The Scorpion with Two Tails Blu-ray Review
Full Moon Features
Blu-ray Release: January 24, 2023
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 (supposedly, see review for specifics)
Run Time: 97:50
Director: Sergio Martino
Joan (Elvire Audray) is having gruesome dreams of ancient sacrificial rites. When her husband (John Saxon) is murdered in the same ritualistic way, she begins to suspect that someone or something is targeting her, leading her deep into a nightmarish mystery involving death, smuggling and reincarnation. (From Full Moon’s official synopsis)
Sergio Martino was either the third or fourth most important filmmaker in the giallo genre, behind stylistic originators Mario Bava and Dario Argento, and arguably Umberto Lenzi, who also set a lot of precedent. In terms of the sheer quantity of giallo output, he is second to Argento and tied with Lenzi with eight entries (Lenzi also made three slasher movies in the late ‘80s that some fans might consider giallo-adjacent). Six of those films – The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Italian: Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh; aka: Blade of the Ripper), The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (Italian: La Coda dello Scorpione), All the Colors of the Dark (Italian: Tutti i Colori del Duio), Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Italian: Il Tuo Vizio è Una Stanza Chiusa e Solo Io ne ho la Chiave), Torso (Italian: I Corpi Pesentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale), and The Suspicious Death of a Minor (Italian: Morte Sospetta di una Minorenne) – were released between 1971 and 1975 when giallo was at its peak. After that, Martino made a late-stage western, Mannaja (aka: A Man Called Blade, 1977), a cannibal adventure, Mountain of the Cannibal God (Italian: La montagna del dio cannibale, 1978), and a sci-fi adventure movie, Island of the Fishmen (Italian: L'isola degli uomini pesce, 1979), but his genre of choice for most of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was sexy all'italiana.
Martino returned with a seventh giallo-ish film, The Scorpion with Two Tails (Italian: Assassinio al cimitero etrusco; aka: Murders in an Etruscan Cemetery) in 1982, and that film perfectly exemplified the changes in industry and in audience expectations, since the release of Suspicious Death of a Minor are for better or worse. It trades chic psychodrama for a murder mystery with a distinctly Gothic supernatural twist and was originally planned as an eight-part television series, written by two of Italian horror’s most vital contributors, Ernesto Gastaldi and Dardano Sacchetti. Martino shot a version of the script that would’ve clocked in at eight 50-minute long episodes and cut together an abridged theatrical version for limited distribution. The television roll out did not go as planned. The original distributors gave up entirely and, an unspecified number of years later, a different company had editor Claudio Lattanzi cut together a two-part, 180-minute long, two-part miniseries, which also sat on the shelf. In his book, Italian Gothic Horror: 1980-1989 (McFarland, 2019), author Roberto Curti claims that the Lattanzi cut eventually found its way onto local television casts, but, for the most part, the world would know The Scorpion with Two Tails as a heavily compromised fraction of a long-form narrative.
With all of the behind-the-scenes troubles and changes in format in mind, it’s hard to judge the film’s lack of cohesion too harshly. That said, there are some harsh cuts throughout the film as we’re thrown from one location to the next in order to introduce as many plot points as possible within the truncated runtime. The result is somehow both hard to follow and overly simplified, which is too bad, because you can see the ingredients for a charming combination of Martino’s brand of giallo with sci-fi fantasy, pulp adventure, and a poliziotteschi-like drug smuggling subplot. He probably didn’t need 400 minutes to do it, but there’s still a prevailing sense of something missing from the equation. Another problem is that Italian television, like American television, still had reasonably strict censorship rules in place during the early ‘80s. Martino was forced to dial way back on the violence, robbing it of the gore seen in the contemporary Gothic horror movies that motivated the filmmakers to modify the formula in the first place. The anemia contributes to a nagging feeling that filmmakers probably should have designed it as a theatrical or straight-to-video film.
Martino’s brother/production partner, Luciano, successfully developed a horror TV series (albeit an anthology show) entitled Brivido giallo (Thrilling Giallo) alongside Dardano Sacchetti and director Lamberto Bava. The four episodes aired in 1989, were popular and reissued as standalone movies on home video under the titles Graveyard Disturbance (Italian: Una notte nel cimitero), Until Death (Italian: L'Auberge de la vengeance), The Ogre (Italian: La casa dell'orco), and Dinner with a Vampire (Italian: A cena con il vampiro). The same year, Luciano Martino planned six more TV movies under the banner of The Houses of Doom (Italian: La casa meledette), though only four were completed. Lucio Fulci directed two, The Sweet House of Horrors (Italian: La dolce casa degli orrori) and The House of Clocks (Italian: La casa nel tempo), and Umberto Lenzi directed the other two, House of Witchcraft (Italian: La casa del sortilegio) and House of Lost Souls (Italian: La casa delle anime erranti). Unfortunately, the House of Doom was shelved, just like The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, reportedly because Italian television still wasn’t ready for the heaps of gore that Fulci and Lenzi splattered upon the screen.
Speaking of Fulci, The Scorpion with Two Tails has some interesting connections to the kind of films he was making around the same time. The same year, Fulci released Manhattan Baby (Italian: Il malocchio; aka: Eye of the Evil Dead), an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars (pub: 1903), which deals in Egyptian archaeology and curses, rather than Etruscan (it’s more likely that Martino and the writers were swiping ideas from Armando Crispino’s 1972 giallo, The Etruscan Kills Again [Italian: L'etrusco uccide ancora], known stateside as The Dead are Alive). The Scorpion with Two Tails was also co-written by Sacchetti and the Italian poster recycled a grimacing, knife-wielding madman from the poster for Fulci’s House by the Cemetery (Italian: Quella villa accanto al cimitero, 1981). Said madman does not appear in either movie and alternate poster/video box art for The Scorpion with Two Tails traced Frank Frazetta’s painting “Death Dealer II” without credit to the original artist.
Italian Gothic Horror: 1980-1989 by Roberto Curti (McFarland, 2019) – I’m mentioning it again, because it is the only print source I could find for information on made-for-TV Italian horror.
Blood & Black Lace: The Definitive Guide to Italian Sex and Horror Movies by Adrian Luther Smith (Stray Cat Publishing Ltd, 2000)
The Scorpion with Two Tails was first released stateside in 1988 on VHS from Palisades Entertainment. The first North American DVD option came from MYA Communications. The company later ended up embroiled in copyright controversy, but it was a solid anamorphic release with a nice selection of deleted scenes (which are also available here). The film’s HD, Blu-ray debut comes from the folks at Full Moon, a company not known for the preservation of any movies that were not produced in-house. This time, we can’t entirely blame lackadaisical production for a litany of reasons. First of all, they warn us – the back of the box reads “The Scorpion with Two Tails was remastered from the best available materials.” Second of all, according to Martino, the original materials were damaged (it seems like the series and miniseries versions might have been flat-out destroyed), so whoever sent Full Moon the HD master was probably working from a print source at best. Thirdly, the film was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, so, assuming they used an old, rough blow-up print, it’s destined to look a little mushy. Additionally, the opening and closing credits as well as some shots have been upscaled from standard definition, so I guess those were missing entirely.
With all that in mind, how did Full Moon do? Ehhh, this 1.78:1, 1080p disc mostly looks like an upconvert of the MYA DVD, which is to say it is an improvement, but suffers from almost identical issues with clarity and crispness, especially in wide-angle shots. It doesn’t help that cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando was shooting everything so soft and diffused. This was a popular style with Italian filmmakers at the time – especially those shooting on 16mm for straight-to-video or made-for-TV distribution – and it wreaks havoc with even the best restorations of original negative scans. Add that to the condition issues and the fact that Martino and Ferrando aim for a really bland, neutral palette, and, well, I think Full Moon really did their best. Outside of someone finding the original television cut or at least some clean negatives (print damage isn’t terrible, but consistent), this is probably the best we can expect from this poor little movie. Beware of the alias-y standard definition opening titles.
Similar to their Gore in Venice (Italian: Giallo a Venezia, 1979) Blu-ray, Full Moon has included two audio options, both English this time, which they claim are 2.0 and 5.1. Each track is presented in compressed Dolby Digital and are essentially two slight remixes of the original mono soundtrack. The bulk of the audio is centered with artificial stereo enhancements. Or something like that. It’s weird, but the 2.0 track isn’t too distracting, aside from a slight reverb effect on the dialogue. Other aural artifacts, like consonant hiss, were likely inherent in the material. The film was shot without sound, so all language versions are dubbed, but I’ll still note that the MYD DVD included the Italian dub. The bulk of the cast is clearly speaking English on set and dub performances are solid across the board, including the familiar voices of Nick Alexander, Carolyn De Fonseca, and Frank von Kuegelgen. As an additional bonus, John Saxon dubs his own performance. One highlight would be Fulci favorite Fabio Frizzi’s original score, though the music is muffled by the Dolby Digital compression. He recycles a lot from his City of the Living Dead (Italian: Paura nella città dei morti viventi, 1980) soundtrack, which should be annoying, but honestly adds a lot of atmosphere to some sequences.
Three deleted scenes and alternate credits from the TV version (19:14, 480p) – It’s pretty far from the complete version or even the 180-minute cut, but these three scenes offer a glimpse of what those versions might have been like. These are presented in Italian with subtitles from a video source.
Full Moon trailers and promo reel
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.