THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERLY is a fairly restrained - some may say a trifle dull - giallo. A million miles away from the taut suspense of early Argento, or the trashy fun of some of the genre’s more gleefully disreputable offerings. Still, those with a strong constitution (and some stronger espresso) might find something here worth sticking around for.
You might be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a courtroom drama. Much of the film’s running time is taken up with the trial of a TV sport’s presenter, Allesandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia), who is eventually arrested for the brutal murder of a young French student, Fransoise Pigaut (Carol And). Her body is discovered in a city park, as it rolls down the hillside towards two young children in yellow rain slickers (in a striking opening sequence). A man, who may or may not be the killer, is seen fleeing the park in a grey rain coat and hat by a number of witnesses. However, despite the fact that he is identified by a woman her testament is thrown into some doubt when it emerges she didn’t have her glasses on (!). Also, the fact that his coat was covered in mud from the park is put down to the fact he was splashed by a speeding car. More unlikely courtroom shenanigans unravel, including his wife, Ida (giallo regular Evelyn Stewart barking out “So that‘s where the blood on your shirt came from!”), when it emerges the suspect’s alcoholic mistress cut herself on her whiskey glass. The odds seem stacked against the defendant, not least at of all because his defence lawyer is carrying on a torrid affair with his wife.
However, soon more bodies, with the same MO, begin to pile up in the same park as where the French girl was found. The police have no choice but to release Marchi, and try and find the killer afresh …
Tessari’s giallo borders on the art film at times. Not necessarily a bad thing (after all, DEATH LAID AN EGG (1968) showed that merging the thriller and the art film could produce some striking results). However, there’s lots of ponderous scenes here of dialogue between morose people - not least of all the anarchic playboy Giorgio (Helmut Berger), who is involved in a masochistic relationship with Marchi’s daughter Sarah (Wendy D‘Olive). To be fair, a 70s giallo will always throw a sidewinder or two, and despite its sombre tone there are a couple of left-field moments, not least of all when Marchi’s defence lawyer tries to pass off his fondling of his client's teenage daughter with the excuse he was just reaching her judo!
Unlike many gialli, Tessari seems less interested in cat n mouse theatrics (in fact the murders happen in a flash without much set up and are mostly off-screen). Also, sexuality is less overt here and there is a great sense of furtive passion and, perhaps, perversion bubbling under. There is also an almost Argento’esque fetishism for forensic science - much is made of the attempts of the police’s high tech (for then) attempts to catch the killer.
Ultimately, maybe I was just tired, but this was one of those films where you find yourself looking at that crack in the ceiling wondering if it’s got any bigger since the last time a film lost your attention. Never a particularly good sign. It’s beautifully shot - as we’ve come to expect of Italian genre cinema of this time - but I found it difficult to get involved in the labyrinthine plot unfurling on the screen. Berger puts in an uncharacteristically bland performance - to see him firing on all cylinders check out the delightfully psychedelic sleaze of Massimo Dallamano's DORIAN GRAY (1973) remake and the uber-violence of STREET KILLERS (1977).
THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY picks up a little in its closing minutes, but I thought it was a case of too little too late - and, let’s face it, there are a lot more entertaining gialli out there.
female:3 / male:1
1) Female found with throat slit
2) Female found stabbed to death
3) Female knifed to death
4) Male shot dead