I can only imagine what it must have been like to be an adult in the early 1970s. Oh the joys they must have had, as giallo after giallo was thrust into their local seedy picture house. To have the option to see the likes of STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975) instead of the tepid 15 rated pap that passes for a thriller these days (such as the awful WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (2006) remake). I know that to travel back in time, I’d have to forsake modern marvels like the internet and the Cheeky Girls but imagine wandering to the flicks and catching something like this 1973 film. Made at the peak of the giallo heyday, it packs in as many clichés of the genre as it possibly can within its 89 minutes. And that’s certainly not a complaint!
Giallo regulars should instantly recognise our heroine Kitty, played by Susan Scott who featured in such classics as FORBIDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (1970), DEATH WALKS IN HIGH HEELS (1971) and DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972) (after all that walking is it any wonder that death would have to resort to carrying a cane?). Kitty is at an observation point in Rome and witnesses a women being murdered through a coin operated telescope. But before she can get a good look at the killer, her money runs out and the telescope lens closes up. Initially people are skeptical of her story as she can’t quite work out what street the murder happened in.
When she’s not knee deep in murder and intrigue, Kitty earns an honest living creating mannequins for her beau Alberto (Robert Hoffman of SPASMO (1974)) to work with (“It’s the only thing she does well apart from make love”, he so romantically states!). So Alberto is in the fashion industry you’re probably guessing? If only a giallo was that conventional! No, Alberto mutilates these mannequins as part of a performance art piece he has planned, in collaboration with his composer friend Marco.
Marco (Simon Andreu, a regular co-star of Susan Scott) is troubled because his winkle is not performing for him and leaving his other half Lydia (Anuska Borova) less than satisfied. Although she laughs it off on the phone to Kitty saying “Dear Marco is impotent” in front of the poor embarrassed fellow.
Inspector Merughi (George Martin) arrives at Kitty and Alberto’s apartment just as Alberto is getting down to some serious psychotic stabbing on one of Kitty’s creations. “It’s not what you think”, he shiftily states. It turns out that the murdered girl has been found and the ‘erase all witnesses’ mayhem begins. First on the hit list is a chestnut vendor (a doppelganger for Tom Savini) that collided with the killer as they fled the scene of the crime. We get our first glimpse of gore as his throat is slit in a fairly graphic close up. Next to meet a grisly demise is a greedy old woman who can identify the killer but only in exchange for a load of dosh. Naturally she is silenced before she can spill the beans. An American ballerina is then targeted, returning home to find a nasty surprise waiting under her bed. The killer possibly taking offence to her pretentious shape throwing and glitter coated boobies.
The police find a blood print at the scene of the crime, made by a cane and deduce that the killer must have a dodgy knee. But wait, wasn’t Alfredo limping when the inspector last saw him? However, as we are in giallo territory here there is no point jumping to conclusions because, as it turns out, death isn’t the only one carrying a cane in this movie. Lydia’s grumpy twin sister Sylvia (also played by Anuska Borova which led to all kinds of confusion on my first viewing) also has a wonky leg. Similarly, in a sequence that the makers of URBAN LEGEND (1998) would be proud of (remember the swimming pool scene?) we find out that the chief of police spends his spare time dressed all in black (including gloves and hat) and requires the assistance of a cane.
Our amateur sleuths finally discover a link between the murders that involves a local dance academy. So a bit of nocturnal trespassing soon lifts the lid on the mystery. Although before that, we are treated to a sequence where Kitty has to keep going off to “pee-pee” which seems to serve no plot purpose whatsoever.
DEATH CARRIES A CANE is a fairly routine giallo. The murder set pieces do pack a punch missing from many of its contemporaries, and there is effective use of ominous music but the rest of the film is quite pedestrian. But a run of the mill giallo is still a darn good way to spend 90 minutes and while DEATH CARRIES A CANE lacks originality, it still manages to deliver the goods for fans of the genre. It ticks all the required boxes – nudity, blood, POV camera work, lesbians, quality 70s dialogue - “You better listen to me and cut that jazz out and get back in bed, you hear” - and of course the killer's ludicrous motive, which in this case will leave you with a major feeling of 'for fucks sake'. Director Maurizio Pradeaux, lacks the artistic bravura of Argento at his peak (or even Sergio Martino) whilst at the opposite end of the spectrum he lacks the sleaze and chuckle worthy silliness of Andrea Bianchi or Umberto Lenzi. The climax in the greenhouse is quite well staged (spoiled somewhat by OTT glass breaking sound fx), and the long, drawn out killing of the old woman is suitably tense and atmospheric. However the film lacks any real sense of intrigue. I didn’t find myself enveloped within the labyrinthine plot in the way I was with say, DEEP RED (1975) or THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976).
All in all, it’s a tasty enough morsel from the early 70s giallo factory that seemed to be churning this type of thing out at an alarming rate. A lot of them were fuelled by blatant capitalism and Pradeaux's film does give the impression that those involved had more interest in dollar signs than artistic greatness, but they still managed to produce a decent enough slice of entertainment.
Pradeaux's second (and last, as far as I know) foray into giallo territory was with DEATH STEPS IN THE DARK (1977) which makes me wonder where to for Death after this? Well, after carrying a cane and with a telegram from the Queen on the horizon, surely the sequel should be “Death soils himself at Midnight” or how about “Death holds up the queue at the Supermarket”?
female:4 / male:2
1) Female stabbed
2) Male has throat slit
3) Female has throat slit
4) Female smothered with pillow and slashed with razor
5) Female has throat slit
6) Male shot