Directed by Luciano Ercoli. Starring Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi, Simón Andreu, Osvaldo Genazzani, Nieves Navarro. Mystery/Thriller, Italy/Spain, 96 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 14th January 2019.
Rarely has a movie title said so much but also very little; yes, there are photos involved and yes, they could be considered forbidden due to their alleged saucy content (there are some rude ones that you do see but then that doesn't really make them forbidden, does it?) but is the lady above suspicion? Well, not really but it does make for an intriguing title nonetheless, and if nothing else director Luciano Ercoli (DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS) does use the giallo book of tricks to great effect, weaving together an absurd plot with lashings of late 1960s style and a few red herrings to keep things mysterious until the final few minutes.
The lady in question is Minou (Dagmar Lassander - THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY), a newlywed who lives on her nerves and regularly washes down pills with whiskey which, as well as setting up an excuse for her erratic behaviour later on, doesn't sit too well with her husband Pier (Pier Paolo Capponi - THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS), a slightly shady businessman with a few worries of his own as the loan shark he owes money too has been found dead by embolism. Funnily enough, Pier's latest business venture involves an artificial compression chamber that recreates the effects of deep sea diving, such as embolisms...
Anyway, Minou is assaulted one night whilst waiting for Pier by a man credited only as The Blackmailer (played by BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR’s Simón Andreu), who tells the already nervous bride that her husband is a murderer. Armed with this information Minou descends into a world of blackmail and terror as she begins to question who she can trust or, worse still, is she imagining the whole thing?
Experienced giallo enthusiasts will know the answer already but that doesn’t stop there being a few red herrings along the way to try and throw you. In fact, once the full truth is revealed it does feel like something of a letdown as it is a highly contrived reveal that makes the more obvious diversions seem a more satisfactory way to go. Nevertheless, getting to that final piece of exposition is a fun ride through every giallo trademark (except for the black-gloved killer, but there is no room for one of those here) and Luciano Ercoli balances titillation, violence and mystery in a way that keeps the film engaging without overloading your senses. Originally released in 1970 the film has a slightly trippy edge that evokes prime 1960s carefree hedonism but at that point just as the whole culture started to turn dark, which in giallo terms is perfect timing between Mario Bava’s pioneering genre pieces and Dario Argento pushing the style into more graphic and brutal territory with his early works, and although there is nudity it is sparse and stylishly done. Also worthy of note is the lighting and cinematography which this 2K restoration brings out wonderfully, especially in its use of shadow and colour contrasts that all add to the hallucinogenic, slightly off-kilter feel.
The biggest plus point, however, is the appearance of Nieves Navarro (credited as Susan Scott) as Minou’s promiscuous friend Dominique, gleefully providing most of the nudity and giving the film some much needed sass. Much needed because as Minou becomes more and more desperate to prove to Pier and the police that she is not crazy she (deliberately) loses her sparkle, forcing Dagmar Lassender to play the paranoid newlywed with less light and more shade, keeping her as a sympathetic character where Dominique provides a much warmer, relatable and fun presence.
Coming backed with a heap of extra features, including an audio commentary by author Kat Ellinger, archival interviews with Nieves Navarro, Luciano Ercoli and a new interview with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, a featurette about the music from the film (and ‘70s Italian cult cinema in general) with soundtrack collector Lovely Jon and, most interestingly of all, a Q&A with Dagmar Lassender at the 2016 Festival of Fantastic Films, moderated by journalist and filmmaker Steve Green, where the actress discusses her extensive career, including her work with Lamberto Bava, Rino Di Silvestro and Lucio Fulci, THE FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF THE LADY ABOVE SUSPICION proves to be a solidly entertaining mystery thriller that suffers with a bit of a lag going into the final act that the end reveal doesn’t do too much to alleviate but thanks to its two beautiful leading actresses, a blackmailer that you cannot help booing like a pantomime villain whenever he is on-screen and everybody behind the camera bringing their A-game, the journey getting to that point makes the movie one of the most aesthetically pleasing and accessible gialli outside of the usual big hitters.
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