aka ENIGMA ROSSO
aka RINGS OF FEAR
aka VIRGIN KILLER
(Italy/West Germany/Spain - 1978)
Directed by Alberto Negrin. Written by Marcello Coccia, Massimo Dallamano, Franco Ferrini, Stefano Ubezio, Alberto Negrin and Peter Berling. Cast: Fabio Testi, Christine Kaufmann, Ivan Desny, Jack Taylor, Fausta Avelli, Bruno Alessandro, Tony Isbert, Helga Line, Brigitte Wagner, Caroline Ohrner, Silvia Aguilar, Taida Urruzola, Maria Asquerino, Cecilia Roth. (Unrated, 84 mins)
The final installment of a loosely-connected "Schoolgirls in Peril" trilogy that began with 1972's WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? and 1974's WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?, the giallo RED RINGS OF FEAR was a troubled production even before filming began. Massimo Dallamano, a career journeyman (A BLACK VEIL FOR LISA, DORIAN GRAY, THE NIGHT CHILD) who established himself as a top cinematographer in the 1960s with Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, directed SOLANGE and DAUGHTERS and was set to helm the third installment, but was killed in a car accident in Rome in November 1976, not long after the release of his final film, the polizia COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD. He was still in the process of completing the RED RINGS script, which was then cycled through an additional five credited writers--including future Dario Argento collaborator Franco Ferrini--over the next year and a half before shooting finally began. In Dallamano's stead, directing duties were assigned to Alberto Negrin, who's spent his entire career in Italian television as a go-to guy for prestigious RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana TV-movies and miniseries that would occasionally make it onto American networks, such as the 1985 miniseries MUSSOLINI AND I with Susan Sarandon, Anthony Hopkins, and Bob Hoskins as Il Duce, and 1990's VOYAGE OF TERROR: THE ACHILLE LAURO AFFAIR with Burt Lancaster and Eva Marie Saint. RED RINGS OF FEAR remains Negrin's only theatrical feature to date in a career going back to 1971, and he took the opportunity to cut loose and run with it. Typical of the sleazy direction gialli would take in the latter half of the 1970s beginning with the likes of the subtly-titled STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, RED RINGS OF FEAR doesn't go as far as the 1979 giallo/porno crossovers GIALLO A VENEZIA and PLAY MOTEL, but it doesn't avoid embracing the trashier side of things, with a twisty and perverse story involving murders, corruption, cover-ups, abortion, and Catholic schoolgirls forced to take part in a prostitution ring being run by one of their own teachers.
Eurotrash movies in the mid-to-late '70s, but this wasn't one of them). It's just out now on Blu-ray from Scorpion in a restored transfer, properly framed at 2.35:1, and looking better than it ever has after decades of barely watchable VHS prints that were ported over to numerous public domain DVD sets. From the time of Dallamano's tragic death, the film was plagued with problems, from script changes to, as Nathaniel Thompson points out on the Blu-ray's commentary track, co-star Jack Taylor even claiming the film was never completely finished. At the very least, things seem to be missing and possibly never shot, which may explain the unusually brief running time of just 84 minutes. Second-billed Christine Kaufmann, an Austrian actress and former Hollywood ingenue who was married to Tony Curtis for five years after co-starring with him in 1962's TARAS BULBA, is barely in the movie as Di Salvo's kleptomaniac friend-with-benefits. It's not really clear if they already know each other when he catches her stealing cat food at the supermarket early on (some of the dialogue even hints at the possibility that she's a prostitute) and nothing results from a later revelation after they have a fight and she's next seen sleeping with Di Salvo's boss, Chief Insp. Roccaglio (Ivan Desny, dubbed by Ed Mannix). She's never seen again after that--it's unknown whether she had scenes cut or never filmed and her appearances are sporadic and pointless enough that it's not out of the question to wonder if she simply quit the movie. For a prominently-billed actress of established repute in both Europe and Hollywood (she won the Golden Globe for Best Newcomer Female for 1961's TOWN WITHOUT PITY and went on to appear in several Rainer Werner Fassbinder films before and after RED RINGS OF FEAR), it's a strangely minor and insignificant role. Spanish cult actress Helga Line (HORROR EXPRESS) also has a brief bit part as the first victim's mother and future Pedro Almodovar regular Cecilia Roth (ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER) has a small early role as a Parravicini employee sleeping with her boss. In keeping with the choppy, seemingly rushed nature of the film's assembly, Riz Ortolani's main theme sounds like it belongs more to a 1970s cop show than a giallo murder mystery (Thompson points out that it was recycled in full from Ortolani's score for Dallmano's 1973 crime film SUPERBITCH).
Nicoletta Elmi was busy (Avelli is probably best known to mainstream audiences as "Sweets," the little girl O.J. Simpson is killed trying to rescue in the 1977 plague-on-a-train disaster movie THE CASSANDRA CROSSING); and, in what has to be the film's most notorious bit, a cross-cutting juxtaposition of Inseparables member Virginia (Silvia Aguilar) going to a clinic for an abortion, intercut with flashback footage of the Inseparables at the orgy where the first victim was killed, bleeding out after her vagina was penetrated and torn apart by an oversized dildo. It has to rank as one of the tackiest sequences in any giallo up to that point, made even more retroactively surreal since one of the actresses playing The Inseparables is a dead ringer for Jennifer Lawrence. It had to be hard to fathom the giallo getting any more tasteless, but fear not, the 1979 double shot of GIALLO A VENEZIA and PLAY MOTEL saw ENIGMA ROSSO's abortion/orgy jawdropper, said "Hold our beers," and introduced hardcore porn into the genre, pretty much taking things as far as they could go and effectively ending the giallo at least until it was given a post-slasher film resurrection with a return to relatively tradidional, classier fare in the 1980s. RED RINGS OF FEAR is a mess, but it's got its share of unusual, inventive, and audacious moments that make it hard to outright dismiss, especially with a quality Blu-ray presentation that helps it make a credible case for itself.
|The back of the Wizard Video big box from 1985,
with Arthur Kennedy mistakenly credited.