Written by: Antonio Cesare Corti, Riccardo Freda, Simon Mizrahi, and Fabio Piccioni
Directed by: Riccardo Freda
Starring: Stefano Patrizi, Martine Brochard, and Laura Gemser
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďFor centuries, philosophers and poets have searched the universe for evidence of the existence of the devil. However, it would have sufficed to look for it at the bottom of their souls.Ē
One of the lesser heralded Italian schlock directors, Riccardo Freda directed over 45 movies during a career that spanned five decades. They werenít all horror movies, but some were noteworthy titles for fans of the genre: I Vampiri (which was completed by Mario Bava), The Ghost (featuring Barbara Steele), The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock (more Steele!), The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (a giallo title if IĎve ever heard one), and Tragic Ceremony (a somewhat popular giallo itself). His last film, 1981ís Murder Obsession, is mostly a giallo too, though it owes quite a bit to the more straightforward slasher movies that were just becoming popular at the time.
It opens like a classic giallo, as we see a man wearing black leather gloves strangling a helpless woman; luckily for her, we pull back to discover that this is just all occurring on a movie set. While he seemed awfully convincing in his homicidal intent, heís just an actor, Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi). He did, however, actually kill his father when he was younger; as you might imagine, thatís made things awkward between he and his mom, so he doesnít make it home too often. He makes an exception when shooting on the film wraps, as he decides to visit dear old mom, bringing both his girlfriend (Laura Gemser) and the rest of the crew along. After a day or two, someone begins murdering his friends, so Michael is obviously the number one suspect.
But thereís also a creepy butler (thereís always a creepy butler), and his momís a bit of a nutcase who may or may not have dabbled in some black magic. And because this is sort of a giallo, thereís some more red herrings along the way, so youíll be on your toes until you get to the eventual reveal, which is a clunky double twist loaded with all sorts of exposition. Giallo (and general Italian horror vets) will find the convoluted nature of it all rather familiar; it eventually tosses logic to the wind, casually introducing "psychic powersĒ to the plot and providing a howler of a reason for the cops not showing up (in short, one of the characters was going to call them, but forgets). These narrative plots are clumsy and absurd, and both twists are eventually a tad predictable, all of which isn't too surprising considering this was another screenplay written by committee (there's got to be a good joke about how many Italians it takes to write a good screenplay).
Getting there is a brisk and mostly enjoyable affair, however. If anything, Murder Obsession reveals the fine line between a giallo, a slasher, and one of those quaint old dark house murder mysteries. This one has elements of all of them--the garish, dazzling style of the giallo, the small, confined scale of the ďhouse whodunnitĒ (whereas typical gialli are more sprawling and wide in scope), and, of course, the violence of each. Whatever you want to call it, itís pretty good at every mode; well, good for these sort of things would be more apt, I guess. Youíll of course have to suffer through some spotty, zoned out acting (that isnít at all aided by the dubbing, which is as shoddy as ever), plus some rough editing (and this is not to mention the still breathing corpse of one of the victims).
The murder sequences arenít of the elaborate giallo sort, either (which is another reason this feels like a straight slasher at times), but some are no less memorable. A hatchet to the head gag is particularly crude and brutal--the effect is cheap and obvious, but itís no less effective due to its swiftness. Plus, chunks of from the victims head splatter all over the wall, so it earns style points. Speaking of which, I liked that Freda wasnít content to make standard gruesome stalk and slash fare; Murder Obsession is rather atmospheric and is aided by the mysterious menace provided by the filmís supernatural aspect. The demonic cult leanings allow for some bizarre sequences, such as when we see a pair of footprints being made on the floor by an invisible stalker.
If one scene steals the show, itís the dream sequence involving Gemserís character, who finds herself tied up (and half-naked, of course), seemingly on the receiving end of a cult ritual involving a giant spider. Clearly, 1981 was a bad year at the movies for those suffering from arachnophobia, even if this one doesnít match the gory, eight-legged mayhem of The Beyond. In fact, the spider effect sometimes looks downright cheap, but, like most of Murder Obsession, it works kind of despite itself. Sometimes, it feels like a haphazard, hallucinatory trip that ends up awkwardly careening into some obvious plot twists, but, like many Euro-horrors, this is somehow advantageous. Also, without spoiling, Iíll say that the killer is especially demented, particularly in their motivation.
Letís just say that Murder Obsession eventually falls in line with its lurid predecessors; itís far from an Itallo-sleaze classic, but Freda went out with pretty good, bloody bang. Having seen this one, Iím curious to see what else he managed to unleash over the years, which, ultimately, is what itís all about. Murder Obsession itself is only just now making its Region 1 debut thanks to Raro Video, who are quickly establishing themselves as the go purveyors of obscure Italian cinema. Their disc has a strong presentation--the transfer is anamorphic, and while itís sometimes inky, the detail and colors are solid, and the mono soundtrack is crisp. This English language version has some native Italian scenes spliced in out of necessity, but itís seamless work revealing no loss in video quality. Extras include an interview with Sergio Stivaletti (who did the effects work on this and numerous other films), some cut scenes, and a fully illustrated booklet with liner notes. A well done effort for a cool little nightmare of slash and sleaze. Buy it!
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