New to Blu: Arrow Video: The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971) - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the pretty but underwhelming Giallo flick.

Arrow Video has been cranking out special edition blu-rays of the early 1970s Italian Giallo thriller subgenre, which often consist plot wise of women in peril when they aren’t undressing for the camera followed by a knife wielding maniac serial killer while exploiting the scenic Italian countryside or the brick and mortar towers in the cityscape.  The latest offering in the restoration of the Giallo film scene in the mainstream filmgoing consciousness is, for better or worse, one of the more-classy, subtle and understated titles that only just barely qualifies as a Giallo: Duccio Tessari’s The Bloodstained Butterfly.  Opening on a high note with a repeated cue of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 playing over the credits with a silhouette of a butterfly, the film begins as a police procedural of forensics and litigation before shifting gears to traditional Giallo chase fare.  It’s underwhelming and more than a little dry but the forensics aspect, made with the full participation of the police department, is so well done it overshadows the standard knifing and gunshot finale.  One wonders what The Bloodstained Butterfly might have been if it maintained the crime scene investigation bent, with a wonderful sequence of detectives inspecting a murder scene in the pouring rain.  Sadly the film loses its way in the third act with an unsatisfying coda but the Tchaikovsky composition on repeat with the detective work can’t help but foreshadow the eventuality of David Fincher’s Se7en.

Visually it’s hard to gage The Bloodstained Butterfly which looks and feels so much like a Nicolas Roeg film you wonder if Tessari studied his work prior to filming.  Whether it’s the scenic countryside, the fast zooms and whip pans, the precise editing and the wide angle lensed vistas of Italian structures, it’s a film that at once feels classy and sorry to say a bit sloppy.  Giallo is often synonymous with carnal exploitation and while you get some of that here, it’s relatively tame compared to, say, Death Walks in High Heels.  The film concerns a murder committed in broad daylight with several witnesses and the ensuing trial that follows, meanwhile the killer continues to strike again and again.  I enjoyed looking at the film for the most part and the detective work with a recurring motif of a disgruntled chief of police who get never get a good cup of coffee on the job was amusing.  But the problem is The Bloodstained Butterfly, while a good police procedural, lacks a central protagonist and comes off as curiously aloof, even a little boring.  The motif of the butterfly itself doesn’t come until late in the picture and barely carries much meaning once it arrives other than making for a nice title.  There’s some nifty twists and turns in the plot but again they barely register because we’re not vested in the story.

In a way The Bloodstained Beauty plays like two distinctly different movies, one a cop drama, the other a half-baked Giallo.  The cop drama is so good and so realistic you almost wish the film remained in that mode instead of jumping ship with the Giallo stuff.  Fans of the more outrageous and visually inventive Giallo fare will come away disappointed no doubt but completists are inclined to check it out to say they did, while fans of the police procedural will dig the first hour before getting bored with the second.  As much as I love hearing Tchaikovsky’s still enormously affecting and glorious Piano Concerto No. 1, I can just as easily put that on to listen to instead of watching this movie.  Overall not a bad effort with plenty of extras and a job well done by Arrow Video, but the actual film is just plain mediocre and far less interesting than the cover art promises.  One of those movies where the buildup is undeniably solid all for a finale that deflates the power it tried so hard to sustain. 

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- Andrew Kotwicki