Mondo Macabro has another winner in The Killer Must Kill Again (1975), an effective entry in that singularly Italian mystery/thriller/horror genre, the giallo, which is finding a growing and appreciative following since the advent of DVD. Giallo (gialli?) have until recently been completely ignored in America and the U.K., especially in scholarly film circles, but the best ones can proudly stand alongside the average Hitchcock thriller. The Killer Must Kill Again, an Italian-French (and, uncredited, Spanish) co-production released in Italy as L'Assassino e costretto ad uccidere ancora (literally "The Assassin is Forced to Keep Killing"), it was completed several years prior to its release under the title Il Ragno ("The Spider"), a more evocative, less exploitative title.
As so much of the appeal of giallo rests in their stories and unexpected plot twists, interested viewers are advised to watch the film cold, and skip these spoilers. Mainati (George Hilton) is an unhappily married man who witnesses a never-named killer, apparently using the initials D.A. (Antoine Saint-John, memorable as Col. Gunther Reza in Duck You Sucker), dumping a dead woman's body into a canal. Rather than report this to the police, Mainati instead offers "D.A." $20,000 to murder his wife and make it look like a kidnapping.
While Mainati yucks it up at a party, thus establishing an alibi, D.A. murders Mrs. Mainati (Teresa Velasquez), but as he prepares to dispose of her body, the killer's Mercedes is stolen by Luka (Alessio Orano, of Lisa and the Devil, and looking like a young Martin Landau) and Laura (beautiful Cristina Galbo, of What Have They Done to Solange?). Unaware of the dead body in the trunk, the joy riders hightail it to the beach, with horny Luka hoping to get it on with virginal Laura. Meanwhile, D.A. is hot on their trail, while Mainati falls under the suspicion of a crafty police inspector (Eduardo Fajardo).
The Killer Must Kill Again is a typically fine giallo whose main strengths are its smartly constructed script and fine direction by first-timer Luigi Cozzi, soon to win a large international audience with such films as Starcrash (1979) and Hercules (1983). Though some are drawn to the genre's grimmer, horror aspects (which generally are minor) and gore (quite tame by today's standards), its real appeal lay in its ability to tell uncluttered, compelling tales of mystery and suspense effectively and imaginatively. Essentially B-movies, these were pictures made by talented artists bursting with imagination making the kind of pictures their local market would support.
The Killer Must Kill Again meets all these requirements. It's involving, never dull, and moves in unexpected directions. (The wrap-up is improbable but nicely bookends the story.) Cozzi's direction of his own script (co-written with Adriano Bolzoni and Daniele Del Guidice) is constantly inventive and visually interesting. For instance, after first confronting D.A., Mainati discusses his murder proposition at an ice rink where a woman practices figure skating. As she performs her ballet-like movies, the uneasy alliance between the two men makes for an interesting juxtaposition. Throughout the picture Cozzi makes good use of the Techniscope format, even incorporating irising effects.
As one of Italy's first postmodern genre directors, Cozzi references others movies, filmmakers and stories. D.A., the initials seen on the killer's cigarette lighter, is an obvious reference to one of Cozzi's mentors, Dario Argento, while the set representing Mainati's home (with some really great-looking '70s furniture) is bathed in deep, wall-to-wall primary yellow, alluding to the genre itself.
Except for Laura, all of the characters are pretty reprehensible or unlikable, but the script keeps them interesting, with Luka an outrageously irresponsible boyfriend and Mainati smugly confident about his murder plot. Compared to them the killer may be viciously violent but at least he's methodical and level-headed, and his efforts to retrieve his car (and the body inside it) are quite logical and in the tradition of similar scenes in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) and Frenzy (1972).
Though Uruguayan George Hilton is top-billed, most of the film falls to Saint-John, Orano, and Galbo, and to a lesser extent sexpot Femi Benussi, whom Luka picks up late in the film. Each is effective in their part, with Saint-John especially creepy as the rapist-murderer. With his gaunt features and sunken, piercing eyes and closely-cropped hair, he's like a psycho Charlie McCarthy come to life, not someone you'd want to run into in a dark alley.
Many giallo have been accused of misogyny, and The Killer Must Kill Again walks a very fine line here cutting between two love-makers in one location with a brutal rape in another. Mostly though the film is in good taste with violence much less graphic than one can find on over-the-air television today. Even this film's rape is much less disturbing than the one in the aforementioned Frenzy.
Video & Audio
Mondo Macabro continues to improve in this area. The Killer Must Kill Again is a solid transfer in 16:9 format retaining its aggressively visual Techniscope photography. The image is free from dirt and wear, though the titles appear to have been redone for this English release, unfortunate since their original design (included as an extra) is quite good. The film can be listed to in both the original Italian with optional English subtitles, or in an English dub version. Given the international cast, who on set probably spoke a mix of French, Spanish, and Italian, this reviewer opted for the English track, which is cleaner and less harsh than the Italian one, though there is some paraphrasing of dialogue.
Once again, Mondo Macabro has done a very impressive job here, bolstering this title's appeal with scads of supplements. Included are no less than three featurettes, all the work of Boum Productions and each in 16:9 anamorphic format. The Road to the Killer is an interview with director Cozzi, who speaks English, on his early career, which included a stint as Famous Monsters of Filmland's "Italian correspondent." The 16-minute interview features clips from Tunnel Under the World (1969), Cozzi's experimental (and not widely released) first film, and an episode of an Italian suspense TV series that helped establish his name.
This is followed by Initials D.A. -- Cozzi on Argento, an interesting 10-minute piece that Argento fans will like though its relationship to The Killer Must Kill Again is tenuous at best. Better is Death Walks at Midnight and the Giallo Genre, a 17-minute overview originally made for the Region 2 DVD of Death Walks at Midnight. Writer Adrian Smith puts the genre into historical context and discusses its leading actors and directors.
Cozzi is also featured on the disc's Audio Commentary track, while his career, along with those of Hilton, Galbo, and Benussi, are detailed in the Cast and Crew Biogs. A Theatrical Trailer, in 16:9 format, calls the film The Dark is Death's Friend and, usual for these international previews from Italy, has no narration or text identifying the players.
About the Film is an especially welcome feature, giving specific background on this production. The uncredited writer of this text does a good job providing the reader with background and it offers interesting info on this picture's title change and censorship problems. (It was finished in 1973 but not released until '75.) The Original Title Sequence differs from that seen in the feature proper; it's 4:3 format and seems derived from a VHS or three-quarter tape. Both the On Set Stills and Poster & Lobby Cards sections offer more than one normally finds on big label titles.
Formerly time-killers on low-wattage UHF stations that couldn't afford anything else, Italian giallo are finally and deservedly finding fans in English-speaking countries, fans who didn't even know these movies existed just a few years ago.** The Killer Must Kill Again, despite its bluntly exploitive title, is a good and very typical example of the slick work this genre produced. Recommended.
**In my hometown market of Detroit, these films used to play late at night on Channel 62, often with their gore and nudity inexplicably intact.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.