ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com.
When I was a young child, roughly nine or ten years old, my parents decided to put on a Saturday afternoon movie showing on one of the local broadcast channels, The Scorpion with Two Tails. The film held little interest for me initially, until one very “special” scene came on. In it, a woman has a vision of some of her friends being murdered by an unseen figure who snaps their necks from behind. Meanwhile, the eyes of an ancient statue fall out with the sockets spewing maggots. My parents were unimpressed, with my mother grumbling, “This is gross.” Young me, however, was scared and quickly left the room.
Roughly thirty years later, I sought out The Scorpion with Two Tails, also known as Assassinio al cimitero etrusco (Murder in the Etruscan Cemetary). It proved to be a largely unmemorable giallo, albeit with some good atmosphere and brief appearances by well-known actors. The film revolves around a young woman (Elvire Audray) investigating the murder of her husband, played in an all-too-brief appearance by John Saxon. Saxon’s character, an archeologist, is briefly seen investigating an Etruscan tomb in the Italian countryside, which he thinks may be the find of the century. Unfortunately, his neck is broken by a hidden assailant after a phone call with his wife, who has a premonition of his death.
When Saxon’s wife travels to Italy, her visions intensify, culminating in the scene that scared me as a child. She gets a pendant that her late husband retrieved from the tomb, a scorpion with two tails. She soon learns that she perfectly resembles an ancient Etruscan painting of an immortal woman. Could she be the woman’s reincarnation? More importantly, are the murders connected to the heroin she finds hidden in the tomb, or is something supernatural afoot?
The film wavers between supernatural horror and real-world suspense, never finding a balance between the two. The main story following Audray’s character and her visions is grafted to a sub-plot involving drug smuggling, with the two plot lines never really gelling together. Spooky scenes in the Etruscan tomb are juxtaposed with gunplay and car chases. Furthermore, in the last five to ten minutes, there are scenes implying that the Etruscans had some sort of advanced technology involving anti-matter and anti-gravity, an element that is never really developed. (To be fair to the director, Sergio Martino, the film was originally intended as a miniseries, so it may just be suffering from the truncation.)
The film’s performances are mixed. John Saxon does his usual good work, but his part is little more than a cameo. Elvira Audray, who plays our protagonist, has a tendency to overemote, although that may simply be the way her character was dubbed. Although some might claim that you shouldn’t watch a giallo for the acting, this ignores the role acting plays in keeping us invested in the story. If we care about the characters, we feel greater suspense.
These plot difficulties are to some degree alleviated by the film’s good use of atmosphere. The Etruscan tomb, which figures prominently in Audray’s visions, is genuinely creepy, with lots of shadows and a sulfurous fog emanating from a pit. The visions themselves are disturbing, even as an adult, with necks being broken all too realistically. The film also boasts a good soundtrack, although some themes seem to have been lifted from Fulci’s City of the Living Dead.
The Scorpion with Two Tails is available on YouTube.