Sleazemeister Umberto Lenzi popularized the Italian cannibal film subgenre with The Man from the Deep River and made gore fans drool with Cannibal Ferox, but you won't get over-the-top violence and a truly seedy story when it comes to his 1972 giallo, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. The director's early gialli were quite tame compared to his later movies. Lenzi lures us to Orchids with a killer opening, featuring the death of a naked prostitute and a stylish murder set piece, starring giallo babe Marina Malfatti. Frustratingly, Orchids starts to dwindle after that. Lenzi bookends his thriller with some of the mood and craftiness we've come to expect of the Italian-made movies, but a bloated middle drags to the finish.
Newlyweds Mario (Antonio Sabato, father of soap opera star Antonio Sabato, Jr.) and Giulia (German actress Uschi Glas) find their honeymoon interrupted after a black-gloved psychopath attempts to murder the missus. The unlucky couple get caught in the middle of a deadly mystery when the killer strikes again — targeting seven women altogether — leaving a crescent-shaped medallion behind as a creepy calling card. The cops on the case fall for a series of red herrings, which forces the lovebirds to take over the investigation in order to stay alive.
Orchids is based on a work by British novelist Edgar Wallace, whose writings spawned a film subgenre known as "krimi" (crime). The popular detective stories were produced by Danish-German studio Rialto during the 1960s and '70s, and became a blueprint for the gialli. The Italian studios started to co-produce the thrillers. What Have You Done to Solange? is another close cousin of the krimi, but Orchids isn't as successful.
Lenzi's direction is effective enough, but the highlights are shrouded by an apathetic plot, a wooden leading man (sorry, Sabato), and a disappointing conclusion. This becomes infuriating when you realize the filmmaker missed several opportunities to ratchet up the pace and tension of his lagging story. How boring can a movie be that features a swinging drug den, death by confession at the local Catholic church, a rambling mental patient, pseudo-occult nonsense, unsettling cat deaths, a somber and jazzy Riz Ortolani score, and freaking Marisa Mell? Apparently pretty damn boring if Lenzi has anything to do with it.
When it comes right down to it, this is a well-made Lenzi movie. We're talking about a guy known for taking some major shortcuts in his work — like that time he made Eaten Alive! and recycled footage from his own films and ripped from Ruggero Deodato. Sure, the gialli were known for their "homages," but Lenzi can be downright lazy. However, the scene compositions, production design, and ambience of Orchids are high points of the movie. It's an interesting time capsule that shows the marriage of krimi and giallo with flashes of genre savvy, but Orchids is not recommended for the uninitiated. Even as a textbook giallo the film largely falls short, but if you're interested in what Lenzi was doing before his gut-muncher period, give it a shot.