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‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail’ review: A typical giallo that does everything better

Movies that revolve around sex and violence are not supposed to be this clever.

Director Sergio Martino is a well known name among giallo fans. While not popular as Dario Argento or Mario Bava, he did manage to direct over fifty films in his long career, including many well known giallos. One of his strongest effort is 1971’s The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail.

Scorpion’s Tail is a mystery that begins after Lisa Baumer’s (Ida Galli) husband dies in a plane explosion. (This may be the worst part of the movie since the special effects are on par with the Thunderbirds television show of the 1960s.) Lisa inherits a million dollars due to an insurance policy leading to investigator Peter Lynch (giallo regular George Hamilton) trying to find out the truth.

At a glance Scorpion’s Tail seems like a typical giallo. It has bright colors, creative camera work, and plenty of gory deaths. However, it immediately deviates from the norm. Many movies in the sub-genre tend to have little plot while focusing on scantily clad women and gruesome murders. There’s plenty of both to be found here, but there is also a plot filled with characters and motivations. While it still relies heavily on infidelity and double crosses, it goes beyond a sex maniac killing naked women.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the movie’s finale. As is standard in these types of movies, Scorpion’s Tail uses many red herrings to keep its audience guessing. In the third act, the plot does an excellent job of leading the viewer so far in one direction that it becomes frustrating how obvious the ending is. When the climax veers another way, it is done logically and is an excellent piece of writing. Movies that revolve around sex and violence are not supposed to be this clever.

The kills in Scorpion’s Tail show more creativity than similar offerings. The death count begins with the cheesy looking plane explosion and continue to become more imaginative and repugnant, culminating in a scene involving a broken glass bottle and someone’s eye. The scene is still shocking in 2018 and was probably nightmare inducing in 1971.

Martino does a wonderful job behind the camera using bright colors and odd angles to accentuate every shot. The director uses long shots to showcase exotic locations and tight close ups that almost allow the viewer to see what characters are thinking. Bedroom scenes are shot in ways that show off the decor and the director’s talents. The film stands out for its style in an already stylish field.

Martino’s work is highlighted by his use of sound. During the movie’s most tense moments, there is no music and the scenes are almost silent. This technique heightens the anxiety since the audience truly has no idea when or where the killer is coming from. This is used sparingly throughout the movie, making it noticeable and effective each time it happens.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is an underrated giallo that should be mentioned alongside other classics in the medium. Great direction, storytelling, and sound differentiate it from its more typical contemporaries. Giallo is a niche category but this will appeal to everyone.

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail
Is it good?
This overlooked gem proves it's not necessary to do things entirely differently to make a good movie. Sometimes it's just a matter of doing old things better.
Great camera work that is stylish, tense, and original
Logical storytelling that keeps the audience guessing until the very end
Clever use of sound
Could have used a different title
Special effect near the beginning that would make even early YouTube content creators cringe
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