Ah, Venice – the very name conjures up Vaseline lensed images of shimmering canals, opulent gondolas and sweet, sweet romance; one of Italy’s most beautiful cities; a city of culture, elegance and the setting, perversely enough, for one of the most dementedly depraved films of the 70’s, which one native critic reportedly called “The most disgusting movie ever shown”!
Mario Landi’s jaw-dropping sleaze opera, GIALLO A VENEZIA, kicks off as it means to go on, with a quick cut montage of a man being repeatedly stabbed in the stomach with a pair scissors, the camera zooming in haphazardly on his bubbling wounds. His body, as well as that of a woman lying nearby, is discovered next to a canal. The police, lead by Inspector De Pol (Jeff Blynn), examine the bodies, discovering a small packet of drugs on the dead man. Another detective remarks that the woman, it appears, had drowned after recently having sex; De Pol guesses the killer must have removed her from the water it a fit of guilt.
It turns out that the dead couple were husband and wife, Fabio (Gianni Dei) and Flavia (Leonora Fani). Interviewing the dead woman’s best friend, Marzia (Maria Angela Giordano) (who, so infamously, lost her nipple in Andrea Bianchi’s enjoyably grade-Z zombie flick BURIAL GROUND), De Pol is able to piece together background information on the two victims – as well as noting that Marzia is receiving cranks phone-calls from someone she brushes off as nothing more than a spurned lover – it seems that Fabio got his kicks from kinky sex, usually coercing his young bride into various sleazy situations, like having sex with multiple men (whilst he secretly watched and masturbated) or leaping naked on top of her, bullwhip in hand, after titillating himself with Sadean etchings (most of which we get to see as the film bogs down with soft core flashbacks of the couple’s adventures). It seems that another of these kinks was a liking for the odd orgy or two, and as the bodies begin to pile up the Inspector realises that there is a link between these and the increasingly brutal murders as photographs of the mass fumble give a veritable who’s who of likely and actual victims …
Oh yes, this is one sleazy pic. Playing for much of its time like a grindhouse porno movie, in every sense (from the sweaty couplings to the matter-of-fact camera work; the chugging musak follows the characters even when they’re doing something as mundane as wandering across a pigeon infested square). The Inspector, who in a bizarre attempt at a character quirk munches on boiled eggs throughout much of his time on screen, shares feeble jokes with his comrades at the expense of some of the victims.
If the tiresome, seemingly endless porno sketches tend to send the viewer to sleep (they did me) then they are very much rudely awoken whenever violence erupts (and it does, often). The murders are filmed in such loving closeup, with such lipsmacking salaciousness and cheapjack gruesomeness that I dare say less hardy souls would fly for the eject button. A woman is stabbed frenziedly, with scissors, in the crotch until blood flows copiously down her inner thighs (this scene making a similar one in Fulci’s famously misanthropic NEW YORK RIPPER seems like THE LITTLE MERMAID in comparison). Landi also delights in another scene where the killer is not content to just shoot his victim but then pours petrol over him and sets him alight, leaving him to scream in agony; a passing nightwatchmen comes to his ‘rescue’, smothering the flames, but this is really only so we can see the barely living man’s eyeball swivel lidlessly in its socket surrounded by bubbling and charred eviscera. Now, if that isn’t enough to whet the appetite for hardened gorehounds (and turn the stomach of others) then Landi ‘excels’ himself with the scene where the killer ties a naked woman to a kitchen table and slowly saws off one of her legs with a carving knife (and just when you think the scene can’t get anymore extreme, the woman passes out due to the pain the killer slaps her until she regains consciousness so she can experience the full extent of her agony). It’s grim stuff indeed – and certain to cause offence wherever it rears its ugly head, although its impact is lessened somewhat by Landi’s shortcomings as a director – he’s certainly no Fulci, or even a Deodato. However, it would have been a public enemy numero uno had it ever found itself out on video in the UK back during the whole ‘nasties’ hysteria, and it’s safe to say it’ll never see the light of day legally in this country.
Landi’s shortcomings are also painfully obvious with the less than thrilling mystery angle (the core aspect of any giallo, surely). The narrative is terminally confused, particularly by the way the deceased couple’s past erotic misadventures are haphazardly dropped into the action so it seems that they are happening alongside the investigation rather than that they are flashbacks to before the opening murder. Also, rather hilariously, a vital piece of information is held back by a witness (who saw the whole thing through binoculars and was interviewed in the first few minutes of the film but neglected to mention he’d seen anything at all!) until the closing ten minutes, for no good reason - something which just elicits a resigned shrug from the egg quaffing Inspector. Finally, Landi also manages, unbelievably, to make Venice look drab and dull – quite some achievement, really.
BODYCOUNT 5 female:3 / male:21) Male found with genital area hacked and slashed