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31 Days of Gialloween: Slaughter Hotel (1971)

Sometimes gialli go beyond their already manic nature, into a head space–or body space–beyond their original means. This includes instances where these lurid slices of excess and abjection overlap with softcore or hardcore depictions of sex on screen. Samm Deighan is the resident Diabolique writer most dedicated to these giallo-sleaze crossovers this Gialloween, so far covering The Killer Must Kill Again (1975), The Sister of Ursula (1978), and Giallo a Venezia (1979). Today I will be covering one such film in the form of a little thing called Slaughter Hotel or La bestia uccide a sangue freddo (aka Cold Blooded Beast aka Asylum Erotica, 1971).

Director Fernando de Leo is better known for his poliziotteschi like The Italian Connection (1972), Caliber 9 (1972), and The Boss (1973), but with Slaughter Hotel he showed that his chops were well on par in the thriller area. The film begins in what appears to be a gothic manor, what to some might just appear to be a gothic castle. A masculine figure with shrouded, stockinged face and a cape stalks through a chamber full of ancient armor, torture devices, and weapons, settling on an ax (or is it a large hatchet?). Before long the camera is on a nude, sleeping woman for an extended take of nightmarish writhing on a bed, with nightside table lamp conveniently on, as our masked and caped assailant looks on. Before he is able to strike a blow, she rings for the nurses to attend to her, scaring him off. Clearly, he will be back.

We learn quickly that this setting is not what we initially may have imagined. This is an upper class sanitarium converted from some historic mansion seemingly just for beautiful women with wealthy husbands or relatives. No explanation is given for why anyone thinks it is a good idea, or at least acceptable, to have medieval weapons on hand for anyone to pick up. “We don’t have many regulations,” one of the orderlies says right before the incoming patient attempts to clobber him over the head. Soon enough we are introduced to an unusually subdued Klaus Kinski creeping about as one of the head doctors at the institution.   

Like so many other great subjects of cult cinema, Slaughter Hotel coverage can be found in the archives of Diabolique, with my Gialloween cohorts Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan having already covered it in Episode 15 of the Daughters of Darkness podcast, “Footprints in Delirium: Exploring the Art Giallo, Part 2.” I highly recommend going back and finding it. Throughout their analysis they mention all the essential elements of the film, from Rosalba Neri as Anne, the defiant nymphomaniac, to nurse Helen (Monica Strebel) and her glorious and gratuitous butt massages, to out of place crossbows, and random maces. That podcast episode, and the rest of this article will inevitably spoil some revelations about the climax of Slaughter Hotel, although not the identity of the killer, because really either way it doesn’t matter.

There isn’t much of a protagonist in Slaughter Hotel, as the plot unveils a number of vignettes that are experimental, albeit in an unintentional or careless way. However, intention ultimately doesn’t matter, and we are left with a cast of wacky folks who present us with a variety of situations and feelings. A man drives his wife to the institution in a fancy convertible, his good-natured condescension almost cut off when she grabs hold of the wheel, swerving the automobile out of control. Nurse Helen, the resident ginger lusts after Mara (Jane Garret) in her only credited screen role) the beautiful and depressed patient who’s attractiveness is apparently an indicator of her recovery. Kinski’s Doctor Francis Clay has candle-light dinners with Cheryl (Margaret Lee), his favorite patient, although he inexplicably discourages her advances. A whole world is created within these walls, spilling out onto the grounds of the place, which are well kept by the scythe-wielding gardener (Giangiacomo Elia). The score by Sylvano Spadaccino is catchy and memorable in the way that so many of this era in Italian genre cinema are.

Slaughter Hotel is a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Gothic tale with brutal weapons? Kind of. Sexploitation romp? The presence of nymphomania, lesbianism, incest, etc, in the narrative would imply as much. Giallo? Absolutely, in that proto-slasher kind of way. De Leo definitely was up against a lot of competition, as The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, Short Night of Glass Dolls, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Bay of Blood, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, and many more were also released in the same year. In order to keep up he decided to go the completely bonkers, extreme route.

Slaughter Hotel is like a fever dream that replicates the supposed hysteria being experienced by the troubled female patients. Anne’s preoccupation with the gardener, a grim reaper stand-in with the scythe, equates sex and death in a display of jouissance that would make Jacques Lacan proud. Yet the man’s reluctance to get intimate with Anne–at one point even using the weak excuse “I’m just a gardner,”–and his quick show of violence after the sexual act when she refuses to go away, is a pretty obvious signifier that the film is about male fears of women’s liberated sexuality. Kinski’s cold fish delivery in his role of Dr Clay backs this up as well. Perhaps the hysteria present in the film really comes from feelings of inadequacy on the part of the men who made the picture.

About Joseph E. Dwyer

Joseph Dwyer is an assistant web editor at Diabolique, where he concentrates on the Legacies of Sade and Watching the Watchdogs columns. His major interests are freedom of speech, desire, and dissent in horror/cult cinema. He lives in Oakland, CA, and has academic degrees from the San Francisco Art institute and Hampshire College.

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