Tuesday, November 30, 2010

El Hombre Mofo: SEVEN CORPSES FOR SCOTLAND YARD (1971)

Though it may seem otherwise, we are here to praise Caesar, not to bury him. Even the most cunning of cinematic minds have their off days. Look at Dario Argento’s career post 1987! Goddamn, did he fall down and hit his head, hard, damaging the no-doubt chemically enhanced area of his cerebrum that held his unique talent? Until Argento donates his brain to science, we may never know. Nashy, fortunately, never fell off the same ladder. Just a stepstool.

Arguably, Paul Naschy’s career really didn’t hit its stride until 1972 with COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE and DR. JEKYLL VS. THE WOLFMAN. After making the classic THE MARK OF THE WOLFMAN (1968), Naschy seemed to stumble a bit before getting the mofo mojo back (uuummmm, just what the hell were they smoking when they made ASSIGNMENT TERROR, exactly?). One of those stumblings is a film that had potential but missed the mark in exactly the same way the lead character misses the trapeze, plummeting to a future filled with whiskey and hookers. Damn, if he was American, he could have played the blues for a living!

In the moral void of the early ‘70s Picadilly Circus, an unseen person picks up a hooker, following her back to her room. While climbing the stairs a little girl says hello to the woman. Once in the room, the hooker slowly strips in total silence. One piece of clothing at a time. Suddenly a knife flashes in a gloved hand and we see the knife penetrate flesh. The hooker lies dead, a bloody stain across her torso. As the person leaves the room, slowly walking down the squeaking stairs, the little girl watches the person leave.

Sittin' on a hooker's couch drinkin' Vat 69...
The kind of class usually reserved for

a Billy Dee Williams commercial.
This is going to be great! Hitchcock-esque use of silence, a great bit of suspense focusing on the killer’s feet walking slowly down the squeaking stairs towards the child. Set in a sleazy, dangerous vision of London as nothing but a thriving nest of seedy sex shows, prostitutes who throw themselves at the nearest cripple, booze-filled dives populated by knife-wielding thugs, SEVEN CORPSES sets itself up for success. Then we are introduced to Peter Dockerman, and it’s all down hill from there. Peter is an ex-circus performer who had a career-ending accident (shown as a shot of an empty trapeze and a second shot of Naschy rolling around in tights holding his knee). Now a bitter drunk, living off of his wife’s prostitution money and getting into bar brawls, he has become the police’s prime suspect in a spate of Jack the Ripper slayings.
The next night Peter’s wife is the prostitute killed and the cops are dead sure he is their man. Why? Because “it is our job to suspect everyone!” Commissioner Campbell authoritatively states. Okaaay... so then by that token, it could be a high-ranking police official! I mean, not that anyone would try that old ploy! Ha! Ha. Heh. Oh boy, this is going to be a long ride. The killer taunts the police with letters and body parts and we get more slow, nudity-free, strip-scenes almost fetishisticly followed by a stabbing. We actually get one of these every couple of minutes and at times seems more like a cheesy burlesque than a horror movie. Meanwhile the Commissioner enjoys many leisurely, calm, rational discussions with the local psyche professor about who this killer might be. The commish decides that the killer must be smooth and handsome so as to lure in his victims (dude, they’re fucking prostitutes! I don't know, but I’m pretty sure all you need is cash) the killer could be someone like… like the professor! Ha! Who would think such a thing? Yeah, you know... long ride.

Plenty more attempts at throwing around herrings of a variety of colors is tried here including one where a doped-up college kid stabs his girlfriend who tried to break up with him after the prof had a chat with her. There are no witnesses so the cops hypothesize that maybe the professor did it. The commissioner shoots this idea down because he “would have to be a gymnast” to get to the murder scene unseen! A gymnast you say? The plot thins…

You’d think that alternating between stripping, killing, taunting and hypothesizing, you’d have a pretty entertaining flick. Naschy plays his character with almost pitiable earnestness and there really isn’t much in the way of bright rays shining through the murk that is his life. Director José Luis Madrid, who later went on to direct Naschy in the more successful THE CRIMES OF PETOIT (1973) has all the trappings of a gritty, nasty, sleazy updating of the truly fascinating crimes of Jack the Ripper. One of the big problems is that all known prints of the movie are the “clothed” version which makes the many ridiculously long stripping scenes somewhat anti-climactic. Another is lack of locations. It’s all squalid, empty rooms or pitch black night. The opening scenes that establish the sleazy sex trade locations are long forgotten long before the second reel unwinds.

Even though Madrid is dead on target to receive the pass, he really doesn’t run with the ball, he kind of just stands there and waits for the defensive tackle to sack the living shit out of him. Largely focusing on talking heads making ridiculous hypotheses in small rooms, the film has so few characters in it, it’s pretty easy to figure out that one of the two characters other than Nashy is going to be the killer. The only thing left for Madrid to do is to try to bounce your suspicion back and forth between the two for about an hour plus. It’s really a shame as there is so much potential here. Madrid knows true crime, he knows Hitchcock, he’s got Paul Naschy, but he has no idea how to bring it all together. That said, if anyone finds the longer un-clothed version, I’d be more than happy to let you send me a copy.

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