist, well, seasoned giallo viewers should be more than capable of seeing where the plot is going especially as it’s a trick the director has pulled more than once since. This over familiarity means it is not a giallo that would stand out from the (abundant) crowd but it’s certainly worth a look. If you get bored with the plot there are always those gorgeous Mallorcan vistas to take in (which is a particular delight to those of us who live in a land of perpetual cloud) and fans of dodgy dancing should guffaw at the club sequence where Caroll Baker’s shape throwing will have you convinced she is channelling the spirit of Jan Brady.
Lenzi is often considered as a purveyor of trash so it’s interesting to see that once upon a time he made films with a certain degree of respectability. In fact, one of my favourite Italian crime films is his superb ALMOST HUMAN from 1974. That’s not to say his later films weren’t enjoyable, because the cheese-tastic EYEBALL is a work of genius in my opinion and NIGHTMARE CITY has to be one the most wonderfully silly zombie movies ever. But looking at A QUIET PLACE TO KILL it’s hard to believe it’s the work of the same man responsible for CANNIBAL FEROX, GHOSTHOUSE and BLACK DEMONS. Similarly, the film is superbly shot in glorious widescreen by none other than Joe D’Amato himself (here using his real name Aristide Massecessi), and again its startling to see what a true craftsman he was in the days before ANTHROPOPHAGUS and countless Laura Gemser knock offs sullied his name somewhat.
female:2 / male:0
1) Female stabbed
2) Female killed in car crash