Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Assignment Naschy: Seven Murders for Scotland Yard (1971)

Original title: Jack el destripador de Londres

A murderer roams the backrooms of 1970s London, murdering (mostly) prostitutes as a self-styled new Jack the Ripper. The police in form of the frighteningly coiffed Inspector Cuthbert Campbell (Renzo Marignano) soon have a main suspect. It's the second victim's boyfriend, former trapeze artist Pedro (Paul Naschy), his solid alibis for more than one of the murders notwithstanding.

Implicated to the audience by quite a few sledgehammer-subtle red herrings, Pedro is soon fleeing the police and trying to avenge his lover by catching the killer himself. That's not quite as easy as it sounds, for there's not only the police trying to catch him, but the local gangsters have seen Fritz Lang's M one too many times, and want to see supposed serial killer Pedro dead.

Pedro's investigation eventually points him towards Inspector Campbell himself as the possible perpetrator. This, however, may be just another red herring, for Campbell's buddy, teacher, guy with sexual problems, frequent lounger in house coats and inappropriate admirer of his students Winston Darby Christian (Andrés Resino) is just as good a suspect.

Sometimes, my project of getting my hands and eyes on every Paul Naschy movie possible turns into a bit of a chore. As someone who is completely unable to learn from my own mistakes, I decided to follow the pretty dire Spanish giallo A Dragonfly For Each Corpse with another one of Naschy's giallos, in form of Seven Murders, directed by José Luis Madrid (possibly known as the director of the also not very good Horrible Sexy Vampire, a film about a vampire who is neither). And wouldn't you know it, this one's only slightly better.

At least, Seven Murders isn't quite as unpleasantly reactionary as the later movie, a film whose protagonist and scriptwriters would probably applaud the killing spree of this one's villain. In fact, Seven Murders (at least in the version I saw; the different character names on the film's IMDB page suggest that other versions of the movie may be quite a bit different from the one I saw - on the other hand, the IMDB may just be full of crap) never suggests for a second that the victims deserve to be killed for being prostitutes, adulterers or just young and trying to experiment a bit. There's an uncommon unwillingness to identify with the murderer even in those scenes that are shot from his point of view that is on one hand pretty sympathetic, but that on the other hand only increases the film's distanced and disjointed feel.

As is so often the case with the films Naschy starred in, Seven Murders suffers from a script that doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind about much. Should it use too much exposition (like in one third of it)? None at all even when it would be useful (as in its other two thirds)? Should it really play this fast and loose with the guilt and innocence of its protagonists and include red herrings of a kind that can't be explained away and will therefore have to be ignored after the film is through? And who exactly is the protagonist: Pedro? Cuthbert Campbell? Winston "the Dandy" Darby Christian? How to tell a story in a way that doesn't drag and jerk from scene to scene as if the film were assembled from bits and pieces of two or three movies (it actually flows less well than some of Godfrey Ho's frankenfilms I've seen by now)? Scriptwriters Tito Carpi, Sandro Continenzo, Madrid and Naschy either don't know or are of different minds. Not surprisingly, this results in a film that's not just lacking focus, but can't even imagine having such a thing.

Now, a certain lack of logic and narrative focus isn't uncommon for a giallo; in fact it is something rather to be expected. However, the better films of the genre manage either to use these theoretical problems to enforce their thematic argument(s) (in which the absence of logic is often one of the points), to bury them under a pleasing, confusing or mesmerizing aesthetic surface, or to just throw so much weirdness and sleaze at their audience as to produce a state of bliss that makes caring about incoherence impossible. Seven Murders just doesn't manage any of these three feats. If the film has a theme, than it's something extremely generic like "in every man dwells a murderer", and Madrid (or the other writers) really can't be bothered to do much of interest with it.

Seven Murders' aesthetics are as confused as the writing. For every moment of beauty, every moodily framed scene, every bit of visual cleverness, there are two scenes of talking heads in anonymous rooms draining away all visual (and intellectual) excitement. Finally, weirdness and sleaze don't make any appearance at all.

One of Seven Murders' few high points is Naschy's performance. While it's really a Naschy standard role (the dark, brooding romantic with a dark past who is loved by all women, unpleasantly adept at physical violence, but has a good, yet tragic, heart), the actor puts a lot of energy into it, acting as the only physical and personal presence in a movie that is lacking personality in most other respects.


1 comment:

Rod Barnett said...

An excellent assessment of this Naschy film. I could quibble with a few points but overall I think you are on the mark. I like this a bit more than you seeing more gold then dross but I understand your criticisms. I don't feel its as disjointed as you do but its a valid comment. Well done. You might be interested in our podcast about Naschy - NaschyCast which can be found here-