Seven Blood Stained Orchids Review
An assassin is on the prowl, murdering women and leaving curious silver crescent moon-shaped pendants in their hands. He works fast, too. Within the space of two nights he has done away with an old woman, a prostitute and a young English artist, as well as made an attempt on the life of Giulia (Uschi Glas), a young lady who is engaged to fashion designer Mario (Antonio Sabato). Carrying out the attack on board a train, our daring killer is surprised by the ticket collector and scarpers, leaving Guilia for dead. She is, however, very much alive, but the police decide that, for her own safety, it would be better for the killer to think her dead, even going so far as to stage a funeral. Mario, however, is not one for resting on his laurels, and he and Giulia decide to track down the killer themselves (giallo police are almost always incompetent). The film here gets complicated, as Giulia recognizes the crescent moon pendant as being identical to a key-ring owned by an American man she encountered at a hotel two years ago. It becomes apparent that all the victims are people who were staying in the hotel at that time, meaning that there is a grand total of seven women lined up on the chopping board. It becomes a race against time to track down the remaining targets before the killer, who always seems to be one step ahead...
The name of Umberto Lenzi is probably most associated with cheap 1980s exploitation slashers such as Cannibal Ferox and Welcome to Spring Break, but he was at one point a reasonably skilled maker of gialli. Seven Blood Stained Orchids (or Sette Orchidee Macchiate di Rosso, Puzzle of the Silver Half Moons or whatever the hell you want to call it) seems to be regarded as one of his most assured offerings, and while I would have to see more of his body of work before coming to a conclusion with regard to this, my impressions based on this film would lead me to categorize him as a second-tier giallist . Seven Blood Stained Orchids is a competent and masterfully-photographed giallo with an interesting story and reasonably creative kills, but it doesn't go much beyond that.
Lenzi's biggest mistake is his tragic under-use of Uschi Glas's character, Giulia. Whereas most female giallo protagonists are long-haired bombshells who frequently take their clothes off, Glas is short-haired and petite, and she keeps her clothes on throughout the movie (although those seeking titillation - I slay myself! - will find plenty of eye candy elsewhere), making her very atypical and strangely appealling. Lenzi, however, is content to sideline Glas, giving her little to do until the film's climax, and instead concentrates on Antonio Sabato's Mario, a dull fellow with a penchant for bad chequered suits. His performance lacks flair, and the character is too generic to make for interesting viewing. The likes of George Hilton, at least, could have given this character a sleazy edge without any required altering of the script, but Sabato simply portrays the character as written, and let's just say there's not much on paper. This results in the middle half of the film becoming quite pedestrian, as Mario simply wanders from location to location, interviewing suspects without anything particularly eventful happening.
Furthermore, the identity of the killer should be of no surprise to anyone reasonably well-versed in the giallo genre, but the whodunit aspect of the film is still quite fun. Where gialli tend to differ from British or American mystery films is in the fact that only rarely will a giallo actually provide a mystery that the audience can decipher. Whereas one of the basic tenets of the work of, say, Colin Dexter or Ian Rankin, is to drop just enough hints as to the murderer's identity that the viewer stands a fighting chance of being able to work it out through logic, the likes of Sergio Martino and, here, Umberto Lenzi, rarely provide even the smallest clue, instead having the identity of the killer come out of left field. It's a shame, therefore, that the identity of the killer in this film is so redundant. While hopefully not giving away too much, let's just say that very few giallo directors have not made at least one film whose antagonist shares the profession of this one. To Lenzi's credit, he at least tries to rationalize the identity of the assassin in the interview featured on this DVD, but across the board he seems to have a distorted impression of the originality of his work. Case in point is the death of one character in a bath-tub. Lenzi seems to view this particular setup as incredibly imaginative, yet I could name of at least three gialli released before Seven Blood Stained Orchids that featured similar scenes. I will, however, give him credit for coming up with a rather imaginative "death by electric drill" scene that has since been ripped off in a number of other films.
Lenzi's greatest asset here is the cinematography. While just about every giallo made from the mid 60s to late 70s was shot in 2.35:1 (in the late 70s, Technicolor closed their Italian offices and thus irradicated the means to produce films using Technicolor Rome's own 2.35:1 Technovision process), the expert use of framing employed by Lenzi and cinematographer Angelo Lotti distances it from the slew of similar films. The framing is not only wide, it also has depth, with a number of shots demonstrating an impressive range of focus. A great example of this is the scene in which Mario investigates the home of a potential suspect, a hippie holding a gathering consisting of copious amounts of pot-smoking, body-painting and other topless antics. Various individuals drift in and out of frame as Mario berates the poor fellow, and all are well-focused. Riz Ortolani's score, while fairly standard, is also quite effective. He's no Ennio Morricone or Bruno Nicolai, that's for sure, but he knows how to create a suitably tense atmosphere.
Overall, while Seven Blood Stained Orchids is a competently-made giallo with few serious flaws, it contains little that can't be seen elsewhere. This film has been my first introduction to the work of Umberto Lenzi, and while I would not want to pass judgement on him before sampling at least a little more of his output, he definitely seems to be a number of grades below Dario Argento and Mario Bava in the inventiveness stakes, and he also seems to lack some of the reasonably skilled plotting that is present in Sergio Martino's films (although these, to be fair, are more often than not the work of giallo screenwriting legend Ernesto Gastaldi than that of Martino himself). This film, therefore, is not a must-see by any stretch of the imagination, but I doubt it will disappoint obsessive giallo collectors.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this anamorphic transfer is not perfect, but it's better than Shriek Show's previous efforts on What Have You Done to Solange? The encoding is still interlaced, and as a result there are a number of combing artefacts during fast movement, as well as an infuriating 3:2 pull-down problem that is as visible on progressive scan displays as on interlaced sets. There is also some noticeable edge enhancement. On the up side, the image is sharp, the colours are strong, and there are no compression problems. The print is also in great shape given its age and obscurity.
An adequate Dolby Digital 2.0 track is featured, preserving the original mono mix of the English dub. Once again Shriek Show had chosen to omit an Italian dub, something which personally annoys me since, while the lip movements make it pretty clear that the actors were all speaking English, the English dubbing is only passable, and Italian dubs have a habit of at least sounding more sincere than their English counterparts. The track itself is pretty mediocre, naturally limited by its age and low budget. The dialogue is always easy to understand but is rather soft and at times quite scratchy. Given the monaural nature of the track, the sound stage is unsurprisingly fairly narrow.
There are no subtitles.
After the lush job Shriek Show did with the packaging for What Have You Done to Solange?, the artwork for this comes across as a bit of a disappointment. The design is a much more generic affair, although part of this probably stems from the fact that the available materials were not as plentiful for this less-known title.
The menu is a static but functional affair, with no music of any kind.
Only 12 chapter stops are provided.
Shriek Show have struck gold with this release, securing not only an interview with Gabriella Giorgelli, who played the role of the prostitute who met her demise at the beginning of the film, but also one with Umberto Lenzi himself. (Both these interviews are conducted in Italian with English subtitles.) Lenzi provides a fair amount of interesting information in his seven and a half minutes of screen time, but unfortunately both he and the rather fawning interviewer exaggerate both the quality and importance of the film itself. Lenzi in particular treats his contemporaries with disdain, meaning that he comes across as a rather arrogant individual, despite being responsible for some of the silliest schlock in cinematic history...
Schlock like Eaten Alive, a highly idiotic cannibal exploitation flick, of which a bonus trailer is featured. Trailers for Spasmo and Seven Blood Stained Orchids itself are also included, along with brief liner notes describing the film's obscure status, and a small art gallery, featuring a variety of promotional materials.
Seven Blood Stained Orchids is an average but competent giallo, presented on a fairly average DVD. While there are better films out there, on better DVDs, this release will probably make a welcome addition to giallo fans' collections.