You can almost hear the killer calling "Next!" as the cast fall to the flashing blade in Sergio Martino's highly enjoyable and influential giallo.
Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) and her American diplomat husband Neil (Alberto de Mendoza) return to Austria during a rash of murders, where a black gloved assassin - dubbed by the press "The Razor Killer" - seems intent to slash his way through the female population of Vienna. Initially, Julie has issues closer to home to worry about: her husband seemingly neglects her, leaving her alone in their (fabulously stylish) pop art apartment. This leads her to start daydreaming about her ex-lover, Jean (Ivan Rassimov), who she had previously been embroiled in a sadomasochistic relationship but eventually left for Neil (in a couple of highly stylised flashbacks we see him throwing her to the floor in a rainy forest glade and ravishing her, and, separately, smashing a champagne bottle, scattering fragments of glass like shimmering diamonds over her glistening body). Seemingly coincidentally, she begins to receive bunches of roses from her ex-lover with vaguely threatening notes which don't actually make a lot of sense, like "Worst part of you is the best thing you've got and it will always be mine!". No wonder she looks a little confused!
Julie's best friend Carol (Conchita Airoldi) tries to cheer her up by inviting her to a party at her home, where the highpoint is a cat fight between two blonde ladies dressed in what looks like bacofoil. It's here that Carol introduces her to her smooth talking Irish cousin, George (George Hilton), who sports a very variable accent throughout. She also spots Jean at the party, and flees - only for him to confront her outside. Neil turns up, and after an altercation where he punches Jean square in the mouth he whisks Julie away. Later that night, someone dressed in black sneaks into the apartment of one of the female guests at the party and slits her throat with a barber's razor whilst she's taking a shower.
George has obviously taken a shine to Julie, and makes the most of Neil's absence. Despite some initial resistance, Julie falls for his Gallic charms, and they end up sharing a night of passion after they escape from Jean's unwanted attentions. However, someone else seems to know about their illicit affair, as Julie receives a phone call from someone demanding money to keep quiet. She arranges to meet the mystery caller the next day at the city gardens and confides her fears to Carol, who squeaks, "Listen ducky, you have too many problems!", and offers to go and meet the blackmailer instead. This turns out to be a very bad move indeed, as chirpy Carol is razored to death by the killer as thanks for her altruism when she reaches the agreed destination. Shocked by the death of her best friend, it slowly dawns on Julie that she was probably the killer's intended victim. So, not only is her love life a complicated mess but she also has a homicidal maniac on her tail! What's a girl to do?
NEXT! marked Sergio Martino's first foray into the giallo - but what a debut! This has everything you could ever want from the genre: beautiful Eurobabes being menaced by a homicidal killer in classic giallo garb, liberal steals from Hitchcock (given a delirious reworking, naturally), sex, nudity and suspense, a suitably velvety soundtrack (courtesy of Nora Orlandi) and so many twists it'll leave you gasping for air! NEXT! also marked Edwige Fenech's ordination as the Queen of the giallo (although she also had a supporting role in Mario Bava's mega-stylish FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON the same year), she dodges cut-throat razors and even a harpoon gun to grab her well deserved crown. You can tell that Fenech was the apple of Martino's eye, as the camera literally swoons over her throughout. Luckily, Fenech has more than ample charms and talent to carry the film, which is even more commendable given that she provides the eyes for the audience (the viewers are as much in the dark about the ongoing action, and the twists come as much of a surprise to Julie as they do to us).
Along with Dario Argento's BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (again 1970), NEXT! is one of the most influential gialli of its time (which is why it's so disappointing that it has, as of yet, not had a legitimate DVD release). It helped spawn the tidal wave of entries into the genre that flooded screens throughout the early 70's. The suspenseful scene in the underground car park, where Julie is menaced by the razor wielding killer has been recreated in many films since, and was lifted almost wholesale in Massimo Dallamano's WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS (1974). Giuliano Carnimeo's fantastically cheesy THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS (1972) not only borrows Fenech as the much menaced heroine, it also gave her a semi-comic best friend (like NEXT!'s Carol), as well as romantic and suspect material again in George Hilton (who was regularly paired with Fenech as the giallo's royal couple).
Viewers not familiar with Euro-horror might find some of the acting a little, shall we say theatrical, at times (and admittedly some romantic scenes between Fenech and Hilton are almost unbearably melodramatic) but, really, that's all part of the fun. The sexual politics are also amusingly dated: after the scene in the underground car park, where Julie manages to outwit the killer, her husbands reacts to her panicked pleas with a hilariously patronising, "I think you're being influenced by those newspaper stories, dear!". Only in the early 70s!
Some detractors have criticized Martino's film for its poor camera work, naturally anyone who has seen any of his films shown in their correct ratio will know this is complete poppycock. NEXT!, like many other genre films, has suffered from atrocious video transfers over the years, the worst of which have emanated from the States (pan 'n' scan should be a crime punishable by law) - they are cut as well.
Many gialli are currently languishing in convoluted battles over the ownership of the rights - and I can only wonder if this is the reason why this excellent example of the genre is currently conspicuous by its absence on DVD. Blue Underground or Shriek Show - please rescue this gem from relative obscurity.
Thoroughly recommended, if you can find a copy!
female:3 / male:4
1) Female slashed to death with cut throat razor
2) Female has throat cut with razor
3) Female slashed to death with razor
4) Male stabbed in stomach
5) Male shot through heart
6) Male killed in car crash
7) Male killed in car crash