Nothing brings quite the same kind of joy to Probert Towers as the chance to view some ultra-obscure Eurotrash. I had wanted to watch THE MURDER CLINIC (known as LA LAMA NEL CORPO in its native Italy) ever since, at the tender age of nine, seeing a still of the hideously disfigured woman who features prominently in the film’s plot in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a volume that also encouraged the young JLP to track down such genre gems as HORROR OF MALFORMED MEN, Richard Gordon’s THE PROJECTED MAN and that version of THE BLACK CAT by Harold Hoffman where the girl gets an axe in her head.
But back to THE MURDER CLINIC. After a title sequence which exhibits a considerable degree of creativity in terms of changing Italian names to presumably more exportable English ones, we get an opening caption which tells us it’s “About 1870” and that we’re in Norfolk. The mountainous forest-filled countryside and Italianate architecture on display are less suggestive of Norwich and its environs and more of a country considerably further south (and a bit east as well) and fans of this kind of thing wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a hooded and cloaked figure stalking the corridors of an isolated asylum and bumping off attractive young ladies with a razor. Mary the pretty nurse starts working there, enabling her to meet some of the inmates that only exist in Italian horror films, including an old lady whose best friend is her stuffed cat and a young man called Fred who has violent tendencies and should have been played by Klaus Kinski but sadly isn’t. There’s someone clumping around on the third floor as well but we won’t get to see her scarred face for a little while yet. The place is run by Dr Robert Vance (William Berger) who spends a lot of time in his laboratory where we can be sure that his animal experiments on skin grafting aren’t just for the benefit of guinea pigs who may have been in nasty accidents involving scorchingly hot objects.
Into all of this comes Giselle, who we already know is up to no good as we’ve seen her bop the chap whose job it is to ‘escort’ her out of the country over the head and take flight to a local cave, only to spy Dr Vance burying the pretty young thing our cowled figure slashed up just after the opening credits. Soon she’s attempting to blackmail Dr Vance, which as we all know is a Very Bad Thing to attempt in this sort of a movie and before you can say Blackmailing A Man Who Has Access to Anaesthetics, Scalpels and Electro-Shock Therapy is Probably A Bit Foolhardy the razor is being wielded again.
It soon becomes apparent that while the trappings are gothic and the style is giallo, screenwriters Ernesto Gastaldi (who ended up writing more of these things than he could probably ever remember) and Luciano Martino (Sergio’s brother) have also decided to mix in a goodly dollop of Eyes Without a Face as well. The mysterious figure is Dr Vance’s sister-in-law Laura, whom he managed to have a naughty dalliance with before he caused her to fall into a lime pit (or so he believes) while ironically she was wearing a lemon-coloured dress. Now he spends his days grafting guinea pigs and keeping his fingers crossed that his housekeeper Harriet White Medin (Italy’s Sheila Keith) won’t tell people why he spends so much time shaving them. It all ends in the traditional Italian Eurotrash way, with a totally bonkers twist ending where it turns out quite a bit wasn’t what it seemed (including the flashback detailing the Laura-in-lime tragedy) and with nearly everyone dead by the time we get to the fadeout to Francesco de Masi’s main theme.
As a mid-sixties Italian gothic THE MURDER CLINIC is not at all bad. There are some touches of style and the faceless killer feels quite Bava-inspired. Sadly, the print we saw was terribly washed out so it’s difficult to comment on how the film was intended to look. A decent DVD release would be very welcome indeed.