When talking about Giallo films – the late 1960s, 1970s Italian film sub-genre, that’s trademarks were strongly horrific, violent and sexual visuals – directors like Dario Argento and Mario Bava spring to mind. Their films took highly stylised set-pieces and graphically gory murders to a whole new level, becoming the benchmark against which all genre entries would be compared. Which makes 1971’s The Bloodstained Butterfly all the more significant. Considered as being amongst the best examples of early 70’s Giallo, this film by Italian director Duccio Tessari – best known for his spaghetti westerns – stands out because it’s violence is surprisingly subdued, compared with that of films like Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage from the previous year.
A picturesque town in Northern Italy is shocked by the grisly murder of a young French student visitor. Local authorities think the mystery of her death is solved when they arrest and charge a well known TV personality (Giancarlo Sabrigia) for the murder. But then another death takes place and the police realise that they may have been premature in their assumptions.
Exquisite to watch, the film itself – at least where horror connoisseurs are concerned – is rather prosaic. A large portion in the middle involves a protracted courtroom scene – think Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution transposed to 1970s Italy – which, though explaining much of the reasoning behind the arrest and trial of the story’s main suspect, does little to help its already languid pacing. It’s the film’s unhurried approach however which is part of its appeal, allowing the viewer time to wallow in an intoxicating visual charm. From the gorgeously decadent villas in which the characters reside, to the cobbled town where the action takes place – filmed on location in the ancient Italian town of Bergamo near Lake Como – everything on the screen makes for a lushly hypnotic viewing experience. Which simply heightens the shock value of the sporadic violence when it occurs.
Opening with a beautifully imaginative title sequence, set to the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto and a variation thereof, perfectly capturing the bohemian tone of the film to come, The Bloodstained Butterfly rates as one of the most magical horror / thriller hybrids to emerge from the glut of such films during the early 1970s.
Coming in both High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD formats Arrow Video’s new presentation of director Duccio Tessari’s masterpiece, includes a veritable cornucopia of extras to delight Giallo connoisseurs. As well as trailers, an image gallery, reversible artwork sleeve and limited edition booklet with writing by James Blackford, Howard Hughes and Leonard Jacobs, the release includes several insightful interviews with members of the film’s cast including Helmut Berger, Evelyn Stewart and Lorella De Luca.
Complementing these extras come two additions which not only add light to the film, but also the Giallo movement as a whole. A visual essay on the film – Murder in B-Flat Major – by genre expert Troy Howarth, looks at both its cast and crew and production, as well as its place within the wider Giallo movement, and significance in the light of other entries in the field. The other bonus bringing an extra something special to the release is the commentary by horror aficionados Alan Jones and Kim Newman. Though the modern phenomena of film commentaries is not to everyone’s taste, this is one occasion where it actually adds to the viewing experience, and the repartee between, and insight from, these popular critics is guaranteed to cast new light on this genre classic.
Cleaver Patterson (@Cleaver68 / @ScreenAndGone)