Monday, November 29, 2010

El Hombre Mofo: THE CRIMES OF PETIOT (1972)

Welcome to another Video Junkie theme week!  This time we’ve decided to take the easy road and hop onto the Naschy Blogathon bandwagon coordinated by the Vicar of VHS at the great MAD MAD MAD MAD MOVIES blog.  Being huge Naschy fans ourselves, it seems like a perfect fit and we look as forward to writing about the man as much as reading others thoughts.  While best know for his record-setting Waldemar Danisky werewolf series (standing tall at 12 entries; take that THE HOWLING sequels), Naschy was a true cinematic chameleon and hit every genre imaginable. Here at Video Junkie we are looking to highlight his less well-known titles during this week.  And please be forewarned that our reviews will contain SPOILERS.

In terms of productivity, Naschy’s best year was 1972 with the actor completing seven features that year. Take that, Tom Cruise!  He also showed an incredible versatility as he portrayed a suave Dracula (COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE); a mystic guru (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES); a lovelorn hunchback (HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE); a royal maniac and his descendant (HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB); and a guy caught up in the good and bad side of criminal situations (THE BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL, THE CRIMES OF PETIOT and RED LIGHT).  In addition to starring, Naschy had a hand in the screenplays of all of these features.

THE CRIMES OF PETIOT (LOS CRIMENES DE PETIOT) is set in Berlin, Germany and opens with a young man procuring the services of a working lady. He takes her to a run down building, but their session is quickly interrupted by a man in a black trench coat, black hat and black hood with only eyeholes.  This mysterious maniac shoots the young man dead and places a skull & bones pin on his corpse.  After a small chase, the killer chloroforms the girl and carries her to his lair.  When the girl awakens, she finds herself chained up and the masked man in front of her. Her abductor plays a strange tape that admonishes one Madeline (not this girl’s name) for her past sins and states he is her executioner coming to get her.  With that, the killer aims his Luger pistol and shoots her dead.  

We then meet our main characters – antique dealer Boris Villowa (Naschy) and his journalist girlfriend Vera (Patricia Loran).  She is covering the series of murders of young couples with the same modus operandi – the young man is always shot once in the head and the girl kidnapped only to be killed at a later unknown location – and Boris takes an interest in her subject.  Together with fellow journalist Heinrich Weiss (Fernando Marin), Vera and Boris theorize on the killer and his/her motives.  When Boris leaves on a business trip, they concoct a plan with other journalist Conrad Freund (Ramon Lillo) to trap the killer in a park by posing as romantic couples.  The idea fails miserably as nearly everyone gets cold-cocked, a female from the group is kidnapped and they arouse the suspicion of Inspector Muller (Vicente Haro).

"Say I look like John Belushi one more time..."
Muller, like all cliché cinematic cops, immediately suspects the killer must be one of these folks and puts everyone under surveillance.  Shortly afterward, the cops receive an audio tape and snuff film of the first murder.  Through background checks, Conrad sets of the biggest red flags as he was a member of the Hitler youth at age 14 and his father was a German SS officer.  The fact that he went missing and the cops found a gun hidden in his fireplace also help point the finger in his direction.  Boris also feels Conrad is the top suspect and dissention begins to form in the group with everyone suspecting everyone else.

Vera and Heinrich search Boris’ private office and find a mysterious key with an address on it.  They head to the isolated location and find Conrad sitting in room with Boris dead on a table, his throat sliced. They try to escape but Heinrich is shot dead as he exits the room. Vera runs about the house to escape Conrad and backtracks to the room he was sitting it.  Strangely, he is still seated in his chair and Boris’ body is gone.  She turns to escape and runs right into Boris. Ah, yes, he was the killer all along and explains his motives in the best SCOOBY DOO ending.  His real name is Macel Decidre Petiot and it seems during World War II that the 9-year-old Marcel saw his family executed by the Nazis in France after his father’s duplicitous lover Madeline turned them in.  Petiot feels he can’t be blamed for his crimes because they made him like this (“crime is like a handful of dust, impossible to contain” he eloquently puts it).  Just in the nick of time, the cops who have been exploring the tunnels under the Petiot house arrive and shoot him dead, giving Vera one hell of a scoop.

In terms of Naschy’s filmography, PETIOT is a minor film and certainly doesn’t rank among his best.  Re-teaming with 7 MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD (1971) director/co-writer Jose Luis Madrid, Naschy finds himself in a film that is big on ideas but poor in terms of execution.  Like the aforementioned SCOTLAND (which was partially shot in London), this does benefit from some location filming. Unfortunately, the location footage (in both films) merely consists of the main principals walking around famous locations in the city, the result of a shoot that probably was a weekend vacation. Madrid also seems incapable of building any suspense.  The killer’s outfit immediately evokes a giallo feel and, most notably, Mario Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964), but the comparison stops there as Madrid has no intention of being stylish.  Also, it doesn’t help that if one knows Naschy’s stocky frame that the “mysterious” killer’s identity is reveal right away. You couldn’t throw a body double swerve at us, Luis?  The final location, an expansive creepy house, is quite atmospheric but improperly handled as well.  One could drive themselves crazy thinking what Naschy collaborators (and more assured directors) Carlos Aured or Leon Klimovsky could have done with this material.

And it is really a shame because the material is definitely thought-provoking stuff.  Despite being known for his lycanthropic leanings, Naschy focuses on the real “monster in man” here.  A student of the macabre both real and fake, Naschy draws inspiration from not only 20th century Nazis but two real-life serial killers, one contemporary and one preceding.  The “hooded killer preying on couples and leaving his calling card/communications” aspects come directly from The Zodiac Killer, the notorious serial killer who stalked Northern California.  It was a sensational case at the time and there is no doubt Naschy was aware of it.  In addition, Naschy also draws inspiration from 1940s French serial killer Marcel Petiot.  Hell, that is even where he got the character’s name and I’m sure the filmmakers had no qualms cashing in on his exploits.  The real Petiot was a rather sadistic murder-for-profit bastard who would offer escape routes during WWII for a price, only to inject his customers with cyanide after taking their cash.  When discovered, he had 21 bodies laying about his home.  Mixing those two stories results in the psychological portrait on display in THE CRIMES OF PETIOT, which shows that ultimately man is still the scariest monster.  As Boris tells Vera when he is perusing her collection of true crime books, “It looks like you’ve taken your investigation very seriously.”  It looks like you did too, Mr. Naschy.

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. Great review of a film I'd barely even heard of before--and I call myself a Naschy Fanatic! I would love to see more of Naschy's other giallo-inspired works, and this one seems like it had promise, even if it does falter in the execution (ba-dump). And a great look for the baddie too. Do you think the hooded killer here was the inspiration for the 2nd version of Cobra Commander? :)

    Thanks for digging deep into the vaults for this one. Can't wait to read more as the week goes on!

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