Friday 22 March 2024

The Killer Is One of Thirteen (1973)

Javier Aguirre’s The Killer Is One of Thirteen is a 1973 Spanish giallo although that genre labelling will have to be qualified.

The basic setup is lifted from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None - take a group of people, have them totally cut off from the rest of the world and one of them is a murderer. The others can expect to be killed off one by one.

In this case a rich young widow, Lisa Mandel (Patty Shepard), has invited twelve other people (making up a total of thirteen) to her very isolated villa. She is convinced that one of these people murdered her husband Carlos. Certainly they all have secrets which they would like to keep hidden, and most of them do seem to have had possible motives to kill Carlos. They are crooks, forgers, blackmailers, adulterers and other assorted not-very-respectable people.

For the first two-thirds of the movie nothing happens. Nothing happens at all. Except talk Lots of talk. Lots and lots of talk. Various scandals are brought to light. The main problem here is that there are way too many characters. It’s not just Lisa and her twelve guests. There are three servants who play major roles in the story. So there are sixteen major characters. Keeping track of them all is hard work. Inevitably many of these characters are so totally undeveloped that it would have been better to dispense with them.

Finally we get a murder. Followed rapidly by other murders. Eventually the evidence seems to point to one obvious suspect but that suspect may be too obvious.

The murders are moderately bloody but by the standards of Italian giallos of the same period the violence and blood are quite muted.

This movie does not have the spectacular visual set-pieces most people associate with the giallo genre. It should however be noted that those spectacular visual set-pieces are characteristic of the second part of the giallo boom, the phase that began with Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The earlier giallos of the late 60s were quite different, being stylish decadent erotic thrillers rather than serial killer gorefests.

The Killer Is One of Thirteen
can be seen as being more at home in the company of these early giallos.

There’s also much more emphasis on the murder mystery plot. This movie doesn’t just borrow its basic setup from Agatha Christie, it really does have the essential structure of a classic English puzzle-plot murder mystery. That makes it seem a bit old-fashioned but it also gives it a flavour that is interestingly different from most giallos.

There are just enough giallo tropes to qualify this as a giallo, but it’s quite different in tone and feel to Italian giallos.

It’s supposedly set in England but this is the least convincing attempt in cinema history at an English setting. Everything in this movie feels totally Spanish.

The cast is interesting. Jack Taylor, a huge favourite with eurocult fans, is there and he’s in fine form as an art forger. Paul Naschy has a small role as Lisa’s chauffeur. The cast members are all very competent. They should be. Most had very distinguished stage and screen careers in Spain.

It’s a slow-moving film but that seems to be a deliberate choice. A lot of time is spent elucidating the complex inter-relationships between the various characters.

There is no nudity at all. In a 1973 European genre film that is unusual to say the least. One would be tempted to assume that this movie, like so many other eurocult movies of that era, was shot in two versions - a clothed version for the Spanish market and a much racier version for export markets. That however does not seem to be the case here.

The Killer Is One of Thirteen
is just a bit too slow. The multiplicity of characters lessens the suspense since we don’t get to know enough about most of these people to care about their fates. The visual style is too conventional, and while there are one or two hints of perversity this may be the least sexy giallo ever made. It all falls a bit too flat for me to recommend this one. It’s great that we can now get to see lesser-known Spanish giallos but this is not a great example.

Vinegar Syndrome have included this movie in the three-movie Forgotten Giallo volume 1 Blu-Ray set. The transfer is excellent. The one extra is a commentary track by Kat Ellinger. Her commentaries are always interesting and she gives us a vast amount of fascinating background on the distinctive nature of the Spanish giallo.

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