Less than a decade after it began, the Italian thriller known as the giallo was going in some very, very strange directions. Thanks to scenarios ranging from death by cuckoo clock to sexual therapy by satanic cult, all bets were off by the time Tropic of Cancer came out in '72. However, even by these outlandish standards, this is one seriously nutty film; it's little wonder most distributors passed on it when they couldn't figure out how to even begin selling it to the public. Of course, it's that same genre-mashing battiness that makes it a potential cult classic now ripe for rediscovery.
Our tale of tropical treachery begins when married couple Grace (Strindberg) and Fred (Tinti, aka Mr. Laura Gemser) arrive in Haiti to heal their broken marriage, but complications arise when they connect with Fred's friend, Dr. Williams (Steffen), who's created an in-demand new formula that sounds an awful lot like a forerunner to Viagra. Soon bodies start piling up on the island, and Grace finds herself succumbing to the lure of native flesh around her. Who will wind up in bed with whom, and how high will the body count go in between Grace's erotic acid trips?
For Italian film fans, this film features an impressive roster of giallo royalty led by the always interesting Strindberg, who gets to do some feverish scenes reminiscent of but even kinkier than her earlier ones in A Lizard in a Woman's Skin. She doesn't really get to stretch her acting muscles here as much as she did for Sergio Martino, but she handles what she's given quite well. Then you have the late Tinti, who was about to embark on a huge career with his wife after an aborted attempt at Hollywood stardom, and the always shady Steffen, a onetime spaghetti western hero who had just lost his marbles onscreen in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. However, the biggest scene stealer here might be Alfio Nicolosi, earlier seen uncredited in Goodbye Uncle Tom as a portly plantation owner, here playing a degenerate local mover and shaker named Peacock (complete with a harem of naked male servants). For some reason prints of this film tend to give it the subtitle of "Peacock's Palace," and it's not hard to see why. Also noteworthy is the score by Piero Umiliani (commissioned at the last minute after an earlier one was rejected), which piles on the smooth grooves along with a few familiar quotations from some of his earlier work. Strangely, neither of the directors had any other involvement with gialli (or mondo films for that matter, which this film briefly turns into on a couple of memorably nasty occasions). Giampaolo Lomi only directed one other (obscure) film, while Mulargia specialized mainly in westerns before turning to the notorious women-in-prison film Escape from Hell (also starring Steffen.
Though it made the rounds on the trading circuit in terrible, dupey VHS condition, Tropic of Cancer has been a film far more mentioned than actually seen for decades. It finally made its official DVD debut in Italy in 2011, but there were no English-friendly options at all. Fortunately the Camera Obscura release picks up the slack and then some; the transfer looks gorgeous throughout (seriously, these guys do some of the best work in standard def you'll ever see for '70s titles), and the Italian and German language tracks are included with optional subtitles in English or German. (Also, gotta love that German title: Inferno unter heisser Sonne.) Though the packaging carries a Region 2 logo, the disc itself actually appears to be region free.
On the extras front, the biggest is a half-hour interview with Lomi called "Shot in Haiti" in which he talks about coming to the country after the notoriously epic shoot there for Goodbye Uncle Tom, casting the film, the origin of the film's title and its slightly different Italian one (Al tropico del Cancro, a slight variation on the name of the famous Henry Miller novel), and even later running into Nicolosi, a serious food lover who became a chef. Film writer Antonio Bruschini, a familiar face from previous Camera Obscura releases, gets a separate video piece called "Bruschini's Place" in which he offers a rundown of the film's status and serious manipulation within the giallo format and gives quick biographical sketches of the major players. The disc then closes out with the German trailer and a photo gallery of posters and lobby cards, while Christian Kessler offers a fun liner notes essay called "At the Tropic of the Black Gloves." As usual for the company, the packaging is gorgeous. Very highly recommended.