The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971)
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi, Eduardo Manzanos Brochero and Sauro Scavolini
Starring: George Hilton, Anita Strindberg and Ida Galli

The Plot: Young trophy wife Mrs. Lisa Baumer (Ida Galli) is at home with her lover when her husband’s plane is blown up in the middle of the sky. When it becomes known that she will be the beneficiary of a one million lira insurance policy, she has several would-be pursuers turning up. A former flame, who is now addicted to drugs, approaches her and informs her that he has a letter from one year ago that will allude to her guilt in killing her husband. She agrees to pay him off for the letter, but when she turns up at his apartment in order to purchase the evidence, it seems that someone has broke in and killed him. The young wife immediately leaves for Greece, where her husband’s insurance firm’s head office is, in order to grab her money and run. After getting her money, all of it in cash, she prepares her things in order to start a new life. Unfortunately, she is soon murdered and the money is stolen. Before her death, the insurance agency had hired Peter Lynch (George Hilton) to keep an eye on Mrs. Baumer just in case there we a possibility of insurance fraud. After he discovers her death, Peter is soon wrapped up in the murder mystery surrounding the deaths of Mrs. Baumer, her former lover and her husband as well. Who could be behind these assassinations and what will bring them to justice?

The Review
Within the community of Eurocult film fans, there is a purveying opinion that when it comes to the giallo there is really only one director worth mentioning, and that is Dario Argento. Argento perfected the craft after Mario Bava established it, this goes without question, but there are several other great Italian filmmakers who were incredibly active during this period of genre cinema. There are a few names that are likely to pop up during any serious discussion of the genre, outside of the most popular filmmakers (Bava, Argento and even Lucio Fulci). Aldo Lado (Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Night Train Murders and Who Saw Her Die) and Umberto Lenzi (Spasmo, Eyeball and So Sweet… So Perverse) both deserve some mention for their glorious contributions to the genre, but perhaps the most consistent and gifted of this group would be Sergio Martino. Well known for his diverse and genre expanding contributions within the giallo, his work has made for some of the best reviewed within the genre. Although the film that we are discussing today is not his greatest achievement (Your Vice is a Locked Room, and Only I Have the Key would be my vote for that), it certainly isn’t without its many glorious details. Not to be confused with Sergio Martino’s less popular horror film, The Scorpion With Two Tails (1982), The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is the better known and more respected entry into this director’s gialli work. A twisted series of narrative concepts, Sergio Martino shows off his storytelling capabilities with a high level of stylistic panache.

With The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, things rarely remain surface level or elementary. Although it is a film that doesn’t require a great deal of study into subtext, it is incredibly crafty in the way that it is put together. Martino is very deliberate throughout his film, showing a more keen eye for suspense than he is normally known for. Throughout the film he builds up the mystery behind this killer and presents us with several very tense “stalker” sequences that show the vicious nature of our masked henchman. While the general plot may bare resemblance to many other giallo pictures out there, it is hardly your usual walk in the park. The similarities are that this does feature an exotic locale (Eyeball and Death Weekend) and that the film cheats more than a little in terms of hiding its killer from you (every giallo on the market!), but the intricate layers of plot and character motivation makes this one stand out from the crowd. Normally, many of these productions seem to harken back to the literary past of the genre, and the movies seem to be as slap-dash as the pulp novels that they were originally influenced by. This doesn’t seem like the case with Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, even if it really was thrown together in a quick and unceremonious fashion. The script is surprisingly tight and the twists are actually quite effective for a project such as this.

Taking a cue directly from the master of suspense, Case of the Scorpion’s Tail features an early twist that seems highly influenced by the classic bait-and-switch of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. We are introduced to what appears to be our leading protagonist, Mrs. Baumer, but Martino cleverly has this character present a multitude of questions before actually having her killed off. So, after these questions are raised we are simply left with a puzzle that appears to be unsolved. When the story seems to pick up with George Hilton in the lead, it brings a new life to the movie and immediately catches the attention of the audience. There are scenes throughout the film (such as a bit pertaining to an airline stewardess) that act as apparent non sequiturs within the confines of the actual plot. These scenes seem to have very little to do with the story, but this is only at first glance. These sequence do factor into the actual plot, but it takes quite a while. While these sequences could have been more tightly edited into the story, it seems that Martino may have wanted these sequences to play out a little hazy for his audience. If so, I give him credit in that it adds to the atmosphere of strangeness that seems to surround the entire production.

Although it is nearly expected of any Italian genre picture from the 1970s, the cinematography here remains excellent from start to finish. The use of the technicolor film stock is lush and I never grow tired of the beauty that these films seem to bring to light. There’s also an impeccable use of framing here that deserves mention. Nearly every shot features some kind of fantastic use of foreground, background, and midground. Martino allows for his cinematographer to try some very experimental techniques throughout, which seems to liven things up more than a little. There is one scene in particular that left me dazzled, where the camera is set up at a complete 90 degree vertical angle. Dizzying to the eye, the scene is punctuated by a 180 degree turn from one character to another, all while the actual camera remains tilted at its 90 degree angle. There’s a feeling of experimentation throughout, as there is in all of Martino’s gialli, and it adds to the film’s overall artistic presentation. The music is another part of this experimentation that runs throughout the picture, and as we all know music is a key element for any proper giallo. The soundtrack is a varied mix of noise as well as bizarre jazz-inspired saxophone playing. The outrageous noise helps establish the drama and tension throughout the film, as it seems to pour out terror during the most tense sequences.

The Conclusion
Although I wouldn’t say that it is my favorite of Martino’s work, this does prove to be an incredibly solid giallo. It easily ranks in the top five of his career and maybe even top three. The sun drenched beach side finale alone guarantees this ranking, because it actually manages to be one of the most memorable giallo moments I can remember. I would highly recommend searching it out if you’re a fan of the director or simply a fan of the genre. I give it a four out of five.