All three of the following short reviews appeared in the June 1975 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 42, no. 497). The reason why I had to cover so many films of this kind for the magazine was that I was the assistant editor, and it was very hard to convince most of our freelance reviewers (apart from Tom Milne) to take them on. -– J.R.
Director: Sergio Martino
After two college girls, Florence and Carol, are savagely murdered and butchered by a masked assailant, one of their classmates, Daniela, recalls having recently seen the scarf left behind by the murderer but can’t remember who was wearing it. Before long, she receives an anonymous threatening phone call, and her uncle Nino requests that she so for a rest to his country villa with her school friends Ursula, Katia and Jane. Jane stays behind briefly to look up Stefano — a student whom she suspects is the killer, but who proves not to be at home — and passes up an invitation to attend a concert with her art professor Franz. A scarf-dealer who meanwhile tries to blackmail the killer by phone manages to collect 3 million lire, but is then run down by a car; that evening, after a local shoe-peddler spies Ursula seducing Katia in the country house, he is pursued, killed and thrown into a well by the masked assailant. Not long after Jane arrives, she seriously sprains her ankle on the stairs, and a handsome village doctor is summoned; that night her friends find that the phone has been disconnected, and the dead Stefano is later delivered to their door. In the morning. Jane limps downstairs to discover all three of her friends murdered and the masked assailant dismembering one of them: she hides behind a chair until he leaves but is accidentally locked into her room when he returns. She is located and cornered on his third visit and he turns out to be Franz, who promptly explains his penchant for butchering girls by referring to a childhood-trauma. The young doctor, eventually responding to mirror signals previously sent by Jane, arrives in the nick of time to save her and defeat the killer.
This well-dubbed, lightweight horror opus supplies us with everything that it thinks we need: pretty girls in various states of dress and undress, a steel guitar on the soundtrack to establish menace, lectures on Italian sculpture, tastefully elliptical dismemberments and mutilations of body parts (which pans are tactfully left to our imagination and/or the censor’s discretion, although at least one generous eye-gouging remains for elucidation), a gratuitous lesbian-sequence, and enough red herrings to keep a German restaurant in business for a week.
Directors: Ferd Sebastian, Beverly Sebastian
Discovering that she has become pregnant by her boyfriend Chris, who refuses to assist her in any way, Maggie, an attractive teenager, leaves home to hitch-hike to Los Angeles. En route, she tangles with Diane — a rival hitch-hiker heading for a ‘guest ranch’ run-by a man named Benson — who steals all her money, and a truck driver who buys her dinner, propositions her and then rapes her when she tries to 6cape. Fleeing from a supermarket clerk who catches her stealing food, she is picked up by Benson, who takes her to his desert shack which he shares with runaways Diane, Karen, Jinx and Brook; Maggie gets into a fight with Diane and suffers a miscarriage. Benson drifts into town and orders a doctor back at gunpoint to tend to her; afterwards he has the other girls seduce the doctor and takes photographs in order to blackmail him into silence. Once she recovers, Maggie becomes Benson’s ‘favorite’ girl and is instructed in the band’s method of highway robbery, whereby the girls lure drivers to stop on the road. After a subsequent fight between Maggie and Diane, Benson orders the latter to leave the group; he sells all their stolen goods to his friend Reb, purchases an old school bus, and throws a wild party for his ‘family’ and friends. In the morning he discovers that Diane, Karen, Jinx and the visitors have made off with all their remaining money. After hijacking a farmer’s car into town to pick up his bus, he sets off for Los Angeles with Maggie and Brook, planning to go straight.
Unlike Truck Stop Women, which it resembles in a few of its plot aspects, The Hitchhikers is not likely to achieve any sort of cult reputation, either spontaneous or manufactured. Its decidedly minor virtues –- some spirited fast cutting in the pre-credits sequence, a largely unaggressive cast (Linda Avery is a strident exception), and a meandering plot devoid of any evident aspirations whatsoever — seem much too homey and modest to compete with the demented stupidities and camp clichés of Mark L. Lester’s truck stop antics; the latter require an affectionate sort of contempt for appreciation, while Ferd and Beverly Sebastian seem to demand nothing more than a leisurely form of goodwill. Benson and his harem — clearly modeled on the Charles Manson ‘family’ with all the atrocities pared away — are presented simply as a cheerful band of highway hippies pursuing what is apparently meant to be an idyllic existence composed of free sex, skinny-dipping and such domestic delights as Shampooing the Dog, to the strains of a running musical commentary from Danny Cohen, which assigns them a minimal folk status. Quite apart from the intermittent soft-core frolics of cavorting nymphets, The Hitchhikers offers nothing more or less than 93 minutes of wandering nowhere in particular with pleasant company, like any number of aimless California afternoons.
Mano Spietata della Legge, La (The Bloody Hands of the Law)
Director: Mario Gariazzo
Frank Esposito, an Italian-American businessman about to be questioned by a Rome magistrate, is murdered in his hospital bed by a paid killer disguised as a Major, who reports the deed to Professor Palmieri, a tycoon connected with a stock market racket. Lt. Johnny De Carmine beats a confession out of suspect Fabiano, who subsequently retracts it, charging police brutality, and Johnny is ordered by his chief to restrain himself. Elsa, an information hostess who saw the killer arrive at the airport, is killed by Vito Petroni and her boyfriend seriously injured. Another suspect, Di Leo, is picked up and, over Johnny’s protests, released unharmed; he is run down and killed by a car. Elsa’s room mate, Lili, is kidnapped and later killed; when a gang member tries to rape her, Petroni disfigures him with a soldering iron. Apprehended as a suspect in Elsa’s murder, another hoodlum is shot while in police custody, and Johnny’s boss allows him to beat up another suspect, Venturi, to obtain information; but after a few names are extracted, Venturi is poisoned in his cell. Johnny arrests two members of the gang, only to be subsequently trapped by other thugs and beaten. He chases, arrests and beats up Petroni, who confesses to the murder of Di Leo and Elsa. After fighting with another gang boss, Johnny learns that his girlfriend Linda has been murdered as a ‘lesson’, and takes a train for Milan to apprehend Palmieri, the leader of the gang.
“I know violence”, Johnny De Carmine declares to his girlfriend Linda at a construction site. “I meet it face to face . . . The only way to meet violence is smash it, beat it — beat it with rage”. He smashes his fist into a stray board, then adds, a bit sheepishly, “Excuse me”. Endlessly expanding upon the theme, this tedious, badly-dubbed contribution to the recent genre of Italian Dirty Harry spinoffs features a lot of blood resembling raspberry jam, fist-fights that sound like the stutterings of a child’s toy cap pistol, repetitious lectures by the hero about the public’s lack of respect for policemen, and then more of the same to make sure that none of us fail to recognize that Johnny is a conscientious psychotic working overtime to protect us from human refuse, for which we should all be grateful. Since at least half the murders in the film appear to be a direct consequence of his tactics, the point is a little muffled here and there, but at least we know that his heart’s in the right place.