I'm going to come right out and say that this giallo looks significantly better on paper than it does in the offing, but "the Case of the Bloody Iris" (alternately known by its ultra-florid Italian-translated title "What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body?") is not without its charm. After the frustration I experienced upon watching "Strip Nude for Your Killer," I pushed my unwatched gialli to the back of the shelf in order to give myself some much-needed distance. I don't like being bitter--snarky, I'm cool with, but the kind of let-down that the dyed-in-the-wool weird movie enthusiast experiences upon seeing too many sub-par genre entries can border on "soul-crushing." The niblets of goodness in "Bloody Iris" are frequent enough to make the movie a worthwhile experience in spite of the fact that the movie slips up in several places that could've elevated it to "excellent" status.
All of the elements marking a successful Italo-thriller are in play here:
- Chic urban setting - check
- Limited group of players/potential suspects - check
- Perverse sexuality - check
- Babetastic women in jaw-dropping eye makeup - doublepluscheck
The story tracks fashion model Jennifer Lansbury, played by the iconic Edwige Fenech (who always manages to look spectacular, no matter how lousy the movie she's playing in might be--and trust me, they're *frequently* lousy), and a series of murders taking place in the apartment building she's just moved into. Her links to a hippie free-love cult with a possessive leader lead Jennifer to believe she might be the next target of the killer, but she soon comes to discover that there are potential suspects around every corner.
A significant portion of the beauty of the film relies on its actresses, who are frequently in various states of undress--Fenech spends much of the first twenty minutes of screen time in body paint, skimpy lingerie, or less, and her co-stars Carla Brait (who was also smokin' hott in "Torso"), Paola Quattrini, and Annabella Incontrera sashay alluringly as well. "Bloody Iris" lacks the kind of bravura camerawork of Bava, Argento, and even Sergio Martino, and there are times when one yearns for that kind of visual showboating. The film takes place in what is billed as an ultra-modern high-rise apartment (but which sometimes looks at least twenty years out of date style-wise from the time the movie was lensed), and its architecture is sometimes used to clever effect as in the shots up and down a vertiginous staircase. Some moments employ a fish-eye lens, which is a neat little effect, though it's not used with the same kind of impact I've seen it impart in other, more psychedelic flicks. There are even shades of "Tenebre" when the masked-and-gloved killer traps Jennifer in her own shirt as its being pulled up over her head.
That's not to say the movie is in any way incompetent--the suspense scenes are more effective than in many similar films, and Edwige does a creditable job in her standard woman-in-peril role. I know many of you are nodding your heads when I posit that the woman is absolutely dazzling, and it wouldn't be displeasing to watch ninety minutes of her making those signature little pouting, flirtations expressions at the camera. What pushes the movie slightly over the border from "standard fare" to "pleasant diversion" are the proliferation of groovy plot elements and interesting characters. Jennifer's roommate Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) is a nice contrast to Jennifer's vulnerability, with her quirky behavior and devil-may-care attitude. I would totally invite her to *my* party, friends! Carla Brait's character Mizar is an exotic dancer whose wrestling/domination cabaret act adds some spice. Ben Carra is effectively threatening as Jennifer's estranged husband and sex-cult leader, and there are plenty of other cool supporting characters including the flamboyant gay-Woody-Allen-esque photographer, an eccentric stamp-collecting police inspector, the elderly horror-fumetti-hoarding widow with a horrible secret, and--my personal favorite--the sexy harsh-bird lesbian neighbor with Designs on Jennifer. George Hilton plays a suave architect who begins a love affair with Jennifer, even as the police inspector begins to believe he might be behind the murders. It all leads up to a satisfying conclusion that doesn't veer too far into Wackytown territory, as with other films of this ilk.
Ultimately, the issue I have with "Bloody Iris" is its flat visual style. All the pieces were on the chess board to provide plentiful opportunities to dazzle, and with a more daring cinematographer or a more creative directorial vision, this could've ranked as one of my fave thrillers. It's ninety minutes well-spent on an entertaining murder mystery and there's plenty to delight fans of the form, but if you're waiting for that moment of grin-inducing genius, you'll find yourself disappointed.