In mid-2004, there was a
curiosity sparked inside of me when I first laid eyes on the Mario Bava film, Shock. I won’t go into the details about
that film since more than likely I will be reviewing it within the next few
weeks but it began my venture into the foray of Italian murder-mysteries and
the genre of said films known across the world as giallo. Though the only Italian horror film I’d seen up to that
time had been Suspiria, but my recent
viewings at that time of Bay of Blood and
there aforementioned Shock had really
tickled my fancy. Since then, I’ve not only sat through a countless number of
them but have been able to snag a whole bunch of them and add them to my
collection. There is something about this style of film that not only
captivated my attention with their brazen outrageousness but also got me
hooked. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in front of the computer
researching, doing my homework and trying to see how many of these films I can
watch and soon I was getting my hands on
so many of them that I couldn’t keep up. Before I knew it I was looking at a
plethora of films by Argento, Fulci, Bava (both of them), Martino, Deodato, Lenzi
and my fondness for these kinds of Euro-trash quickly became my second favorite
style of film – next to the slasher film, of course.
This entry, though, was one of those films that spent months on the shelf in my office before I decided to finally pick it up and give it a watch yesterday. For starters, let me say that I will watch any film with the always-wonderful John Saxon at least once. For years, I’ve been a huge fan of his and have almost every horror flick he’s been in. Those rugged looks, those piercing eyes – he’s got to be one of the most dashing and handsome men on the B-movie circuit. So you know that when I read his name in the cast listing it was immediately placed into my Netfilx queue at the top of the list. Then when I read it had been directed by Sergio Martino – whose Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key had already spent months dormant in my collection, as well – I knew that I was going to have a good time. Several weeks before sitting down to watch this, though, I’d gone online and read other people’s opinions about this one and was surprised – and a little saddened - at just how many bad reviews it had gotten. I was thoroughly disappointed to read that a film with a catchy title as The Scorpion with Two Tails (as opposed to its alternate title Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery) could be at all bad. But, I proceeded with caution. I mean, let’s face it, we’ve all seen worse. (Hellgate, anyone?)
The film opens up with a bizarre sequence with a woman named Joan (the gorgeous Elivire Audray) having nightmares about a ritual in an underground grotto with a young couple having their necks broken and then being sacrificed. Her husband (John Saxon) is on the other side of the world on an archaeological excursion who seems to have discovered an ancient Etruscan tomb when while away, is murdered by an unknown assailant in the same manner she’s seen in her dreams. She goes to Italy to try and find out just what happened and why she knew exactly what her husband had stumbled upon if she’d never been to Italy. Accompanied by her friend and confidant Mike (Paolo Malco, known for The New York Ripper and House by the Cemetery), Joan tries to put all the puzzle pieces together beginning with why everything she was encountering in real life had already been seen in dreams while dealing with a drug deal gone wrong that she never would have expected involving both her deceased husband, countess Maria (played by the fantastically gorgeous Marilu Tolo) and her father.
While in Italy, Joan finds out that her husband had found an important artifact while in the grotto that was meant for her: A necklace of a scorpion with two tails that was being kept in the care of a local jeweler. Why does this look familiar to her? It seems that while down in the tomb her husband had discovered he came across it, and along with other archaeologists, she realizes that the photo of a subject found on the walls looks exactly like her. And she’s wearing a necklace with a scorpion with two tails that looks exactly like the one her husband had found and left to her. Why does she look like the woman painted on the wall? Who is she and could she be connected to all the dreams she’s been having? And why does a lot of the music in this film sound familiar? Maybe I’ve heard it in The Beyond? Or was it The Gates of Hell?
What ensues is not so much a giallo as I was expecting it to be but more a thriller. I do have to warn you though that the story’s pacing is quite slow and some of the plot devices are not only outlandish and absurd but render some portions of the film completely incomprehensible (including a revelation at the film’s close that never would have worked in the real life and makes you burst out in obnoxious laughter). There are countless scenes involving statues and maggots galore and plenty of moments with Joan screaming for – what appears to be - pure show. With that said, it still managed to keep my attention somehow.
The photography, on the other hand, was excellent. The Italian countryside is bursting with rich colors and wonderful greens and yellows. One reason I love these foreign films is that the cinematographers always photograph their surroundings with precision and care. There’s nothing I love more than to watch these movies and get a glimpse of what life was like during those time periods. I get to see buildings and cities and country sides and beaches all caught with precision and beauty and preserved for me to see anytime I want to.
Mya Communications did a great job with this disc, visually. I don’t own many of their titles but what I do have in my collection is great. This disc, though, is probably the best one I have. The opening DVD menus are absolutely gorgeous and crisp and I liked how there was a soft fadeout after every selection. There isn’t much as far as bonus features are concerned, though, just the trailer, poster gallery, and alternate opening sequence with the alternate title (looking like someone did the titles with an old Tandy computer) but I did like the juxtaposition of the bloody hands on the menu screen against soft Italio-Muzak. There’s something about that combination – and it’s a combination used in many Italian thrillers – that I really dig. I’m not going to say to hunt this one down because I’d be leading you on. I think it’s worth a look if you like these kinds of films. It’s not as bad as many reviews I’ve read claim it to be, but I have to be honest and say that it isn’t stellar. I’ve only seen three or four of Martino’s works and I can tell you that this is the weakest one so far. But, just because it’s weak doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve at least one watch. One of my rules as a horror watcher – and reviewer – that I live by is that you can’t bank a film solely on what someone else says about it. There are so many palettes and tastes that lie within horror fandom that relying on just one person’s opinion would be unfair not only to the film itself, but to yourself as the viewer. How do you know if you will like a film if you don’t sit in front of it? One of the risks you take being an avid horror fan is that some films are going to rock your world and other’s will not. I always say that for every fantastic horror film you watch, there will be three or four that you’ll see that will genuinely suck. That’s just the way it is. And I’m talking about the film sucking in a bad way, where there is nothing in it that will redeem itself. (Hellgate, anyone?)
The film’s closing act is so absurd that you have to force yourself to believe it, and I mean absurd to the point of hysterical laughter. As I said earlier, it would never work in the real world and suspension of disbelief gives you no choice but to smile and nod your head, albeit unkindly. You have to give the writers and producers credit for their attempted creativity because the combinations of plot points and storyline don’t spell “blockbuster” in any way shape or form. But then again what film such as this one would? Yes, it was missing creativity in the aspect of murder sequences – everyone pretty much dies in the same manner – but it still wasn’t enough for me to turn off the DVD player. The red herrings here weren’t crimson enough to confuse or deter and when the killer finally reveals himself, you’re really inclined to scream out a half-assed “huh?!” than an enthusiastic “what?!” because the shock that it tries to set itself up for fails to deliver - hard. The denouement leaves a lot to be desired and the outcome leaves you asking how it could have been possible to end that way if there wasn’t enough development between the two characters in question for those results to have materialized? Seriously, it’s pretty far-fetched but (in my best Italian voice) Whaduya gonna do?.
I’m not going to lie when I say I won’t see this one again because I probably will – hello, John Saxon’s in it. The locales and the absurdity of some of the plot points and other goings on are reason to claim it as bona fide entertainment. This one of those kinds of films you’d put on after a Friday night after work to end the long work week when all your plans to go out have fallen through, you’re too tired and lazy to make dinner and order in a pizza and there’s nothing else left to watch on television.