Thursday, January 30, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Etruscan Raiders

Year: 1982
Director: Sergio Martino
Cast: Elvire Audray, Paolo Malco, Claudio Cassinelli
Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

The Italian giallo genre was in pretty dire straits by the time the Americans picked up the reins of hacking and slashing in the early 80's. While the countrymen still had some juice left in them (we were still five years off from Michele Soavi's delightful StageFright: Aquarius), post-Friday the 13th Italy had mostly produced forgotten dreck from clean-up hitters like Gianni Martucci's Trhauma and Riccardo Freda's Murder Syndrome, or unrepentantly nasty permutations from more well known shlock directors like Ovidio G. Assonitis' Madhouse and Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper.

When Sergio Martino (the director of Your Vice is a Locked Room, and Only I Have the Key, which is actually almost as good as its title) jumped into the fray in 1982 with The Scorpion with the Two Tails, I hoped he would bring some of his 70's bravado to deliver something the was at least stylish and watchable.

And as usual, my hopes were gutted with a butcher knife.

The Scorpion with Two Tails begins, as so many Italian genre riffs do, in New York City, where Joan Barnard (Elvire Audray) learns of the death of her archaeologist husband Arthur (the John Saxon), who recently discovered the ruins of an Etruscan tomb in Italy. She flies to Italy to attempt to solve his murder, bringing her friend Mike (Paolo Malco of The New York Ripper) along with her.

There she gets mixed up with a variety of colorful persons, including a mysterious Contessa (Marilù Tolo) who was housing Arthur, a rival archaeologist named Paolo (Claudio Cassinelli), and a troop of mafiosos/grave robbers/nude photographers who it turns out were engaged in illegal drug trade with Joan's father. She has lots of dreams about Etruscan rituals involving the tomb, and her increasing hysteria would led us to conclude that she is most likely a reincarnation of an immortal ancient priestess.

This has almost nothing to do with the plot, but it's what we spend at least 60% of the movie focusing on, so it's probably worth mentioning.

The supernatural genre elements here are pretty, well, generic. Usually with a plot like this, the Italians have to rely on their lurid stylistic sensibility and sensational murders to goose things up a bit. Unfortunately, the one factor that makes The Scorpion with Two Tails unusual also ruins any chance it had to be interesting: it was originally produced for television (conflicting reports say either a TV movie or a miniseries that was chopped into feature length). I can't say I'm intimately familiar with the broadcast standards of Italian television in the 80's, but it seems to have been pretty comparable to the U.S., considering every ounce of the requisite blood or lurid sexuality of the giallo has been removed from this movie.

As you'll see at the bottom of this review, Scorpion has an unusually huge body count, but more than fifty percent of the kills use the exact same M.O. (twisting someone's head around backward, sometimes in a cool special effect but mostly offscreen), and the ones that don't all take place in the flurry of a two minute shootout. It's boring is what it is, and robbing a giallo of its slasher elements removes any reason to be interested in talking about it. The plot certainly doesn't step up to the plate, because it really deeply concerns itself with having the characters search for a crate of drugs they already found earlier in the movie.

All that we're left with is a heaping helping of overbaked giallo dialogue, a bunch of dreams where random things are covered in maggots, and Mike being a lecherous drag chasing after a woman so recently widowed there's still a chalk outline on the floor.

Maybe it would have been more interesting if John Saxon hadn't departed the movie after five minutes.

Warning: SPOILERS abound for the remainder of the review, not that you should watch this movie anyway. 

Our lead isn't particularly fun to spend time with either. Even though she is revealed to be an immortal Etruscan priestess, she still spends all of her time shrieking and fainting and being incapable of doing anything but wait for her narrative to be pushed forward by a man. A character this doe-eyed and helpless would be irritating under any circumstances, but especially when she's explicitly magical. Call up a swarm of rats to devour your enemies or something. Anything!

There are only two things I liked about this 94 minute gauntlet called a motion picture. First, the production design of the ancient tombs was actually pretty good, avoiding any fakey, obviously foam rocks or anything. Every chamber felt appropriately dusty, weighty, and old.

The second is that the final five minutes go absolutely batshit, with the out of the blue proposal that the true treasure of the tomb is an antimatter diamond surrounded by an antigravity force field that controls the balance of the universe, a fact which introduces no conflict whatsoever because the killer's neck is summarily snapped anyway. Oh, and also Mike was undercover for the DEA and faked his own death, but now they're in love. It's a whole thing.

If the movie had been operating at this wild telenovela register the whole time, it might have been a 10/10, but as it stands I had to sift through cubic kilometers of packing peanuts to find anything worth caring about in this empty shipping crate of a movie.

Killer: Paolo (Claudio Cassinelli)
Final Girl: Joan Barnard (Elvire Audray)
Best Kill: All the kills are exactly the same, so I'm just gonna have to go with the John Saxon one for the novelty of him being Janet Leigh-ed early on in the movie.
Sign of the Times: The ancient Etruscans apparently shopped for makeup at Bonnie Tyler's local drug store.
Scariest Moment: Mike's corpse starts walking, with its head still turned around backward.
Weirdest Moment: Anti-matter diamond, motherfuckers!
Champion Dialogue: "I certainly wouldn't talk in Etruscan to you at night."
Body Count: 17; but it certainly doesn't feel like it - I included deaths that occur in dreams that are most likely flashbacks to another life.
  1. Husband has his neck snapped in a dream.
  2. Wife has her neck snapped in a dream.
  3. Woman #1 has her neck snapped in a dream.
  4. Woman #2 has her neck snapped in a dream.
  5. Arthur has his head turned around backward.
  6. Mr. Forte has his head turned around backward offscreen.
  7. Old Man has his head turned around backward offscreen.
  8. Eva has her neck snapped.
  9. Joan's Dad is shot.
  10. Contessa is shot.
  11. Security Goon #1 is shot.
  12. Security Goon #2 is shot.
  13. Mafioso #1 is shot.
  14. Mafioso #2 is hit with a falling rock.
  15. Mafioso #3 is hit with a falling rock.
  16. Anducci hangs himself.
  17. Paolo has his neck snapped.
TL;DR: The Scorpion with Two Tails is an exceptionally dull giallo that doesn't even muster the energy to compete with its American slasher counterparts.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1177


  1. I think I said this the last time you did a made-for-TV slasher, but "a made-for-TV slasher? are you kidding me?"

    I would definitely watch a movie that was about what the last five minutes of this one are apparently about. Etruscans are Atlanteans and the Draco Reptilians are real, B! You can tell because of course, out of all the millions of stars in this galaxy galaxy, "the Reptilians" are from one of the stars in the constellation "Draco." That's just sound logic.

    Finally, this has my favorite Census Bloodbath review title in a while.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad the title worked for you, I wasn't sure about that one.
      And some made-for-TV slashers can be quite good! Although obviously the fact that they exist at all kind of rails against the entire purpose of the genre.