Another great thriller from the talented Martino which came hot on the heels of his seminal giallo NEXT!(1970); and one which is far less misanthropic than his later films .
A business man, Kurt Baumer, dies when his plane explodes mid-air (shown via a jaw-droppingly phoney special effect), whilst his wife, Lisa (Evelyn Stewart), indulges in an adulterous affair with a lover in London. She soon discovers that, because of her husbands untimely death, she is the sole beneficiary of his life insurance- a cool one million dollars. Keen to get his hands on some of the loot, an ex-boyfriend (who has an hilarious Brum accent) threatens to reveal a secret about her unless she gives him enough money to satisfy his heroin habit. When Lisa goes to his flat to give him his money she finds him dying on the floor from a stab wound to his stomach. She leaves London, for Athens- where she can cash in her inheritance, but soon finds out that her recent wealth has attracted much unwanted attention. The insurance company, who are understandably loathed to part with the money, assign someone- Peter Lynch (George Hilton), to try and dig up some dirt that would make the policy invalid. Lisa also finds herself threatened by her husband’s mistress Laura (Janine Reynaud) and her scarred and silent henchman Sharif (Luis Barboo)- it seems that Kurt Baumer was about to divorce Lisa and marry Laura; making her the sole beneficiary of the life insurance policy. Laura suspects Lisa had something to do with his death and threatens to go to the police unless she receives half the money. Laura also shows that she is not above using violence to get what she wants when Laura flees an abandoned theatre where they have arranged to meet- she is only saved by the timely intervention of Peter. Lisa, sensibly, decides that Athens is too dangerous a place for her to stay and, once she has cashed in the policy, she arranges to leave for Tokyo. Unfortunately for Lisa someone has other plans...
Martino’s THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TALE is a delicious visual treat. Even in the horribly panned-and-scanned version I saw the sheer style and sleek early 70’s looks shone through. And Martino excels with a plethora of disturbing, and at the same time intriguing flash images- a doll’s face, missing one eye, leering into the night; a brief glimpse of a scarred face lurking in the shadows; and of course his loving (or should that be leering) gaze upon his leading women: the sublimely beautiful Stewart and Anita Strindberg- who plays the feisty photographer who becomes entangled in the deadly intrigue. Also, not to mention, a killer dressed in the kinky leather get up of the protagonist from Mario Bava’s DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968). There are also some wonderfully stylish set pieces, perhaps the most memorable being the nail biting scene where the mistress- Laura, realises that the killer is just outside her apartment and she runs, in slow motion, towards the door as she watches, with horror, as the lock slowly turns as the killer picks it from outside.
The score is worth mentioning, the main tune is mesmerising, but the Greek travelogue incidental musak is a little hard on the ears! Another thing which is occasionally a little hard on the ears is some of the colourful dialogue and even in a film as good as this there are the odd howlers. In one scene a police inspector says to the detective, "In my opinion the murderer is a sex maniac". To which he replies, "A sex maniac who kills men and women and makes off with one million dollars?". The inspector winks back, "Even a sex maniac must pay his laundry bill!".
Martino doesn’t shy away from the red stuff either. Throats are slashed- producing geysers of arterial sprays; belly’s are sliced open and, in one particularly vicious scene, an eyeball is messily popped with a hunk of broken glass! There are also some pretty convincing, and unflinching, close ups of photos of the victims- post autopsy.
Not least of all, Martino manages to make a very effective and entertaining thriller. One which is chock full of colourful characters and devilish plot twists, and is enough to keep even the most jaded of viewers on their toes and guessing the identity of the killer right until the very end.
One of Martino’s best gialli, and well worth seeking out.
BODYCOUNT 6 female:2 / male:4
1) Male found dying from stab wounds to the stomach
2) Female has throat slit and stomach cut open
3) Female has throat slit
4) Male falls from roof after having hands sliced with knife
5) Male has eyeball popped with a broken bottle and then stabbed in chest
6) Male shot repeatedly in back