Monday, October 3, 2016

Scorpion With Two Tails (1982)

AKA Assassinio al cimitero etrusco (Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery)

From 1971 to 1973, Sergio Martino was on a serious role, establishing himself as the king of the giallo. Together with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, Marino helmed the genre defining masterpieces The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971), The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and Torso (1973). Gastaldi and Marino continued to collaborate although either out of boredom with the genre or fear of burnout, Martino began to move away from giallo films and began working in a plethora of other genres like Euro crime with The Violent Professionals (1973) and Gambling City (1975), spaghetti westerns with Mannaja: A Man Called Blade (1977), the cannibal epic Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978), and creature features such as Island of the Fishmen (1979) and The Big Alligator River (1979), several of which feature writing by Gastaldi. In 1982, Martino and Gastaldi, along with fellow legendary screenwriter, former Lucio Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetti, teamed up for Scorpion With Two Tails, somewhat of a return to the giallo for Martino but with a (literal) twist. Originally conceived as a mini-series then later edited down to a theatrical feature, Scorpion With Two Tails is often dismissed as a lesser Martino film when in fact its one of Marino’s most interesting and a unique spin on the giallo.

Soon after discovering a previously unheard of Etruscan tomb, Arthur Barnard, an esteemed archeologist is murdered by having his head twisted backwards, an ancient Etruscan method of murder. Prior to his death, Arthur’s wife Joan had a dream involving a ritualistic sacrificial ceremony taking place in the exact same tomb Arthur had discovered. Joan, along with two of her late husband’s colleges travel to Italy and come to find out that while in the tomb, Arthur uncovered a crate, the contents of which were very lucrative and not for Arthur’s eyes. Dissatisfied with the way to police handled Arthur’s murder, Joan decides to stay in Italy to so some investigating of her own and soon finds herself in the middle of a mysterious plot involving murder, drug smuggling and an ancient Etruscan treasure as well as coming to the realization that she may have more in common with the ancient Etruscans than simply knowing the language.

A strange mix of giallo, Euro crime and supernatural horror, there certainly is a lot to digest at once with Scorpion With Two Tails. Given that the film originated as a much longer mini-series, there are some points in the film where it becomes apparent that certain things were trimmed for time, for instance a very important subplot ending rather abruptly, however in the end Martino has the film come full circle with most of the loose ends being tied up. The things that are left unexplained mainly pertain to the films supernatural side and is here where the film really becomes interesting. Despite it being fairly obvious that Joan has some sort of connection to the ancient Etruscans, Martino wisely leaves it a mystery as to whether or not she actually is supernaturally inclined which leads to many a surreal moment expertly rendered by Martino in an appropriately dreamy fashion and often involving the memorable use of maggots. Of course being centered around the ancient Etruscans the film is ripe with stunning locations, the main tomb is an astounding site and Martino wastes none of its potential, particularly during the finale. What’s also unique about the film is the blending of various subgenres with the giallo/murder mystery elements leading to the more esoteric side of the film while the crime subplot makes both a bit more engaging and never once does one trip over the other which is again surprising considering that many things had to be omitted for a theatrical release.

The final theatrical edit of the film received several VHS releases around the world over the years and finally a DVD release from Mya Communications in 2006, however the original TV version has yet to be seen anywhere. As a bonus, the DVD included a few excerpts from the TV version which includes more screen time for the legendary John Saxon who plays Arthur. One of the many complaints leveled at the film is Saxon’s bit part and while more John Saxon is always a good thing, for the sake of the narrative his character had to be killed off early in the film so even if he was in the TV version longer he still probably wouldn’t have made it that much longer anyway. Lead actress Elvire Audray in the role of Joan is another big target of negative criticism. Her dubbing may be a bit off (not exactly her fault) but otherwise her performance was more than appropriate as she appears to be in a delirious state a good portion of the time which fit her character. For whatever reason, Martino signed the film with his “Christian Plummer” pseudonym. Perhaps he was unhappy with the final edit of the film but its hardly a film to be ashamed of. True, its not like his earlier giallos but its something a bit different and a good melding of distinctly European genre styles.

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