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No Shame Films presents
The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (La Coda dello scorpione) (1971)

John Stanley: In my opinion, the murderer is a sex maniac.
Inspector Stavros: A sex maniac, who kills men and women? And makes off with a million dollars?
Stanley: Well, even a sex maniac has to pay his laundry bills.

- Alberto de Mendoza, Luigi Pistilli

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 09, 2005

Stars: George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Evelyn Stewart
Other Stars: Alberto de Mendoza, Janine Reynaud, Luigi Pistilli, Tom Felleghy
Director: Sergio Martino

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, gore, sensuality, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:31m:13s
Release Date: May 31, 2005
UPC: 850752001394
Genre: mystery


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- BAB- B+

DVD Review

The gialli are often full of twists and turns that make little sense, with logic displaced (especially in the films of Argento) by a dreamlike quality that defies rationality. This early effort in the genre by Sergio Martino doesn't quite dispense with logic, but does make the mystery unduly opaque, even after every card is laid on the table.

Lisa Baumer (Ida Galli, under the name Evelyn Stewart) is romancing her lover when she gets a telephone call that her husband has been killed in an airplace explosion. The fact that he had a million-dollar insurance policy on his life raises questions, and investigator Peter Linch (George Hilton) is put on the case. When she travels to Athens and takes out the proceeds in cash, more than one person—including Mr. Baumer's own lover, Lara Florakis (Janine Reynaud) and her violent attorney, Sharif (Luis Barboo)—threatens to blackmail her with revealing the truth about her husband's demise. Soon a string of corpses appears in the wake of the million dollars, and Linch and French photojournalist Cléo Dupont (Anita Strindberg) attempt to get to the bottom of things in the increasingly convoluted plot, as do Greek police inspector Stavros (Luigi Pistilli) and Interpol agent John Stanley (Albert de Mendoza).

Red herrings and actual villains abound in this film, with seemingly irrelevant occurrences and personages having a significance that is apparent only on a second or third viewing. When I first finished watching the picture, it felt as if the story was completely full of holes, but a more careful second viewing allows the various pieces to be put together (like Stavros' jigsaw puzzle) in a manner that, if not entirely cohesive, at least follows satisfactorily. Part of the problem is the inadequate introduction of certain characters, most notably Lisa's lover Paulo, who is not named early on nor seen clearly for more than a few seconds, leading at least this reviewer to wonder who he was when he reappeared in the story an hour later. It's fairly tangled but does eventually work itself out with sufficient effort, without resorting to overt cheats.

Even though the gialli tend to be fairly bloody and nasty affairs as a rule, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail is a particularly shudder-inducing effort. The killings have a severe brutality and the killer (not just black-gloved, but outfitted all over in black leather) seems to take a fetishistic interest in carving up the victims. I'm not usually squeamish about such things but the surgical slicing is quite hard to take in this uncut version of the film. Particularly startling is one grotesque killing and mutilation played out as the television in the background carries on with a cheerful description of a Thanksgiving Day parade. The script also takes a page from Psycho by abruptly (and viciously) killing off one of the central characters about a third of the way in. The shock is still palpable here, despite the derivation, simply because little has occurred to set it up until the assault is under way.

The cast is reasonably good, with numerous Eurocult names in the cast. George Hilton did quite a few of these pictures with his trademark intensity that serves him well for the most part; his romance with Strindberg has a vicious edge that makes one wonder where his loyalties lie. She, unfortunately, doesn't get smooth transitions; she goes from cheery to terror when threatened by the killer back to cheery in fairly jarring fashion; there's little subtlety in her performance. Pistilli, perhaps best remembered from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and de Mendoza make an interesting pair of police, bouncing inane theories off one another and sharing an uneasy relationship as they try to solve the crimes. Janine Reynaud, veteran of several Jess Franco pictures, makes a memorable appearance as the blackmail-minded Lara, especially as she frantically tries to bar the door while the killer attempts to break into her apartment.

That sequence is one of two memorable set pieces in the film; the other is the finale, shot amongst massive boulders along the Greek seacoast. In addition, one police interrogation, rather than exploiting the setting, makes amazing technical use of the entire 2.35:1 screen by composing the picture sideways and swinging from one group of characters to another like a pendulum. It's really quite astonishing and highly effective. These striking tableaux will stick with the viewer long after the particulars of the plot have evaporated from memory.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Not only has No Shame restored the uncut film (which usually suffers several minutes of nudity and gore hacked out of it), but the Cromoscope 2.35:1 picture looks fabulous. Color is vivid, and detail is excellent. Black levels for the most part are very good although they seem a little washed out in a few sequences. The only serious complaint is excess DNR that is visible on fast camera movements. Hardly a speckle is to be seen, and there is no serious frame damage visible. No edge enhancement appears to have been applied, since I didn't see any ringing even in the highest contrast daylight sequences.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalian, Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Both English and Italian tracks are provided in 2.0 mono. They're both rather noisy, with substantial hiss and occasional crackle. Bruno Nicolai's score tends to be a bit shrill, though the ape-like screechings that can be heard at times are chilling. The Italian audio is louder and richer in texture; the English track's music tends to sound a bit muffled at times.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:02m:58s

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster and lobby card gallery
Extras Review: No Shame goes the extra mile by including substantial interviews (in subtitled Italian) with Hilton, director Sergio Martino, and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (24m:09s). Gastaldi in particular is quite the raconteur and he offers up many anecdotes about filmmaking in Italy, while Hilton expresses frustration at one of his big scenes being trimmed by the producers. It's too bad cult favorite Strindberg wasn't available to discuss the film. A substantial booklet includes bios and filmographies for Hilton, Strindberg and Martino. The trailer is provided in both English and Italian versions, and there's a poster and lobby card gallery that provides a few bits of publicity. This is a decent package, the main failing of which is the subtitling on the feature. It's rife with typos and awkward phraseology, and in a few places the subtitlist just gives up altogether and Stewart chatters on with nary a subtitle in sight. The layer change is also poorly placed in the middle of a conversation. Closer attention to these aspects of presentation will help cement No Shame as a first-class purveyor of such Italian cinema.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A vicious exercise in the giallo, with a complex plot that rewards repeated viewings; whether the chase is worth the effort is a different question. The video transfer is lovely, though the audio is rather noisy, and there are some good extras.

 


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