Chris(tine/tina) Miller lives with her stepmother Ruth in an isolated country home. Her father, Ruth's husband, left suddenly a year previously, something with which Chris-who suffers from psychiatric issues arising from a sexual assault in a shower by a weightlifter who looks like Nigel Farage-is struggling to come to terms. When handsome drifter Barney stumbles upon the broken home, sparks fly on all sides, but ultimately things just get more broken. A lot more broken.
The first hour of this film (after an odd pre-credits sequence in which a Charlie Chaplin mask-wearing male knifes a middle aged chanteuse to death in her luxurious home) reminded me of Norman J Warren's film Prey, in which an alien man happens upon two lesbians living in a secluded country house. Wikipedia has just informed me that the alien man was played by none other than Barry Stokes, who plays Barney in Chris Miller. It's thirteen-odd years since I've seen Prey, so my recollection of it isn't perfect, but I'd contend that the Wiki description of it as having been "conceived by producers Terry Marcel and David Wimbury and developed by Quinn Donoghue" should probably also contain a nod to this Spanish giallo which was shot four years before Warren's film.
The slow pace of Chris Miller allows for quite a lot of scenes of character development. Well, on paper it does, but in some ways the filmmaking is almost too economical (or else our familiarity with the set up through other films forearms us with sufficient knowledge to anticipate much of what will unfold), as we get a fairly clear sense of who all the main characters are within moments of first meeting them. And, this being a giallo, we can't delve too deeply into their backstories-at least, not initially-as the solution to the mystery inevitably has its roots in the past (as well as roots in the present; keep reading for more on that!).
The film does, as stated in the synopsis, contain a traditional killer. However, in a marked departure from the norm, the presence of the killer almost functions as a red herring to obfuscate the real reasons for certain characters' behaviour. While we do get an unmasking at the climax of the film, we discover (in the original Spanish language version) precisely nothing of the motivation lying behind the murders, nor does this motivation really matter-the murders only 'exist' to cast suspicion upon people who are innocent of those crimes, but not wholly innocent of all transgressions.
In keeping with the rich-people-plotting-against-each-other subset of gialli, pretty much every character here is guilty of something. They're not quite as nakedly greedy and evil as was standard-in fact, you could argue that only the killer and one other character who exists entirely offscreen seem to be wholly lacking in redeeming features, although Barney, and his sexy body which seems to be allergic to tops, isn't exactly Father Teresa either. Then again, that was my point really, wasn't it-none of the characters are Good.
In fact, quite a few of the characters are so Ungood that they're guilty of murder. A big baroque set piece towards the end features the extremely slo-mo knifing of a main character (providing an excellent showcase for the retractable quality of the prop kinves), and leads to an off-kilter finale which seems to be ambling towards a broadly happy ending until some peas which have been buried with a body take root and grow through a newly laid tarmac road*, alerting the authorities to the presence of said body. This, one can assume, will lead to the arrest of the murderers, who aren't even all that guilty, given they were mostly murdering in self-defence.
This self-defence comes about after a sequence which recalls Torso, with two females locked in an isolated house as a malevolent male stalks back and forth between their rooms (albeit here the male isn't masked, and the sequence is quicker, and less good, than Torso). There's also some classic storm action in play as well, with the attendant unreliable electricity sources. None of the 'tense' scenes reach the heights of the better Italian films of the time, but all the same this one is never less than competently directed (by Anton Chigurh's uncle, no less), with solid technical credits across the board. And the sequence in which the inhabitants of a farmhouse are slaughtered is a terrific set piece, which makes up for the lack of action we've endured beforehand.
The script is decent-with one conversation in which the central three characters compare themselves to the Red Riding Hood story cleverly working as a slight red herring, in that the characters don't quite assume the fairy tale roles they've self-assigned, and the house of cards Barney constructs doubles as a neat metaphor for the uneasy existence of the leading trio-sooner or later (later, in the case of this 113 minute film) their alliances are going to come tumbling down. There are a few touches which suggest an awareness of what Argento was doing at this time even if this film owes more the the late 60s Lenzis-the gender bending name of Chris is very much in keeping with Dario's sexually fluid outlook, and the dialogue about extra Y chromosomes recalls the work of the Terzi Institute in Cat o' Nine Tails. (It is worth pointing out that theories about XYY syndrome were prevalent in the late 60s and early 70s, so this may not be an Argento ref at all. Also, the English dub eshews the chromosome chat in favour of offering a tenuous motivation relating to horsies.) And, if you ever wanted evidence of how much time has passed between the making of this film and the present day, consider how reference is made to one of the XYYers being "the student who shot his classmates"-nowadays those students are, in the States anyway, ten a penny.
*The Spanish version omits the stop-motion cracking shots of the road, and ends on a more ambiguous note, cutting back and forth from the newly-laid road to the 'murderers'.