Casa d'appuntamento [The French Sex Murders] (1972) March 31, 2020 08:00
One of the most appealing aspects about cult films is they don't have to play by any industry rules, but at times this can also be a double edged sword as a director can get too carried away and the result is a twisted mix of concepts that simply don't complement each other.
The French Sex Murders opens up with thief Antoine Gottvalles (Pietro Martellanza) stealing a large assortment of jewels then making beeline to his favorite French brothel run by Madame Colette (Anita Ekberg) to pay a visit to his favorite girl Francine (Barbara Bouchet). Antoine appears to no longer be a welcome patron of the brothel, but when he lays down a large wad of cash Madame Collette grants him one more brief final visit. Upstairs he showers Francine with his recent heist of jewels and promises her much more if she leaves the brothel and is exclusive with only him. She coyly patronizes his proposition which aggravates him and leads him to start smacking her around. The scene ends with Antoine quickly leaving the brothel to which we quickly learn after that Francine has been murdered.
With Antoine being the last seen with Francine alive he is the prime suspect and the target of a manhunt lead by Inspector Fontaine (Robert Sacchi). He heads to his ex-wife's apartment, Marianne (Rosalba Neri), to seek help but she's with her new lover Pepi (Rolf Eden) and his angry protests outside her door are met with denial to help hide him. Eventually he's caught, brought to trial and sentenced to death by guillotine. Antoine maintains he's innocent and that everyone involved in his death will meet similar fate when he returns from the dead to seek his revenge.
No one thinks much of his threats until he escapes custody, and sends the police on a high speed pursuit, which eventually leads to a gruesome death. Following his demise, just as he threatened, those who sentenced him began dying horrible deaths one by one. It's up to Inspector Fontaine to try and pinpoint who the killer is before it's too late!
The best way to describe The French Sex Murders is a soap opera giallo. Everything in the film has a soap opera feel from the lighting, the camera shots, the script and the overacting. The scene where Antoine goes to his ex-wife's apartment and starts beating on the door when she won't open up is so hilarious because you can tell he's barely hitting the door yet he's over embellishing it and acting like he's beating it in, there are numerous scenes like this.
The acting and dubbing is awful. While I don't expect award winning performances from actors in these types of films, I've watched enough films with Barbara Bouchet, Rosabla Neri and Anita Ekberg to know they have more talent than a soap star, but it's not evident here. I'll give Barbara Bouchet a pass, her character once again is killed off almost immediately so she has about five minutes total in the film. Neri and Ekberg both have more screen-time but are as stiff and bland as the rest of the cast.
Then there's Robert Sacchi, the knockoff Humphrey Bogart... I've got nothing against his performance, he's an excellent Humphrey Bogart impersonator (that's what his entire career was based on), it's the combination of him as an Inspector in France with a thick New York accent in an Italian giallo slasher film that simply doesn't work. It's like having John Wayne in a Spaghetti Western, it may be a novelty idea on paper but on screen it doesn't match with the time period or the setting of the film.
Ultimately the failure of most of these issues has to be pinned on the director / writer Ferdinando Merighi. Should not come as any surprise this was one of only three films he directed, although he was assistant director on sixteen others so he had some experience. Ultimately it looks like Merighi made a very novice mistake and tried to cram everything he liked into one film (a la The Lost Empire) the result is a film that's off. Granted The French Sex Murders is far from the worst film I've ever watched but maybe worse than hating a film is being entirely indifferent to it.
Where the film fails I guess it could be said it also succeeds, at least in the sense you'll likely have no problems sitting through it solely to see where it's going and how bad it gets. That's great for a first time viewing but I doubt it holds up as well on a second pass through. Ultimately it's a film for the giallo completest. Barbara Bouchet is once again underused, Rosabla Neri is greatly wasted and Ekberg is approaching the end of her career and the period where she clearly accepted any role. To some this may be on their "so bad it's good" list. For myself, I'm so indifferent to this film it has literally taken me over a month since viewing it to complete this review.