Review Date: July 2, 2005
Released by: NoShame
Release date: 5/31/2005
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 2.23:1 | 16x9: Yes
In order for an artist or genre to be canonized, an appreciation of their work must first be cultivated. Film noirs were viewed as nothing but B-pictures until the critics of the French New Wave started screening their movies and noticing similarities that ran between all of them. The same can be said for many of today’s celebrated European genre directors, like Argento or Fulci. Indeed, individual films of theirs no doubt received recognition, but considering they oft had to use American pseudonyms to release their films Stateside, they’re legacies as auteurs were largely overlooked. It wasn’t until the 90’s, with Laserdisc, special edition VHS and ultimately DVD that these artists were finally canonized as the purveyours of a unique body of celebrated work. Anchor Bay had their Argento collection, Shriek Show their Fulci collection, and now NoShame is attempting to do the same with marksman Sergio Martino.
A man equally as comfortable in gialli (Torso
) as he is westerns (Mannaja
), cannibal films (The Mountain of the Cannibal God
) and apocalyptic action films (2019: After the Fall of New York
), Sergio Martino has been a tough man to peg down. Jumping genres like many underrated Italian filmmakers, it has been tough to sit down and examine Martino’s large body of work. NoShame, the most promising genre company to emerge in years, has aimed to generate a new appreciation for Martino’s films with their Sergio Martino collection. Their first releases were Martino’s two celebrated gialli, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
, while releases of The Big Alligator River
, Gambling City
and another of his gialli, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
are to follow later this year. It is an eclectic batch for an overlooked director, so let’s take a look at his first release, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
, and determine whether or not this is a talent worth remembering.
It is rare to find an early gialli that is not derivative of Hitchock’s Psycho
, and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
may be the most obvious. Lisa Braumer (Ida Galli
), who is first seen philandering, comes to inherent one million dollars in life insurance claims after her husband is mysteriously killed in a plane explosion. Considering the rocky relationship she had with her husband, Lisa is an immediate suspect, but she gets the money anyway, and in unmarked bills, no less. She decides to do the Janet Leigh thing and skip town, but before she gets far she is sliced and diced by a man of black leather gloves and ominous first person shots. We are thirty minutes into the film, and we’ve just lost our star.
The movie switches its focus towards Peter Linch (George Hilton
), the insurance agent who had handled the Baumer case. Quiet and observant, he presupposes that there is something amiss in all this, and that Lisa’s death was perpetrated by more than just a “sex maniac” as the investigative detective assumes. Someone was after that money, and killing Lisa and her husband was just the way to get it. Things get more complex however, when one of Mr. Baumer’s flings is also murdered shortly after stating her regrets at not getting Lisa’s money first. A local reporter, Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg
), who falls for Peter, also has her life put on the line. So the body count continues to rise, and so do the suspects.
In another sequence that takes liberally from another big sixties hit, Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up
, Peter and Cleo zoom in on a photograph to discover a mysterious cufflink. Like most gialli, the significance of the title is not revealed until well into the third act, and we find out the “scorpion” of the title is a cufflink that Mr. Baumer used to wear, and one that was found at a recent crime scene. Is Mr. Baumer really still alive, or would giallo instincts indicate that something much more sinister is at hand? The big reveal isn’t nearly as shocking as one bred on What Have You Done to Solange?
and Who Saw Her Die?
would come to expect, but oddly enough it is more satisfying.
Writer Ernesto Gastaldi states in the supplements that he doesn’t like to cheat the audience, like he claims many other gialli do, that he likes to keep stories bound to logic rather than shock. Scorpion’s Tail
benefits from this approach, ironically separating it from the clutter with its more convention approach. The ending becomes that much more satisfying when the scheming antagonist finally gets what’s coming to ‘em. The story is easily followed, and like the detective’s little desk puzzle, the pieces all fit nicely at the end. The film takes a few beats to get going, but after Galli’s surprise murder, it just keeps getting better and better.
The gore is especially notable, considering this is a film that came before Fulci’s gorrific Don’t Torture a Duckling
and the entire American wave of onscreen evisceration. Throats are slit with convincing sloppiness, and some of the death scenes are expertly mounted. A man gets his fingers cut off as he hangs from a ledge, while another gets her throat slit as the blood shoots onto a glass door. We even get a classic eye stabbing scene before Fulci virtually patented the technique years later. The effects are no doubt great, but what stands out more is Martino’s impressive direction.
Martino directs with a strong visual eye, telling the story as much as possible through kinetic visuals rather than expository dialogue. Many a gialli has been plagued by the mid-film talk talk, but Martino keeps the pace moving by letting the camera and the editing do all the talking. The opening death of Lisa’s husband, for example, is told through a series of connected shots, from a shot of Lisa having sex, to a shot of a picture with Lisa and her husband, to a shot of a plane, back to the portrait, and finally an explosion. Not a word was spoken, but a major plot point occurred – and in style. The film is photographed in beautiful scope, and Martino exhibits some impressive focus pulls, Leonesque extreme eye close-ups and one particularly notable shot where the camera pans back and forth on a rotated axis between Hilton and the detective. It is a visual treat to look at, where visuals take precedent over dialogue.
Add in a sprawling score by Morricone protégé, Bruno Nicolai and a fine cast of gialli mainstays like George Hilton (The Case of the Bloody Iris
, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
) and Anita Strindberg (A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
, Who Saw Her Die?
), and you’ve got the making of a solid giallo. It is not a complete out-of-the-park hit, as some of the stalking scenes lack the punch they should have, highlighted by a bizarre absence of music when the music should really be at its loudest. For the most part though, this is first class giallo entertainment. While it doesn’t have the political weight of an Aldo Lado film, the visual panache of Argento, or the gore of Fulci, this Tail
Presented in 2.23:1 anamorphic widescreen, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
looks wonderful. Martino uses a fairly colorful palette, from the bright pinks and yellows of the seaside flowers to the deep oranges of the swingin’ shag carpets, and they come off exceptionally vibrant in this transfer. The print is spotless and sharp, without blemish or excess grain. Underwater footage, night scenes and tinted photo lab scenes all look solid as well, with prominent blacks and strong detail. Martino has given this film a wonderful look to it, and thankfully NoShame has done the same to this transfer.
One of the biggest debates that surrounds gialli and Italian exports in general, is whether or not dubbed English is preferred to Italian with subtitles. These films were all generally shot without sound, so it is ultimately dubbed either way, but yet there are still strong supporters of either camp. In a move you don’t usually see for these type of films, NoShame has elected to include both Italian and English soundtracks for the audience to chose to their liking. Both are in mono, and the Italian features English subtitles. The Italian actually sounds a bit better, with all dialogue and effects registering a notch louder and a bit fuller. There is a moment around 7:40 in, during a phone conversation, where the Italian subtitles failed to convey the important information that was found in the English track, but otherwise the subtitling is strong. Dialogue on both tracks is very clear, and the film carries and above average depth and clarity for a mono film of such age.
Very much like the films from Anchor Bay’s giallo set, the NoShame Martino gialli contain a featurette and a trailer. The featurette, “Creepy Crawl: The Scorpion’s Shadow”, is the obvious draw here, and it runs 24 minutes. In it, Martino speaks of the lasting legacy of Italian genre films in today’s storytelling methods, George Hilton speaks of how censorship have affected his performances in various films, and writer Ernesto Gastaldi offers some great tips on how he fashions his screenplays, from scratch to finished product. All three, as well as producer Luciano Martino, are all well spoken, and all speak with an energy that makes the Italian language barrier a non-issue. There is a lot of good stuff discussed here, although the age of the film limits the memories the participants have of the film and the production. Gastaldi can’t even remember how the film ends, and he wrote the thing! The biggest problem I had with this otherwise strong featurette was that it tended to discuss The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
and other films in general, rather than really getting to the meat of Scorpion’s Tail. This probably would have fit better on the Wardh disc, but nevertheless it is a good, if not great, extra.
The trailer, presented like the film in either Italian or English, starts off by boldly asserting itself in the same company as Fritz Lang’s M
, Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or
and even Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin
, but ultimately delivers for an exciting and psychedelic little advertisement. It is commendable for making the film seem much more suspenseful than it really is, and for not revealing all that much about the plot. The final disc supplement is a minute long still gallery, with a collection of posters, stills and lobby cards that total eleven. NoShame even opted to include a collectable booklet (remember those?) with nicely written biographies for Martino, Hilton and Strindberg. Somewhat embarrassing are a few misspellings of the film’s title on the back cover, with “Tale” replacing “Tail”. Although a giallo told by a scorpion would be an interesting achievement, it nonetheless is not this film, and the error makes NoShame look a little less professional than they clearly are.
With their first giallo release, the NoShame newcomers have demonstrated they are more than able to keep up with genre DVD kingpins like Blue Underground and Anchor Bay. The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
is a fine little giallo, with some great gore and a surprisingly logical plot structure. The video looks exquisite, and kudos to NoShame for including both English and Italian audio tracks. The featurette lacks focus, but still makes for a worthy extra that giallo fans will more than appreciate. NoShame is the best new find of 2005, and their Scorpion’s Tail
stings of quality. Bring on the rest of Sergio Martino’s films!
Movie - B+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour and 31 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Italian mono
- English subtitles
- "Creepy Crawl: The Scorpion's Shadow" featurette
- Theatrical trailer
- Poster & still gallery
- Collectable booklet