The joke is often made (or it has been here, at any rate) that giallo are populated by people who are, to put it mildly, not of the best quality. The kind of people who will make love and then roll over and engage pillow talk like, “I can’t believe my sister was raped and murdered by a sex maniac on this bed just yesterday.” The kind of people who will say to someone who just suffered through a terrible trauma, “Well really, I don’t understand why you’re so upset. Your daughter was murdered, so what?” Girl murdered in the elevator? The proper giallo response is to huff and complain that now you have to take the stairs. It often seems like characters in giallo are incapable of reacting with anything even remotely resembling human emotion—except, that is, for contempt. At times it can become so exaggerated that one thinks surely it’s being done on purpose and for a specific reason. A comment on the self-centered “me, me, me” attitude of the 1970s? A critique of the shallow, disposable way in which people live their lives? A screenwriter who has some issues to work out? Whatever the case, when it comes to truly loathsome characters in giallo, few can match Giuliano Carnimeo’s The Case of the Bloody Iris, a film in which pretty much everyone is hateful or stupid; or more often, hateful and stupid.
The misanthropy kicks in right away, when a murdered girl is discovered in the elevator of a high-rise apartment and people react by complaining that they’ll be late for work. Or they just sort of wander off, muttering to themselves about how inconvenient it is. Someone eventually calls the police, because they show up and show that, even by the standards of giallo where the cops are usually incompetent and useless, they’re going to be doubly so here with an added dose of belligerence and side of racism. One of the people inconvenienced by the murder is dancer Mizar Harrington (Carla Brait, who the sharp-eyed might recognize as the leader of the tap dancing show tunes gang in Enzo G. Castellari’s bizarre 1990: The Bronx Warriors), who works at one of those strip clubs typical of Italian films of this vintage, where the floor show is ridiculously complicated and arty. Her act involves challenging a man from the audience to wrestle her for three minutes (during which time, her outfit will be ripped away piece by piece). If he succeeds, he gets…well, who knows? No one has ever beat her and her strange combination of modern dance and judo. When she herself turns up dead the next morning (murdered in her bathtub, in a scene lifted almost frame for frame from Blood and Black Lace), the consensus among the lazy, racial slur slinging cops is that it must have been someone from the club who was upset that he got his ass kicked.
Meanwhile, real estate agent Andrea (George Hilton) now has to unload Mizar’s apartment. He signs it over to two models, Jennifer (Edwige Fenech) and Marilyn (Paola Quattrini), who might be the single worst human being on the planet. You’d think that the murder of two women in in the building, one of them at least a casual acquaintance of Jennifer and Marilyn, would discourage them from taking the apartment. Or that it would at least warrant some sort of police presence. You’d be wrong on both accounts. I guess apartments in Rome are as hard to come by as they are in New York. The two women move in, and Marilyn in particular seems practically aroused to be showering in the same place her friend was strangled to death. She constantly makes disparaging remarks about dead Mizar and frequently mocks the fact that women have been murdered in this place. Jennifer is less of a miserable human being, but she makes up for it with nigh incomprehensible levels of stupidity.
Before too long, a masked killer is sneaking into the apartment to whisper threats at her, and Jennifer’s reaction is to…do nothing. Seriously, they don’t even bother to lock the doors or windows after a killer has used them multiple times. One can understand, given the quality of police work on display, why she wouldn’t call the cops, but consistently leaving her balcony door wide open just seems irresponsible the first time, and downright suicidal after the second. The police exploit this lack of survival instinct by encouraging Jennifer to stay in the apartment in hopes that it will help them ensnare the killer. But once they pose this plan, they never do anything else. They never stake the apartment out. They never assign any sort of protection to Jennifer. In fact, they’re openly hostile to her for no reason, and when she does get around to calling them for help, they blow her off, insult her, and call her hysterical. But then, that’s just par fro the course in this film, which hits its crescendo of mind-bending stupidity when Andrea, on the run, asks Jennifer to meet him in a labyrinthine auto junkyard. At night. Knowing that she is being stalked by at least two separate murderous maniacs. And she agrees, wandering around the sprawling yard between shadowy piles of cars because Andrea couldn’t be bothered to be more specific with exactly where in the yard she should find him, or why they couldn’t have done this in a less dangerous setting where she is less likely to discover she is being chased while Andrea never shows up. You know, for that alone he deserves to be accused of the crimes.
Profoundly idiotic Commissioner Enci (Giampiero Albertini), when he can be bothered to tear himself away from stealing postage stamps from crime scenes, is convinced Andrea must be the killer, so all police activity (which amounts to one bumbling detective) revolves around half-assedly following Andrea around town instead of watching the place where the killer shows up basically every night to torment Jennifer. As a red herring, Andrea is pretty weak, but in a film like this, you take what you can get. He’s joined by the creepy old lady down the hall who seems to have a secret hidden in her apartment, and a friendly lesbian whose father disapproves of her sexual orientation. There’s also a flamboyant gay photographer (who, as far as gay caricatures in Italian films of the 1970s go, is actually pretty mild) and Jennifer’s sleazy ex-husband who initiated her into a freaky orgy cult and insists that she return to the fold (obviously cashing in on of All the Colors of the Dark, in which Edwige Fenech gets involved with a Satanic cult). he tries to pitch his cause by assaulting Jennifer on the street, leaving torn up flowers in her apartment to let her know he broke in (thought, really, who hasn’t at this point?), and sweating profusely while screaming threats. As far as orgymeisters go, there are probably better out there to be had.
Having a film full of appalling, callous people was nothing new even in 1972. Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is populated by a cast of characters with nary a single redeeming trait between them, as was his return to the giallo, 1971’s Bay of Blood. Generally though, films that thrived on monstrous people tried to make up for it in some other way. Bava’s two films, for example, serve as an exuberant evisceration (sometimes literally) of the rich and self-important who are all too willing to destroy others to get what they want. In Bay of Blood, the bloody carnage was tempered by a streak of black humor as absurdity piled upon absurdity until even the most shocking violence could hardly be taken seriously. Other films made up for their spiteful, unsympathetic characters through visual artistry, an abundance of style, or a clever, fast-paced story.
The Case of the Bloody Iris has none of these things. Perhaps it’s attempting some social commentary or stab at absurdity; but if so, it doesn’t execute those concepts very well. The pace of the story is off, lingering endlessly on dull things (the bumbling cop following George Hilton’s Andrea around) while rushing through or glossing over things that might actually have been interesting if given half the chance. It relies far too much on people acting illogically simply because the screenplay demands it of them. It introduces twists then loses interest in them, choosing instead to wander down cul-de-sacs littered with go-nowhere plot filler, then backtracking and repeating itself.
It does manage a few positive points, however. Edwige Fenech is arrayed in a truly glorious cape, and as always (both clothed and unclothed) she looks fantastic and gives the role her all. She doesn’t inhabit an especially likable character, but at least she’s not actively taunting the dead like her atrocious ro0mate (though to be fair to actress Paola Quattrini, she plays the ghastly Marilyn with unabashed gusto). George Hilton turns in a competent if unmemorable performance (kind of his trademark) as an increasingly harried man accused of murder. As for the rest of the cast, they may all be playing horrible people but at lest they’re doing it enthusiastically. Giuliano Carnimeo’s direction (with an assist from Sergio Martino, working as director of photography) is neither here nor there, efficiently framing the film without bringing much in the way of inventiveness or style. One murder in particular, on a crowded city street in broad daylight, is executed with cleverness and flair. That scene deserves a much better movie surrounding it. The reveal of the killer is satisfying — rare even in very good giallo, so doubly surprising in this otherwise lesser film. Even at a reasonable 94 minutes, The Case of the Bloody Iris can feel tiresome and repetitive, making it a case only seasoned giallo and Edwige Fenech fans would bother attempting to solve.