Acid is groovy, kill the pigs

In From the Vault by John Tebbutt

‘You’re soaking in it.’ — yaaaaarrrrhhhgg!!

So, how would you like your final remains disposed of? Burial, cremation or immersion in sulfuric acid? Ah, I see. Not surprising, really. Hardly anybody goes for option Number 3.

  • The Infernal Trio (1974): This gruesome French comedy is reportedly based on a true case. A lawyer (Michel Piccoli) arranges for his girlfriend to marry an old man so that she can become a French citizen. The bride comes back from her honeymoon, ready for some extramarital nookie, only to find the lawyer in bed with her sister. After some initial friction, the sisters get used to the idea that they’re both sleeping with the same man and begin to behave (as he does) as though it’s the most natural thing in the world.

When the old man dies, the trio doesn’t mourn him, but regrets that he had no life insurance that they could collect. “We’ll insure the next one,” promises the lawyer. From then on, the threesome begins a series of insurance scams that involve marrying elderly husbands and fraudulently obtaining life insurance for them.

What begins as a sprightly black comedy becomes almost unbearably grim when the conspirators murder a friendly young couple in order to sell their house. In a seemingly endless body disposal scene, they give the corpses an acid bath and bury the liquified remains in the backyard — the happy Ennio Morricone score comes to an abrupt halt and we’re left to witness every ghastly detail of the crime in morbid silence.

One of the girls collapses into a sobbing heap halfway through the cleanup, while downstairs her sister and the lawyer give in to a sudden rush of lust while they’re just a few feet away from the dissolving bodies.

It’s a shock from which no so-called comedy could ever hope to recover, and it just goes on and on. Bucketful after bucketful of once-human slush gets ladled out of the bathtubs and sloshed into the garden, until the murderers stumble with fatigue and the audience feels as though they’ve been through the body-disposing ordeal themselves. The fact that the film tries to go back to cheeky black comedy after this is simply baffling.

Emergo; an unforgettably silly gimmick that cemented his place Castle’s film history.
  • The House on Haunted Hill (1958): One film that does manage to combine acid baths and wit is this fun Vincent Price thriller, directed by William Castle. Castle was known for incorporating ingenious gimmicks into his films, and with this one, he gave audiences “Emergo,” an unforgettably silly gimmick that cemented his place in film history. In the scene where a skeleton emerges from the acid bath, a specially designed plastic skeleton was winched above the audience’s heads, dangling from a hidden clothesline-like device. Eventually, after it became clear that the line couldn’t support very much weight, Castle had to switch to inflatable skeletons. (Crash! Aieee!)
  • La Femme Nikita (1991): In this terrific French thriller, the acid bath scene comes near the end, as Viktor the cleaner (Jean Reno) attempts to dispose of some pesky corpses. One of them turns out to be not quite dead, and Josephine/Nikita (Anne Parillaud) wails in the corner and realizes she wants a career change.
  • The Hidden Room (a.k.a. Obsession) (1949): Tense film noir in which a jealous husband imprisons his cuckolder in an abandoned building. Every day he brings a container of acid and pours it into a bathtub while the prisoner watches, knowing he’ll wind up inside once it’s full. The two play endless head games as the victim’s fate draws nearer. A fascinatingly suspenseful tale of obsession and revenge. [youtube]


First published in FFWD Weekly, July 17th, 2003