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  Devil with Seven Faces, The Devil in the details
Year: 1971
Director: Osvaldo Civirani
Stars: Carroll Baker, Stephen Boyd, George Hilton, Lucretia Love, Luciano Pigozzi, Daniele Vargas, Franco Ressel
Genre: Horror, Sex, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Julie Harrison (Carroll Baker), an American living in Amsterdam, receives a phone call from her twin sister Mary (also Baker) who claims she is being menaced by her abusive ex-husband. Shortly thereafter, Julie is accosted by a couple of thugs for reasons unknown. Her lawyer, Dave Barton (Stephen Boyd) scares them off, aided by his friend playboy racecar driver Tony Shane (George Hilton). Smitten with the attractive American, Tony arranges for Julie to hideout at an apartment owned by an old woman whom she subsequently discovers dead when the mysterious villains re-emerge. Meanwhile, Dave does a little investigating and learns Mary was involved in the theft of a valuable diamond from an Indian maharajah and betrayed her husband/accomplish to abscond with the loot. It appears the thieves have mistaken Julie for Mary.

Hollywood star Carroll Baker rose to prominence as a style icon and sex symbol with her Oscar-nominated role in Baby Doll (1956). Her roles grew racier under producer Joseph E. Levine, notably as a Jean Harlow inspired character in The Carpetbaggers (1964) before portraying the real thing in Harlow (1965), but when their relationship soured she found herself briefly blacklisted. So Baker moved to Italy where starting with The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968) she enjoyed a successful run of stylishly steamy giallo thrillers, working largely with Umberto Lenzi although Il diavolo a sette facce (The Devil with Seven Faces) was handled by Osvaldo Civirani, one of those Italian cinema workhorses who dipped his directorial wick into everything from spaghetti westerns to thrillers, sword and sorcery to mondo films.

Co-written by Civirani and Tito Carpi, the twisty narrative encompasses familiar giallo themes such as duality, paranoia and scandalous secrets lurking beneath bourgeois respectability, though the jewel thieves plot device puts it closer to an Edgar Wallace crime thriller than the usual murder-driven giallo. It is a heavy-handed melodrama riddled with idiocies and illogicalities, notably the scene wherein Julie is menaced by a knife-wielding man in a gorilla mask who turns out to be just a Japanese prankster dubbed with a faintly racist “me so solly” comedy accent. Repetive racecar scenes and a pointlessly brief sojourn to London (well, Heathrow airport anyway) further hinder the narrative. As with most gialli the film opts for a mercurial style of storytelling that only gradually reveals the story we think we are watching is really something else entirely. It is a clever conceit but needed a stronger filmmaker to pull it off as - aside from one suspenseful sequence where Julie uses a cigarette lighter to light the way while exploring a dark, cobwebbed attic - Civirani’s direction is strictly pedestrian.

And yet this is giallo land we are talking about, where danger and deceit lurk amidst the jet-set world of suave playboys (Tony introduces himself with: “Saving women is my hobby”) and sex kittens, paisley fashions and shrieking wallpaper. Featuring a fantastic lounge score by Stelvio Cipriani, this carries a fair amount of kitsch appeal. The film has an odd preoccupation with wigs. All the female characters, even minor ones, sport several wigs even though these have nothing to do with the plot. Caroll Baker, despite looking perfectly lovely in scenes sporting her own natural ’do, dons some rather unflattering hair-rags. Look out for that ratty blue one that makes her look like a Betty Spaghetti doll. Our three principal players acquit themselves well in spite of the sloppy script. European exploitation fans will recognise Lucretia Love, star of sexy swashbucklers Zenabel (1969) and The Arena (1974) as well as The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (1974). She plays Julie’s sexy secretary - introduced bending over a table in a short dress (you’re a classy director, Mr. Civirani!) - whom Dave Barton, ahem, pumps for information even though it is obvious his heart belongs to Julie (you’re a classy guy, Mr. Barton).

Contrary to the poster at no point does Carroll Baker answer the phone in her underwear though she does don tight leather hotpants whilst chased through a windmill (it’s Amsterdam, after all) by Peter Lorre look-alike and Euro-horror perennial Luciano Pigozzi. There is a memorably gruesome end for one villain though the coda is so ambiguous even the filmmakers seem unsure what kind of an ending it is.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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