"A maniacal killer commits savage acts of slaughter and the only key to the perpetrator's identity and motive is the puzzle of the half-moon lockets! Can the mystery be solved before the killer cold-bloodedly claims his intended seven victims?
Based on the nerve-shattering, acclaimed novel by Edgar Wallace (KING KONG) and starring Uschi Glass (COLLEGE GIRL MURDERS), Antonio Sabato (BARBARELLA, ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX) and the stunning Marisa Mell (DANGER DIABOLIK), comes a stylish, crimson-dripping giallo from cult director Umberto Lenzi (MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, SPASMO)."
Viewers only familiar with Umberto Lenzi's cheesy gutmunchers from the early 80's, like CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD and CANNIBAL FEROX, or the gloriously silly retina popping giallo, EYEBALL (1975), may be surprised to find that it wasn't beyond him to come up with a relatively restrained (well, by his standards!), intricately plotted and even, at times, suspenseful thriller like SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS.
In classic giallo style the film kicks off with the figure in black (the requisite fedora, overcoat and leather gloves) cruising the night-shrouded streets of Rome in a gently purring car. The first port of call is an elderly woman, quickly snuffed out in her bed. Next, a prostitute, Marcella (Gabriella Giorgelli), prowling the kerb side with other ladies of the night in fashionably funky threads, is picked up by the mysterious figure, lead into secluded bushes and beaten to death with a length of lead piping - a silver half-moon crescent pendant left in her motionless hand. Next, an English female artist, Kathy Adams (Marina Malfatti), returns from an exhibition and discovers her cats dying next to poisoned milk, and a canvas covered in blood. Before she has a chance to escape she is strangled with telephone cord, an identical crescent moon pendant left in her hand. Then a young bride-to-be, Giulia Gerosan (Uschi Glass), is attacked and slashed with a knife by the killer on a late night train from Rome to Paris; her attacker is scared off by a train guard before the trademark pendant can be left. However, Giulia was not killed but only lightly wounded. The police suggest letting the outside world think she is dead, going far enough as to stage her funeral in a dual effort to both protect her from renewed attention of the killer and to see if the service will attract any unlikely characters. It turns out to be a dead-end, but prompted by the sight of the pendant found at the other murders Julia remembers that three years previously she had seen an identical piece of jewelry used as a key ring by a young American tourist when she worked at a hotel. With the help of her fashion designer fiance, Mario (Antonio Sabato), she returns to the hotel and discovers that the week the tourist had stayed there the murdered female artist was a guest and the murdered prostitute was a maid there, also. They also discover that there were three other female guests there that week who may also be on the "half-moon maniac('s)" hit list and it's a battle against time to try and find and warn them and also discover the riddle of the silver moon pendants ...
All the classic gialli elements are here and the vintage is perfect - the genre was probably at its height. There's a lot to recommend this film, it's suitably twisty and the bodies keep on dropping, with the killer always being just one step ahead of the police. Riz Ortolani's loungey score is memorable and there are some especially effective suspense scenes (including one where an acutely paranoid patient in a sanatorium, played by genre regular Rossella Falk, finds she really does have something to worry about as the killer lurks in her room and the staff ignore her pleas for help, fed up with her previous crying-wolf tendencies).
The beautiful Marisa Mell (so iconic in Mario Bava's seminal 60's spy thriller DANGER: DIABOLIK) puts in a memorable double performance as a potential victim-to-be and her twin sister. One of whom is terrorised by the killer with an electric drill, in an incendiary scene which not only pre-empts the power-tool mayhem of the 80's but also the gory excesses that Lenzi himself would excel in later years.
But despite all the elements being in place the film, although a thoroughly entertaining one, fails to achieve anything near classic status. The requisite sleuthing, which is left to Mario (Julia staying at home like the good little woman for most of the running time), feels a little workmanlike. Antonio Sabata, despite being ruggedly good looking, just isn't the most charismatic of leading men (although he earns points for telling a doped up hippy: "I don't feel like hanging around - and I don't have time to smash your face in!" (like most similar films of the time there's shady hippies and swinging parties galore)). Also, in a slightly ridiculous touch, the film recalls some of the worst cliches of older thrillers when, not once but twice, a woman faints when confronted by the killer!
SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS was made as a co-production between West Germany and Italy (hence the presence of Glass, who was a popular comic back in her native country), and was marketed in Germany as one of the last of the Edgar Wallace inspired Krimi's (the series of slasheresque films that predated the Giallo).
Despite the film's faults it's certainly worth a watch (the recent Shriek Show disc looks great). Even if the plot does meander at times the payoff is worth it, and, in retrospect all the clues are there to point to the identity of the killer - and there is an exciting, if slightly waterlogged, climax!
female:5 / male:2
1) Female beaten to death with lead piping
2) Female strangled with telephone cord
3) Female drowned in bath tub
4) Female found strangled
5) Female killed with electric drill
6) Male found hung
7) Male drowned