Eugenio Martín’s hidden gem hits Blu-ray.
Eugenio Martín’s (Horror Express) The Fourth Victim, also known as Death at the Deep End of the Swimming Pool and The Last Mrs. Anderson, is a deliciously tantalizing Spanish giallo now hitting Blu-ray thanks to Severin Films. Once a rarity even in collector circles — it only was previously released on a Greek VHS—the film is finally widely available, scanned in 2K from the original camera negative. While the Italian giallo’s Spanish counterpart eschews some of the more exploitative excesses of the sub-genre, there is still plenty here for fans of that particular flavor of horror thriller with a film whose last thirty minutes will no doubt pull the rug out from under you.
The film follows British playboy Arthur Anderson (Michael Craig) as he discovers his third wife dead, floating face down in their pool. The film then jumps into high gear with the trial of Arthur, who we come to find has had terrible luck with his previous two wives, who were both wealthy and beautiful and had substantial insurance policies on their heads. It’s the insurance company that has Arthur on trial, and once he’s found innocent, the fun begins as he meets his new next-door neighbor, the mysterious Julie Spencer (Carroll Baker). The blonde bombshell has her eyes on the newly eligible bachelor and their bizarre courtship is the bulk of the rest of the film, as we soon realize that Julie may not be the wealthy eccentric heiress she claims to be.
Director Eugenio Martín was a hired gun who competently worked in many sub-genres and does an outstanding job on Victim in drawing the audience in while still keeping them guessing. This mystery, coupled with a groovy score by Piero Umiliani (Five Dolls for an August Moon), really sets the tone for the stylish thriller that surprised me with its clever twist of a third act, the requisite bar for any good giallo. Performance-wise, Michael Craig is good, but Carroll Baker is pretty spectacular here in her take on a woman who definitely has a lot to hide. Her performance paired with Marina Malfatti, who plays another mysterious blonde, had me just floored and really makes this hidden gem well worth your time. Included in this package is a short doc on the director by the man who literally wrote the book on Martín, Carlos Aguilar.
Carroll Baker’s participation in the project was particularly fascinating since it was after her excommunication from Hollywood. Her initial rise to fame came at the tail end of the big studio era, when an actor was basically assigned roles by their studio rather than auditioning. Carroll was under contract with Warner Brothers early in her career and after a string of sultry hits, she was suspended for declining a role in Too Much, Too Soon (1958). Due to her contract, she was forced to turn down the lead in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a film that would become MGM’s most successful of all time and an iconic turn for Elizabeth Taylor. After her suspension was lifted, Baker acted in The Miracle (1959), a film she detested so much, she bought out her contract and left studio films altogether. The rumor was that her casting in The Miracle was a way for Warner Brothers to appease the Catholic Church after they denounced Baker’s suggestive performance in Baby Doll, placing the film on its “Condemned” list.
The Fourth Victim was a very pleasant surprise even with its more conservative leanings. For giallo fans looking for something off the beaten path, the film definitely fits that bill, while still checking the requisite genre boxes. While the sleaze is scaled back a few notches, the performances, along with the film’s pitch black sense of humor and lurid subtext, definitely make it worth a watch. Extras are sparse, but the film and its near flawless presentation more than make up for these shortcomings as it deals out a story that may be one of the more accessible entries in this genre, and feels almost—dare I say—Hitchcockian in its take.
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