Sergio Martino/ Italy Spain/ 1971/ 95 mins
Available on Blu-ray Mon 16 Jul 2018
Although it sounds like one of the adventures of Tintin, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is one of the many disreputable Italian thrillers known as gialli that came to relative prominence in the early 70’s. Director Sergio Martino was known for dabbling in many genres but is highly regarded next to sub-genre luminaries such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, for such films as Torso and the splendidly titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key.
Unlike other Giallo films noted for their dreamlike, illogical approach to murder and mayhem, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is a fairly straightforward whodunnit elevated from the normal procedural by its stylish visuals and a level of savagery much higher than anything you would see in Marple or Midsomer. A million dollars inherited by a young widow after the plane carrying her husband explodes is the catalyst for a string of murders, beginning with the unfortunate woman herself. An insurance investigator (George Hilton) and a journalist (Anita Strindberg) try to track down the murderer and the money. Their trail leads them to Athens where they find themselves under the watchful eye of the local police.
Martino’s film is a solid and unspectacular thriller that actually serves as a very good entrance point to a type of film considered a most acquired taste. There are several tropes that can be found in other movies of its type, such as a black-clad, gloved killer; a sleazy fascination for knife wounds in female flesh; and bad Italian dubbing (even for the Italian-speaking actors). There is a clear-eyed sense of purpose to the film that works very well, and a twisty plot that makes logical sense, while being outlandish enough to satisfy those with a taste for the strange.
If it lacks a certain sparkle, that’s down to Martino’s journeyman status. A safe pair of hands, but here he lacks the pyrotechnics of an Argento or Fulci (although he also lacks their notoriously variable quality). In steps composer Bruno Nicolai to spice up proceedings with a great score that mixes the tortured, stabbing strings of Bernard Hermann with the propulsive, prowling suspense Ennio Morricone brought to his work in the genre. Also, the obvious chemistry between its two stars apparently extended to biology as well, with the interviews in the extras revealing Hilton and Strindberg enjoyed a dalliance during filming.
Another fine release from the Giallo aficionados at Arrow Video, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is an entertaining thriller with lurid slashes of nasty violence throughout. It’s perhaps slightly perverse to say that it has a real charm given its content, but this is a nicely-crafted slice of Euro-sadism with a hint of jet-set glamour that cant help but look just a little quaint these days.