Most gialli are focused on the aesthetic, making sure all the black boxes are checked - black gloves, black hat, black, black, black – and that the tropes are trotted out in a fairly predictable (yet entertaining) fashion. Stemming from procedurals, it makes sense for a strong structure to support the weight of red herrings and redder victims. And then there’s The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972), a giallo that loves the form so much it can’t help but be affectionate towards it, resulting in something closer to comedy than horror. The result is surprising and wholly entertaining.
Released in Italy in August, The Case of the Bloody Iris (Original Italian title: Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer? AKA What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body? – a very giallo title if there ever was one) was met with positive reviews, especially noteworthy as critics were being inundated with gialli, which were becoming very popular in the wake of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Dario Argento’s breakout first film. The market was becoming quickly flooded, and it’s really only with the passage of time that we can sift through and find the shining spools among the tattered reels. Time has been very kind to The Case of the Bloody Iris.
“Having recently escaped the clutches of a hippie sex cult, a beautiful model is pursued by a serial killer whose previous victims include former occupants of her new apartment.”
The above is the story dump on IMDB, and I’m putting it here just to show the tangents that can emerge from an already wild description; all of the above is true, as below.
Let’s start in a high rise apartment building, and a high class sex worker gets on an elevator. She isn’t alone however; in a scene reminiscent of Dressed to Kill (I guess that should be the other way around), she’s slashed to death by a killer (in the now standard black hat, mask, coat and for a change, brown gloves) and left to be found by other tenants, like stripper and model Mizar (Carla Brait – Escape from the Bronx). After she gets over her shock, Mizar heads off for a photo shoot where she’s joined by fellow models Jennifer (Edwige Fenech – Strip Nude for Your Killer) and Marilyn (Paola Quattrini – Attack of the Moors), plus flamboyant photographer Arthur (Oreste Lionello – Four Flies on Grey Velvet).
Mizar leaves just before handsome architect (is there any other kind?) Andrea (George Hilton – The Killer Must Kill Again) arrives looking for a model for an upcoming ad. Arthur tells him to go see Mizar at her work where she fights and/or strips for men willing to take her on. He never gets a chance to talk to her however; after she leaves she is drowned in her bathtub by our considerate killer (I mean, there’s very little cleanup, right?).
And who happens to own this particular perishable people emporium? Why none other than Andrea of course; when Jennifer and Marilyn need a new apartment, Andrea offers the ladies the very recently freed one. They accept, which turns out to be a terrible idea; between the next door lesbian who keeps hitting on Jennifer, and her father who practices violin all hours of the night, an inexcusable amount of slaughter, and Jennifer dealing with her ex-husband who runs a sex cult, a model can get no rest. Until she’s dead, that is…
Director Giuliano Carnimeo (Rat Man) seems to really enjoy taking the conventions of the genre and fleshing them out with characters that are actually characters and not signposts in a slaughterhouse. Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (Death Walks at Midnight) gives everyone, especially our police team of Commissioner Enci (Giampiero Albertini – Blood, Sweat, and Fear) and his assistant Renzi (Franco Agostini – Sexy Sinners) with genuinely humorous dialogue and action that buoys the film in between killings. In fact, while other gialli focus on the aesthetics of murder, Case is happy to hang with the people inhabiting the film; yes there are some outdated stereotypes (the mysterious lesbian, the foppish photographer), but they edge closer to life thanks to sharp performances and a sharper script. There really is no way to guess the killer, as is the norm for the form, but here you won’t because it’s all about the journey.
And it really is about our cast as opposed to the mayhem; Fenech is as stunning as ever, Quattrini makes an engaging sidekick, Hilton exudes his normal 10-watt charisma, and Albertini wins as an irascible, Italian Columbo. It’s easy to see why a giallo with little interest in its look would be bypassed for more flamboyant fare.
It shouldn’t be though. Why should a giallo be shackled with strict structures when so much of it is absurd? It really shouldn’t seem like a sea change when focus shifts to another aspect; but The Case of the Bloody Iris does. And while it didn’t get the accolades in the past, it’s never too late to appreciate another side of the blackened brim. Next time, no brown gloves though, okay? Some things should never change.
The Case of the Bloody Iris is available on Blu-ray from Shameless.Next: Gialloween 2020: Slashing the Surface: Musically Connecting the Giallo and the Slasher