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Sergio Martino Collection, The

Arrow Video // Unrated // August 3, 2021
List Price: $99.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted August 13, 2021 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:


Arrow bundles together three previously released pictures from Italian genre favorite Sergio Martino in one compact boxed set aptly entitled The Sergio Martino Collection. Those who own the individual Blu-ray releases of the films in this set will find no reason to double dip, but for those who haven't picked them up or who may have been on the fence about them, this proves to be a very nice set.


Here's what's included inside…


Disc One: The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail


Released a year after the success of his first giallo, Sergio Martino's The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail is tense and very polished film with a fine cast of Eurocult regulars and a couple of nicely executed kill scenes.


When a well to do local businessman named Kurt Baumer is found dead supposedly because of his involvement in an airplane accident (created using a miniature airplane that is so painfully obvious in its scale as to be quite laughable) his young and rather unfaithful wife Lisa (Ida Galli, often known as Evelyn Stewart and star of Lucio Fulci's Seven Notes In Black) is almost a little too happy to be cashing in on her late beau's sizeable life insurance pay off. When the insurance company starts to dig a little deeper into the events that took the man's life, they become understandably suspicious of little Lisa Baumer and, in the interests of protecting their business, they send in an investigator named Peter Lynch (played by George Hilton of The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh and All The Colors Of The Dark) to make sure that Lisa's story is on the up and up.


While Peter is running around trying to piece the puzzle together and Lisa is trying to avoid all of the money grubbing friends and associates of her late husband who have come out of the woodwork since she received her settlement, Kurt's mistress (Janine Raynaud of Jess Franco's Sadisterotica and Succubus) gets herself a lawyer and figures she can take a piece of the pie for herself and even go so far as to finger Lisa as the real reason that Kurt has gone on to the great board room in the sky.


When Lisa also winds up dead and her insurance money missing, Peter kicks things into high gear and sets out to solve the crime and set things right once and for all but as luck would have it, a cop named Inspector Stavros (Luigi Pistilli of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly and Bay Of Blood) thinks her might have played a part in it too. Throw in a nosey reporter named Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg of Lizard In A Woman's Skin and The Antichrist) who may or may not find herself the next victim, and you can see how Peter's got his work cut out for him.


Like The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh made a year earlier, The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail is a text book case of a classic giallo. Martino's film moves along at a brisk pace but doesn't skimp out on things like character details and the plot is a nicely constructed thriller that does a fine job of keeping the viewer involved in the guessing game, even if it does borrow a plot device or two from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and from Mario Bava's Blood And Black Lace.


The cast is exceptionally good as well. No one plays a cranky cop better than Pistilli and his interaction with the ever so suave Hilton makes for some interesting on screen chemistry, as does Hilton's relationship with the sultry Ms. Strindberg. The interplay between the leads make the movie interesting and the characters a little more believable that your average giallo. The visuals for the film are on par with everything else discussed this far, they're top notch. Plenty of shadowy lighting and smooth, fluid camera work ensure that the Italian sets are captured in all of their architectural glory and that the funky Eurotrash furniture and decor look as good as they can.


While it isn't quite as well constructed as his giallo debut with The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh or with his masterpiece in the genre, All The Colors Of The Dark, Sergio Martino's The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail is a fine whodunnit with more than enough flesh and blood in it to keep things interesting and fun throughout.


Disc Two: Your Vice Is A Locked Door And Only I Have The Key


Directed by Sergio Martino in 1972, Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key is a pretty solid follow up (though not a sequel) to the earlier The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (also known as Blade Of The Ripper, a film Martino made a year before also starring Edwige Fenech and Ivan Rassmivo in prominent roles (the title of this film is actually taken from that earlier movie).


Alternately known as Gently Before She Dies, the story revolves around a drunken writer named Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), who lives in a massive mansion with his beautiful wife Irina (Anita Strindberg). Their marriage is far from ideal. Oliverio is cruel to his wife and he frequently mistreats her when he's not hosting lavish and decadent parties at their home. Quite understandably, Irina has grown to resent her husband. You can't really blame her when you figure he cares more for their cat, appropriately named Satan, than for his bride. The fact that he's screwing around on her behind her back certainly doesn't help matters much.


All of this bourgeoisie dysfunction sets the stage for things to come and before long, the couple is disturbed to find that someone has broken into the home and murdered their poor maid. As they try to figure out what's behind the death, the arrival of Floriana (Edwige Fenech), Oliviero's promiscuous young niece, throws things even further into disarray. The cops at first figure Oliviero is the murderer but soon various parties start to figure that a strange man named Walter (Ivan Rassimov) is the killer. Of course, it's not so simple as that and as truth behind the maid's murder is revealed, other beautiful young woman start to turn up dead.


The Poe connection isn't as strong here as it is in the Fulci film (in fact it has more in common with Clouzot's Diabolique) but there are still elements of his story that work their way into Martino's narrative quite skillfully. This is a tense, sexy and exciting thriller with a few bloody murders to satisfy horror fans and no shortage of suspense and tension. The story moves at a good pace and if it seems unnecessarily confusing in its first hour, what with all of the red herrings, it manages to tie things up quite effectively in its final hour. Martino keeps steady control over the pacing and exposition here, while the score from Bruno Nicolai does a great job of helping to build both tension and suspense and to heighten the film's sexuality too. Cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando shoots all of this with plenty of shadowy style, resulting in a beautiful looking film.


As slick and stylish as it is, the cast help bring this one up a further notch. Pistilli is very good as the hard drinking and lecherous Oliviero, a womanizing bastard of a man who treats his poor wife horribly. Pistilli just has a shifty look about his appearance that suits the character well and he plays the part perfectly. The beautiful Anita Strindberg is also good here. We feel for her at first, struggling to understand why she's stay with someone as despicable as he, while Ivan Rassimov is well cast as the stranger who is spotted about town, likely up to no good (Ivan Rassimov was almost always up to no good it would seem). Of course, the gorgeous Edwige Fenech, cast here as a ‘bad girl' type, steals many of the scenes that she's in. Sporting a bob style cut that really accentuates just how beautiful she was, she's got grace and charm to spare but her performance is just as important as her looks. We know once we see her out at the motorcycle races she spends so much time at that she's looking to take advantage of whatever man may come her way, and she vamps it up perfectly.


Disc One: The Suspicious Death Of A Minor


When Sergio Martin's The Suspicious Death Of A Minor begins, Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi) is hanging out at a dance where she meets Detective Paolo Germi (Martino regular Claudio Cassinelli of Island Of The Fishmen and The Great Alligator). She's not nearly as interested in him as he is in her but she pretends to be so that she can escape from the man in the mirrored sunglasses who is chasing her. She escapes but later that night he meets her at her apartment and slits her throat.


From there, an investigation is soon underway with Germi fast teaming himself up with a petty thief named Teti (Gianfranco Barra of Steno's excellent Execution Squad). Through a series of undercover cons they discover a prostitution racket specializing in younger, underage girls. While this is going on, a local politician's son is kidnapped. It seems that things are getting out of hand and quickly. Germi and Teti start using whatever means they deem necessary to try and crack the prostitution ring open, even if it means pissing off their boss (played by Mel Ferrer of Umberto Lenzi's Eaten Alive). The closer they get to figuring out who is behind it all the more dangerous things get for the unlikely duo.


So what exactly is this movie? Is it a giallo? The opening throat slashing scene and a couple of other grisly murder set pieces would seem to confirm this. But there's a lot of police work and a couple of chase sequences here too, indicating that maybe this was meant to be an Italian crime film. Adding to the confusion are a few scenes that were obviously intended for comedic relief, such as much of the interaction between Germi and Teti, as well as a few odd moments of physical comedy. A good example of this is a scene where a car whips around the corner and sends a pedestrian into a head-spin that would make Turbo and Boogaloo Shrimp green with envy. Is Martino playing this straight or is he poking fun at the two genres for which he's best known? There's a scene in the film where the investigation leads our two heroes to a theater. Inside, the patrons are watching Your Vice Is A Locked Door But Only I Have The Key, one of Martino's best known giallo films. What makes this interesting is that no one in the theater really seems to be paying attention to the movie. They're more interested in making out in the dark. Whatever Martino's intentions were, there's no doubt that here that, along with regular co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi, he has crafted a truly odd film, albeit one that's seriously entertaining.

Despite the erratic nature of the story and the execution, however, The Suspicious Death Of A Minor works well. The comedic bits haven't aged so well and many of them feel corny but the murders are handled with a nice sense of malicious style and the car chase scenes are exciting and fast paced. Cassinelli makes for a suave lead despite (and sometimes because of) the arrogance that his character exudes. He's perfectly capable of carrying the film. Ferrer's supporting role is also fun and the girls who make up many of the supporting characters are not only fun to look at but they also seem to fit the parts they play quite well. The weak link in the chain is Barra, but again, it's not so much his fault as it is the fault of the dated comedy in the film. When it's time for the action and suspense scenes he actually fares quite well.


In the end, The Suspicious Death Of A Minor is a strange mish-mash of genres that falls into a few different categories of Italian exploitation without confining itself to one specific genre. It's got style, tension, gratuitous nudity and J&B bottles, and a few nice murders. That should be enough to satiate most fans.


The Video:


Arrow Video brings The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail to Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 widescreen taken from a ‘brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative' in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This is quite a nice upgrade over the previous DVD release that came years back via No Shame, which did look quite good for its time. Detail is strong and this is a very film-like offering, showing a fair bit of grain in quite a few scenes but little in the way of actual print damage outside of the odd, small white speck now and then. Colors look quite good and black levels are fine and the disc is free of any noticeable compression artifacts, edge enhancement issues or noise reduction. No complaints here!


Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key at 2.35.1 widescreen and is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative. Presennted on a 50GB Blu-ray disc, it looks excellent, with detail easily surpassing previous DVD releases in pretty much every way that you would hope for. There's very little print damage evident here at all, the film looks crisp and very clean here. At the same time there isn't any obvious noise reduction nor is there any obvious edge enhancement. The end result is that the movie looks nice and film-like but at the same time take advantage of the format with improved clarity, detail, texture and color reproduction. Skin tones and black levels are also spot on here and there are no problems with any compression artifacts or crush, even in the darker scenes.


The Suspicious Death Of A Minor arrives on Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative. The image is nice and film-like, retaining a natural amount of grain without looking too dirty or noisy. Detail is quite nicely improved over the previous DVD release from Sazuma (this writer's only point of reference for the film) as is texture and color reproduction. In fact, some of the close up shots really show off how good a proper HD transfer can look. There are no noticeable compression artifacts to complain about and the image is free of any noise reduction or edge enhancement related issues. The picture is also pretty clean, showing no noticeable print damage outside of the occasional small white speck here and there.


The Audio:


Audio options are available in Italian and English language soundtracks in DTS-HD Mono with newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack available as well as optional English SDH subtitles available for the English soundtrack. Both tracks sound quite nice. There are no real problems where with any hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout. There's good depth to the score (though it sounds a little better on the Italian track than the English track?), and all in all, for older single channel tracks, there's nothing to complain about here.


Your Vice is offered up with English and Italian language options in LPCM Mono with removable subtitles provided in English only. Audio clarity is very strong here, and for a single channel mix there's quite a bit of depth, particularly as it pertains to the way that music is used in the movie. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion. English SDH is provided for the English track while proper subtitles are provided for the Italian track.


Arrow provides both Italian and English language tracks in LPCM Mono, with English subtitles translating the Italian track and English SDH for the English track. There's not a massive difference in quality between the two tracks, they both sound pretty solid, but it's worth noting that Ferrer did his own dubbing for his character on the English track.


The Extras:


Extra features are spread across the three discs in this set as follows.


Disc One: The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail


Extras kick off with an Italian language audio commentary with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, moderated by filmmaker Federico Caddeo. Note that this comes with English subtitles. Gastaldi talks about how he came to work with Martino, how and why Hilton wound up in the picture, the success that the film enjoyed, how Martino had a knack for knowing what audiences wanted, the influence of Argento's Bird With The Crystal Plumage on, if nothing else, at least the name of the film and the importance of not letting the audience know who the killer is too early in the film. He also talks about how he wasn't on set that much and rarely interacted with the cast as he had too much to do, different screenplays that he was involved with over the years but especially during this era in Italian cinema, different directors that he got along with personally and professionally, the effectiveness of the camera techniques used in the picture, the importance of the score in the picture, how he's ‘amused' by the nude scenes in the picture, how audiences were more interested in actors than directors in this day and how that allowed Martino to jump from genre to genre very easily, how there were difficulties with dubbing films like this into English from time to time and quite a bit more. It's a thorough track that covers a lot of ground.


Up next, a new interview with star George Hilton entitled Under The Sign Of The Scorpion that clocks in at twenty-one-minutes and sees the seasoned actor talk about how he got into working in various genres, starting with this film, after doing a bunch of westerns. He notes how much he liked the screenplay, his thoughts on his character, and how he'd later go on to make a bunch of films with Edwige Fenech with Martino, who he considered a friend. He also talks about how many of these films were made as co-productions, getting rescued by a military ship when things went wrong on set, having to do love scenes with Ms. Strindberg (and the physical attraction they shared!), Martino's directing style (he was ‘strict'), the effects used in the movie and, well, some things we'll avoid for spoilery reasons. Either way, this is a pretty great piece, it's nice to see Hilton here speaking his mind and he tells a lot of fun stories about his past.


After that is an exclusive interview with director Sergio Martino called The Scorpion Tales that runs forty-seven-minutes in length. This piece is pretty comprehensive, it sees the director talking about what genres were successful back in the day and how he tried to take advantage of that, his thoughts on The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail and how it compares to other gialli that he made, films that influenced the picture, his thoughts on Hilton's work in the film, working with Ernesto Gastaldi, working with the film's Spanish co-producers, his thoughts on Greek cinema and working with a Greek crew, directing Hilton and Strindberg, and some of the films that he made with Fenech. He also talks about which films have aged batter than others from his filmography, different cast and crew members who made an impression on him over the years, the difficulties of staging some of the stunts featured in the film, the picture's underwater scenes, the locations that were used and plenty more. Martino really goes all in on this one, leaving no stone unturned and delivering to fans a very comprehensive look back at the making of this particular film.


From there, dig into a Jet Set Giallo, new analysis Sergio Martino's films by Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema And The Italian Giallo Film. Over the span of twenty-minutes Koven offers up his thoughts on Martino's output and how his work sort of transcends genres making him tougher to categorize. He notes Martino's competence as a filmmaker but also talks about how he doesn't necessarily have a ‘signature' the way that Argento or Fulci might, but how that signature may in fact by his competence and dependability. He then talks about how a lot of gialli tend to deal in the ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous' in a way and the ambivalence that comes from that, and then manages to tie in Man From Deep River into the who theory he goes with her that ties into the title. He makes some interesting comparison to this film and The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh and to Argento's films, how the picture toys with giallo traditions in terms of its depictions of the upper class, the place of formula in genre cinema, Hilton's performance in the film and how it differs from other projects he and Martino worked on together (and the importance of this), the film's use of red herrings and how it's best for the audience to just ‘enjoy the ride,' the canniness of Strindberg's performance in the picture and more.


After that Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films, provides a new video essay on the film entitled The Case Of The Screenwriter Auteur that runs sixteen-minutes in length. In this piece, Howarth gives us a quick rundown of what the auteur theory is and the controversy that has surrounded it since its inception. From there, he talks about the collaborative requirements of filmmaking, how different directors of ‘artistic validity' will occasionally do ‘gun for hire' work, and how there are others involved in the filmmaking process who do not work as directors who can lay claim to being auteurs in terms of the defining traits of the theory. From there, the concept behind this established, he goes on to talk about Ernesto Gastaldi's work in genre cinema, what makes it stand out, some recurring traits that we can notice in some of his efforts, his importance as a plotter of gialli as well as some of the landmark gothic Italian pictures he penned, and then his directorial work and his collaborations with Sergio Martino and the importance of those collaborations to their collective bodies of work. It's a curious piece that posits some ideas about the whole ‘auteur theory' concept that are both unorthodox and, in the presentation Howarth makes here, quite logical. This will appeal more to those who want to think about film theory than those who just want the historical facts, but personally I found it pretty interesting.


Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer for the feature, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.


Disc Two: Your Vice Is A Locked Door And Only I Have The Key


The extras for this feature start out with Through The Keyhole a new interview with director Sergio Martino. Chiming in at thirty-four minutes, this piece sees Martino talking about the significance of the title, the influence of Poe on the story, various films and real life news items that inspired the picture and what it was like working with the different cast members assembled for this picture.


Up next is the twenty-three minute Unveiling The Vice which is a featurette that looks back on the making of the movie and which is comprised of interviews with Martino, leading lady Edwige Fenech and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Each interviewee is able to offer up some interesting insight into the history and making of the film in this well edited and produced piece. This was originally included on the past DVD release that came out in North America via now defunct No Shame Films.


Dolls Of Flesh And Blood: The Gialli Of Sergio Martino is a half hour long visual essay by Michael Mackenzie that does quite a fine job of exploring and explaining the importance of Martino's giallo run.


Also very much worth checking out is The Strange Vices Of Ms. Fenech which is another half hour long visual essay style featurette wherein film historian Justin Harries discusses Fenech's career not only as it pertains to this film and other gialli but also her early days, how she got into acting, some of the sex comedy films that she later became famous for and more. This is oddly assembled in that Harries appears in front of a ‘green screen' of some sort while clips and images of Fenech pertaining to what he's talking about playo out behind him, but there's a lot of great information in here as well as a ton of fantastic archival material displayed.


Eli Roth On Your Vice is, as it sounds, a talk with the director about the influence and importance of this particular film and others that Sergio Martino directed. Animated menus and chapter selection round out this disc.


Disc One: The Suspicious Death Of A Minor


Extras start off with a commentary track featuring Troy Howarth in which he discusses the films genre hopping super powers, how it abides by certain rules while breaking others and the evolution of the plot as it pertains to these aspects of the movie. He also details who did what in the film, offers up plenty of trivia about the cast and crew involved in the picture, lends insight into the locations and makes some observations about the score and a fair bit more. He also discusses Martino's directing style and compares this film to others that the filmmaker was responsible for over the span of his fairly lengthy career. It's a solid track, some good information in here.


Also included on the disc are new interviews with director Sergio Martino that runs forty-three minutes in length. Here he discusses the film's seemingly random nature but makes the case for it, noting that he was trying to think outside the box directorially speaking. He also offers up some decent anecdotes on the production and the cast that he worked with on the film.


It's also worth noting that if you choose the English version from the main menu , you'll get English language opening and closing credits/titles (under the alternate Too Young To Die title) and if you choose the Italian language track you'll get Italian language credits/titles. It might seem like a small thing but it's a nice touch and it serves to make the package more complete.


Each disc, which comes in a regular sized Blu-ray case and not the larger size that Arrow typically use, fits inside a side loading slip box and features some reversible cover sleeve art. Any insert booklets that were included in the original single disc issues of these films have not been included in this boxed set reissue.


Overall:

The Sergio Martino Collection offers up three great films from one of Italian genre cinema's master craftsmen in very nice presentations and with lots of extra features as well. For those who don't already have the individual releases, this set comes highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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