If the title didn't influence you, Una libélula para cada muerto (A Dragonfly for Each Corpse) (1973), then Paul Naschy, who wrote and stars in the film, was doing something wrong. Naschy writes, "I also appeared in a giallo style thriller called Una libélula para cada muerto (1973), with Erika Blanc. It was shot mainly on location in Milan by León Klimovsky and I think it turned out to be a fairly decent detective story. I enjoyed playing the exuberant Italian police inspector Paolo Scaporella." (from Memoirs of a Wolfman by Paul Naschy, translated by Mike Hodges, Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, MD, 2000, p. 121) These scant words are about all Naschy has to say about this production in his autobiography, and this is a shame. Despite the fact that I've had a real Naschy itch lately (rimshot), Una libélula para cada muerto (A Dragonfly for Each Corpse) is a real showcase for Erika Blanc.
Una libélula para cada muerto begins with a young man going to a clandestine location to purchase some narcotics. He proceeds to his home and enjoys his narcotics. An uninvited guest enters his home (while the camera obscures his identity) wearing black gloves. He kills the young man and places a replica dragonfly near his corpse. Inspector Paolo Scaporella (Naschy) is assigned the case by his superior. More murders continue and more corpses show up with the signature dragonfly near his/her corpse. Is the killer part of the “underworld,” preying upon the drug addicts and prostitutes? Is the killer a kinky sadist who enjoys killing “deviant” people, because the killer is a deviant also? Or is the killer from high society, someone from Scarporella and his girlfriend’s, Silvana (Blanc) circle of friends? Cue dramatic music.
Three of the most obvious superficial qualities of a giallo film are 1) black gloves, 2) overt sexuality (read, female nudity), and 3) the killer must suffer from a psychological affliction resulting from a childhood trauma. Typically, this childhood trauma involves the killer witnessing the murder of someone in a sexual situation. Armed with this knowledge, anyone can make a film which could be termed “a giallo.” It seems Naschy, when he penned the script for Una libélula para cada muerto, knew the motifs and labored to work them in to his script. Too much labor in making this film a giallo ends up making this film too contrived and too rigid in my opinion. However, there is much to love in Una libélula para cada muerto for prospective viewers.
The sequence which introduces Blanc’s character to viewer is precious. Naschy is in the kitchen and cooking pasta, chomping on his cigar and mean-mugging for the camera. Gorgeous Blanc strolls into the kitchen and chides Naschy’s character for his poor cooking habits. The two actors have an immediate chemistry, and the inclusion of this domestic scene in the film goes a long way towards establishing an intimacy between Scarporella and his girlfriend, Silvana. Scarporella shares all the details about the “dragonfly” case with Silvana and seeks her input. I initially thought with Naschy and Blanc’s first few scenes together that Una libélula para cada muerto would have the two as an investigative team who would solve the murders together. Given their chemistry together and Erika Blanc’s amazing charisma, I thought Una libélula para cada muerto had the potential to be one of Paul Naschy’s finest moments in cinema. While Blanc’s Silvana is integral to solving the mystery, Naschy wrote the script in a wholly perfunctory manner and Una libélula para cada muerto plays out like a perfunctory giallo. Blanc’s character stays at home while Naschy’s inspector character hits the streets.
Naschy went out of his way to establish a credible “underworld” to host a class of victims for his killer. In the English dub of the print that I viewed, the first victim is referred to as a “professional drug addict.” Really, a professional? So is there an amateur class which one must work up through? In another murder sequence, the killer enters the apartment of some young people who are passed out about the floor and furniture. A nude female is passed out on the floor with her arm draped upon a nude young man while another young man in his briefs sleeps in a sofa chair. Clearly, with this adept character positioning, these characters have engaged in promiscuous sex with multiple partners while indulging with mind-altering substances. These sequences are too paint-by-numbers for me and there is too many of them to make Una libélula para cada muerto not worth revisiting.
Klimovsky includes some striking compositions. For example, in one a burlesque dancer rests in a coffin while eating a green apple. Without a context, this composition makes no sense (and is interesting) but with a context, this scene becomes as perfunctory as the rest of the film. All of the scenes with Erika Blanc are amazing. Completely radiant. One of my favorite sequences occurs after Scaporella and Silvana learn that one of their friends has been murdered. Blanc sits in bed, completely nude, staring at photos (which she believes are relevant to the mystery). Scaporella comes in saddened by his friend’s death and the poor state of his investigation but becomes aroused at the sight of his girlfriend. In a bout of physical intimacy, these two can take comfort in each other. It’s an endearing sequence. As I’ve said, the two have a strong chemistry, and it should have been capitalized upon in the film.
Finally, Una libélula para cada muerto is the second film of my recent memory where Naschy is bathed by a beautiful woman. I’m totally jealous. It is very good, sometimes, to be both the screenwriter and the leading actor.
Una libélula para cada muerto is for Paul Naschy completists and Erika Blanc enthusiasts.