The Albatross Modelling agency is proving to be something of a millstone around the next of those associated with it-first, one of its models dies during a botched abortion, then a photographer and second model die. Then a whole host of other people, including the owners, also die. Will intrepid sex pest Carlo, whose seduction attempts encompass walking behind random women and taking photographs of their asses, be able to overcome the death of his new discovery Lucia, a wannabe model who's one of the first victims? Course he will, he's already moved on to his assistant Magda. And I mean moved 'on' to in every sense (ie sex).
Right from the off, this film cheerfully announces itself as a lowbrow slice of trash-the opening shot affords a gynaecological view of a woman's vagina as she undergoes a backstreet abortion, and Berto Pisano's title music, which kicks in shortly afterwards, is positively dripping in juice (and is a terrific piece of music). Just in case we hadn't got the memo, we then watch Carlo sweet talk (and sweet manhandle) his way into a woman's pants with promises of modelling riches. Yes-this is yet another giallo which revolves around a series of murders in a fashion house. And no, it's not one which attempts to develop that setting into something of a theme/text (like, for instance, Mario Bava in Hatchet for the Honeymoon, where the models' status as glorified mannequins is given some manner of interrogation). It doesn't even really use the setting as an excuse to drape unclad ladies over props-almost all of the stripping (for killers and lovers) happens behind closed doors.
I've possibly been too harsh by insinuating that there's no real text or subtext in the film, though-there is a cursory examination of sex and love, and the commodification of both. Carlo essentially buys sex through the promise of fame and fortune, the models buy their way up the pecking order by shagging the photographers (and the secretly lesbian owner of the agency). Modelling as a job commodifies the body, and the body is a core component in the sexual act (and it can be affected by the sexual act, c.f. the poor pregnant model whose aborted procedure proves to have been the spark from which the mayhem flamed).
And what of love? Well Maurizio, the sadsack fat guy who's married to the secret lesbian, presents himself as a pussy hound, trying it on with all the new models at the agency, but really he's a frustrated virgin, only able to achieve arousal through use of a sex doll (another commodified 'body'). But there's something so plaintive, so anguished, about his attempts to have sex with model Doris that you feel he's not so much looking for physical as emotional intimacy. The fact that he twice refers to the physical act as "making love" backs this up (the fact that his initial attempt to make love involves attempted rape does not back this up). In a world where everyone seems to be getting their leg over to give their career a leg up, he stands out because his inability to have sex doesn't upset him due to the ramifications for his career; rather because it wounds his pride and his heart.
But, as I said, he is a rapist. Speaking of rapists, it's tragic the way Carlo falls in with Magda so easily, especially because as work colleagues she should be familiar with his dirrrrty ways. She seems to possess some quality which prevents the killer from being able to off her, despite having numerous opportunities (initially because she's to be proffered as a scapegoat for the killings, but then for no real reason at all). Perhaps whatever makes her immortal also obscures her judgement in men. More likely, given that she harbours ambitions to become a model, is that her affair with Carlo is one of expediency on her part, although there's no real suggestion in the film that this is the case. To be honest, I wouldn't really have mentioned Magda in this review if she wasn't played by the lovely Edwige Fenech, which basically makes her the nominal hero. And Edwige deserves better material than she's given here-and a far, far better send off-and I'd go so far as to say that the most unrealistic thing about the whole film is that she works for a modelling house and no-one seems to have considered her as a potential model. You deserve to die, you idiots!
As a giallo mystery, the film doesn't really succeed. There's a shit-ton of murders, ranging from the quick and perfunctory to the slow and stylish (the slowest and stylishest being the stalk and slash of a nude Femi Benussi), but the clue as to (and explanation for) the killer's motive is essentially tied up in a single photograph. (KINDA SPOILERS) The image is of various Albatrossians (the modelling house, you'll recall), including the model who died during the attempted abortion, and the killer seems to have decided (based on a whim) that all in the photo are equally to blame for her death, so the pic functions as a sort of death list. It's a pretty flawed approach to take, though, as many people in the photo had nothing whatsoever to do with the death (whereas the operating doctor, for example, had quite a lot to do with it, and he's not pictured-although, to be fair, he is murdered as well). Plus, some of the murder victims not only had nowt to do with the death, they aren't even in the photo! (END KINDA SPOILERS)
Even though there's no real investigative through line to follow, the police do feature in the film, although as more of a constant background presence than anything else. They never seem to make the connection between the abortion death and the rest of the murders, which isn't surprising given the general incompetence they cotinually display. And, in their defence, even those who work in the fashion house, and were directly involved in the abortion procedure, aren't especially quick to join the dots.
Even if they could join the dots, it's likely they'd struggle to nail down the killer, who is, to say the least, quite a left-field reveal. The culprit has barely feathered the needle of the Richter Scale which measures characters' visibility in films (if such a thing existed, which it doesn't), which is in many ways something to which all giallo directors should aspire, except that even when we get the Big Reveal it's quite a job to recall who they are. The sweetspot is a character who slips by almost without registering, but who invokes a reaction of "of course, why didn't I even consider them?!" when the unmasking takes place. Furthermore, there's a bit of fudging going on here, as the killer's reaction to seeing a dead body borders on being deliberately misleading.
Speaking of unmasking, the killer does have a cool get-up, clad in biker leathers and a big helmet. It lends them a certain aura of otherworldliness, or unknowableness at least, and also allows the sound editor to accompany the killer on screen with a low, menacing breathing sound which is redolent of the Jason/Michael Myers POV stalking shots. There are very few such shots in this film, but that doesn't stop the sound effect being liberally used to amp up the tension. And this film does generate some tension; the aforementioned scene in which Femi Benussi's Lucia is killed is a pretty great set piece, extremely skilfully staged and shot by Tonino delli Colli (and Andrew White, to use one of Bianchi's directing credits, who may or may not deserve some of the kudos credit).
It's also worth mentioning the insane 'action driving scene' (as I've described it in my notes for some reason; the more I think of it the more this is a pretty apt description) which was clearly (as was standard at the time) shot without permits on busy city streets. It also seems to have been done in one take, with a single camera filming from inside the car. Bianchi must've been given a stunt driver for the day and come up with the scene on the fly, as it doesn't exactly fit with the rest of the film (if I was being generous, I could point to the fact that Maurizio is driving as suggesting that he is peacocking-trying to impress Doris with his driving prowess because he knows he could never impress her with his sexual efforts). One final noteworthy element is the running water motif which is present during most of the death scenes; it's as if the killer needs to hear the sound of taps running to get in the mood for killing. This may have been taken from the lullabies of Deep Red, which was released a few months before this film, but it's never fully developed as a story element.
There's a lot about this film that's not fully developed-the occasional hints at subtext; the photographs Magda brings to the lab before being accosted by the killer; the general maturity of the filmmakers (and Andrea Bianchi never fully grew up-he was a veritable Peter Bark off Burial Ground). This is a film that'll never be mistaken for a classic piece of cinema, but it's undeniably fun. It's extraordinarily trashy-from the opening beaver shot to the bum note finale you'll be amused, shocked and appalled. But you'll never, ever be bored. And that's not something to be taken lightly (unlike the film).