The sad truth is that I find most giallo films — Italian-language productions that serve up sex, slashers and style to spare — fairly boring. Purists might insist such a statement precipitates surrendering such reviews as the one that follows to someone else. But it’s been my experience that only a small handful really pop beyond an ability to fill several nets worth of red herring.
One of those is director Stelvio Massi’s Arabella: Black Angel — which was easily the best film of Vinegar Syndrome’s Forgotten Gialli 4 set from 2022. Rooted in productive expressions and realizations of intimacy, it was a giallo packed with sex that was ultimately sex-positive. Thus, high hopes for Five Women for the Killer — a 1974 film from Massi that Vinegar Syndrome has debuted on Blu-ray in a region-free release.
Giorgio Pisani (Francis Matthews) is a journalist on assignment trying to get home in time for his child’s birth. When he arrives, his wife is dead and the baby in need of critical care. Giorgio’s grief and anxiety is compounded when he discovers a medical report indicating his infertility. If he’s not the baby’s father, who is?
It’s a crisis that sends Giorgio into the bed of a comely tourist whom he assists after an accident — a woman found with a single cut from her genitals to her sternum and a fertility symbol branded on her flesh. Hers is just the first corpse in a case investigated by an intrepid detective (Howard Ross of The New York Ripper, another outstanding giallo). Is Giorgio murdering these women in a fugue state, or is he a pawn in a larger conspiracy that involves a philandering doctor, a newspaper rival, a number of Italian sex workers and even his sister-in-law? Take one guess!
This seemingly endless parade of subplots subtract from any urgency at hand. Neither creatively graphic nor impressively staged, Five Women proves as unimaginative as its title. Turns out it’s a bad idea to make a giallo where the main killer’s identity is hilariously obvious with 40 minutes to go and the circumstances of a potential secondary killer are too boring to matter. “It’s getting monotonous, like a stuck record,” says one witness under interrogation. You can say that again, my friend.
Regardless of the film’s quality, there’s little to quibble with about Vinegar Syndrome’s deluxe presentation and packaging (the latter boasting a spot-gloss slipcover designed by Dani Manning and reversible sleeve artwork). The film has been restored in 4K from rare archival film elements of the movie’s original theatrical cut (previously unavailable on video), and it’s another successful rejuvenation from Vinegar Syndrome’s team. The Italian mono track is solid and the English subtitles freshly translated.
Extras include an all-new commentary track with film historians Eugenio Ercolani and Troy Howarth, interviews with actor Renato Rossini and filmmaker Danilo Massi (Stelvio’s son), separate portrait pieces on Stelvio Massi with actor Luc Merenda and fellow director / cinematographer Roberto Girometti, and director Luigi Cozzi (Contamination) discussing the film and the evolution of the giallo genre. You can also get a glimpse at gore inserts from a re-edited cut of the film.