Blade of the Ripper (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Next Victim)
Directed by Sergio Martino
Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov (1971).
Reviewed By Michael Hauss
While not a first viewing preference for me, giallos do make for an interesting view of sex, violence and murderous activities. The film under review here came during the peak of the Italian giallo cycle in 1972 and is one of the finest ever filmed. The review you are about to read will be filled with spoilers, but I know no other way to present this, without a complete explanation of the film, which relied on perchance happenings, the gradual pushing of the main character to the brink on insanity and an elaborate scheme to off people for monetary gain. Imagine if you will, say take the film STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and film it 70's Italian style, in reverse from the Hitchcock film with the ending revealing the murderous plot. That's what occurs here as two men, a professional man, a diplomat at that named Neal Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza) and a lazy playboy named George (George Hilton), who seemed to be hiding something and is even a bit of a psycho, explain how they have both helped the other get rid of someone in exchange for the other.
|Ringo was a hack too Sergio "monkey javelin" Martino!|
Of course in the Hitchcock film, the Robert Walker character is the only one to murder someone, where as the Farley Granger character never holds up his end of the bargain, he never agreed to in the first place, but in this film the pair firmly consent to the killings. Neal eliminated Carol (Conchita Airoldi) who was George's cousin, she stood in the way of George receiving his full share of an inheritance, and George indirectly got rid of Julie Wardh (or at least he thought they did). Wardh was married to Neal and like Mirem in the Hitchcock film, was promiscuous, she is killed or was she, by an ex-boyfriend who happened to be a sadist named Jean (Ivan Rassimov). Jean attempted to kill Julie for money and after the attempt on her life is given a new name and nationality. Rasimov's character becomes John McDonald, a Canadian, before he is killed by George, to tie up a loose end.
The pair of men are exposed at the end because of a misstep that was performed during the killing of Carol, that varied from the actual homicidal killers operatus mundi, the fact that the murderer was at large during the plot to rid the men of the two women was a good cover for their deviousness.
The film is built around the Julie character who is a sexual deviate, she is both excited and repelled by blood. She is stalked throughout the movie by an ex-boyfriend who is a sado masochist who through flashbacks helped Julie wallow in her depraved and humiliating sexual hang ups. Julie is played by the ravishing Edwige Fenech, who with this role is frequently nude, this helped her become a bankable star, this film marked her second Giallo. TOP SENSATION (1969, Italy) was the first in that film she starred along with Rosalba Neri. Fenech would go on to a long career in films, including ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK 1972, Italy, Spain) where she teamed up again with actors George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov and director Sergio Martino from this film. She also appeared in the film YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED KEY AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972, Italy), also directed by Martino. Fenech has amassed 82 television and film credits to her name. This was the second feature film directed by Martino and he handles the chores excellently and does a great job helming the film, using unique camera angles and building the sense of dread with the use of quick cuts, scenes bustling with kinetic energy and fully utilizing a brilliant score to accent many scenes.
|Do you mind?|
The male lead of the film George Hilton was a major Italian film star who appeared in many films and genres, but may be mostly remembered for his roles in Spaghetti Westerns. Hilton who also had a certain charm to his portrayals, that at times masked the deceptive mind beneath the characters, as in this film. Ivan Rassimov who played the sadist Jean appeared in a number of films and is best remembered for his roles in the two gut munching films MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972, Italy) and JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1977, Italy).
|I don't always drink beer, but when I do smash a bottle of Dos Equis over that old bastard's head|
The film is full of beautiful jet setting people, living a descendant life style and engaging in sexual relationships with different partners. The use of the homicidal maniac killing women during the efforts of the three men to kill Carol and then drive Julie mad and then kill her was a fantastic idea that propelled this film into a classic of the Giallo genre. The cast are uniformly solid with Edwige Fenech playing a strong character who withstood many instances of abuse and was pushed past the edge of sanity, but stayed strong until the end until the plot by the two men with the aid of Neal almost cost her her life. The three men think Julie is dead at the end and the emotional toil on the viewer is heavy until it's revealed she is alive and ultimately the three men foiled in their attempt. Jean received a bullet in the gut for his part, the other two perish down a ravine and into a river.
Most of the homicidal killers victims were jet setting, free spirits, who were being punished it seems for their sins, the killer played by the great Italian actor Bruno Corazzari is given scant screen time and performed his razor slashing slayings mainly within the girls apartments, including one inside a shower with a blonde who is slashed and blood sprays upon the wall another nod to Hitchcock and his film Psycho (1960, USA).
|Check out this nifty face opener I got from the Giallo Depot|
The scenes in flashback with the Jean character slapping and cutting Julie were a bit hard to watch and the film definitely took on an air of misogyny and even the end which had Neal and George joyfully conversing, gave off a homosexual vibe to it, or at least a deep mutual admiration. The use of blood and water was used many times, including the homicidal killers killing of some victims in showers scenes and interrupted showers , the staged fake death of Jean in the bath with a tub full of bloody water and the small villa at the end where George has taken Julie to escape the killer, where the radiator in the villa leaks rust, which looks like blood and the smell of rust does at time have a smell of synthetic blood to it. The water and blood mix could possibly be a metaphor for the mix of blood and water that poured from the side of Jesus after it was pierced as he hung on the cross by a Roman soldier, the killing of the son of God by man. The mixing in the film standing for the attainment that these supposed sinners are receiving by the spilling of their blood, as blood purified the victims slashed by the killer and the mixing of blood and water, baptism into death if you will to wash their sins away.
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Like I said to start this review, I consider myself a film enthusiasts, but tend to stay within my comfort zones and the Giallo genre of films is not generally within my zone. Minus the Bava Giallos, which I slavishly research and obsess over and beyond Hitchcock, whom all these films own a certain gratitude towards. I very seldom buy or watch these, but without a doubt this film in the fifty or so I've seen is quite possibly the most technically polished and acted production in that small amount, even outside the parameters of Giallos it's one of the finest films this reviewer has even seen. The first half of the movie can move slow at times and with the continued closeups of Fenech it seemed like the film was a love affair between her and the camera, but the ending made all the crazy shit that predated it make sense and made for a stunning outcome to this great film. (editor's note: The recent Giallo homage by half of Canada's Astron 6 recreated a few moments from this film, check out this side by side comparison below)