No one could ever accuse Stelvio Massi of being a purveyor of good taste with his gialli. Although this 1974 example doesn’t quite reach the perverse heights of his later work, FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER still manages to travel to places other contemporaries wouldn’t dare to go. A mad killer is targeting recently pregnant women who have come into contact with a fertility clinic; mutilating their bodies in the most horrible ways imaginable. Otherwise, it is the classic Argento-type giallo chock full of shifty characters and murderous intentions. Plus, if you take a shot of J&B whisky every time a bottle or ashtray with its distinctive logo appears you might need a new liver by the end of the film!
|I was surprised the ever present bottle of J&B whisky wasn't the killer in FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER!|
Giorgio (Francis Matthews), a journalist returning from an assignment abroad discovers that his pregnant wife is in labour. He rushes to her side only to find that she has died in childbirth at home; their friend Dr. Lidia Franzi (Pascale Rivault) was by her side and managed to deliver the baby safely. Giorgio’s grief is compounded when he discovers that he can not be the father, as he finds some medical papers that show he is infertile.
Conflicted by his feelings towards the baby, Giorgio takes comfort in the company of a young fan of his work after he comes to her aid when she is nearly hit by a car (played by Ilona Staller - who went on to be better known as a pornographic actress and Italian pop icon Cicciolina). She tells Giorgio that she has problems of her own, as she just found out that she is pregnant. The next day her naked body is discovered and the coroner tells the police that she has been slashed from her “clitoris to her sternum.” He also points out that an Ankh - a fertility symbol - has been carved onto one of her breasts.
Soon, more recently pregnant women connected either to Giorgio or the fertility clinic are targeted by the mad slasher. The police, led by the Commissioner (Howard Ross), race to put the clues together to find the killer - and Giorgio does the same to try and clear his name …
Although FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER could never make a claim to be a top-tier giallo there’s still much to enjoy here for fans of mid-70s Italian horror/thrillers. Massi was no Argento, but he does show a few flashes of creative flair - such as a shot of detectives looking at fingerprints filmed from behind a glass screen. There is also some nice nighttime photography that plays with shadow and light to obscure the identity of the killer. However, surprisingly, given that Massi was also a cinematographer himself, there are a number of scenes where the focus is missed on certain characters - which might suggest a rushed production (as does the eclectic and somewhat patchwork soundtrack).
|FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER does exactly what it says on the tin ...|
The script - by giallo and genre veterans Gianfranco Clerici and Roberto Gianviti - moves along at a clip and culminates in pleasingly demented fashion (they later took the sexualised violence to an extreme with Lucio Fulci’s brutal THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)). Stelvio Massi did likewise with his sleazy, but endearingly daft, late 80s entry ARABELLA: BLACK ANGEL (1989).
Killers in gialli often have the most gloriously ridiculous motives, and FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER doesn’t disappoint. The script throws out red herrings by the bucketload and suspicion is pointed in every direction. Could the butcher of recently pregnant women be the fertility clinic doctor (Giorgio Albertazzi) who says that the world is overpopulated (!), or his wife - who tried to kill her family with rat poison aged 15, or has Giorgio been driven mad by the death and supposed infidelity of his wife?
Despite the subject matter, the murder scenes are usually only shown after the fact and are dealt with in a rather perfunctory way. Apart from one scene where a woman is killed whilst preparing a bath and another sequence where the killer stalks a babysitter with a hatchet (that preempts the later slasher movie somewhat). In fact, the film was briefly passed off as a John Carpenter movie during a re-release in Germany under the title DAY-KILLER! The film does, however, feature a copious amount of female nudity and one bit of surprising, if brief, bit of full-frontal male nudity, too. The victims are generally depicted sympathetically, but the sexual politics of the times shines through with one female character throwing away her dream job a day after discovering she is pregnant - as, she says, motherhood is more important than any career! And one man tells an expectant woman: “Nature gave you women a single purpose - to be mothers.”
|A sequence near the climax somewhat preempted the laster slasher movie.|
English actor Francis Matthews seems slightly ill at ease as the ostensible lead. It is a million miles away from the cosier horrors of the kind of films he appeared in for Hammer Studies, such as THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958). It was his sole foray into Italian genre movies. Howard Ross, who normally played heavies or shifty types, has fun with his detective role - especially bouncing off his comic foil assistant Palombo (Ugo Bombognini).
As the popularity of the giallo waned with Italian cinemagoers, filmmakers attempted to up the ante with ever-increasing levels of sex and violence. FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER certainly fits the mould along with other gialli of the year such as THE KILLERS RESERVED NINE SEATS and THE RED LIGHT GIRLS. 1974 also saw the release of Massimo Dallamano’s WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?, which mixed the giallo and violent police thrillers (poliziottesco) that were beginning to overtake the giallo in popularity. Indeed, Massi switched lanes (Italian filmmakers were generally extremely flexible) and made his name with poliziottesci such as EMERGENCY SQUAD (1974) and BLOOD, SWEAT AND FEAR (1975).
Ultimately, FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER got lost amongst the other competing gialli of the time and failed to make much of an impression at the Italian box office. This might explain why it never got an English dub and remained for many years relatively unknown outside of Italy.
female: 4 / male: 0
1) Female dies in childbirth
2) Female found slashed to death
3) Female found slashed to death
4) Female found slashed to death
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