A thumping bass-line kicks Bruno Nicolai’s psychotronic soundtrack into high gear and we open with a dizzying chase up the Eiffel tower. Our hero (Robert Sacchi) - billed as ‘the Inspector’, but let’s call him Bogie - watches the mystery murderer plummet to his death as a cartoon silhouette. “It all began the last night of carnival”, reminisces Bogie. Cloaked perverts sneak into a high class brothel full of glamorous whores, run by Madame Collette (ageing sexpot Anita Ekberg, a long way off La Dolce Vita (1960). Foxy Francine (Barbara Bouchet) spends the night with petty criminal Antoine Gottvalles (Peter Martell), but the macho swine turns nasty and slaps her silly. Francine is found dead, while Antoine flees. He tries to bully his way into ex-wife Marianne’s (Rosalba Neri) apartment, but her lover Pepe (nightclub entrepreneur Rolf Eden, starring here to promote his latest venture) kicks him out. Caught and sentenced, Antoine swears vengeance and escapes in a breakneck motorcycle chase that climaxes with him being decapitated (gore effects by Carlo Rambaldi). His severed noggin is donated (!) to crazy Professor Waldemar (Howard Vernon), who experiments on Antoine’s brain and slices open his eyeballs (Squish!) Why? For science of course! Waldemar’s daughter, lovely Leonora (Evelyn Kraft) is secretly romancing his lab assistant - who is creeped out by Antoine’s head (“Professor, I saw his eyes move!”) Away from these soft-core sex shenanigans, the horrific murders continue: a throat slashing, strangling, impalement by sword… Has Antoine returned from beyond the grave? It’s up to good old, tough talking, trench coat wearing Bogie to find the answers.
French Sex Murders is a wild and woolly giallo shocker. Its plot proceeds in fits and starts, bursts of frantic action followed by slow stretches, but delivers primo exploitation entertainment and a galaxy of cult film stars. Ekberg! Vernon! Blonde bombshells Barbara Bouchet and Evelyn Kraft! Sword and sandal star Gordon Mitchell cameos as a groping lech, while ravishing Rosalba Neri proves once again, no matter how trashy the movie, she’s always a class act. However, it’s the kooky concept of a Humphrey Bogart look-alike investigating this sordid affair that warps your mind into weird movie heaven. Certainly Robert Sacchi is not the actor Bogart was, but he channels some of his iconic presence. Especially memorable is the way he subdues Antoine by means of charisma alone (“Cigarette, kid?”).
Mondo Macabro have assembled the definitive version, woven together from English and French versions of the film, with all the sex and violence intact. Among the visual pleasures: a succession of freaky murders filmed through coloured gels; Carlo Rambaldi’s memorably moist gore effects; a courtroom scene photographed in negative (a lab accident left uncorrected because of its striking effect); and eye-candy a-plenty with gorgeous starlets in (and out) of slinky outfits. Bouchet exits regrettably early, but Evelyn Kraft is especially striking. She later signed with Hong Kong movie moguls, the Shaw Brothers and appeared in such wonderful cult classics as The Mighty Peking Man (1977) and Deadly Angels (1979).
Edited by future schlock movie hack Bruno Mattei, French Sex Murders was co-produced by exploitation veteran Dick Randall. He cameos as a brothel patron (“Get this joker out of here!” snarls Bogie) while the film includes a sleazy writer named Mr. Randall as a further in-joke. Mondo Macabro’s DVD includes a fascinating documentary profiling this colourful character, whose disreputable filmography encompasses everything from Mario Bava’s Four Times That Night (1969) to The Clones of Bruce Lee (1978).