Friday, October 28, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Scorpion with Two Tails (aka Assassinio al cimitero Etrusco, Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery)

Trimmed down from a seven part mini-series, this extremely boring, late-era Sergio Martino film is a big disappointment. I can’t imagine this story being longer, but the fact that it was a part of a mini-series would explain the brief appearances by American genre actors John Saxon and Van Johnson. It also explains the inexplicable detour the film takes halfway through where it goes from supernatural horror movie to Italian crime movie. In the midst of all the heads being twisted every-which-way and maggots spewing from statues, there are drug film caricatures and heroine deals gone awry and all other kinds of exploitation film goodness. However, it never comes together for Martino and his longtime screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi as Scorpion with Two Tails (also known as Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery which sounds like the title for an episode of “Murder She Wrote”) is a crushing disappointment from one of my favorite Italian horror directors.

Martino and Gastaldi carved a niche for themselves with great gialli like Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark, and Torso. But here, with Scorpion with Two Tails, they create such a monotonous mystery that seems like nothing more than half-executed ideas. The story concerns Joan Barnard (Elvire Audray) having horrible nightmares about ritualistic deaths (which are quite lame…people just get their heads twisted around) that take place within an Etruscan tomb. These nightmares plague her while her archeologist husband, Arthur (my man John Saxon), investigates the very same lost tombs that plague Joan’s nightmares. All of this leads to some nonsense where Joan must go and investigate her husband’s murder which leads to a variety of subplots that range from Satanism to murder to drug smuggling.

I think the most frustrating thing about the movie is the fact that anyone who follows Italian horror knows how capable Martino is as a director, and everything just seems so banal and lifeless here. There’s no blood – which, I should clarify, isn’t the mark a of a good Italian horror movie, but it certainly makes the bad ones more palatable – or other exploitation/Italian horror goodness one comes to expect form not just a Martino film but also from a film that contains a setting like Etruscan tombs. Martino doesn’t take advantage this fine setting, and if you go into Scorpion with Two Tails expecting some kind of Fulci supernatural gorefest (even though Martino does lift the exact Fabio Frizzi score from The Beyond and City of the Living Dead), you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The most that Martino gives you is maggots; there are lots and lots of maggots; however, by this point, the maggot thing had been well-worn thanks to Fulci, so really there’s nothing even kind of creepy about a scene like the one when Joan looks at a picture and maggots emerge from it in a hallucinatory dream sequence. It just all feels flat. The film was released in 1982, so by this point Fulci had set the bar for supernatural Italian horror quite high with his “Gates of Hell” trilogy, and in light of those films, Scorpion with Two Tails is quite banal in comparison.

Martino also seems to waste the time of his wonderful genre character actors. John Saxon is on screen for little more than 10 minutes. Van Johnson pops in and out so quickly that I wouldn’t have known it was him had I not seen his name in the credits and looked for him. Martino favorite Claudio Cassinelli tries to make the most of this ridiculous premise, but he was better utilized in Martino’s non-horror efforts like the adventure films Island of the Fishmen and The Great Alligator (both made in 1979 and both charming, if incredibly flawed, adventure/horror hybrids that are good for some laughs). Audray is the worst of the bunch; even her screaming is unconvincing. And, I guess, this is the sign of a bad movie…not a good bad movie, either, but just a bad movie. Because when I spend time talking about how bad the actors are, that means the movie had little value in keeping me entertained though legitimate or so-bad-it’s-good means. The acting is almost always the last thing I ever consider when I watch Italian horror because it’s almost always campy and unconvincing (thanks to the dubbing), and that’s to be expected. However, in Scorpion with Two Tails it stuck out because there really wasn’t anything else to focus on. Be warned: this is one deliberate, 94 minute movie without an ounce of the style found in Martino’s other work.

If you’re interested in Martino’s work (and I highly recommend you check his stuff out if you’re at all interested in Italian horror), I would recommend you start with the fantastically brutal Torso, and then work your way through Martino’s other fine gialli (the aforementioned list at the beginning of this post) before you attempt to sit through this. Like most movies I’ve covered so far this blog-a-thon, Scorpion with Two Tails is for completists only.


  1. Too bad to hear this one is so poor. I also love Martino's work and had always been intrigued by this one since no one ever talks about it AND I knew it had John Saxon in it (which will always get something some interest from both of us).

    I guess when you mention that this was a cut down version of a seven part mini-series that it should have been obvious it couldn't be all that great -- narrative consistency is never a high mark with much of Italian horror, but this it must really struggle with such extreme clipping.