Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Retro Review: THE SLASHER...IS THE SEX MANIAC! (1972)

(Italy - 1972; US release 1974)

Directed by Roberto Montero. Written by Luigi Angelo, Italo Fasan and Roberto Montero. Cast: Farley Granger, Sylva Koscina, Susan Scott (Nieves Navarro), Silvano Tranquilli, Annabella Incontrera, Chris Avram, Femi Benussi, Krista Nell, Philippe Hersent, Paul Oxon, Jessica Dublin, Angela Covello, Fabrizio Moresco, Andrea Scotti, Irene Pollmer, Luciano Rossi, Ivano Staccioli, Nino Foti, Sandro Pizzoro, Benito Stefanelli. (Unrated, 101 mins)

Known under a variety of titles and initially released in the US as THE SLASHER...IS THE SEX MANIAC!, this obscure thriller is an enjoyably lurid second-tier giallo from Italian journeyman Roberto Bianchi Montero. Montero (1907-1986), a career second and third-stringer, dabbled in everything--post-HERCULES peplum, MONDO CANE knockoffs, spaghetti westerns, macaroni combat adventures, and even some porno in the late '70s-- but other than THE SLASHER, he's probably best known to genre fans for 1954's misleadingly-titled THE ISLAND MONSTER, a boring Italian drug smuggling drama sold as a horror movie and starring a dubbed Boris Karloff, presumably for no other reason than it provided the actor with a free Italian vacation. Shot under an Italian title that translated to the incredibly cumbersome REVELATIONS OF A SEX MANIAC TO THE HEAD OF THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DIVISION, THE SLASHER was known as SO SWEET, SO DEAD when released in Europe in 1972, but when it was picked up by veteran exploitation distributor William Mishkin, it was rebranded THE SLASHER...IS THE SEX MANIAC! for its 1974 grindhouse and drive-in release. Just out on Blu-ray in a restored HD transfer from Code Red in its most complete version yet at 101 minutes (other versions range from 83 to 97 minutes), THE SLASHER isn't a long-buried masterpiece waiting to be discovered, but it's sufficiently nasty and sleazy enough to be of interest to giallo fans, though its rampant, unapologetic misogyny makes it a bit of a dated relic from a bygone era.

THE SLASHER stars STRANGERS ON A TRAIN's Farley Granger--right around the same time he headlined the similarly exclamatory Italian giallo trash classic AMUCK!--dubbed by someone else as Inspector Capuana, the chief of the homicide division in a wealthy enclave of Rome. He's baffled by a string of murders committed by a serial killer who preys on adulterous wives of rich and successful men. The trench-coated, black-gloved killer, who wears a fedora and a sheer nylon face mask like a BLOOD AND BLACK LACE cosplayer, considers himself "the moral avenger of the city's upper class," stalking cheating wives, slashing their throats and breasts, and leaving scattered photos of them in flagrante with their lovers, simultaneously slut-shaming his mutilated victims and exposing their husbands as hapless cuckolds. Red herrings abound--the creepy morgue attendant (Luciano Rossi), the smirking district attorney (Silvano Tranquilli), the medical examiner (Chris Avram), and various older lovers and younger boy toys. Even Capuana himself, a conservative type who's appalled by the moral rot and bourgeois decadence he encounters in his investigation, isn't free from suspicion, with many of the victims being in the same social circle as his wife Barbara (Sylva Koscina, who isn't given much to do), who spends a lot of time with her younger "friend" Roberto (Sandro Pizzoro) while the rumpled Capuana tirelessly pursues the murderer.

Montero does a mostly workmanlike job with THE SLASHER, but there's some noteworthy elements throughout: though derivative of Mario Bava, the killer's appearance is strikingly effective; there's no shortage of beautiful Euro starlets with zero hesitation about getting naked (Koscina, Susan Scott, Femi Benussi, and Krista Nell, whose life was cut tragically short when she succumbed to leukemia in 1975 at just 29); the nature of the murders hints at the increasingly violent and tawdry direction that gialli would soon be heading with likes of 1975's subtly-titled STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER; and Montero manages one legitimately classic giallo sequence with the beach murder of Benussi's character. There's other giallo tropes present as well, such as the Eurolounge score by Giorgio Gaslini, accompanied by the instantly recognizable wordless vocals of Edda Dell'Orso; a tarot card reader (Jessica Dublin) whose warnings to her soon-to-be-victim daughter (Nell) go unheeded and prefigure the psychic element of both Dario Argento's DEEP RED (1975) and Lucio Fulci's THE PSYCHIC (1977); and a variation on the idea of a second party using a killer for their own purposes, a concept key to AMUCK! as well as Argento's TENEBRE (1982). Mishkin kept THE SLASHER...IS THE SEX MANIAC! in circulation for a while, even re-releasing it as BAD GIRLS with the tag line "...sensuous swingers all," as if THE SLASHER...IS THE SEX MANIAC! wasn't already exploitative enough. That still didn't satisfy Mishkin, who released an alternate version of the film on the XXX circuit in 1976 under the title PENETRATION, featuring newly-shot hardcore footage with American porn stars Harry Reems, Tina Russell, Kim Pope, and Marc Stevens, with the poster proudly advertising that one-time Samuel Goldwyn prodigy and former Hitchcock leading man Farley Granger was starring in a porno flick with the charming tag line "Some women deserve it!" An outraged Granger, who was edited into the hardcore scenes as if his character was a voyeur peeping all the XXX action, threatened a lawsuit and Mishkin quickly withdrew PENETRATION from release in the US, where it hasn't been seen since, though Granger's litigious power play didn't prevent that variant from being seen in Europe.

Toledo, OH on September 20, 1974

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