Even Those Representing God Must Rely on Advertising: An Appreciation of “Seven Blood Stained Orchids”
It’s a stormy Saturday afternoon here in central Florida, and as I often like to do on wet weekends such as these, I decided to while away a couple of hours with a strangely comforting European cult flick from the 1970s and then tell the internet how I felt about it, whether the internet wants to hear it or not. Did I mention I’m back on the giallo kick? No? Okay, consider it mentioned.
Anyway, I’ve obviously written about a few gialli before, and the funny thing about the genre is that you don’t have to see too many of them before you start getting into what I call “endless giallo recursion,” or alternately, “The Giallo Small World Hypothesis.” To wit, the movie we’re discussing today is another one with bloody flowers prominent in the title and the plot (just like the subject of my older post, The Case of the Bloody Iris), and another one featuring Marina Malfatti (who was also in a couple of other gialli I wrote about, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and All the Colors of the Dark), albeit in a fairly small role.
Seven Blood Stained Orchids (Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso) was released in 1972 and was the last of a series of four Italian/German co-productions (fun fact: in Germany, the equivalent of gialli is “Krimi”) based upon the works of prolific British crime writer Edgar Wallace. It was directed by Umberto Lenzi, probably most infamous (at least in the U.S. and U.K.) as the director of a couple of the most notorious “video nasties,” Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox. Now, before you go getting any ideas, Seven Blood Stained Orchids is pretty much a textbook giallo and has very little in common with Lenzi’s gore films; in fact, the violence here is exceptionally tame, with the bloodiest scene probably being a relatively mild murder with a whirring drill (and you know you’re a horror junkie when a grisly drill-through-the-heart scene barely raises an interested eyebrow). So whether that makes you more or less likely to want to watch it is entirely up to you.
As I said, this movie ticks pretty much all the blood-spattered little giallo boxes: there’s a black-gloved killer stalking and killing scantily-clothed women with a knife, there’s a strange calling card left at the murder scenes (in this case, an occult-looking silver half-moon pendant), there is an investigation undertaken by one of the target victims when police prove less than useful, and there is the standard parade of shifty motherfuckers who drift through the story and serve as red herrings until the mystery slowly becomes resolved. Could the killer be the enigmatic old man babbling in German in the cemetery? The heroin-shooting Jimi Hendrix fan who does nothing but host open-door naked orgy parties at his zebra-print hippie pad? Or perhaps it’s his blouse-wearing boyfriend, who is a dead ringer for Rufus Wainwright? Or how about that hard-faced old battle-axe in the lunatic asylum who gives one of the potential victims a whole faceful of stinkeye and keeps a thermometer under her chair cushion, the way you do?
Briefly, the main plot revolves around a woman named Giulia (Uschi Glas) and her new husband, fashion designer and bossy-boots Mario (Antonio Sabato), as they attempt to get to the bottom of a mysterious series of killings, linked by the aforementioned half-moon pendant. After the murder of a prostitute (Lina Franchi) and an artist (Marina Malfatti), Giulia is targeted for death while she is on a train with Mario, heading toward their honeymoon destination. She survives, but because the killer beat cheeks before checking to make sure she was dead (rookie mistake), the police stage a mock funeral for her and keep her in hiding while they try to draw the murderer out. One of the repeated motifs of the film, though, is the general ineffectiveness of the cops, as they time and again fail to protect the marked women, even after Giulia and Mario have figured out the tenuous connection between the victims and helpfully provided a list of who is likely to meet the killer’s knife next. So fuck the police, the movie seems to be saying, since they apparently can’t manage to catch a cold even when all the legwork is done for them.
During the course of the film, we learn a great number of interesting facts. Among these are that serial killers become infinitely less sympathetic when they stoop to poisoning a bunch of kittens; that “The American Hospital” actually refers to the name of a medical facility in Rome and is not an admission that the Italians think there is only a single hospital on the entire American continent; that confessional booths in Catholic churches really need a better security detail; that a drugged-up sex soiree can’t be complete without poorly-applied body paint and a poster of Marilyn Monroe somewhere in the mix; and that not wearing a kicky purple scarf with your mod ensemble will make everyone think you’re a straight-up hooker who deserves to be bludgeoned to death in a cornfield.
All in all, this was a fairly solid example of the genre, not mind-blowingly awesome, but quite enjoyable, well-paced, and rather elegantly shot. The central plot device of the authority figures in the movie being powerless to protect the victims added a nice little undercurrent of dread to the entire affair. While the reveal of the killer was something of a surprise, the untangling of the murderer’s motive was not as splashy or madness-fueled as in other examples of the genre, so it frankly fell a little flat for me, since I’m more into the excesses of Argento. But I would still recommend this to giallo fans as a decent, middle-of-the-road entry into the annals of Italian crime thrillers.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.