When Lisa Baumer’s (Ida Galli) husband dies in a plane explosion (via a very obvious model getting blown to bits in a special effect that will make Classic Doctor Who fans proud), she must rush to Athens in order to collect on the $1,000,000 insurance money. That she was dallying with a man who was decidedly not her husband when the plane exploded and that despite the insurance’s protests she takes her money in cash creates an all-too-familiar suspicion amongst fans of Italian horror.
The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail follows the stereotypical hallmarks of the Italian giallo to near perfection. It is filled with all of the usual characteristics - the knife-wielding, black gloved killer; the beautiful, scantily clad women; grizzly, blood-soaked deaths; bold color palettes; odd angles; and a detective (or in this case, an insurance investigator) who must solve the crime before the girl gets killed.
The insurance investigator is Peter Lynch (George Hilton), who has been sent by the company to follow Lisa as it considers the plane explosion suspicious. Lucky for her, he’s on her tail when the husband’s lover (Janine Reynaud) demands at least half of the money and when Lisa refuses, she sends in her henchman, Sharif (Luis Barboo). Her luck quickly runs out as no sooner than when she’s back in her hotel room she is stabbed to death by the killer and robbed of her money. This Hitchcockian twist keeps the viewer on their toes as we’re never quite sure who might be killed next. Unlike Hitchcock, director Sergio Martino quickly gives us another beautiful woman for us to follow. She is Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg), a photojournalist who sneaks some pictures of the crime scene before teaming up with Peter to solve the case.
Like all good giallo’s, there are lots of twists and turns, more gruesome stabbings, and plenty of potential suspects. It really is the prototypical giallo film. It's almost as if someone listed all of the things you need in the genre, laid them out on a table, and then made this movie. It's a good film because of it, but not a great one. It does everything right, but nothing spectacular. It was shot on location in Athens and other parts of Greece, so what it lacks in originality it makes up for in scenic beauty. Martino is a perfectly capable director. The production here is well done and the camera movements fitting for the genre. He's capable but not much of a stylist. You look at a film by Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci (to name but two who have made names in the Italian horror business) and you immediately know who directed it. Martino never quite creates a style that is all his own. There are some very nice scenes in this film, but nothing that really stands out with a director's signature. Both the film and the director are quite good, just not extraordinary.
Arrow Video has done their usual fantastic job of transferring this film to Blu-ray. The original 35mm print was scanned at 2K resolution and it looks really good. Colors are striking and blacks are bold. The grain pattern is consistent, and I didn’t notice any defects or damages to the print. Audio is likewise good. Dialogue is consistently clear and focused and the effectively creepy soundtrack by Bruno Nicolai comes in loud and clear but is never overpowering.
Extras include a highly entertaining and thoroughly informative audio commentary by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and filmmaker Federico Caddeo. Also included are long interviews with George Hilton and Sergio Martino, plus audio essays on Martino’s cinematic style (or lack thereof) and the prolific screenplays by Gastaldi. There’s also the usual trailers, image galleries, and full color booklet with essays about the film.
If you need one film to demonstrate what a giallo film was, then The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail will exactly fit the bill. It perfectly shows off what the genre has to offer. It's not the best of its type of film, but it's quite good and Arrow Video’s new release is quite brilliant.