KNIFE OF ICE (1972) – The Dungeon Review!
I mentioned recently Umberto Lenzi’s 60s and 70s giallo so I figured I owed you a review. I probably should have picked one I rated more highly but Knife of Ice is something quite unique in Lenzi’s library. Knife of Ice is completely sexless and contains no graphic violence! I’m not going to beat around the bush here; the lack of both of these elements did lose Knife of Ice some points. Does a giallo need sex and violence to win my heart? I can live with no graphic violence when there is an abundance of sexuality regardless of what form that may take. I can also live with no sex if the violence is beautifully staged, artful and/or nasty. Not that sex and violence is the only appealing aspect of giallo; there is of course, the puzzles, red herrings, attractive and inventive cinematography and the wicked performances from a stable of sexy and/or macho leads! To be perfectly honest however, without the sexual and violent elements the Italian thriller seems…well…less thrilling. So does a giallo need sex and violence to win my heart? Generally speaking I would have to answer yes. And now back to our regularly scheduled program…while Knife of Ice is a flawed giallo it definitely has elements worth noting!
Martha witnessed a train accident when she was younger that took the life of both of her parents and left her mute. Martha has been living with her uncle and cousin since the traumatic incident. The story begins with Martha picking up her cousin Jenny at the train station. A big step for Martha, who has an understandable aversion to trains. Faster than you can say ‘welcome home Jenny’, Martha finds her dead body in the garage. Will Martha be next? With a line-up of suspects and an alleged Satan-worshipping sex maniac on the loose the prospects are plentiful.
American actress Carroll Baker was in a string of Umberto Lenzi films including Orgasmo, So Sweet…So Perverse and Paranoia with Knife of ice being the final entry. Baker was also in a bunch of non-Lenzi giallo which included Baba Yaga, The Devil with Seven Faces, The Sweet Body of Deborah, The Flower with the Deadly Sting and The Body. Ms. Baker had a very busy few years in Italy! I actually really liked Baker in Knife of Ice. I would even go so far as to say it is one of my favourite performances from the actress. As Martha she is given a very conservative wardrobe and a bobbed cut with a barrette shoved into it that made her appear younger than her actual age. She plays a mute in Knife of Ice and does not utter a word. We often see things from her perspective throughout the film and share her frustration with communicating. She is sweet and likable and is a well thought out character who effortlessly elicits empathy. Sadly, I was only able to find this film dubbed and the dubbing was particularly troublesome in Knife of Ice. I can not deny that Baker’s performance is further illuminated by the fact that she is the only character that is not dubbed. Unfortunately the story at times doesn’t always support Ms. Baker’s efforts.
The plot of Knife of Ice is rather unspectacular. I have to admit, I was surprised that they killed Evelyn Stewart’s character Jenny so early in the film. Too bad actually. The interaction between Martha and Jenny could have added an interesting layer to the story. We get some background on the cousin’s history, specifically a day at the bull-fights. Martha’s flashbacks reveal the two women at a bull-fight and Martha is repulsed by the events while Jenny seems to be overcome by bloodlust. The film could have used more angles of this sort. They do introduce a devil worship sub-plot which is a much welcomed addition to any giallo. There are very few giallo that feature the supernatural. Granted, right off the bat it felt like a massive red herring, but it was interesting just the same. There is a focus on a particularly gnarly set of eyes that is also nicely realized. Anyone who has watched more than a handful of giallo are likely to identify the culprit before the finale. Knife of Ice stages potential suspects rather grandly making them far too obvious to be legitimate options.
Umberto Lenzi boldly shoots much of Knife of Ice in the daylight, although there is a nice gothic tone that illuminates the villa once the sun sets. It is a lovely looking film, quite flawless actually. The sets are fantastic and Lenzi uses the landscape to great effect. There are some decent moments of suspense at times although there are not nearly enough of them. Not only is the violence not graphic, there is a very small body count, and as it turns out, one of the deaths is nothing more than a coincidence.
I actually enjoyed Knife of Ice, however compared to most of its peers; particularly those that came out in 1972; (the mother of all giallo years) it ranks pretty low. I definitely would have preferred seeing this film in its original language and I make no apologies for wishing that Knife of Ice had used more trashy elements in its plot. Like I said, I did enjoy Knife of Ice, but it is definitely flawed. Recommended with warning.
Dungeon Rating: 3/5
Directed By: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Carroll Baker, Alan Scott, Evelyn Stewart, Eduardo Fajardo, Silvia Monelli, George Rigaud, Franco Fantasia, Dada Gallotti, Lorenzo Robledo, Mario Pardo, Olga Gherardi, Consalvo Dell’Arti, José Marco