Helmut Berger goes nuts (again) in the giallo THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY, out on Blu-ray/DVD combo in a new restoration from Arrow Video USA.
When seventeen-year-old schoolgirl Françoise Pigaut (Carole André, DEATH IN VENICE) is brutally murdered in a Lombardy park, the killer evades the police in a heavy downpour. The killer's flight is not without witnesses, but the descriptions are vague until Gabriella (Gabriella D'Olive, NAKED VIOLENCE) – the female half of a necking couple in the park during the murder – makes a positive identification of sportscaster Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia, CONVOY BUSTERS) whose daughter Sarah (Wendy D'Olive, THE DEAD ARE ALIVE) was one of Françoise's classmates. The evidence quickly builds up against him, from his fingerprint on the switchblade found at the scene to mud with the same chemical composition on his coat, and blood of the girl's type on his shirt. The attempt of family lawyer Giulio Cordaro (Günther Stoll, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?) to establish an alibi for Alessandro reveals to his wife Maria (Ida Galli, THE WHIP AND THE BODY) her husband's infidelity, and his flighty socialite mistress Marta (Lorella De Luca, TOUGH GUYS) is off to parts unknown unavailable to testify on his behalf. Strangely, Alessandro's conviction only seems to upset his daughter Sarah since her mother is having an affair with her husband's lawyer. Sarah has attempted to fill the void left by her father with a relationship with childhood crush Giorgio (Helmut Berger, THE DAMNED), a disowned but independently wealthy concert pianist in the throes of a mental breakdown. When a prostitute is murdered in the park in the same manner, Inspector Berardi (Silvano Tranquili, SO SWEET SO DEAD) does not believe it exonerates Alessandro until he receives a call from someone claiming to have committed both murders with more to come.
One of three gialli helmed by jobbing director Duccio Tessari (GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES) – the other two being the giallo/poliziotteschi hybrid DEATH OCCURRED AT MIDNIGHT and the labyrinthine amnesia tale PUZZLE – THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY seems at first to be a rather ordinary tale of a man accused of murder and railroaded with the bulk of the film spent on suggesting motives of those around him after his conviction (although the German distributors were planning to initially pass it off as an another Edgar Wallace adaptation with the title THE SECRET OF THE BLACK ROSE, they eventually distributed it as DAS MESSER or THE KNIFE). Although it seems to take a long time to build up to one neat twist, repeat viewing actually unveils some Argento-esque trickery that may go unnoticed the first time due to the lack of murder setpieces and bravura camera trickery, with Tessari favoring quick but disorienting cutaways to forge or rupture connections for the audience between past and present (the film actually opens with a quotation stating that the past and future do not exist, only the present which is composed of both). The opening credits unfold over an optical matte of a butterfly and are followed by a wordless montage that introduces all of the suspects and some of the potential victims, including a couple who turn out to have little to do with the story proper even as red herrings (including Giorgio's stuffy father and NIGHT CHILD's Dana Ghia as his mentally unstable mother). The nature of Berger's character is ambiguous for much of the running time, allowing him to behave suspiciously and intensely whether making love to his underage lover, writhing on the floor to classical music, or demolishing an opulently appointed room, but his actions are proven to be not without reason. The score of Gianni Ferrio (DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT) quotes Tchaikovsky's Concerto #1 with orchestra and jazz ensemble rather than the gunshots that punctuated Francesco De Masi's take on the composition for THE WEEKEND MURDERS the year before. The Techniscope cinematography of Carlo Carlini (AUTOPSY) is not as intoxicating as his work in the format for Antonio Margheriti's SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE but he achieves some fine compositions during the police procedural scenes (which place an unusual emphasis for the genre on forensic science) and in the confines of Giorgio's garret apartment with its stained glass skylight. Besides Tessari's wife Lorella de Luca and Tessari himself as a carnation-wearing eye witness, their eldest daughter Frederica also has a small role along with Italian footballer Giorgio Chinaglia as himself. Along with Berger and Stoll from the German side of the production came Wolfgang Preiss (THE MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN) as the theatrical prosecutor. Better known as assistant director and later producing partner for Ovidio G. Assonitis, Peter Shepherd appears here as Berardi's assistant.
Unreleased in the states, the first English-friendly copy of the film on DVD came from Spain in a non-anamorphic letterboxed copy with forced Spanish subtitles (along with a Spanish dub). This version reflected the Spanish cut, losing nudity and one major sequence (see below). An anamorphic DVD appeared in Italy from Medusa without English options, but a German release from Eyecatcher Movies rectified this with English, German, and Italian dubs, English subtitles, and soundtrack cues. Derived from a 4K restoration of the original camera negative created in conjunction with Austrian label Camera Obscura, Arrow Video's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray sports near-identical framing to the Italian DVD image but with darker and more naturalistic color timing. The film's look is intentionally drab, colored by park greenery, the stonework of the Lombardy settings, overcast skies, with only spikes of saturation from blood, flowers, and the wardrobe of a couple of the female characters. Italian and English LPCM 1.0 mono tracks of good quality are included along with optional English subtitles for both tracks. As with their other recent giallo releases, the Blu-ray and DVD copy use seamless branching to allow viewers the choice of seeing the film with Italian or English opening titles (along with the opening quotation) while the film's Italian setting means that newspaper headlines remain in Italian with English subtitle translation. The film is preceded with an optional introduction by Helmut Berger (1:52).
Extras start off with an audio Commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman who start off comparing composer Ferrio's segue from Tchaikovsky's composition to a jazzy take on it to Tessari playing the familiar plot elements as a "variation on a theme" giallo. Jones states that the transfer here is the longest he has scene, noting that the Spanish cut (as represented by the early Spanish DVD) did away with the opening captioned introduction of characters – which he compares to the openings of silent serials and early thrillers – and went straight to the murder, and both reflect on the ways on which that deletion effects the viewer's understanding of what is a simplistic plot (including making one think that Giorgio is just a musical dilettante rather than an actual concert performer). They also note that the film's emphasis on police forensics and how the technology of the time may seem inane by today's standards, although Newman quips that it is more realistic than FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET's photography of the last image captured in a murder victim's retina. They also discuss Tessari's trio of giallo films, his other credits, and those of the other performers.
"Murder in B-Flat Minor" (26:53) is a visual essay narrated by Troy Howarth – author of the three volume giallo guide So Deadly, So Perverse – who discusses Tessari's career starting with his uncredited screenplay collaboration on Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, and how his jobbing as a director in various popular genres would inevitably lead to working in the giallo genre at its height. Of the film, he notes its lack of murder setpieces and surprising motive, as well as how much the film does reward repeat viewers with various details beyond those Tessari resorts to flashback cutaways in order to explain within the film. "A Butterfly Named Evelyn" (54:40) is a career-wide interview with actress Ida Galli, better known as Evelyn Stewart, who recalls getting into acting via her sister's boyfriend actor Gerard Landry (TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME) who gave a photograph of her to his agent which lead to her casting in Piero Nelli's episode of the anthology LATIN LOVERS followed by LA DOLCE VITA. She also discusses working with Mario Bava on THE WHIP AND THE BODY and HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD and learning much from him about photography, along with some of her other more prestigious credits. She recalls being cast for her "Nordic look" in Luchino Visconti's THE LEOPARD and regrets having to turn down playing the mother in DEATH IN VENICE because she had signed on to WEEKEND MURDERS and director Michele Lupo created a lot of drama despite her getting the okay from producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori to leave the film in exchange for agreeing to do three more for him (she later learned from Berger how much she meant to Visconti). She largely glosses over her giallo and horror films, but recalls that she had been away from cinema and opened a shop that was then robbed when she was "saved" by the offer of a role in THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH (production of which was pushed back since she was eight months pregnant). She also discusses THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY briefly, including her reticence to do a love scene until she came onto the set and discovered that the crew had all stripped down to their underwear in solidarity.
In "Me and Duccio" (8:21), actress de Luca recalls how she met her husband Tessari as well their various screen collaborations and his eventual decision to leave filmmaking. In "Mad Dog Helmut" (17:31), a seemingly narcotized Berger starts off by revealing that he saw the film the day before the interview and was surprised at how little dialogue he had "I just walk and walk and walk" but notes that Bergamo was a nice place to do the walking and he was thankful to get out of Cinecitta. He openly discusses his relationship with his "only love" Visconti and notes that Tessari was not an artist, just a working director (he also reveals that Tessari's slowness on their subsequent film THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT caused him to miss an opportunity to do a film with Faye Dunaway. He also discusses his work on SALON KITTY with Tinto Brass, not knowing how outrageous it was until he saw the finished film but pleased that it has since come to be regarded as an art film (he also reveals that he turned down the lead in Brass' CALIGULA but that he probably should have done it since it did not hurt Malcolm McDowell's career) as well as Massimo Dallamano's THE SECRET OF DORIAN GREY, Sergio Grieco's MAD DOG KILLER/BEAST WITH A GUN (a project initiated by co-star Marisa Mell), and Jess Franco's FACELESS. A short still gallery and identical Italian and English theatrical trailers (3:14 each) are also included. Not supplied for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin and (for the first pressing only) and a 36-page booklet illustrated by Tonci Zonjic, containing a writing by James Blackford, Howard Hughes, and Leonard Jacobs. (Eric Cotenas)
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