Friday, September 11, 2009

The Secret Killer

The Secret Killer

Original Title: Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro

Aka: Eyeball

Aka Wide Eyed

in the Dark

Directed by : Umberto Lenzi

Italy /Spain 1975

Giallo, 89min

Distributed by: Marketing Film


A group of American tourists in Spain find themselves having a terrible holiday when a homicidal manic with a passion for chopping out the eyes of the victims strikes among them. Tension and paranoia set in as they try to figure out who is stalking and killing them, and everyone is fast on the hand to point out a assailant.


Umberto Lenzi, a fantastic director to say the least. I usually say that he’s mostly know for his cannibal movies [Man from Deep River 1972, Eaten Alive 1980, the infamous Make Them Die Slowly 1981] and the rather cheesy, but ever so atmospherical Nightmare City from 1980. But in my opinion I have to put my money on his decent amount of Gialli and Poliziotteschi which are so much more superior to his gut-muncher movies, and if I was ever forced to write a top ten Gialli list, Umberto Lenzi’s splendid Seven Blood-Stained Orchids from 1972 would definitely be one of the selected few. But today I cast my left eye and thoughts on The Secret Killer (or Red Cats in a Glass Maze as the original title really translates as) which Lenzi directed in 1975.

Obviously there is a reasonable amount of doubt as one sits down to a Gialli. Will it be one of the great ones, or will it be a mixed up jumble like so many other have been. The Secret Killer is quite often refered to as a mediocre Giallo which lack

s plot, a critique often aimed at the Giallo genre. A critique that definitely is unjust, as the plot definitely is there; Who is the killer, and what is the killer’s modus operandi and added to that there are all the cryptic subplots that shave the viewer searching high and low for the right answer. And unlike so many other detective or criminal movies you can almost never predict the outcome of the Giallo as it plays with a completely different set of rules opposed to convention, which is why they still fascinate audiences once again on digital media.

The Secret Killer sees a band of American tourists in Spain being driven round and shown the sights in your general touristy manner. At one stop Reverend Bronson [George Rigaud, who’s face will be familiar to genre fans from Luciano Ercoli’s Death Walks on High Heels 1971, Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Womans Skin 1971, One on Top of the Other 1969, Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark 1972 and Lenzi’s Knife of Ice 1972] is the first to reach the scene after a young woman is brutally stabbed by an offscreen killer who for a change wears red gloves instead of the genre trait black gloves. The cops, Inspector Tudela [Andrés Mejnuto], who only has a week before retirement, and his young assistant Lara go to the autopsy, where Lara drops the classic line “Excuse me Doctor, are you saying that the killer is a sadist?” to which the Doctor replies “I wouldn’t really doubt it!” That’s the sort of tickling dialogue Lenzi and co-writer Félix Tusell come up with in this fine example of the Gialli. Félix Tusell was originally a producer and went on to continue producing movies after writing the screenplay for The Secret Killer, and that’s kind of a shame, as The Secret Killer has a lot going for it as I will point out shortly.

During the autopsy and later towards the end, when they know who their main suspect is, you will also see a policeman played by Fulvio Mingozzi, who frequently had bit parts as detectives, policemen or agents in almost all the great genre pieces. Do check out his resume, it’s an impressive list to say the least!

Anyhow after questioning the Reverend, setting up the first of many red herrings, the cops leave and the group of tourists continue their holiday. During this set up we are introduced to Paulette Stone [Martine Brochard, who had previously been in a few Nunsploitation flicks and Sergio Martino’s Poliziotteschi Violent Professionals 1973.] the secretary and former mistress of Marc Burton [John Richardson, who starred in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday in 1960 and later Martino’s Torso 1973]. Burton, who mysteriously arrives at the scene of the crime to comfort Paulette and try to swoon her back into his arms. But Paulette won’t be seduced so easily, at least not until Marc is divorced from his wife!

This sequence introduces the major mulligan of the plot; in the very opening after the credits we see a woman in an airport rebooking her flight to New York for a flight to Barcelona instead. We will pretty soon realise that this woman is Alma [Marta May], Marc’s wife, and our knowledge that she took a flight to Barcelona definitely sets her up as our prime suspect, especially as the next victim of the gloved killer is one of the tourists. The killer is moving in on the group!

Keeping the confusion high and pointing fingers in the wrong direction is frequently used throughout the first half of the movie, we learn of further connections between the group in Barcelona and Marc’s wife Alma. Gale Alvarado [Silvia Solar] tells friends in the group that she used to go to school with Marc’s wife, and that she doesn’t think Alma would like to learn about his romances with his secretary on the side. Marc gets a note from Reverend Bronson that his wife called and has taken up residence at the Hotel Presidente on the other side of town. As you see there are major forces working towards pointing out Alma as the gloved killer, but do we really want to believe that our leading lady is the killer? Red herrings are renown to shove the audience in the wrong way!

The second killing, the murder of Peggy is a wonderful sequence that takes place inside an amusement park ghost train ride. Filled with creepy masks and sudden shock effects the killer strikes and once again chops out the left eye of the victim. Once again the cops round up the group of tourists and start going though their suspects. This gathering of the group could have been a pace killer if it had not had been used in an interesting way which works in favour of the narrative. Every time the group are assembled after a killing, they start pointing fingers at each other, hence leading us on and planting new red herrings. After the murder of Peggy, there are several threads at play, and Marc goes to the Hotel his wife is supposed to be located at, obviously she isn’t there, but Marc finds a bloodied dagger in the suite which generates the first of a series of flashbacks related to Marc and Alma. He has returning flashbacks to a situation where he found Alma fainted in their garden with the same knife he found in the hotel in her right hand and an eyeball in her left… he can’t put his finger on it, but something is wrong with the image, and his is a subplot that will later have great importance.

It’s quite fair to say that from this point on Marc becomes the primary protagonist of the story, and even tough we don’t completely free him from suspicion, he will be the character who leads us through this mysterious Giallo. As viewers familiar with the genre will know, you can never be determined until the last scene has played out, these movies constantly pull the rug from under our feet and in some cases even the most obvious becomes the opposite in the flash of a knife.

The finest example of the finger pointing occurs after a young woman outside the group is murdered as she feeds her pigs on a farm they are visiting. There are several leads pointing to various members of the group and a great montage showing the whereabouts of our favourite suspects enhances this. The murderer stalks and kills the farm girl and the soon inspector, cursing that he has to solve this case before retiring and handing his position over to his young assistant, comes to the scene yet again. But then the splendid twist is that as the police question those we favour as prime suspects, they flip it around and point towards Paulette, our secondary protagonist. Once again, we have been following the tale through the narrative of Paulette and Marc, and it couldn’t be Paulette donning the red gloves as that would be illogical wouldn’t it. Or would it?

Burton learns that Alma is to catch a flight back out of Barcelona and races to the airport to confront her, but in a last minute decision Alma cancels her flight ticket and once again she slips through Marc’s fingers leaving him non the wiser. Although he does encounter Lisa Sanders [Mirta Miller] a photographer who is part of their little group and uses ever possible moment and location to photograph her girlfriend Nabila [Ines Pellegrini, who starred in a few Pasolini movies, including the infamous Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom]. Marc asks her to keep her professional eye open for Alma, and to photograph her if she sees her in Barcelona. He then goes back to Paulette and tells her about his suspicion that Alma is in town, killing all these people in an attempt to frame him!

Needless to say Lisa becomes the next victim in a beautiful sequence that easily is among the most finest of the genre. Antonio Millán’s cinematography peaks here as composition and pacing climaxes in a stunning sequence utilising deep focus and vivid colour schemes. I could go as far as referring to his as the must see scene of the movie. Nabila walks into the apartment and see’s Lisa’s body, screams waking the rest of the group, once again invoking a wonderful series of mis-en-scene where we are presented with possible suspects. At this point we have a fair idea of our own suspects, but we need to go yet another round before it is all exposed. The group take a trip to Stiges (yes Sitges of the legendary horror and fantasy festival) but as a change the group is separated in yet another cunning subplot to lead us astray. Nablia is in hospital following the attack, and Reverend Bronson stays in Barcelona to visit her, Marc has to check some last details of Alma’s whereabouts, and this is obviously when the killer strikes again! This time it’s a failure, and Nabila escapes once again, but the cops are in the killers trail, and soon their prime suspect will be captured.

Eventually Marc is too close to the killer for his own good and the police, persuaded that he just tried to murder the last victim and not chance the killer as he states himself, take him into custody. Once again I point out the common misunderstanding that Gialli have no plot or comprehensive storyline and only use cheap tricks. But here you go, evidence proving the opposite, in the autopsy scene, the doctor pointed out that the wounds where made by a right handed person which is later in the end of the movie proves a possible suspect to be innocent!

All good things come to an end and even so The Secret Killer. The murderer is exposed and the motif for slicing out eyeballs of the victims too and bizarrely enough there’s even a happy ending for one of the lead protagonists to wrap things up nice and tidy. Ironically there are several small clues and questions that get revealed during the final scenes. Answers to suggestions and questions which I would think may be seen more coherently by an audience perhaps not to familiar with the genre. I say ironic because with knowledge of the genre and the “anyone can be the killer” twists that frequent the Gialli, it’s a rarity that the most obvious killer is there right under your nose.

The Secret Killer has a fabulous score by the late Bruno Nicolai, who composed some of the finest scores ever set to Gialli movies, This one much in the same suave style of his previous scores for Guiliano Carnimeo’s The Case of The Bloody Iris 1972, and Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is A Closed Room and Only I Have the Key also from1972. But on the down side, this fantastic score is misused and brutally wasted on this film, or perhaps overused is a better word as it keeps coming in every now and again without any regards to what mood the scene is playing for what so ever. Sometimes it’s just plain annoying and distracts from the narrative. But on it’s own it’s a great soundtrack.


2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen


Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital Mono German, no subtitles available.


The theatrical trailer, filmographies for Umberto Lenzi, John Richardson, Martine Brochard and Ines Pellegrini, a slide show of stills and promotional materials. Finally a bunch of trailers for other Marketing Film’s releases, but nothing of real genre interest unless you like your Hong-Kong actioners dubbed to German.

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