On first impression, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids looked as though it would be a great film to review. It's a very representative example of the giallo genre and is a lesser-known example worthy of wider attention. With no US theatrical release, and a director (Umberto Lenzi) whose subsequent notoriety for sleazy, gruesome shockers overshadowed any reputation he might have gained as a solid, stylish filmmaker, the movie wilted into obscurity until its rediscovery in the DVD era.
For you, the viewer, that's great. You get to see a good movie. It's more challenging for an author who is tasked with writing a spoiler-free review. You see, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is so representative of the giallo genre that it leaves little interesting to write about. It's such a perfect example as to be practically generic. That's not a knock- the genre has a relatively high standard of quality, and these movies can never be described as "bland." We have yet to see a "bad" giallo.
Many of us may remark that we didn't know that Lenzi had this in him. He is perhaps best known as having initiated the cannibal genre with The Man From Deep River. His other notable works include the cannibal movies Mangiati vivi!/Eaten Alive! and Cannibal Ferox/Make Them Die Slowly and the uneven but fun Nightmare City, an early "fast zombie" film. These movies are effective despite their production values. Orchids has some flaws, but it's far more technically competent and is much more ambitious.
Thoughtful, beautifully shot mysteries seemingly would not be Lenzi's forte. Then again, gialli may feel more intelligent than they actually are, and they are far more stylish than they are tasteful. They're mysteries, but they aren't Masterpiece Theater productions of Sherlock Holmes novels- they work on a visceral level and are closely akin to horror films. Orchids has the genre's key elements: fabulous, fashionable women who live in fabulous, fashionable houses and are stalked, in bloody and suspenseful scenes, by a sadistic killer. It does the expected things, and it does them well.
The movie opens with a series of murders. A distinctive, crescent-moon shaped pendant left on the person of the victims shows the crimes to be connected. Giulia, played by Uschi Glas, is honeymooning with her husband Mario, played by Antonio Sabato, when she is stabbed. The attack is interrupted, but the signature pendant is found on the scene.
Investigators place Giulia under protection, but they report her death to the press. The blunt, hostile Marco doesn't trust the competence of the police, so he investigates the crimes independently. Giulia recognizes the trinket as having been worn by a hotel guest two years prior, and examination of the hotel's records shows that all of the victims worked or stayed at that hotel on a certain date.
Giving away more would be pointless and would ruin the fun. The investigation provides a nice little tour of Rome and passes through a beach resort area and a hippie pad. Chic, artistic settings common in gialli figure here. Giulia is a model and Marco a fashion designer. Marco's profession even has some plot significance, as he is able to sketch a suspect from a witness' description.
The set-pieces, which are the heart and soul of a giallo, are clever and include some poetic and well-composed shots. One victim is housed in a psychiatric institution. The staff, by now weary of her paranoiac fears, ignore her cries for help. There is a bathtub drowning that was later copied in What Have You Done to Solange? and even some power-tool joy.
Lenzi seems a little too insistent on pointing out how the latter murder was copied famously by Brian De Palma. That tendency turns up often in Lenzi's interviews. His best-known works were despised by many critics, so it should be no surprise that he clings to any justification that rolls his way. Seven Blood-Stained Orchids doesn't need any justification: It's a well-executed giallo that stands on its own and speaks well to Lenzi's talent as a director.