Seven Blood-Stained Orchids
Italy - Germany / 1971
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring
Antonio Sabato
Uschi Glas
Marisa Mell
Color / 92 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Shriek Show
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
Prior to viewing this disc I was familiar with Italian director Umberto Lenzi only through the trashy '80s exploitation flicks Eaten Alive and Nightmare City. Those films are certainly not what one would classify as great cinema at best they're cheesy, sleazy "so bad it's good" entertainment. Thus this earlier Lenzi effort, the 1971 giallo Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, came as a pleasant surprise. (Why there's a hyphen in the "bloodstained" portion of the title is a mystery, but that's how it reads in the credits.) While not a topflight/essential example of the genre Orchids is a very well-directed film, demonstrating that Lenzi with the proper inspiration and resources, at least wasn't always a hack.
The plot concerns a serial killer of women who leaves silver half-moon medallions with each corpse as a calling card. After two such crimes the Rome police aren't sure if the killings are random or somehow connected. When Julia (cute 'n' sexy Uschi Glas) is attacked and almost stabbed to death by a black-gloved maniac, the cops announce to the press that she later died of her wounds. They suspect the assault was the work of the Half-moon Killer but no medallion was left at the scene. (The attacker was interrupted before he could finish.) Sure enough, once newspapers publish the details of Julia's 'death' a gift box containing one of the medallions is mailed to her address. She was intended as the third victim.

It turns out that the first victim, a prostitute, was once a maid at the resort hotel owned by Julia's family. A connection, or just coincidence? Julia's fashion designer husband, Mario (Antonio Sabato), wants to know why his wife was targeted. Typical of the giallo formula, the couple decides to launch their own investigation while the police fumble down a blind alley. She recognizes the medallion as a key ring fob belonging to a man she encountered almost two years earlier at the family hotel. She can't recall the face, only that the key ring's owner was an American. Mario and Julia check out the hotel and hit upon a vital clue: a guest registry with a ripped out page corresponding to the time she remembered seeing the American. They discover that the Half-moon Killer's second victim, an artist found strangled in her apartment, was staying at the hotel that very week. Could all the women present at the hotel during that period be candidates for murder? And why does the killer want them dead? What is the significance of the medallions? Our amateur detectives share what they've learned with the police. The cops provide protection for the endangered women but despite their efforts the killer strikes again and again. Then, while Mario pursues inquiries into the identity of the mysterious American, the newspapers find out that Julia is still alive publishing the news with a big splash that the murderer can't fail to notice...
Seven Blood-Stained Orchids features a linear, Krimi-inspired whodunit plotline that (while still improbable) actually makes sense from beginning to end, something a lot of other gialli can't claim. This is its major strength, as played out on Lenzi's canvas. The director doesn't exhibit the visual razzle-dazzle of a Bava or Argento but the film contains a number of interesting compositions and a surplus of style. He's obviously enamored of the zoom lens; fortunately, it's used judiciously and appropriately. The murder set-pieces are nicely done, too, genuinely building suspense. Gore is actually rather tame. Since the killer uses varying methods to slay his victims (including such bloodless pursuits as strangling and drowning) there's really not a lot of the red stuff on hand. The only exception to this is the 'Death by Drill' sequence, featuring a few quick shots of an obvious dummy spurting copious amounts of fake blood. (The film barely merits EC's "Blood 'n' Guts" icon.)
Lenzi front-loads most of the sleazier elements so the first 30 minutes are pure giallo goodness. It'll be enough to keep you interested through the middle act, which gets a bit sluggish as we follow Mario on his solo sleuthing. (Sabato is the weakest link of the film, essaying a totally bland and uninteresting character made even more problematic by having a dubbed English voice that doesn't really seem to match his appearance. It's too bad the über-cute Uschi Glas, as Julia, couldn't have taken a more prominent role in solving the mystery. She's very appealing.) Things pick up again as Mario wades through the red herrings to zero in on the culprit. The police, of course, are useless. Then a brunette Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik) shows up in a double role as twin sisters, one of whom receives the Black and Decker treatment. The flick is firmly back in gear. But surprisingly, the climactic struggle that ends the movie is not particularly well-staged or edited. Considering the quality of what's come before it's something of a letdown.
On balance, though, any self-respecting giallo fan will want to see this. It's a very good, but not great, example of the genre. It's certainly the best film by Lenzi I've yet seen, and has me curious about his other pre-Cannibal Ferox gialli.

Shriek Show's widescreen transfer looks remarkably good considering the super-obscurity of this film. (It's never been seen in the U.S. until now.) I didn't notice any major blemishes and color levels looked fine. As do many European titles from this period, however, sound quality takes a back seat to the visual. Though dialog is clear and there's no distortion in even the loudest sections of the score, the mono track is very flat and canned sounding. It gets the job done, but no more.
For extras, Shriek Show serves up the (spoiler-laden) theatrical trailer, a small image gallery (posters, production stills, lobby cards), and two short video interviews. The briefest of these, running about 3 minutes, features actress Gabriella Giorgelli, who played the buxom prostitute murdered in the film's opening set-piece (and looking like she's done some hard livin' in the past 30-odd years). She doesn't add much to the experience other than to see her topless scene again. The longer (7 min.) piece has director Umberto Lenzi answering questions about the script, the actors, and production of Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. (The discussion is in Italian with English subs.) Both Lenzi and the interviewer give the film more praise than it deserves, but their chat will be of interest to aficionados of European exploitation cinema. Scrolling on-screen liner notes provide even more background on the director's career. Finally, the disc is topped off with bonus trailers of Shriek Show releases (and Lenzi films) Eaten Alive and Spasmo. (Note: Incredibly, the title of the DVD's main feature is misspelled ["Blood-Stianed"] on the Trailer menu screen.) 3/28/03
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