It was a beautiful day indeed when Anchor Bay released a box set of four classic Italian gialli films. Most fans of Italian horror films know all about these colorful murder mystery pictures-- thanks to Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Dario Argento--but how many of us know about the lesser entries in the genre? Antonio Bido's "The Bloodstained Shadow" contains many of the elements we know and love about the giallo picture. We've got the enigmatic murderer, plenty of murders, red herrings, and so many potential suspects that the number boggles the imagination. "Bloodstained Shadow" also gives very strange paintings containing clues to the identity of the killer, bizarre flashbacks, and style wafting off the screen in waves. Bido's film is, if not an absolute carbon copy of many of the great gialli masterpieces, definitely a giallo film in tone and style. In my opinion, it's nearly as good as the films made by the masters of the genre. This picture comes close to approaching the greatness of Argento's epic films "Deep Red" and "Tenebre," and close if not touching to Lucio Fulci's massively entertaining "Don't Torture a Duckling." Without a doubt, "The Bloodstained Shadow" ranks as one of the better discs in the box set.
"The Bloodstained Shadow" begins by introducing us to a scholar named Stephano (Lino Capolicchio) returning home after many years for a visit with his brother Father Paul (Craig Hill), a trusted local priest. Right from the start, the film also introduces us to some tensions in this little town. Paul hints at problems he has had with a few locals involved in some sort of séance group. The members consist of Nardi (Juliette Mayniel), a woman who acts as a midwife to pregnant mothers but harbors a secret she keeps hidden in her house; Count Pedrazzi (Massimo Serato), an unsavory character whose hatred for Father Paul knows no bounds and who is involved in highly suspect activities with his young male assistant and the children entrusted to him by local parents; and a doctor who accidentally shot and killed his wife years before while cleaning a firearm. A nice bunch, eh? All suspects in the coming bloodbath, too, I might add. On the very first night Stephano spends with his brother, the murder of the woman who leads these séances takes place right outside. Father Paul witnesses the crime, in fact, but is too late to do anything to prevent the tragedy. Oddly, both Stephano and his personal assistant were outside at the time. Hmmm. It's starting to look like even Sherlock Holmes would have a tough time putting this one in the bag.
Stephano starts to spend a fair amount of time with Sandra (Stefania Casini), an art student he met on his journey back home. Between cuddling and taking boat rides with Stephano, Sandra takes care of her ailing mother. When her new boyfriend finally stops in to visit, he notices a bizarre painting hanging on the wall that brings back horrific flashbacks of an event during his childhood, an event involving the murder of a young girl at the hands of an unknown assailant. As if bizarre flashbacks aren't sinister enough, something weirder starts happening to Father Paul. He begins receiving cryptic, typewritten messages hinting at horrible things. As members of the séance group fall prey to a shadowy murderer, it is up to Stephano and Father Paul to figure out who is committing the crimes and why. If Stephano could remember who pulled the plug on that girl in his flashback, he feels, he and his brother might figure out what is going on. The conclusion to "The Bloodstained Shadow" isn't really surprising if you're at all familiar with the giallo genre. What did surprise me was how Antonio Bido cribbed a scene from the final sequences of Lucio Fulci's "Don't Torture a Duckling" in order to wrap up his own murder mystery.
Despite the obvious plagiarism at the end, I immensely enjoyed "The Bloodstained Shadow." Perhaps the best elements of the film are the controversial characters and situations he injects into his story. The Count Pedrazzi character is a really sleazy guy, plagued with the same problem the Grant character suffered from in Samuel Fuller's "The Naked Kiss." Moreover, Bido doesn't pull away when aiming shots at the Catholic Church, which takes an incredible amount of bravery in a country like Italy. I've seen so much Church bashing in so many gialli that I'm beginning to think I need to add it to the list whenever discussing the central elements of the genre, right next to the black gloved killer and the red herrings. Less impressive points of the film revolve solely, at least for me, around the fact that there isn't enough gore in the killings. Oddly enough, most of the gialli included in this boxed set pull back when the sauce begins to flow. It's sad, really. Especially when someone like Dario Argento filled his gialli to the rafters with cringe inducing bouts of bloody mayhem. I definitely think "The Bloodstained Shadow" would have benefited from more of the red stuff.
Anchor Bay once again delivers the goods with the DVD. The picture and audio quality are great, and several extras help round out the disc. "Solamente Bido," a thirteen-minute interview with the director, provides good insight into the film. The director discusses his likes and dislikes of the movie, expresses his love for the giallo genre, and even muses aloud that he would like to make another one soon. Throw in a trailer and a director's filmography and you have everything you need for an enjoyable couple of hours. I can't wait to see Anchor Bay's next gialli collection, hopefully available sometime this year.