Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
England's Mondo Macabro company remains true to its mission of presenting quality versions of arcane exploitation films from around the globe. French Sex Murders is a grindingly trashy giallo set in Paris but largely shot in Rome, with a cast of notables that any 1972 thriller might envy.
Paris Inspector Pontaine (Robert Sacchi) manages to arrest Antoine Gottvalles (Pietro Martellanza, aka Peter Martell) as the murderer of a prostitute in the brothel of Madame Colette (Anita Ekberg). Antoine is gruesomely killed trying to escape, but the murders continue as suspects associated with the brothel are wiped out, one after another.
As is often the case with international co-productions, the production particulars of French Sex Murders are more interesting than the film itself. Mondo Macabro's exhaustive video docu introduces us to producer Dick Randall, a distribution huckster who fled the US in the late 1960s over outstanding accounts with shady moneymen. He contributed to the Kung Fu explosion in Hong Kong before settling in Rome for a series of low-grade thrillers and horror films. French Sex Murders looks good on paper by virtue of its interesting cast. Beyond that, it's an indifferently made slasher giallo that barely holds the interest.
Shot cheaply, the film is way below the standards of even Sergio Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi. The plot simply strings together a series of gory murders, presenting a number of unlikely characters to serve as the usual suspects and red herrings. Humphrey Bogart look-alike Robert Sacchi later became notable in the US as a Bogie impersonator (The Man with Bogart's Face, 1980). We know that French Sex Murders isn't even trying for seriousness when we see Sacchi's supposedly Parisian policeman doing his full Bogie act, without the slightest explanation.
Some of the character actors, like prostitute-victim Barbara Bouchet (Casino Royale) are one-scene wonders, but Rosalba Neri, Evelyn Kraft, Howard Vernon and Anita Ekberg each have a substantial presence. Ms. Ekberg frets over her chopped-up employees. She often wears a dark dress and poses against dark furniture, presumably to disguise her plumped-up figure ten years after La dolce vita. The beautiful Rosalba Neri is given a sultry (and un-subtitled) song to sing. But the production flubs any attempt at atmosphere - the audio mix in the nightclub interior is so poor that people are dancing wildly to music we can barely hear.
There are plenty of outlandish stabbings and throat-cuttings, as well as beheadings by both a motorcycle accident and a display sword. Carlo Rambaldi is said to be responsible for the gore effects. Good editing by Bruno Mattei enhances key moments of dismemberment with repeat flash cuts tinted in primary colors, but poor lighting and direction only highlight the phony severed heads and poster paint blood.
Horror icon Howard Vernon is on hand as a researcher of the one microscope, two test tube variety. He asks for and is granted the head of the convicted killer "for study". One squirm-inducing shot shows him examining what looks like a sheep's eye. His surgical technique is to mash it into pulp with a dull scalpel.
The mystery is eventually resolved as more possible villains are (surprise!) themselves murdered and the motives of others are turned upside down. Howard Vernon's research assistant becomes the leading red herring for most of the second half of the show; there's a half-hearted implication that the killer's severed head may have possessed the young man. The direction is completely uninteresting, with the camera never really finding an interesting angle or doing much to flatter the attractive cast. Action scenes are particularly incompetent, and leave Mr. Sacchi with little to do but sulk.
Mondo Macabro's DVD of French Sex Murders is part of a collection of Dick Randall features probably contracted through his widow, a major interviewee in the thorough docu extra. By combining elements from various releases an extra-long version has been assembled - English language prints are said to run 83 minutes, but this disc is 90. The audio is all in dubbed English (even Robert Sacchi, I believe) except for one extended bedroom scene that was obviously never dubbed. The image is good but not terrific for color and sharpness.
The amusing docu is exactly what one would want to see on a shady producer like Dick Randall. Old associates and collaborators explain his career without insisting he was a great talent or even a worthy filmmaker. Randall shows up in a cameo as a portly brothel client in the movie and is obviously having a good time. Also appearing in a bit part is muscleman Gordon Mitchell as a drunk who gets decked by a nightclub owner half his size. French Sex Murders is definitely for completists and the curious.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
French Sex Murders rates:
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Docu on producer Dick Randall, deleted, alternate scenes, stills and posters
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 22, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson