Today let's dig into a more obscure entry in the giallo genre, a sleazy and totally weird thriller starring the legendary Klaus Kinski. While many fans of classic horror know Kinski for his career-defining performance in the title role of Werner Herzog's amazing 1979 version of Nosferatu, he's appeared in tons of other horror films including Crawlspace, Creature and Jack the Ripper; he's played Renfield, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Marquis de Sade, and often appeared in the films of Jess Franco. He was also totally insane, and his reputation as a wild man and notorious womanizer often overshadowed his prolific film career, a genre-spanning body of work which ran the spectrum from classics to crap.
His resume also includes a few giallo titles, like this oddball 1971 production (originally titled The Cold-Blooded Beast, also Asylum Erotica) from director Fernando Di Leo, best known for the 1972 crime thriller The Italian Connection. It's a sleazy whodunit set in a castle sanitarium that caters exclusively to wealthy women – most of whom lounge around in various states of undress and take baths together. In an ironic twist, Kinski plays the director of the asylum (not quite as ironic as his role as a psychiatrist in the slasher Schizoid a decade later), who becomes one of the prime suspects when the patients start turning up dead – hacked and skewered by a masked, cloaked stalker who helps himself to the various medieval weapons displayed on the castle walls.
You're probably wondering why an asylum would just hang battle-axes and crossbows all over the place (they even have an iron maiden in the lounge... and yes, it's put to good use), and it's never explained or justified. But it sure makes the murderer's job easy, and he/she has a lot of killing to do here. All the while, the hospital staff practice a literally hands-on approach with their patients – Kinski is getting it on with one lovely inmate, the new arrival gets a naked body massage from the head nurse, the resident nympho seduces all the orderlies, and so on – which sets the stage for as much nudity and sex as possible.
While it's not on the level of giallo masters like Mario Bava, Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci, this is definitely an entertaining little flick, with some well-staged murders, and a fair amount of gore. The performances are all suitably eccentric – although Kinski is surprisingly mellow here – and there's even a cool moody score by Silvano Spadaccino (who also scored Fulci's Beatrice Cenci).
Horror fans who grew up in the days of big-box VHS tapes will probably recognize this one from the Gorgon Video release, but it's now available on DVD from Shriek Show. Their version is mostly uncut (a couple of sex scenes are “tame” versions from the censored Italian print), and restores the movie's 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which makes the film look a lot classier... well, classy enough, anyway. It's still a naughty good time for Euro-thriller fans.