In September 1934, a body was found of a young woman wearing pajamas in Australia who was viciously beaten around the head, shot, and partially burned. It was a case that engrossed the Australian people for over ten years, thanks in part because the authorities put the body on display so as to help find someone who may recognize the victim. Macabre to the extreme, authorities eventually pinned the murder on a man named Antonio Agostini even though they had a list of 125 women the murdered victim could be. It was a case that was embroiled in racism, public fascination, and wild stories. It’s a big reason why Italian filmmaker Flavio Mogherini made the film The Pajama Girl Case in 1977. Newly remastered with a plethora of Blu-ray extras by Arrow Video, this collection is at once captivating, wildly creative, and horribly uneven.
This is a film fans of Italian erotic cinema will most likely be familiar with and will need to add to their collection. It’s not intended to be a sexual narrative specifically like say Tinto Brass’ films, but it does integrate nudity as if they were required by the producers. It’s a strange film that takes itself seriously, yet somehow manages to add nude scenes and sexual aspects one might not expect in a tragic story such as this.
It does, however, have at its center a scene where they show off the dead body to the public fully. As a horror film, director Flavio Mogherini had quite a good visual narrative element with this dead body in a box. It’s so farcical you may not believe it really happened, but it did. That’s what is at the core of the horror in this story. Be it extreme close-ups of the dead woman’s burnt face, or bizarre reactions of onlookers who observed the body in the glass case, the horror is attached to the humanity-or lack thereof-of the scenes.
One of the most disturbing moments comes later in the film and focuses on that horror by showing the lead actress taking part in a gang bang to earn some cash. One of the men involved brings his 13-year-old son. In this scene, Flavio Mogherini cuts between close-ups of the woman and the young boy while she has sex. It’s disturbing, weird, and it lingers long enough to put into question what is happening. It’s one of the most horrific moments that may make viewers recall films like Last House on the Left by putting you in an uncomfortable place.
From a creative standpoint, the film is structured in a very clever way which I won’t spoil here as it may ruin the ending. That said, it does lead the viewer in a way that, once a twist or two occurs, you’ll realize you’ve been duped, but it’s technically interesting. The use of music is quite fascinating with two songs by Amanda Lear which are bizarre and yet draw you into what is going on. The play of visuals with the music adds a layer that is quite fascinating. Both songs, “Your Yellow Pyjama” and “Look at Her Dancing” are quite creative and reminiscent of the band Of Montreal. There are also very 70’s compositions by Riz Ortolani which lean heavily on synthesizers aging the film quite a bit, but also giving it a weirdness that behooves the horror.
Pacing wise this film is a bit of a mess. Scenes end with seemingly no purpose or cut conversations in ways that seem impossible. Case in point, there’s a scene where two lovers are talking and then we smash cut to them on the beach furthering this conversation. There’s no shot between to show how they got there and it’s very jarring. Scenes with Ray Milland, who plays an old retired detective, are meant to be comedic, but tend to fall flat or are confusing. This character also drives the narrative into more of a gumshoe detective story getting away from the horror and bigger points being made. By the end, the film loses its impactful ending on an action scene that seems misplaced and misguided. The fact that it ends with a key character dying with drumline girls standing over him (I think to convey sexuality he never achieved?) only further makes the narrative weird and hard to grasp as a whole.
This collection comes with some great special features not least of which are recent interviews with creators by the Arrow Video company and an excellent 10-page photo book with an essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that delves into the production. This essay adds a much needed historical layer as well as the liberties the film took with the true story.
Arrow Video has done an exceptional job here not only restoring the film but giving viewers a perspective so that we can understand the value of a film such as this. It film may not be perfect, but it reflects Australian culture as well as a deeply strange moment in history. It’s a film that has strokes of genius I wouldn’t be surprised get emulated in the future.