aka: Il coltello di ghiaccio
Review By-Sean Patrick Dolan Director: Umberto Lenzi Cast: Carroll Baker (Martha Cauldwell), Evelyn Stewart (Jenny Ascot), Eduardo Fajardo (Marcos), Sylvia Monelli (Annie Britain), Jorge Rigaud (Uncle Ralph), Franco Fantasia (Dr. Laurent), Rosa Maria Rodriguez (Christina) Runtime: Approx. 92 minutes Source: Trash Mountain Video (DVD, NTSC, Region 2)
"Fear is a knife of ice which penetrates the senses down to the depth of conscience."- Edgar Allan Poe
Although he is perhaps most famous for his controversial cannibal films of the 70ís and early eighties (MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1973), EATEN ALIVE (1980), CANNIBAL FEROX (1981)), prolific Italian director Umberto Lenzi also directed films in many other genres, including pirate films, historical dramas, spaghetti westerns, polizieschi (police thrillers), zombies, and - last, but not least- gialli (highly stylized murder mysteries with strong sexual content and graphic violence). As a director of gialli, Lenzi has often been underrated by European horror fans. Lenzi has attributed his lack of success in the genre (compared to directors like Fulci and Argento) to low budgets and poor scripts. On the second count he may have a very good point. While it is a staple of the giallo film to have a vast array of suspects and dizzying plot twists, Lenziís films (SO SWEET, SO PERVERSE (1969), SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS (1972), EYEBALL (1975)) take these elements to new levels. And when the denouement occurs, many viewers are heard complaining that the ending just didnít make sense. Sometimes his critics have a valid point, but often they are judging the directorís work too harshly. Such is the case with KNIFE OF ICE.
KNIFE OF ICE stars Lenzi favorite Carroll Baker (ORGASMO (1968), PARANOIA (1970)) as Martha Cauldwell, a woman who witnessed the death of her parents in a railroad accident as a teenaged girl. The psychological trauma rendered her mute- she has not spoken a word in fifteen years. The film begins with the arrival of Marthaís cousin, Jenny Ascot (Evelyn Stewart), a popular opera singer who has come off a tour to stay with Martha and her Uncle Ralph, who has taken care of her all these years. The visit has barely begun when a strange incident occurs. On the way back from the train station, their car stalls out, and while the chauffer, Marcos (Eduardo Fajardo), gets out to check under the hood, a strange man with "possessed" eyes peers threateningly into the carís window. Before the first night is over, Jenny is killed. Her body is discovered the next morning, and when the police inspector arrives to question Martha, Uncle Ralph, the house staff, and Dr. Laurent (Franco Fantasia), a guest at the house the previous night, he reveals that another girl was murdered yesterday and dumped in a local quarry, shortly after the women had seen the strange man on the country road.
The inspector believes that the crimes are related, the work of a sex maniac. Soon after, the police find Satanic graffiti and evidence of a Black Mass at an abandoned house- they believe that they have found their murder suspectís hideout, and now believe that the true motivation of the crimes was devil worship; human sacrifice. Later that same day, the housekeeper, Ms. Britain (Annie Britain), goes into town to fetch Uncle Ralphís heart medication. She never makes it back- she is murdered riding her bicycle back through the woods. Uncle Ralph wants Martha to leave town, for her safety, but the journey must be postponed a day because Dr. Laurent, who was to take her, gets an emergency medical call. That same night, a dark and rainy night, Martha is assaulted by the murder suspect. The police chase the suspect into the cemetery and after a brief struggle, arrest him. The man, Rudy Mason, is indeed a devil worshiper from London. He is also a drug addict- he robbed the town pharmacy of its morphine supply earlier that night. Martha identifies him as the strange man she and Jenny saw through the car window, and he is locked up. But the murders donít stop with Masonís arrest- the killer strikes again, the victim this time a young girl, Christina (Rosa Maria Rodriguez), a close friend of the Cauldwell family. It happens while she is playing a game of hide and seek with Martha, who was blindfolded when the girl was killed. This leads to an exhumation and autopsy of the girl dumped in the quarry which reveals that she died of a heroin overdose- which is what the suspect, Rudy Mason, had claimed all along. With the murderer still on the loose, Martha is placed under police protection- but can they really keep her safe from the mysterious and seemingly unstoppable killer?
KNIFE OF ICE fits squarely in the mold of Lenziís other gialli, with the violence occurring off screen and a minimum of sexuality (in this film, there is not a single scene with sex or even nudity). Lenzi focuses instead on his twisting plot, red herrings, and cast of suspects: Dr. Laurent, who may have been having an affair with the housekeeper, Ms. Britain; Marcos, the chauffer, a decidedly creepy man who never seems to be where he is supposed to be; Uncle Ralph, whose interest in occult subjects puts him under suspicion when evidence of Satanism is discovered; and, of course, Rudy Mason, the devil-worshipping heroin addict. Many of Lenziís gialli (most notably SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS) cash in on the social climate of the late í60ís and í70ís, an era in which the demonic figure of Charles Manson had cast a deep shadow over the hippie generation- formerly regarded as harmless. Lenzi exploits the fears of drug use and the occult to the hilt in this film. Viewers should also be aware that Lenzi is also up to another of his "old tricks" in KNIFE OF ICE- using animal violence to shock or perhaps excite his audience, as he would do in his later cannibal films. The opening credits roll over scenes of a Spanish bullfight that Martha and Jenny had once attended together. The footage is graphic, and has no purpose whatsoever in the plot of the film; it never ties in to anything.
This is a film that gets better with repeated viewing. Watching it for the first time, it is somewhat difficult to tie all of the events together in a logical manner, and the ending does seem very forced, at best. However, a second look reveals that the charactersí actions do have motivations, the plot holes are few and are quite negligible, and the ending does indeed work. WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Throughout the film, Marthaís actions do seem to suggest that she is frightened for her life- which may seem contradictory when she is revealed as the killer. That said, there are a few very good explanations for this. The first is that she was simply acting that way to throw off everyone around her- and we know from the ending that in at least one instance she did fake being attacked by "the killer". The second explanation is that she was genuinely afraid. Although she used Rudy Masonís crimes to frame him for the murders she committed herself, she had no way of knowing that he was relatively harmless until after he was arrested. She might have thought that he was a fellow killer who was actually stalking her. The final, and best explanation, is that Martha was a very unstable personality, due to the trauma in her youth, and may not have been completely aware of her own actions. This is evidenced by the constant flashbacks and headaches we see her suffer from throughout the film, as well as her complete psychotic break at the end where she regresses to childhood. END SPOILERS. While some of the crucial elements of a great giallo are a bit lacking in this film (style, atmosphere, a great soundtrack by Ennio Morricone or Riz Ortolani) KNIFE OF ICE is still a respectable entry into the genre and is definitely worth seeing for fans of the gialli.
I reviewed the Trash Mountain Video release of KNIFE OF ICE. It is presented in the 16:9 aspect ratio, widescreen, in the English language with optional Japanese subtitles. The picture and sound quality are both very good, but this DVD is thin in the extras department, including only a theatrical trailer of the film, a stills gallery, and a short booklet which is written entirely in Japanese.
Story: 3/5 Bitch Slaps Picture/Audio: 4/5 Bitch Slaps Extras: 1.5/5 Bitch Slaps Overall DVD: 3.5/5 Bitch Slaps
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