Angela (Sue Lyon), a beautiful tarot card-obsessed hippie biker chick, rides into a Spanish coastal town and attracts the attention of handsome Marc (Christian Hay). He lures her back to a palatial estate, not for himself but as a potential one-night stand for his wealthy boss: the blind and sinister Arthur (Fernando Rey). Disgusted at being mistaken for a common prostitute, Angela refuses his advances and leaves. However, still attracted to Marc, she eventually returns. Before long Arthur proposes marriage, much to the displeasure of his housekeeper Natalie (Gloria Grahame). A dutiful wife by day, Angela continues sleeping with Marc on the side. The pair plan to wait for the ailing old blind man to die then abscond with his money. But they underestimate Arthur's paranoia and Natalie's own agenda.
In the early Seventies Sue Lyon, iconic star of Stanley Kubrick's scandalous adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1962), left the United States for Spain in order to escape the racist controversy over her marriage to black photographer and football coach Roland Harrison. Sadly their marriage fell apart and Lyon's subsequent relationships continued to prove tumultuous until she retired from the screen to anonymity with her last husband. Prior to that her output of European films grew decidedly trashy. She went from working with Kubrick, John Ford and John Huston to the sleazy Murder in a Blue World (1973), Charles Band's vehicular themed horror film Crash! (1977) and the wacky science fiction-horror End of the World (1977) with Christopher Lee. Having said that while these films were beneath Lyon, her performances never wavered. At least she bowed out with a cameo in the fine John Sayles-scripted monster movie Alligator (1980).
Tarot, while a step up from most of Lyon's films in the Seventies, is nonetheless typical of the semi-sleazy, semi-arty Euro thrillers in which many a fading Sixties starlet found herself adrift. As indeed did many an ageing Hollywood veteran. For here Lyon shared the screen with film noir legend Gloria Grahame then well into the exploitation phase of her career with Blood and Lace (1971) and Mama's Dirty Girls (1974). Also known as The Magician and Autopsy (which often led horror fans to confuse it with the giallo of the same name), Tarot is most widely available via a degraded print with murky sunset brown tones that somehow suit the gloomy, fatalistic story. The film has a relatively high class pedigree. Its story was conceived and co-written by Rafael Azcona, a prolific Spanish screenwriter who penned acclaimed black comedy The Executioner (1963), worked repeatedly with controversial Italian art-house auteur Marco Ferreri (e.g. Don't Touch the White Woman! (1974), Bye Bye Monkey (1978) among others) and penned the Oscar-winning period comedy Belle Epoque (1992) that featured a young Penelope Cruz. Of course no screenwriter could have a career as prolific and enduring as Azcona's without dabbling in the trashier end of European cinema. For he also wrote A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die (1972), a surprise spaghetti western team-up between James Coburn and Bud Spencer, and In the Eye of the Hurricane (1971) a.k.a. Lusty Lovers also directed by José Maria Forqué, a man who left a long legacy in Spanish cinema as his daughters Carmen Vázquez Vigo and Verónica Forqué are actresses and son Alvaro Forqué is a director.
As scripted by Azcona and Forqué Tarot attempts to be a groovy Seventies take on The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) but is undone by a clunky plot, inconsistent characterization and attempts at allegory somehow both heavy-handed and vague. The script is full of with-it hippie lingo that was already dated by 1973 amidst oddball exchanges either introspective or willfully esoteric. Azcona and Forqué seemingly intended the film to serve as a partial allegory for the sense of aimlessness and disenchantment that seeped in to the hippie lifestyle by the early Seventies. Which is presumably why after early scenes establish Angela as a free-spirited, self-reliant young woman she inexplicably devolves into the docile plaything of one macho, manipulative male after another then winds up a shrieking, hysterical wreck slapped around by almost everyone. Weirdly the plot insists on treating Angela like a film noir scheming femme fatale in the Lana Turner mould even though she shows no interest in Arthur's money and is repulsed by Marc's homicidal plans. After a bathtub murder sequence that is overwrought yet effectively upsetting, things grow slightly more interesting once Gloria Grahame dominates in a twist that harks to her film noir roles ("No more of your old movies", snarls Marc at one point in one of those on-the-nose postmodern lines that were all the rage after the Nouvelle Vague). Even so the nonsensical climax wherein a character confesses to a murder they did not commit before the cops proffer a smug, condescending and inaccurate moral, merely baffles and things end on a limp note. At least Sue Lyon beguiles in her revealing hippie outfits and old pro Fernando Rey does what he can with a bizarre, inexplicable character. Plus where else can you see Hollywood legend Gloria Grahame share the screen with giallo regular Julian Ugarte and Jess Franco starlet Anne Libert?