|Is there a murderer sat at the table for dinner in THE KILLER IS ONE OF 13?
Javier Aguirre’s talky Spanish thriller THE KILLER IS ONE OF 13 is clearly modelled on the Italian giallo. Guests are invited to a remote estate for the weekend - where the host reveals that she believes one of them is guilty of the murder of her husband. Playing more like an Agatha Christie whodunit chamber piece for the first hour, the film is punctuated by some surprisingly graphic murders in its second half. Euro-cult fans like myself will lap it up, but others expecting a more traditional giallo-style thriller may be frustrated.
Lisa Mandel (Patty Shepard) owns a remote English mansion (so remote it takes three hours to get to the nearest town by car!). She has invited a disparate group of guests. Some of whom have links to her late husband - who mysteriously died when his plane crashed into the English Chanel whilst flying to London two years previously. Guests include giallo regular Simón Andreu as the smooth-talking playboy Andrew. Plus the porn-obsessed weirdo Francis (Eusebio Poncela) and his dragon of a mother Bertha (Trini Alonso); down-of-his-luck artist Harlan (Jack Taylor); nouveau-riche businessman Jorge (Alberto Fernández) and his nymphomaniac wife (Paloma Cela) amongst others. The household is run by the handsome Butler Henry (Ramiro Oliveros) along with Spanish horror superstar Paul Naschy playing a handyman - who is curiously given little to do apart from puff out his chest and act indignant when one of the maids flirts with someone else. And then there’s the gardener - played by Spanish comedian Blaki (who was famed for looking like Marty Feldman and whose appearance in every scene is accompanied by a comedy bouncy spring noise!).
|By pick. By axe. Bye-bye in THE KILLER IS ONE OF 13!
After an afternoon of pleasantries, the group gather for a dinner party where Lisa tells them that she believes that her husband was murdered and the killer is sitting right there at the table. However, the rub is that she isn’t sure who the killer actually is just yet and is hoping to uncover the truth during the weekend. Despite the fact that most of the people there are presumably innocent, she proceeds to read them all to filth by revealing - or alluding - to skeletons in their closets, who is sleeping with whom and who would have benefited from her husband’s death. Despite their outrage, the guests all stick around - something they have little choice in when they find all the cars have been immobilised and are effectively stranded. With the killer now trapped, he or she cannot risk being unmasked and the other guests start being murdered one-by-one …
Coming at the tail end of the giallo boom of the early 1970s, THE KILLER IS ONE OF 13 has perhaps the least convincing English setting of all time - there’s not even an attempt to hide the fact that all the car numberplates are Spanish and all the cars are right-hand drives! It also bucks the growing trend of upping the violence and exploitation angles seen in other examples of the time. For the first half of the movie, you might think you are watching a TV adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel - only with more brightly patterned polyester. Sexuality is coy and nudity is only hinted at. There is some light sleaze with the sweaty Francis and his porno obsession, but nothing that would make an abuela reach for her smelling salts. And most curiously of all, to start with at least, no on-screen violence of any kind. However, at the halfway point the movie does a volte-face and veers more into traditional giallo territory with a black-gloved killer offing guests in moderately gory ways. As a fan of early 70s Euro-thrillers I ate up the drawing room intrigue and the enjoyable broad caricatures plotting and bitching at each other before the murders start. However, as I mentioned before, your mileage may vary if you are expecting a more traditional giallo thriller structure.
|It takes a while to get to the murders but they are suitably splashy when they do happen.
Paul Naschy appears in little more than an extended cameo - and THE KILLER IS ONE OF 13 is far more restrained than many of the other Spanish psycho-shockers he appeared in in the 1970s, such as SEVEN MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD (1972), BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (1974) and A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE (1975). Fellow Euro-mainstay, North American-born actor Jack Taylor has a more pivotal role - and will be recognisable to early 80s slasher fans as the arch-Professor Arthur Brown in PIECES (1982). Similarly North American-born May Heatherly also appeared in PIECES and Italian horror CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980). Another North American-born actress turned Euro-star Patty Shepard appeared in the giallo MY DEAR KILLER (1972) and ended her career with a string of Spanish horror trash classics REST IN PIECES (1987), SLUGS and EDGE OF THE AXE (both 1988). Simón Andreu was a giallo regular; often paired with fellow Spaniard Susan Scott in films such as THE FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (1970), DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (1971) and DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972). Future Pedro Almodóvar favourite Carmen Maura comes to a sticky end in a bathroom and Eusebio Poncela went on to appear in Spanish post-SCREAM (1996) slasher TUNO NEGRO (2001) as well as the classic CANNIBAL MAN (1972).
Director Javier Aguirre helmed two other Paul Naschy horror films in 1973 - the much more graphic and salacious THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE and COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE. Presumably, this film was shot around the same time and explains Naschy’s - albeit scant - presence.
THE KILLER IS ONE OF 13 is an odd fish. Even the title is a bit of a cheat and the revelation of the killer - although unexpected - is something of a droll joke. Those looking for more standard giallo thrills may be thwarted, but fans of that early 70s Euro thriller ambience and campiness will find much to dine out on here.
female: 3 / male: 4
1) Female stabbed to death with a dagger
2) Male whacked on the head with a hatchet
3) Female garroted
4) Female stabbed to death with knitting needles
5) Male whacked on the head with a wrench
6) Male killed in a car crash
4) Male shot dead
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