Umberto Lenzi's masterful 1972 giallo Seven Bloodstained Orchids certainly takes top honors in the Italian crime thriller genre.
While it's true that Orchids serves up a hefty dish of eloquently-staged murder sequences, the giallo's real strength lies in its intuitive sense of good storytelling and a believable, logical denouement.
Prior to forging his later cannibal films (Eaten Alive and Make Them Die Slowly), Umberto Lenzi had crafted a good deal of enjoyable giallo/thrillers throughout the '60s and '70s, such as So Sweet...So Perverse (1969) and A Quiet Place to Kill (1970).
A car stops near a busy area filled with streetwalkers. Scantily clad Inez (Gabriella Giorgelli) approaches the vehicle and gets inside with the unseen driver.
Cut to a wooded area near the river. Undressing, the woman beckons to her new lover/pickup. Unexpectedly, the stranger brandishes a club and begins to bludgeon the poor hooker to the ground. Again and again, the heavy instrument lands blows to her face...until her body lies motionless.
Kathy Adams (Marina Malfatti) leaves an art gallery exhibit at night and arrives uneventfully at home. As she feeds her cats, the lights have suddenly gone out. Racing to her telephone, she finds her head caught between two black gloves...ruthlessly strangled.
With each murder, the police discover a silver moon-shaped locket at the scene of the crime. A calling card from the killer? But what symbolism can it have?
Giulia (Uschi Glass) is on the murderer's list as victim number three. But when she manages to escape the attack, she and her fashion designer boyfriend Mario (Antonio Sabato) switch into investigative mode.
With the killer believing her dead, Giulia takes the time to reflect...she recognizes the crescent-shaped locket from somewhere...several years back she had seen the same sort of locket at the hotel she once managed...a tall American left it behind...
Mario and Guilia pay a visit to the hotel and discover a page missing from the guest registry...September 29. Piecing together a list of visitors from September 28 and September 30, the two create a list of women's names.
Kathy Adams is on the list. Inez also worked at the hotel. And Guilia was present that day as well. Who else appears on the list and could one of them be the psycho's next target? If so, what's the motive linking these seven characters?
Notable highlights include the killer's abrupt stalking of Kathy. A nice overhead shot reveals her sick cats (presumably poisoned by the murderer), to the horrified distress of their owner. After her strangling, Kathy falls to the ground...her head perfectly propped within an open art frame. Various paints drip down on to her bare flesh. A murder in paint for Kathy the aesthete.
No review would be complete without some mention of the 'power drill' murder in Orchids. The semi-POV shot follows the killer's frenzied search for just the perfect weapon of choice among an arsenal of building maintenance tools...finally selecting the power drill.
An admirable poolside climax caps Orchids. The obligatory giallo revelations and killer's motivations not only round out the action, but also provide the last chance for a minor shock. As Mario struggles with the killer in the pool, who will emerge alive? A frightened Guilia waits in anticipation.
Riz Ortolani's score is a nice a match for Seven Bloodstained Orchids and a memorable piece overall. Distinctive, jazzy instrumentals punctuate the pre-suspense moments.
After Seven Bloodstained Orchids, Lenzi would continue with crime thrillers, most notably with 1974's Eyeball, an eye-popping giallo fiesta with perhaps less story (and purpose) than Orchids but an effort full of zesty spirit nonetheless.
Seven Bloodstained Orchids is alternately known as Puzzle of the Silver Half Moons and also as Sette Orchidee Macchiate di Rosso.