French Sex Murders
By Chris Hyde
June 28, 2005
Howard Vernon, Rosalba Neri and Anita Ekberg team up in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
The latest Eurocult offering from the purveyors of international weirdness at Mondo Macabro puts together a team of well known genre faces and sets them loose on the streets of '70s Paris. Though overall a very mixed bag, director F.L. Morris' French Sex Murders at least offers up enough gore ‘n skin to keep things moving - though it sure is no feminist outing, as the men are pretty much uniformly jerks throughout. Still and all, there are some worthwhile highlights amidst the muddled mess of a plot and as the film has never been previously seen on DVD it's a nice offering given the stature of the movie's cast.
The pretty confused story begins with a prelude depicting a bunch of gendarmes pursuing a fleeing criminal up the steel trusses of Gustave Eiffel's iconic tower. Following this brief intro, we get introduced to a burglar who steals a bunch of jewelry before hightailing it to the local brothel. The madame of the place (Anita Ekberg) doesn't want him there at first but as usual the filthy lucre wins out and she sets him up with one of the girls. But our main man is so emotionally unstable that things go badly in rapid fashion and the poor whore ends up quite dead. With all the evidence pointing to the hapless thief, apparently the crime will be solved simply only 15 minutes into the flick - or will it???
But of course with the movie being a bit in the giallo mode, a straight line to the killer isn't where we're going here. The suspect is convicted in a court of law and sentenced to death, but before being led away he manages to threaten all of his false accusers and claim that he'll come back from the great beyond to wreak vengeance on those who have done him wrong. (Stop me if you've heard this one before). From here, things begin to rapidly devolve: the thief escapes for a short while, all sorts of bodies start to pile up and the absurdly Bogartesque detective in charge of the case (Robert Sacchi) goes through his cheap Sam Spade routine while trying to sort things out. Unfortunately, much of the procedural stuff is pretty tepid and the scattershot plot doesn't do much to hold viewer interest in its own right - if you can't figure out who did it by 45 minutes in then I'd have to say you haven't seen too many thrillers in your life.
With the general proceedings here certainly a cut below the average release from this company, one might well ask what exactly the attraction is for the French Sex Murders. In the main, the strength comes from the stellar cast assembled for the film among whom lie many genre stalwarts. There's the great cult actor Howard Vernon as Dr. Waldemar with his standard bug-eyed, over the top performance and also Evelyn Kraft (perhaps best known for playing the Fay Wray/Jessica Lange role in the Shaw Brothers' King Kong ripoff Mighty Peking Man) as his lovely daughter. Others along for the ride include the aforementioned Fellini starlet Anita Ekberg as well as Eurocult sweetheart Rosalba Neri, who plays a nightclub chanteuse involved with a sleazy boyfriend named Pepe. Last but certainly not least comes Barbara Bouchet, the October 1983 Italian Penthouse model who sharp-eyed viewers may recognize from her roles as Miss Moneypenny in the David Niven Bond pic Casino Royale or much more recently as Mrs. Schermerhorn in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York.
There are other things that keep this release from being a total washout: a swinging Bruno Nicolai score, some supercool neon nighttime shots of the streets of Paris and the always solid production values of Mondo Macabro which present the film in good fashion and pile on a few nice extras. The short documentary on exploitation producer Dick Randall is a great bonus, and additionally you get a couple of alternate and deleted scenes, an essay by Pete Tombs on the production and the by now expected galleries of promotional material. A final piece of the puzzle that bears mention with regards to French Sex Murders is the presence of Carlos Rambaldi as the special effects maven - though you'd sure have to say that in comparison to his award winning work on Alien and ET the craft here is pretty darn primitive in nature.
While I'd have to admit that the quality of the film in this instance is not up to the usual high standards of the cult-oriented company that released it, there's no real shortage of angles for the genre fan to play here. The selection of starlets is especially enticing, and any Jess Franco fan should be happy to see Howard Vernon working for someone other than the filmmaker that he made nearly forty motion pictures for. So though this one may be a lesser effort from a firm who has previously set the bar so high that we've come to expect perhaps a bit too much of their choices, it's still yet another notch in their belt - for if it wasn't for them then French Sex Murders may have never even made it back to the small screen. And that simply wouldn't do at all.