La bestia uccide a sangue freddo (1971)

Though shot in ravishing colour and widescreen, with an infectious easy listening theme from Silvano Spadaccino (you'll swear you've heard it on a dozen commercials), this is among the least classy gialli. It has one of the most ramshackle plots in the genre and perpetually seems on the verge of turning into a hardcore porno film with female masturbation scenes which are degrees more clinical than you'd expect for 1971.

In the middle of a field somewhere is a country house serving as a mental institution for wealthy, beautiful, neurotic women – many of whom get murdered by a fellow who puts on a head-mask and cloak and borrows weapons from the unlocked displays of mediaeval torture instruments handily located in the main hallway. The most suspicious of the staff is a sensitive, sincere shrink played by a coiffed Klaus Kinski – and his role is so small that this seems for a while as if it'll pull the Toolbox Murders trick of having the obvious red herring turn out to be guilty after all, but then doesn't. The title is at least accurate in that the killer turns out, as often in gialli, not to be a maniacal serial murderer out for sick thrills but a cold-blooded schemer carrying out a string of sex crimes to cover up the killing he really wants to commit for financial reasons. When thwarted in his attack on heroine Margaret Lee, the villain does take a mace to a roomful of nurses and gratuitously batter them to bloody death in frustration. There are long scenes of women kneading themselves or each other (Monica Strebel is the red-headed nurse who makes it with the black girl) and most of the patients have amazing fashion sense on the rare occasions when they're fully dressed (nymphomaniac Rosalba Neri, especially).

The film is alternately slick and clumsy, perhaps because the DVD version is a compromise edit with everything thrown in (one murder has the wrong soundtrack laid over it). The editing seems remarkably haphazard anyway, with a lot of non sequitur shots or repeated bits of business and silly scenes of the murderer in full get-up strolling undisturbed at night through the well-lit building and killing people as if he knew he didn't need to take any precautions against being caught until late in the game. Directed without much interest by Fernando Di Leo, whose hackiness lends the thudding murders a nasty edge: this has the feel of a film giving a cloddish audience what it thinks they want – dollops of sex and dollops of violence with a contemptuous excuse for a plot to string them together.
KIM NEWMAN

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