Written by: Eduardo Manzanos, Ernesto Gastaldi & Sauro Scavolini
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Starring: George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto de Mendoza
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"That man you followed wasn't the one who tried to cut my head off. No. He must've been peeling a pear when his knife slipped away."
Any artistic movement has innovators and pioneers who become synonymous with the form; however, you’ll often find just as many (if not more) crucial,steady-handed craftsmen who refined and defined a genre. The giallo may have been heralded by the likes of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci, but it was filmmakers like Ricardo Fredo, Luciano Ercoli, Umberto Lenzi, and Sergio Martino who helped to further set and popularize the mold. Martino was arguably the most pivotal figure of this bunch, crafting a quintet of definitive gialli during the genre’s formative period and returning to it during the course of his long career. Some, like Torso and and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, are among the best the genre ever had to offer, as both contributed key components of psychosexuality and ultraviolence that would come to define the giallo. The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail might not be the utter landmarks those films are, but it’s a fine example of how Martino could also make the type of gillo that feels exactly what you think a giallo should feel like: a jazzy, sidewinding, vicious, and altogether cool thriller that tangles up a Hitchcockian web with a bundle of Eurosleaze.
It also features one of the most breathless, bravura openings of any giallo: Lisa Baumer (Ida Galli) arranges an extramarital tryst with her lover, only to be interrupted during the affair with a phone call that brings startling news. A plane carrying her husband has suddenly exploded over the Atlantic, leaving her a widow set to cash in on a huge insurance policy. $1 million will be hers as soon as she can jet over to Greece--not that it’s going to be that easy, of course. Lisa soon learns that she’s not the only one with eyes on the inheritance when a conspiracy begins to unravel, entangling insurance investigator Peter Lynch (George Hilton), journalist Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg), her husband’s alleged mistress (Janine Reynaud), and one psychotic killer who starts to knock off anyone associated with the case.
The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is immediately gripping thanks to a dazzling, serpentine script that twists and turns, so much so that Point Z eventually rests a fair distance from Point A. It’s the type of murder mystery where you can’t help but tip your cap once its revealed its hand at the end. Between its multiple viable suspects and organic red herrings, the script sharply weaves through its plot developments, to the point where The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail almost feels like an entirely different movie about 25 minutes in. Psycho’s influence feels obvious enough, what with a woman making off with money via possibly shady means (authorities suspect she may have orchestrated her husband’s demise to cash in the policy) before she’s shockingly dispatched in her hotel room by the murderer. You can’t help but perk up once you realize this isn’t going to be the story you thought it was going to be.
Linda’s gruesome murder is the first of several pivot points for the story, which eventually spins around Peter and Cleo’s blossoming relationship. I find that gialli can be hit or miss when it comes to crafting genuinely compelling characters because so many of them prioritize style and carnage (or stylish carnage. This one does the legwork though, with Strindberg particularly emerging as a spitfire presence that commands the screen. She doggedly chases the case, mostly because she’s tired of dealing with shitty men who insist murder investigations are no place for a woman. Strindberg’s remarkably spirited presence provides a welcome, feisty spark, and it’s no wonder she would go on to become a familiar bedfellow of this genre.
Hilton’s Peter Lynch essentially becomes the textbook wrong man, falling under suspicion because each victim has some kind of connection to him. He handles it with a smooth, blase manner, smiling for prying journalists’ cameras and eagerly helping authorities to uncover the truth, carrying himself with a disarming confidence. His relationship with Cleo becomes an oddly charming latching point for this kind of movie; where most gialli are so preoccupied with spinning an elaborate web or orchestrating outlandish gore, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail has compelling human stakes that makes the resolution as devastating as it is surprising.
Martino captures the spiralling delirium with a flashy elegance, rarely refusing to let the camera stand pat as viewers burrow further down the winding path. The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail just looks cool, its sun-splashed Greek vistas matched with moonlit, bloodstained interiors as Martino indulges the extravagance often associated with the giallo. Lavish fashion, exotic locations, and excessive bloodshed converge for an exquisite, picturesque take on a movement that was just coming into focus. As such, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is a quintessential giallo, one that confirms the necessity of a distinct, definitive panache to this genre. It’s not enough for a giallo to simply rely on labyrinthine plotting or excessive violence; the best of them have a sleek, cool swagger and audacity that really make them cook.
And The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is nothing if not wildly audacious. It dares to carve an absurd path that takes viewers from mile-high explosions to dank, shadowy underwater caverns, with plenty of memorable pit stops along the way. An archetypal jet-setting giallo, it has extravagance to spare, from its impressive roster of Euro cult staples to a plot that absolutely refuses to let viewers grow too comfortable or confident. Simply put: whatever comes to mind when you hear the word “giallo” will probably be found here, and there’s definitely something to be said for a master craftsman like Martino delivering on expectations--and then some.
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