Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Assignment Naschy: A Dragonfly For Each Corpse (1974)

Original title: Una libélula para cada muerto

A black-garbed and red-trousered killer strolls around Milan, killing addicts, prostitutes and lovers of kinky sex, leaving an artificial dragonfly with each corpse. To prove himself after a never explained case that went spectacularly bad, sadistic, mean-spirited cigar-chomping Inspector Paolo Scaporella (Paul Naschy) is put on the case. Scaporella - whom the film first shows threatening a flasher with death the next time he sees him - seems not too excited about the prospect, for he thinks the victims are getting exactly what they deserve. But it's a job, right?

Scaporella's actual investigation plays out with him not doing much for a while, except getting his wife Silvana (Erika Blanc), who is clearly the brains of the marriage, interested in the case and using a dinner party to a) learn that the dragonfly is a Chaldean symbol to mark "degenerates" and b) put a friendly gay fashion designer to finding out who made the special button he found with one of the victims. The latter will - quite unlike anything Scaporella is going to do - be important later on, but until the film reaches that point, it's scenes and scenes of our "hero" walking around chomping on his cigar, getting pascha-ed by his wife and beaten up by nazi bikers while following up clues that won't actually be important later on. Once the audience really has enough of that, the killings finally reach the inspector's friends from that all important dinner party. There's just enough time for Silvana getting close to the truth and herself in danger before Scaporella understands what's going on.

Directed by Paul Naschy's frequent collaborator León Klimovsky, Dragonfly is the duo's attempt at fusing the Italian giallo and the Italian cop movie by combining both genre's worst traits into a single, meandering piece of reactionary boredom.

So we get the silly mystery full of holes and the loosely structured plot typical of the giallo without much of the genre's visual panache; we get the cop film's hatred of everything and everyone who is different without much of its hatred for large-scale corruption, its often conflicted view of its cop heroes or its exciting action scenes.

Naschy's Scaporella is clearly set-up to be the shining hero of the piece. Yes, the audience is supposed to admire a guy who lets a wounded gangster he's going to arrest crawl to his car on his wounded leg, and who only sees "degenerates" deserving of death in addicts, prostitutes and people who like utterly innocent things like threesomes and necrophiliac role-play. If you see a clear opportunity for the film to explore some rather interesting points about how close its supposed hero and its villain are, then you're a lot cleverer than Naschy's script - like he does with everything potentially interesting in it, Naschy decides not to explore that aspect to put in another scene of himself being shirtless, as if you couldn't combine these things perfectly in some sexposition if you wanted to.

Another of the film's problems is that its ideas of what's "degenerate", and its way of showing them off is painfully behind what the Italians did and unpleasantly reactionary. Where even the most suspect giallos are so gleeful in their depiction of sex and depravity (or "depravity") that it's usually impossible to tell if they are in awe of or looking down on it (I usually suspect them to do both at once), Dragonfly really is so little into that sort of thing that it shows nearly none of it in an interesting way, leaving me neither shocked by the depths of human depravity as I'm clearly supposed to be, nor titillated as I'd have liked to be.

But even if you ignore these problems and flaws, Dragonfly just plain doesn't work as a mystery or a crime film. I could live with the ridiculousness of the set-up, but Naschy the writer is not someone able to produce the tightness of script that would be the only thing able to save the film. It's all wandering around and Naschy showing off how awesome he is without ever actually being awesome. Our supposed hero really comes off as a particularly dense bully who should listen to his wife more (even when she calls that thinking he never does "women's intuition"), stumbling through a case that's just not all that interesting.


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