Ferdinando Merighi – Casa d’appuntamento aka French Sex Murders (1972)

The French Sex Murders

Representing the trashier side of European exploitation, this Dick Randall produced Italian/German giallo is the kind of film that, lacking style, substance or budget, instead throws in everything bar the kitchen sink in a bid to attract audiences.

The big gimmick is the presence of Humphrey Bogart-a like Robert Sacchi as the detective in charge of investigating the a series of call-girl murders. He can’t really act – or doesn’t get the chance to – but does make for a passable Bogart, with the look and mannerisms down pat.

His case, introduced via flashback to allow a 40s film noir styled voice over by Sacchi’s English dubber and some scene setting via a Citroen DS pulling up beneath the Eiffel Tower, from which an unidentified silhouette then plunges – an undeniably effective opening – at first seems open and shut:

Jewel thief Gottvalles (Peter Martell/Pietro Martellanza) retreats to the maison clos belonging to Madame Colette (Killer Nun’s Anita Ekberg) to see his favourite girl, Francine (giallo stalwart Barbara Bouchet). He wants her to come away with him, but she declines, causing him to get violent and slap her around.

Next thing we know Gottvalles is leaving the brothel in a hurry as American writer Randall (confusing not played by Dick Randall himself, although he does have a cameo as one of the brothel customers, Hassan), who is doing an expose on the place, finds Francine’s bloody corpse.

Inspector Bogart and his men quickly capture Gottvalles, who continues to proclaim his innocence. No one really believes him however, and so he is found guilty and condemned to death by the guillotine. Crazed, Gottvalles swears revenge on the judge and all those who have betrayed him.

En route to what seems to be a hastily scheduled execution – the murder, trial and execution appear to be on consecutive days – Gottvalles seizes the chance to escape, but is decapitated in the ensuing chase when he slams into a parked truck with a (in)conveniently positioned razor-sharp ledge.

It seems, as Professor Waldemar (Howard Vernon) remarks, as if a kind of divine justice has intervened.

Then there is a second murder with the same modus operandi as the first. Either Gottvalles has returned from the dead – improbable seeing as his severed head is now in the possession of Waldemar; not impossible given he’s something of an archetypal ‘mad scientist’ along the lines of his many incarnations of Orloff for Jess Franco – or they got the wrong man and the maniac is still at large…

The list of suspects/victims is a long one: There’s also the judge, a good friend of the Professor’s. Then there’s the Professor’s handsome assistant and his beautiful daughter Eleonora (Evelyne Kraft), who are carrying on a clandestine relationship against his wishes. Then we have Gottvalles’s ex-wife Marianne (Eurotrash stalwart Rosalba Neri) and her current beau, a sleazy nightclub impresario with a wandering eye. And, well, a veritable shoal of red herrings…

Only one thing is certain: This list will be much attenuated by the time Bogart delivers his summing up…

The co-writer/director of The French Sex Murders AKA The Bogeyman and the French Murders among many others, Ferdinando Merighi/F L Morris is one of the forgotten men of Italian genre and exploitation cinema, with barely a fistful of credits to his name. On this evidence, it’s understandable and probably for the best: Excepting some nice use of negative and tinted images there’s a distinct lack of visual style in evidence, with little dynamism or inventiveness in his direction to overcome the flat lighting and functional set-ups obviously imposed by the typically low Dick Randall budget.

While the cast looks first-rate on paper thanks to the presence of Bouchet, Neri and Vernon entre d’autres, the ensemble nature of the piece also prevents anyone from getting as much screen time, characterisation or – in the case of the female starlets – exposure as one might like.

Neri does, admittedly, get to do a seductive singing number, but Bouchet is killed off way too soon – her role more Black Belly of the Tarantula than Amuck! or Don’t Torture a Duckling – and, worse, the bedroom scene between her and Martellanza showcases more of his assets than it does hers, leading to an amusing moment of differentation between performer and role as he self-consciously moves to cover up his wedding tackle.

Despite being the product of future Academy Award winner Carlo Rambaldi, the set piece gore effects are marked more by enthusiasm than accomplishment, none too convincing but with liberal splashings of the red stuff. Again, one feels this can be put down more to budgetary and time constraints than anything else, given that Rambaldi had delivered sufficiently convincing animatronic mutilated dogs on Lucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin the previous year to have to produce them in court to prove the animals hadn’t been vivisected for real.

Elsewhere, Bruno Nicolai’s score is a plus as always. Unfortunately there’s not enough of it: really, it’s one lounge piece with female vocalism for the credits and one atonal suspense piece with strangulated trumpet squawks for the suspense and action scenes, both repeated as and when necessary, leading to suspicions that the latter track in particular has simply been borrowed from elsewhere.

Overall, then, a film that doesn’t really live up to its promise. But, then again, could it ever? And isn’t this failure in fact the very essence of exploitation cinema – especially exploitation Dick Randall style? Often you look for the moments, rather than the whole, getting just about enough of them here to make it worthwhile…

Billed as “The Dick Randall Collection – Volume One” Mondo Macabro’s Region Free NTSC disc of The French Sex Murders marks the first appearance of the 1972 film in the DVD format.

The film is presented as a composite, the vast majority being taken from the original English dub but with a few moments, such as some of the bedroom sequence between Bouchet and Martellanza presented in French with English subtitles.

The anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer is good given the age and nature of the film, with one of the two deleted scenes – a scratchy full-frame eyeball dissection – a particularly good illustration of just how bad things could have been here. Likewise, a degree of softness to the image appears inherent in the source material, while some pixellation in a few of the darker scenes can be forgiven in view of the brightness of the colours and solidity of the image overall.

The second alternate scene, taken from the French print, identifies the character of Randall as a Vietnam veteran. (Coincidentally, ‘Nam trauma was also used in the alternate cut of Renato Polselli’s sleaze giallo Delirium, released in the same year.)

The centrepiece extra, however, is a new 30 minute documentary on Randall. An enjoyable trip through his career, from his early days as gag writer for Milton Berle in the late 1950s through countless low-budget film productions in Italy, Hong Kong, the UK and elsewhere through the 1960s, 70s and 80s up to his death in 1995.

The interviewees include his widow Corliss – who clearly would make an equally entertaining documentary subject in her own right – writer/critic David McGillivray; film historian Julian Grainger; director Alan Birkinshaw and actor Mark Jax, providing amusing and affectionate reminiscences of the roguish Randall and insights into his film-making milieux.

High – or should that be the lowest – points among the film clips shown by way of illustration of the Randall style include the ‘Lee-alikes’ chop socky The Clones of Bruce Lee, the midget superspy entry For Y’ur Height Only and the obscure necrophilia romantic comedy Living Doll (mentioned in the A Coffin Named Desire article in one of the old Shock Xpress collections, if my memory is correct), serve to whet the appetite for possible future Dick Randall Collection releases.

A short essay by Pete Tombs – discussing the way in which the film was marked in different territories under different titles on the basis of different star names – an extensive gallery of promotional material and the familiar Mondo Macabro trailer reel round off the package.

While fans of Bouchet and Neri might be disappointed by the lack of material on their favourite leading ladies, as a tribute to Dick Randall the extras fit the bill nicely.

In sum, a good treatment of a somewhat second-tier giallo whose Bogey gimmick is likely to matter less to contemporary Euro-cult fans than the presences of its leading ladies and Vernon.


Language(s):Italian & English dual audio

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