Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2020-01-12 18:30
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Watch Me When I Kill (1977)
Studio: Synapse Films
Release date: October 29th, 2019

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)



The movie:

Repression and the giallo are familiar bedfellows. No genre hinges on forgotten or buried trauma quite like this one, what with its strange, delirious tales of characters conjuring up some distant, hidden memory in order to unlock a crucial plot point that untangles a bizarre, complex web of murder and mystery. Often, this takes the form of lurid, exploitative psychosexual trauma, with filmmakers pushing the boundaries of bad taste as they paradoxically weave dazzling yarns that feel elegant and sleazy all at once. With some notable exceptions, the giallo is the ultimate triumph of style as substance: it’s film as objet d’art—highly stylized, ornamental craftwork to be marveled upon as you turn over and explore its intricate nooks and crannies.

Antonio Bido’s Watch Me When I Kill is a curious addition to the pile, one that both conforms to and resists the typical giallo formula. It, too, hinges on repression and spins a wild, convoluted web: for most of its runtime, it almost feels like Bido is trying to craft the quintessential giallo before taking a sobering, almost subversive turn that arrives at a weirdly thoughtful place that justifies the film’s unrelenting brutality.
Consider the setup: a young dancer (Paola Tedesco) stops by a pharmacy, only to witness someone murder the pharmacist. Because she might be able to identify the killer, she’s drawn into an increasingly elaborate string of horrific slayings that her private detective boyfriend (Corrado Pani) is helpless to stop, much less solve. An obvious connection forms between the victims, sending him down a rabbit hole that leads him to both expected and wildly unexpected destinations.

By 1977, the giallo had more or less solidified itself into the mold that endures to this day, right down to all of the embellishments. Watch Me When I Kill almost ruthlessly adheres to nearly all of these expectations: its killer is loosely and mysteriously connected to an animal (in this case a cat, which inspired the film’s U.K release title, The Cat’s Victim); red herrings are in great abundance, with at least one character serving only that purpose; a prominently-placed bottle of J&B accompanies Pani’s fevered investigation; and the plot becomes increasingly ludicrous as it unfolds. In fact, this one might have one of the all-time great plots in terms of sheer misdirection since an entire subplot exists to throw you off the scent before leading you straight to the truth.

If the giallo’s primary function is to exist as an ornate puzzle box, then Watch Me When I Kill postures at fulfilling that expectation. You spend much of the film as you should: guessing at the killer’s identity and motives as each new bit of information comes to light, knowing you’re probably going to be wrong but not at all mad about it. The giallo might be the most twisted of genres because it wants to enrapture its audience with sleaze, violence, and convolution. In most cases, the endgame is to leave the audience both disgusted and delighted, perhaps with a sense of begrudging respect for its clever twists and turns.

But just when it looks like Bido will be content to fulfill those expectations, his film also has a frank nasty streak. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he doesn’t aspire to the sort of elegant, almost overwrought outbursts of on-screen violence. Instead, his murder sequences are stark in their blunt brutality, particularly one that finds the murderer scalding a victim’s face in an oven. Watch Me When I Kill is sometimes genuinely uncomfortable to watch, almost as if Bido doesn’t want his audience to marvel at his horrors before he takes a stark, thoughtful turn during the climax.

What’s repressed here isn’t the usual psychosexual pulp but rather a horrific chapter of history whose ghosts refuse to lay at rest. Audiences might be used to a giallo’s climax producing a topsy-turvy effect, but not always like this film, which leaves the audience questioning the very nature of victimhood. Bido doesn’t just upend everything you know or assume about this story with this twist—he also reconfigures this scummy premise into a requiem for victims now avenged from beyond the grave by a misguided crusader. Rarely does a giallo leave you contemplating the dangers of righteous justice and the perils of the desperate aggrieved taking the law into their own hands.

Watch Me When I Kill is unique in that regard, and it makes for a weirdly unassuming giallo. Bido’s film seems to be quite conventional (if not downright derivative), until it isn’t. Once you’ve seen scores of these things, you appreciate even the most subtle wrinkles to the formula, especially when it’s obvious the filmmakers are aspiring to communicate something beyond blunt force trauma. Rather, this is a film where that trauma festers and simmers for years, and it lingers beyond the outbursts of violence it inspires.

The disc:

Watch Me When I Kill was among the earliest gialli to make it to DVD, way back in 2002 when VCI still had the rights. Nearly two decades later, Synapse has brought it to the Blu-ray ranks with a sterling new special edition. It comes as no surprise that the 4K restoration is immaculate: this is one area in which Synapse is almost without rival, and this is yet another stunning presentation, which also features Italian, English, and isolated score tracks in DTS-MA.

The extras are also top-notch. Historian and cult film expert Nathaniel Thompson provides an audio commentary, while scholar Mikel Koven provides his own insight in a short on-camera interview. Three of Bido’s short films also appear alongside a trailer, TV spots, and radio ads. Finally, this release also includes a CD of the film’s jangly, evocative score.

This release is a reminder that Synapse is still out here doing the Lord’s work. Their output has been a bit less prolific in recent years compared to their glory days, but what they might lack in quantity, they are definitely making up for in quality. What’s more, they’re generally releasing offbeat selections like this one, making the label all the more vital.
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