Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971)

Director: Sergio Martino
Notable Cast: George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto de Mendoza, Ida Galli, Janine Reynaud, Luigi Pistilli, Tom Felleghy, Luis Barboo, Lisa Leonardi, Tomas Pico

What’s brilliant about Sergio Martino giallo films is that, outside of a handful, they are not usually purely giallo. It has been mentioned on this site previously that Martino is a much more diverse and talented director than just what he contributed to the horror genre and that even when he was making a film that was restricted to certain elements like a giallo is, he would find ways to make it feel dynamic. This brings us to the focus of this review, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, his second giallo and one that just received the pristine Arrow Video treatment. While the film maintains a staunch adherence to the elements that make a giallo a giallo (right down to the leather clad gloves and knife), it’s also a film that finds the tight balance of being a smart and intricately woven mystery thriller that slides into horror elements when it needs a spark to keep the film moving forward. It’s not quite the genre mashup that is Suspicious Death of a Minor, but it’s also not the pure slice of giallo that Torso is either. It’s the best of both worlds and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is a must have for any fan of either Italian cinema or just great thrillers.

Stab. Stabby. Stab. Stab.
Like many other giallo films from this era, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is a thriller that is powered by the various twits and turns of its plotting and narrative. What starts off as a story following the young wife of a rich businessman who inherits a life insurance policy of $1 million when he dies mysteriously in a vicious plane disaster, quickly reveals itself to be far more of a conspiracy than just some insurance scam. Enter in a variety of various questionable characters, lead by a very versatile George Hilton as the ‘main’ protagonist, and the film ravels and unravels with each passing scene delivering subtle clues and red herrings in a fun tug-o-war with the audience’s expectations of where the film is going.

Moving from the young widow to Hilton’s insurance fraud investigator is just the first of how the film toys with its narrative and the audience. Instead of having a single character driving the action and momentum of the film, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail instead uses a kind of rotating cast (although there are a few lead characters that take control) to drive the film forward. This creates a fantastic and dynamic tone to the film that makes even the most upfront characters feel as though they are caught in a web where anyone could be the masked killer or the potential next victim. Partnering this approach with some police investigation elements, including multiple investigators from different sectors, only adds to the mystery and thickness of the plot. Martino handles the script with remarkable ease, rarely allowing it to feel forced or obvious in its next steps, and he adds a ton of visual flair to give it quite a bit of style.

It’s at this point that The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail earns its giallo descriptor as Martino swiftly mixes in plenty of slasher-esque horror pieces for the kill sequences and pushing the style of the film to loftier goals. A black clad, knife wielding and masked villain stalks the various characters and lays down some vicious slayings and Martino shoots these sequences with a truly effective sense of tension and punctuation for the violence. Something as simple as a victim running in slow motion towards a door where the lock is being picked from the other side becomes a testament to his sense of fluidity in the film and how it’s the little things that matter the most in effective horror. Set to a variety of European backdrops and even adding in some fantastic underwater sequences in the final act, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail showcases the director’s talent to deliver strong iconic moments to a strong script.

I'm tired just thinking of running those.
The Arrow Video release of the film does it admirable justice too. As is expected at this point, the new 4K restoration of the film looks impressive to bring out the luscious details, character facial expressions, and great use of settings. What’s even better is the packed special features that come with the film. A new video essay, written essay, and a few new interviews are all fantastic sources of commentary and behind the scenes information that cinephiles will love. In particular, a 47 min interview with the director is a wonderful insight to his career.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is a fantastic piece of Italian cinema, blending a police thriller with giallo to create a dynamic experience. Martino is out to impress with his ability to deliver style AND substance in the film, thanks to a strong script and his ability to balance the tones, and this latest Arrow Video Blu Ray handedly does the film justice to deliver the best home video experience a cinephile can have. For fans of the director, stars, genre, or even those just curious about the film, this release and the film only get a very high recommendation here.

  • Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Audio commentary with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, moderated by filmmaker Federico Caddeo (in Italian with English subtitles)
  • New interview with star George Hilton
  • New interview with director Sergio Martino
  • New analysis Sergio Martino s films by Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film
  • New video essay by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Rachael Nisbet and Howard Hughes, and a biography of star Anita Strindberg by Peter Jilmstad

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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