Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Certain influential genre writers have been claiming that the previously obscure realm of European horror is of higher thematic interest than American and English films. Support for the counter-argument that continental filmmakers have put out just as much utter trash as anyone else comes from Monster of Venice, a tiresome timewaster released here as The Embalmer. Despite Retromedia's provocative come-ons -- "Euro Terror Classic,""Stone Cold Chills" -- the movie is a complete non-starter of interest only to genre completists and those who remember some interesting stills that used to show up in the French magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique.
A mad killer in a scuba outfit is kidnapping stray females from the canal walkways of Venice and dragging them to his underwater lair in the catacombs of the city. A reporter (Gin Mart) can't get his boss or the cops to listen to his theories, and instead embarks on a romance with the lovely chaperone (Maureen Lidgard Brown) of some teenaged girls taking in the town. Meanwhile, the 'monster' is embalming his victims and mounting them as part of his collection in a row of vertical crypts.
Monster of Venice is a Phantom of the Opera story done on a nothing budget that can claim some okay lighting and cinematograpy. Its main sin is a concept that for sheer crudity bests contemporary American exploitation efforts - the aspects of the movie seem to be assembled as if collected in a shopping cart at the Horror Cliché supermarket.
The plot is both a policier and a hard-hitting story of the free press, which means that our handsome hero (Luigi Leone Martocci, fresh from a small part in
and hiding his name) argues with both his boss and a couple of detective types. He has nothing else to do but follow a group of tourists around, offering to show them the sites while kick-starting a tepid kissing affair with their hostess. The girl tourists give the pair snickering looks, all except for a more adventurous maiden played by Anita Todesca. She of course becomes bait for the Phantom. Todesca's short list of credits doesn't measure up to Luigi's - her previous assignment was a forgotten spoof called Cleopazza.
While Luigi is doing a lot of hand-kissing and making eyes at his new girl, the Phantom kidnaps, drowns and embalms a new female victim every reel or so. There is nothing to be learned from his activities, which are never given more than a token rationale through voiceover: "You will stay here so I can admire your beauty forever, ha ha ha." The killer looks rather foolish donning his Mike Nelson gear and somehow trapping his victims, who are preordained when the screen freezes on each one in turn. That the killer is an unknown member of the cast makes this sort of a krimi thriller as claimed by the text copy on the package cover, but his secret identity is just a simple monster-movie convenience.
Down in his atmospheric catacombs (the basement of some building?) we see the Embalmer mixing chemicals, trying to see what he's doing in the dim light while wearing a skull-faced monster mask and monk's hood. His embalming recipe could make him millions, because his mummified statues look better than figure studies in a wax museum. The expert chemical mix even gives them perfect hairstyles.
Meanwhile, Luigi and he girls go in for reels of ordinary tourist filler, periodically interrupted by additional snooze footage showing the newspaper presses in action. He points out churches and squares from a boat. He says, "That's San Marco ... why, you know it as St. Mark's" even though his tourists are supposed to be from Rome. A randy desk clerk hiding a trick room with a Peeping Tom window is perhaps suggested by
The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse but the scene is too incompetently shot to serve as a good red herring. If there's a racier version of the film -- the cutting doesn't encourage this idea -- there are plenty of opportunities for gratuitous nudity.
The ending wraps up with a dull chase and struggle to rescue a kidnapped woman (with a surprisingly downbeat result) as Luigi enlists some comedy relief helpers to aid him in finding the Phantom's underwater hideout. Another potentially good setpiece is wasted when the skull-masked Phantom hides among a room full of creepy-looking ancient corpses dressed just like him -- like everything else in the movie, nothing develops.
Retromedia is distributed by Image now, which perhaps accounts for a better overall quality for this DVD of Monster of Venice than we're used to seeing. A 35mm print in so-so condition - some scratches, some splices - is given an okay letterboxed (but flat) transfer -- excuse me, make that a "New Digital 35mm Transfer" -- as touted on the package-back. The on-screen title is The Embalmer and the film is the American domestic Walter Manley version. Walter Manley is known mostly as the producer of the Antonio Margheriti outerspace movies like Wild, Wild Planet ... and the Japanese The Green Slime, which Tim Lucas recently realized needs to be considered a close cousin of the Italian pictures. The track is an English dub.
A trailer is included. An unconvincingly academic promo text on the back cover tosses out a few laughable claims of cultural importance on the movie's behalf, but isn't as contemptuous of horror fan consumers as were some earlier Retromedia
examples. Monster of Venice is going to be of interest mainly to see-everything horror fans wanting to check off another missing title in their Hardy Horror Encyclopedia.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Monster of Venice rates:
Movie: Fair --
Video: Good -
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 24, 2005
Letter of correction from Michele Martocci, 9/30/2005: Dear Glenn Erickson, My name is Michele Martocci, I'm the son of GIN MART. Just a couple of lines to let you know that the real name of GIN MART, main actor in "Il Mostro di Venezia", aka "The Embalmer", directed by Dino Tavella in 1964, is not Gino Marturano (???), but LUIGI LEONE MARTOCCI, my father. As undisputable evidence I can show his contract signed for Gondola Film (see attachment). I don't know why, but the Italian "DIZIONARIO DEL CINEMA ITALIANO": I FILM vol. 3, quotes: GIN MART= Gino Marturano (???). In March 2004 I contacted the publisher Gremese who ignored many letters of mine. Having spoken later to the authors of the book, they informed me that Gremese could have corrected the information on the book at the time I contacted him. ... (deletion) .... So, Gremese is the major culprit in the perpetuation of this error. ....(deletion).
GIN MART was LUIGI LEONE MARTOCCI (Bari, Italy 26th of feb. 1932 - Brest, France 3rd of jan. 1988).
I'd be very grateful to you if you could correct this piece of information on your website. Do not hesitate to contact me should you need more evidence. Please, let me know. Thank you.
Best Regards, Michele Martocci Return
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson