This mid eighties Italian thriller is like a delicious blend of two of my favourite things from the era. No, its not a Kajagoogoo flavoured Soda Stream, but rather a mix of Dynasty style histrionics and sudden bursts of FRIDAY THE 13TH style uber-violence.
The film opens in 1960 Boston with an 11 year old girl encountering a faceless maniac dressed as a priest who gives her a doll. As is the way in the modern world that’s not all he wants to give her and whilst trying to escape, the girl (off screen) falls down a flight of steps, breaking her back which confines her to a wheelchair. 25 years later the victim, Joanna (Christina Nagy), is revealed as being a wealthy heiress who has put some of her funds into establishing a sports centre for paraplegics. She plans to also donate a substantial sum to the local church. However, someone else fancies the cash and will flash a razor in anyone's face to get it. Father Peter (Loris Lodi), a close friend of Joanna's and the priest who will be accepting the generous cash donation, is murdered in his confessional box, his throat slit.
Meanwhile, Joanna is falling head over heels for her sports coach Craig (ably played by British born cult star David Warbeck). Joanna’s sexually ambiguous best friend, Ruth (Carroll Blumenberg), appears jealous of this romance, constantly loitering around, spying on their flirtatious antics. At one stage she listens in on them going at it hammer and tongs putting on her best disapproving ‘Joan Collins’ look. But why have one red herring when you can have five – could Craig be only in this romance for the money? What about the suspicious Doctor Sernich who mutters something about ‘Joanna's special medicine’? Or what about motorcycle priest Father Davis (Andrea Bosic) who appears suspiciously oblivious to Father Peters death? Joanna is also given suspect status courtesy of a dream sequence where a sinister priest accuses her of feigning her handicap. “I have a secret I can’t tell anyone, not even my confessor, I can’t reveal it, not to anyone.” she replies.
It is revealed that Joanna has no recollection of the assault from when she was a child. Dr Sernich mentions to Craig that any horizontal aerobic activity could bring the latent memories to the surface and induce a heart attack. But wait, if it is an act of ‘love’ then she should be okay. Have the sick bags ready as our lovers engage in the following pre-coital talk:
Joanna - “I’d given up the idea on finding love. This is an emotional moment for me."
Craig - “Are you frightened?”
Joanna - “Not with you.”
Thankfully, once this Mills and Boon interlude is out of the way its back to good old fashioned giallo action. Joanna is left alone in her living room and is menaced by a prowler who descends her staircase dressed as a priest and carrying a doll. For added ‘creepiness’ (note the inverted commas) an uber-irritating chipmunk style voice sings a nursery rhyme with the nonsensical lyrics “Sing a song a sadness, a pocketful of rye, everyone is happy today, because someone is going to die”. She convinces herself that this was all a bizarre hallucination and dismisses the incident. The same man spooks her on a trip to New York yet she is still convinced it was all in her mind and remains ludicrously upbeat as she scoots around the Big Apple to the theme music from Lucio Fulci's THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) (hey, it wouldn’t be an Italian exploitation movie without a little recycling).
In a twist on the usual giallo formula, the killer and their motives are revealed just after the half hour mark and even then it’s hardly an earth shattering surprise. Thankfully this doesn’t stop the remainder of the film from being fun as there are a few more twists and back-stabbings in the tail. This 1985 effort is lacking the convoluted plots and ridiculous character motives of most 70s gialli but manages to be a cut above many of its shoddy contemporaries from the shoulder pad era with a nice pace, some very stylish and nasty murder set pieces and a wonderfully OTT performance by the villain in the final quarter. We are talking hilarious wide eyed mugging here as the killer keeps popping back up for another bite of the cherry no matter how much abuse they get. Don’t let the modest bodycount turn you away as when the murders do happen they are expertly handled by director Alberto De Martino, a versatile film-maker who previously had made the brilliantly trashy EXORCIST (1973) knock off THE ANTICHRIST (1974) and the fast paced crime thriller BLAZING MAGNUMS (1976). FORMULA FOR A MURDER was one of his last films and is an under-the-radar giallo that is well worth seeking out.
female:3 / male:1
1) Male has throat slit
2) Male beaten to death with a shovel
3) Female cut multiple times with razor
4) Male dies from multiple injuries