Color, 1971, 99m.
Directed by Duccio Tessari
Starring Helmut Berger, Giancarlo Sbragia, Evelyn Stewart, Silvano Tranquilli, Wendy D'Olive, Giancarlo Sbragia, Carole André
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/RB HD/NTSC), Medusa (Italy R2 PAL), Divisa (Spain R2 PAL)
The early '70s was easily the most ridiculously overstuffed period in the history of the Italian thrillers known as the giallo, with a new title popping up every week of two well into 1972. It was inevitable that a few worthy films would get lost in the shuffle, and to an extent that was the fate of The Bloodstained Butterfly, an intriguing mixture of slasher shocker, courtroom thriller, and cop procedural. The title might indicate this is an imitation of Dario Argento's legendary animal trilogy, but if anything it's a throwback to the bourgeois gialli of the late '60s with a more grounded plot and relatively realistic characters stuck in a mystery that seems to have no solution... until it suddenly does. Director Duccio Tessari is far better known for his spaghetti westerns and action films (including the two Ringo oaters), but he turns out to be pretty proficient at gialli as well thanks to this film, 1970's Death Occurred Last Night, and the wonderful, very underrated Puzzle from 1974.
When a young woman is brutally knifed in a park, it turns out to be just the beginning of a string of attacks in the area. The victim, Françoise (André), was close to pianist Giorgio (Berger), with their relationship conveyed in stylized flashbacks. The evidence from witnesses at the scene seems to indicate the culprit is sportscaster Alessandro (Sbragia), whose daughter, Sarah (D'Olive), gets to know Giorgio and becomes a key part of the impending trial. Once everyone gets to the courtroom, Alessandro's wife, Maria (Stewart), turns out to have an axe to grind of her own, and it seems likely the most obvious suspect will remain behind bars... until the killer strikes again.
Complex and engrossing, this film features a number of novel ideas including an unusual time-jumping structure, a very stylish opening credit sequence (followed by handy intros to each character), and a killer of a jazzy, funky soundtrack from the great Gianni Ferrio that weaves the same Tchaikovsky piece from the previous year's Weekend Murders to very different effect. Top-billed Berger actually sits out large portions of the film, though what he has is absolutely essential; along with that you get a few familiar faces including the busy Evelyn Stewart (who made this in between The Case of the Scorpion's Tail and Knife of Ice) and a fun role for Silvano Tranquilli (Black Belly of the Tarantula) as a java-obsessed police inspector.
Presumably because it was far less explicit than its peers (the opening knife murder is about as bad as it gets), this Italian production was never released in North American theaters and made the usual rounds in Europe. Very bad VHS dupes eventually surfaced on the gray market and slowly earned the film a bit of a following among Euro horror fans, though its original scope framing couldn't really be appreciated until it popped up on DVD in Spain in 2003 (non-anamorphic) with the English dub and on DVD in Italy in 2004 (anamorphic and much improved, but minus English options). However, those are handily eclipsed by the 2016 dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition from Arrow Video released simultaneously in the United States and United Kingdom. Colors are much stronger, detail is far more defined and impressive throughout, and some additional info is visible on the top and bottom of the frame. (Here's a sample from the Italian DVD for comparison.) The DTS-HD MA English and Italian tracks are included with optional SDH ones for the former and newly translated ones for the latter. The English track fits some of the actors' lip movements more often, but the Italian track is much more elegant and easy to follow; try them both and see which one you prefer.
The usual giallo and horror commentary team of Alan Jones and Kim Newman returns here for another amusing and fact-packed track as they explore why they love this film so much for how it tweaks the conventions of what was still a fairly new cinematic craze sweeping Italy. They spend quite a bit of time talking about Tessari's directorial style (and his fondness for carnations as well as his cameo here), with good info about the rest of the cast and crew as well. The 26-minute "Murder in B-Flat Minor" contains a fast-paced and enjoyable verbal essay about the film accompanied by clips and stills courtesy of Troy Howarth, who mainly focuses on Tessari's work in and out of the giallo and points out how he deserves to be remembered more among film buffs. He also makes a case for how this film's emotional impact and visual style counteracts the deliberate absence of the usual tropes like black-gloved killers and topless women, while also pointing out the amusing touch of a yellow-clad child as a pivotal suspect. The surprisingly robust, 55-minute Freak-o-Rama featurette "A Butterfly Named Evelyn" features an interview with the fascinating Evelyn Stewart (real name: Ida Galli) chatting in Italian with English subtitles about her entire career from childhood through her slew of gialli for directors like Lucio Fulci ("a happy man" but "quite demanding") and Umberto Lenzi (a good friend, but "strict") as well as roles in films like La Dolce Vita and The Leopard, noting that she very rarely had to audition and rarely saw her own films since she was always bouncing from one set to another. Definitely worth watching, especially for giallo junkies who always wanted to know more about one of its most familiar faces. Be sure to catch the funny story about how she and Fulci accidentally messed up one of the scenes from The Psychic, too. In "Me and Duccio," his wife, actress Lorella De Luca, spends 8 minutes recalling her rapport with him in their work together as he progressed from a screenwriter and a first assistant director. By far the most memorable extra here is Uwe Huber's hilariously candid and sometimes bitchy Helmut Berger interview, "Mad Dog Helmut" (17 mins.), in which the Euro cinema icon touches on his horror and exploitation work (with only one passing bit about Visconti) including Salon Kitty, his refusal to star in Caligula, and a very quotable bit about Dorian Gray and his two Hollywood-bred fellow stars on that film. Berger doesn't seem all that enamored of Tessari (calling him a craftsman instead of an artist), but as he also notes in an optional intro to the feature itself, they all gave it their best. Also included are a gallery of stills and posters and the rare Italian and English theatrical trailers (which are cut identically). The usual reversible sleeve options contain the Italian poster art and a new design by Matthew Griffin, while the first pressing also has a booklet with essays by James Blackford, Howard Hughes and Leonard Jacobs.