The Bloodstained Butterfly
Arrow Video // Unrated // $39.95 // August 23, 2016
Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 21, 2016
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
Despite a slew of grisly murders and its killer clad in leather gloves, 1971's The Bloodstained Butterfly is the giallo that's not. Leading up to its final moments, the body count stands at just three, and more than an hour separates the first and second deaths. The elaborate, operatic murders that for many define the genre are nowhere to be found. We witness the aftermaths as well as the seconds leading up to a kill, but the brutal acts themselves -- flashbacks real and imagined aside -- take place offscreen. So many of these films revolve around someone who witnesses a murder and, for one reason or another, is thrust into the role of amateur sleuth. The Bloodstained Butterfly has no central protagonist as such. We're instead introduced to a legion of potential suspects. Any of them could prove to be the hero, just as any one could be unveiled as the murderer. As masterfully composed as the film is, its visuals don't make it a point to dazzle in the same way that Dario Argento and Mario Bava's gialli so often do. It fetishizes forensic science and every aspect of a police investigation far more than gleaming straight razors or bared breasts. These films have a reputation for prioritizing their visuals and standout setpieces far above storytelling. The Bloodstained Butterfly, meanwhile, features what's perhaps the most sharply written and well-thought-out screenplay of any giallo I've come across. With so many characters and an abundance of moving parts, this is a film that demands the audience's attention to be fully appreciated. For those who take comfort in the more familiar aspects of the giallo, The Bloodstained Butterfly may pose a challenge. As for those with a taste for something different...

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The detectives in The Bloodstained Butterfly have no need of some reluctant amateur to do their work for them. After the ravaged corpse of a seventeen year old girl (Carole André) is discovered, their dilligence and the then-bleeding-edge forensic science at their disposal ensure that the most burning questions are quickly answered. They're certain that Françoise knew her killer. There's reason to suspect that she was seeing two different men that dreadful afternoon. They have multiple eyewitness accounts, a plaster impression of the killer's shoes, and even a murder weapon complete with fingerprints. The evidence overwhelmingly points to Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia): his longstanding familiarity with Françoise through his teenaged daughter Sarah (Wendy D'Olive), a shirt stained with blood matching the type of the victim, the unique chemical composition of the mud spattered across his trenchcoat, and even the fingerprints on that switchblade. At the same time, his defense in the courtroom has an explanation at every turn. The mud was splashed onto his coat by a passing car, not in the heat of a fatal struggle. That switchblade was stolen from his car weeks ago, and since the killer was seen to be wearing gloves, of course there's only one set of fingerprints to be found on it. As for the blood on a discarded shirt...well, he's not proud of the answer, but there is one. Is the police's certainty that they have the murderer on trial well-founded, or is this a Hitchcockian case of a man wrongly accused? If it's not Alessandro, could it be his unfaithful wife (Ida Galli)? Sarah was best friends with Françoise; what role, if any, did she play in her murder? The handsome pianist Giorgio (Helmut Berger) is clearly consumed by...something. Guilt, perhaps? Madness? Alessandro's attorney (Günther Stoll) is adept in so many ways yet is hiding secrets of his own.

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So many gialli emphasize dazzling murder setpieces over plot or meaningful characterization. While The Bloodstained Butterfly honors many of the genre's defining elements to an extent -- fatal thrusts of blades, sex, some degree of sleaze, a killer hiding behind a trenchcoat, hat, and leather gloves, the whodunnit aspect -- the reverse is true here. Despite the sparse action and limited body count, The Bloodstained Butterfly is so beautifully photographed, well-acted, and skillfully written that its grip on my attention never relented. The way its key characters are identified on-screen, complete with printed names and descriptions, put me in a different state of mind. Having them called out in that way tightened my focus, and the web that's woven around them doesn't disappoint. I found myself fascinated by the intricate details of the police investigation, something the film similarly revels in exploring. A massive portion of its runtime is set in a courtroom, which to me would normally be the 35mm equivalent of Ambien, but that's not at all the case here. The volleys back and forth between the prosecution and defense are endlessly engaging, with both sides making incredibly strong cases. There's so much more I wish I could say in that regard, but I don't want to spoil any of what makes The Bloodstained Butterfly so terrific for those who've yet to see it. Suffice it to say that these sequences hardly deliver more of the same. Its twists are well-earned and to some extent unexpected. As obvious as it may seem how certain figures will factor in, the puzzles aren't pieced together quite so cleanly. While this is largely a grounded, serious film, there are wonderful splashes of humor, such as Alessandro's booze-swilling mistress who can't seem to stand upright. I repeatedly found myself marveling at the gorgeous compositions of so many shots. I'm a sucker for anything showcasing this much harpsichord onscreen, and I can't begin to lavish enough praise upon Gianni Ferrio's outstanding score either. Yes, The Bloodstained Butterfly is by no stretch of the imagination a traditional giallo, but as much as I love the genre, its insistence on something different is the source of its strength, not cause for criticism. Highly Recommended.

One of just a handful of gialli to be remastered in 4K, The Bloodstained Butterfly is a complete and total knockout on Blu-ray. The richly detailed image is nothing short of astonishing, and the film's naturalistic use of color is often striking, particularly its fascination with flowers. Arrow Video's presentation is as immaculate as ever, authored with the utmost care and respect. Simply extraordinary.

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The AVC encode for The Bloodstained Butterfly spans both layers of this BD-50 disc. The film is offered in both English and Italian, complete with distinct opening titles and end credits depending on which language is selected. As if you couldn't tell from the screenshots scattered throughout this review, The Bloodstained Butterfly's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 has been faithfully preserved on Blu-ray.

Given that every last element you're hearing was recorded in post-production, either of The Bloodstained Butterfly's monaural, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks would be an equally viable choice. I personally prefer the Italian track, which boasts a stronger set of performances. The reproduction of the dialogue overall is more robust in Italian, and I prefer some of the effects in this track as well, such as the more pronounced reverb in the courtroom. Although the English dialogue doesn't impress me in quite that same way, there is something more expansive to its audio overall. Despite being monaural, the English track more effectively fills the room with sound, while the Italian track strikes me as somewhat narrower in reach. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed with either soundtrack, though.

Also included are three sets of subtitles: one in Italian, a proper translation of the Italian dialogue into English, and an SDH stream for the English version.

  • Introduction (1 min.; HD): Helmut Berger provides a brief, awkward introduction to a film he clearly doesn't care for all that much.

  • Audio Commentary: I always have a blast with Alan Jones and Kim Newman's giallo commentaries, and their feature-length conversation about The Bloodstained Butterfly too is equal parts insightful and infectiously fun. The two of them speak about what sets this film apart from the expected giallo formula, the influence Blow-Up clearly had on its structure and early emphasis on procedural elements, how the prologue identifying the key players was gutted entirely in some countries, and Helmut Berger's career arc and relationship with the legendary Luchino Visconti. It's also funny how post-coital body painting didn't strike me as the least bit odd until Newman and Jones pointed it out, and, yeah, you know they're keeping an eye out for bottles of J&B. Well worth a listen.

  • Murder in B-Flat Minor (27 min.; HD): This visual essay by Troy Howarth opens by discussing what a banner year 1971 proved to be for the giallo -- the only year in which Fulci, Argento, and Bava all contributed to the genre. Howarth also charts the career of director Duccio Tessari, including his collaborations with some of the luminaries of Italian cinema. When "Murder in B-Flat Minor" turns its eye towards The Bloodstained Butterfly, it has a great deal of insight to offer, including its tightly written screenplay, inspired use of cross-cutting, wonderfully cinematic eye, immensely talented cast, and, with particular emphasis, a score that draws from and reinterprets Tchaikovsky.
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  • A Butterfly Named Evelyn (55 min.; HD): Ida Galli -- or Evelyn Stewart, if you prefer -- contributes what is easily the most charming of the disc's extras: a nearly hour-long retrospective into her astounding career. Galli worked with virtually everyone of consequence in Italian cinema, from Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti to Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino. She speaks about the many highs in her career (The Leopard; La dolce vita) as well as the lows (turning down Visconti's Death in Venice; the dire straits of repeated robberies; the collapse of the Italian film industry) and everything in between. Galli speaks about a staggering number of films, nearly every last one of which is accompanied by a wonderful anecdote, such as how she'd already decided to name her not-yet-born daughter Deborah as she was enlisted to star in The Sweet Body of Deborah. She has quite a bit to say about The Bloodstained Butterfly in particular, most memorably how the crew put her at ease when the time came to film a love scene.

  • Me and Duccio (8 min.; SD): The since-departed Lorella De Luca was the wife of director Duccio Tessari and starred in nine of his films, The Bloodstained Butterfly among them. She speaks here about how they met, her late husband's fervor for and encyclopediac knowledge of film, and the seismic impact he left on Italian cinema. Tessari was offered yet declined a co-screenwriter credit for A Fistful of Dollars, for instance, and his discovery of Giuliano Gemma and his working relationship with Ennio Morricone are among the other topics of conversation. The Bloodstained Butterfly is not discussed.

  • Mad Dog Helmut (18 min.; HD): Helmut Berger laughs at his near-total lack of dialogue throughout The Bloodstained Butterfly, speaks about his female co-stars and frenzied sex scene, and notes that he doesn't consider director Duccio Tessari to be an artist. From there, Berger speaks about some of his other films, among them Salon Kitty, Mad Dog, Dorian Gray, Faceless, and Barefoot in the Park, and he even discusses turning down the title role in Caligula.

  • Promotional Gallery (HD): This high resolution gallery showcases a handful of production stills, lobby cards, and poster art.

  • Trailers (7 min.; HD): Last up are high definition trailers in both English and Italian.

This may be my least favorite set of newly-commissioned artwork for an Arrow release, but the reversible cover showcases the original poster art on the flipside, and that suits The Bloodstained Butterfly far better. The lengthy liner notes feature three essays: a giallo primer for the uninitiated (though it's difficult to imagine anyone unfamiliar with gialli choosing this as a starting point), an appreciation of composer Gianni Ferrio that pays particular attention to his score here, and a terrific analysis of The Bloodstained Butterfly and how it defies giallo conventions in the most compellingly unique ways. It is a little strange that the booklet mismatches the cast and crew listings, not that anyone's likely to be confused. That with the completely misattributed commentary on Microwave Massacre does seem sloppier than I've come to expect from Arrow, though.

The Final Word
The Bloodstained Butterfly is worlds removed from the giallo I expected to see, but don't mistake that as any sort of black mark. This is a tightly written, masterfully shot whodunnit that tears off in directions I could never have seen coming. Despite defying so many of the conventions I've come to expect from the genre, its strong performances, skillful storytelling, and striking (though less operatic) cinematography rank among the very best that gialli have to offer. Highly Recommended, especially in this extraordinary special edition by Arrow Video, though do prepare yourself for something different than the norm.

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