31 Days of Horror: ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’

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The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)

Directed by Giuliano Carnimeo

Written by Ernesto Gastaldi

Italy, 94 min.

The giallo film is obsessed with surface values, the quality and textures of materials; rough, soft, hard, supple, warm, cold, etc. The constant contrast between cold metal and hot flesh, the mixing of bodies and the release of blood. Though often lacking emotionally, it seems far beyond the point of the projects, whose convoluted mysteries push other values to the forefront. The question of beauty as good or evil seems to be persistent, perhaps a remnant of the Catholism of Italy, where the body holds immense spiritual value. How do we differentiate the beauty of the Madonna from the whore? Can the flesh be evil, separated from the mind and spirit? The Case of the Bloody Iris is in many ways a typical giallo, one that has Edwige Fenech as its idol, and the camera adores her as an object of fetishism and worship.

Like all Giallo, the mystery takes a backseat to the stylistic gymnastics of the film. Giuliano Carnimeo is not necessarily the most talented of the Italian filmmakers coming out of this era, and it is probably why his name is not particularly known. That doesn’t mean this film doesn’t have a lot to offer though, it is just that the visual style is not always working in perfect conjunction with the content in the same way the best of either Dario Argento or Sergio Martino’s work would. It is really only in the flashbacks, which use a psychedelic aesthetic that there is a perfect harmony at work. These sequences are salacious, overcrowded and wonderfully ironic. They work partially as a shameless excuse to showcase the naked body of its female characters but subvert the paradisical vision of free love by suggesting its sinister connotations of re-contextualized gender struggles, presented under the veil of freedom and equality.

This of course is a blatant over-reading, the film does not have such lofty aspirations but like all good films that exist on the surface, offer so much room for interpretation and dream-work. Giallo, for me, remains such an interesting genre not for the content it offers, but on the suggestions it makes. Like a beautiful Grecian sculpture, we can project onto it our greatest desires and fears. It exists like the Venus de Milo or Michaelangelo’s Laocoon and his Sons, sculptures that are technically proficient, incredibly evocative, universally appealing and yet somehow vacant, ready to be shaped by the psyche of the spectator.

At the heart of this vision is Edwige Fenech, she lights up the screen, her body and face breathtaking, so beautiful that it is almost horrifying. She is an object of desire and hatred. Attached to this body is the conflict of the spectator’s reaction and the difference between jealousy and envy becomes important. The former is the desire to possess something that you do not have; the other is the desire to destroy the owner of the object of desire, to see them suffer. The latter is the central to the understanding of these films, which are tied so closely with obsession, ownership and destruction.

All Giallo seems obsessed with this desire to possess and destroy, and usually at the center of all of this is insanity, either of an individual or a community. The violent acts committed are always sexual in nature, reflecting weird fetishes or insufficiencies of the aggressor. They speak to more universal desires, complex relationships of sex which are tinged by misplaced shame. Again we return to the Catholic environment that always exists at the fringes of Italian cinema. The power of the Church is no longer the source of redemption, but the source of violence and decay.

The Case of the Bloody Iris is a worthwhile adventure for any fan of giallo cinema. Though not one of the golden stars of the genre, it is nonetheless one of the more interesting products to come out of Italy during this period. It is worth seeing for Edwige Feneche alone, an actress who lights up the screen, draws your eye and excites your imagination.

–          Justine Smith





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