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Giallo Essentials (Smile Before Death, The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive & The Killer Reserved Nine Seats)
Arrow Video compiles three more giallo pictures in one convenient boxed set titled, appropriately enough, Giallo Essentials Volume 3. Here's what is contained in the set…
Smile Before Death:
Directed by Silvio Amadio (the same man who gave us Amuck), who co-wrote with Francesco Di Dio and Francesco Merli, 1972's Smile Before Death introduces us to a photographer named Marco (Silvano Tranquilli) and his wife Dorothy (Zora Gheorgieva), a husband and wife who are in an open marriage that isn't quite going as smoothly as maybe they'd hoped that it would. This complicated situation is made to be even more complicated as Marco has taken Dorothy's best friend, Gianna (Rosalba Neri), as his lover.
Soon enough, Dorothy is dead, and although it looks like she killed herself (she was found dead with her throat slit in a room that was locked from the inside), it isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility that Marco, who now controls her sizeable estate, was behind it all. There's a catch, however. When Dorothy's daughter, Nancy (Jenny Tamburi), turns twenty, she inherits everything. Nancy returns home and finds Marco and Gianna living it up.
At this point, things become even more complex, with Gianna urging Marco to kill his step-daughter and Nancy even going so far as to try and use her feminine whiles on him. If that weren't enough, Gianna herself starts making eyes at the beautiful younger woman and it all eventually leads to a pretty solid finale that most won't see coming.
Featuring a weirdly hypnotic theme with equally weird vocals by Edda Della Orso, Smile Before Death opens with a bang, throwing Dorothy's fairly bloody murder at us right from the very start of the picture. From there, the plot evolves at a pretty decent pace, slowing down a bit in the middle stretch so that Amadio can spend some times letting us observe the film's two lovely female leads getting up to various acts of no good, before then bringing everything in for a really strong conclusion that does a nice job of trying most of the storyline's loose ends.
The movie has good production values. The cinematography and lighting is up to par and the score is solid. Performances are also very good across the board. Silvano Tranquilli is quite good as the sleazy centrifuge while Rosalba Neri and Jenny Tamburi both bring plenty of vampish, sex appeal to their portrayals of their respective characters. Overall, this one works very well and is definitely worth checking out.
The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive:
Francesco Mazzei's 1972 film The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive, which he co-wrote with Marcello Aliprandi with a screenplay from none other than Mario Bianchi, is an interesting mix of nunsploitation thrills and Giallo chills shot with plenty of style.
The story revolves around the mysterious murder of a Catholic priest named Don Giorgio (Maurizio Bonuglia), a man seemingly obsessed with penance and who would frequently whip himself to make up for his various transgressions. Not the least of these transgressions includes two affairs, one with Orchidea Durantini (Bedy Moratti) and the other with Giulia Pisani (Eva Czemerys). Before he was killed, Giorgio did make an earnest effort to put an end to both affairs. Giorgio was murdered inside a church where an altar boy, an orphan named Ferruccio (Arturo Trina), may or may not have seen it all go down.
Trying to crack the case is a cop named Franco Boito (Renzo Montagnani). The more involved with the case he becomes, the more obsessed with the beautiful Orchidea he becomes. Things take a strange turn when Orchidea's husband winds up dead, seemingly by his own hand, all while the behavior of the nuns nearby becoming increasingly, and strangely, sexual in nature!
This seems like it should be better known than it is, especially amongst Euro-cult film circles as it blends two fairly popular genres and gets good work out of a strong cast. It isn't the flashiest film in terms of how it was lit and shot, but it builds pretty nicely and it tells a legitimately compelling story as it does so. It also makes very good use of some interesting locations, with much of the story centered around the church, which features some eerie catacombs underneath.
Like Fulci's Don't Torture A Duckling before it, they film does not paint the Catholic Church in a particularly kind light, exploring themes of its doctrine and the sexual repression that comes with it, but it never feels like it's making unjust cheap shots either. The themes it explores and conclusions that it comes to work quite well in the context of the story being told, and at times it is difficult not to think of Ken Russell's masterpiece The Devils as you watch the picture, as it does share some thematic similarities to that film which was made only a year prior to this one.
The film is light on gore but offers a few sleazy thrills involving the nuns and their topless flagellation tactics. Performances are pretty strong across the board, with Renzo Montagnani playing a humanly flawed but well-meaning inspector quite believably. Eva Czemerys and Bedy Moratti are both as good in their parts as they are quite beautiful, and they deliver fine work here as well. Child actor Arturo Trina isn't great but he's better than most child actors that pop up in Italian genre pictures from this era, while Maurizio Bonuglia does a fine job of playing the conflicted priest around whom all of this centers.
The Killer Has Reserved Nine Seats:
Directed by Giuseppe Bennati in 1974 and notoriously hard to come by, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats starts out with a scene in which a few cars heading into the city late one night. They stop and a group of nine family members and friends head inside an older opera house owned by the Davenant family. Unused for decades, it's nevertheless a fascinating old building ripe with a strange history.
The man in charge of this late night visit is Patrick Davenant (Chris Avram) but accompanying him are his fiancé Kim (Janet Agren), two lesbian lovers named Rebecca (Eva Czemerys) and Doris (Lucretia Love), his red haired daughter Lynn (Paola Senatore) and her boyfriend Duncan Foster (Gaetano Russo), a balding guy named Albert (Andrea Scotti), a high class prostitute and Patrick's former flame Vivian (Rosanna Schiaffino) and a misogynist friend named Russell (Howard Ross). Somehow, however, they are no alone - a nameless man (Eduardo Filipone) in a Nehru suit with a fancy medallion hanging around his neck. He seems to have been here before and is quite familiar with his surroundings despite the fact that the place has been closed for a century.
As the night progresses, the group splits up and the mystery man disappears shortly before a rope is cut and a massive beam falls and just misses Patrick. As couples look for privacy to fool around, Kim finds an Elizabethan costume and decides to do a little Romeo and Juliette on the stage. When her stage suicide turns out to be a very real murder, the rest of the theater's inhabitants begin to panic. When the doors somehow lock from the outside, Patrick explains that the theater is cursed and as the bodies start to pile up the survivors try to find out not only who the real killer is but how and why all of this is happening in the first place.
When it begins, the film seems like it's going to follow the standard Giallo route and it does borrow pretty heavily from Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians as many films from the genre do. Once it picks up and gets moving, however, Bennati introduces some unexpected supernatural elements into the film that, along with its fantastic location, help to make it stand out from the pack. Granted, an opera house was used in Argento's Opera and Soavi's Stagefright but Bennati beat them both to the punch and this picture would seem to have been an influence on both of those later films. The last twenty or so minutes of the picture bring things to an interesting finale where what at first appeared to be some haphazard writing and iffy direction turns out to actually be pretty creative and quite unique. All of this is wonderfully photographed and atmospherically lit, benefitting from a nice score from Carlo Savina.
The cast, many of whom are going to be quite familiar to fans of Italian horror pictures, do a pretty decent job with the material. Avram plays the smug patriarch of the family convincingly enough and the various female cast members (all of whom disrobe to varying degrees before the end credits) are all quite attractive. Rosanna Schiaffino, more a mainstream actress than a horror stalwart, really steals the show here and looks quite stunning in a black dress complete with odd spider web shoulder accents! The wardrobe definitely has that early seventies Europe vibe to it that adds some interesting splashes of style and color to the visuals.
The murder set pieces vary in their extremity but the film gets pretty gruesome and some could argue it relishes in seeing its female cast members offed in more gratuitous and extreme fashion than their male counterparts. There are bloodier Giallos out there and sexier ones too but given how The Killer Reserved Nine Seats manages to work in some very obvious elements from the types of gothic horror pictures filmmaker's like Antonio Margheriti and Mario Bava were making a decade before, few are quite as unique as this one.
Taken from a brand new 2k restoration of the original negative and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen, the AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer for Smile Before Death looks really strong. Colors look really good, black levels are solid and we get nice depth and detail throughout the image. There isn't much print damage to note at all, the image is very clean, and the picture is free of any noticeable noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifact related issues.
The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive's transfer is also taken from a new 2k restoration of the original negative. The image is again presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Arrow's picture is quite nice, there's good depth and the image always looks properly film-like. There are no visible authoring or encoding issues and the picture is free of any noticeable print damage while still retaining the proper amount of expected film grain. Colors look good and both skin tones and black levels look nice throughout. There's plenty of detail here as well as strong texture.
The Killer Reserved Nine Seats comes to Blu-ray from Arrow Video in a transfer that mirrors the on that Camera Obscura used for their Blu-ray release a few years ago (which is probably why it isn't advertised as being from a new transfer). The picture is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks excellent. Although the primary opera house location is often dark and occasionally heavy on drab tones we get nice color reproduction on primaries, red especially, on the backdrops and frescos and costumes worn throughout the movie. Black levels are nice and solid and the image shows excellent detail from start to finish. Outside of a few small specks that most won't even notice, print damage is never an issue while the lack of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement results in a nicely filmic picture with strong texture and depth. Would a new scan have yielded better results? Almost certainly, but this does still look very nice.
Smile Before Death gets original Italian and English audio options in LPCM Mono format with optional English subtitles provided for both options. Audio quality is fine on both tracks, it's properly balanced, clean, clear and free of any hiss, distortion or sibilance.
The only audio option for The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive is an LPCM Mono option in Italian, with optional subtitles provided in English only. Again, the audio quality is pretty strong. The track is clean sounding and demonstrates some pretty decent depth when it comes to reproducing the score. No audible defects here to not.
The Killer Has Reserved Nine Seats gets Italian and English language LPCM Mono soundtracks with optional subtitles available for each track. No problems to note here, the quality is good. The single channel mixes both sound quite good, with nice depth to the score and decent, crisp sounding dialogue. The levels are balanced and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. For the few scenes for which there was no English dubbing completed, subtitles will appear (this obviously doesn't affect the Italian track, for which subtitles will appear throughout when enabled).
Smile Before Death:
Extras start off with a new audio commentary by authors and critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson wherein the pair go over the film's fairly shocking opening scene and how it doesn't quite represent the movie to follow, the film's score and details of its composter Roberto Pregadio, thoughts on director Silvio Amadio's career and his directing style, plenty of details on the lives and careers of the different cast members that appear in the picture, the rise and fall of the Giallo boom, the English dubbed version of the movie, the coincidental naming of certain characters in this and other European genre films, thoughts on the performances and the production values, comparisons to Slaughter Hotel which was released around the same time, the film's spotty distribution and how it has previously been quite hard to see in decent condition, the quality of the pacing in the movie and lots more.
Smile Of The Hyena is a new video interview with Stefano Amadio, film journalist and son of director Silvio Amadio, that runs for just over twenty-three minutes. In what must have been a mistake, there are no English subtitles included on this piece, making it difficult to comment on. Hopefully Arrow will correct this problem.
Finishing up the extras on the disc are the original Italian and English front and end titles, a selection of three minutes' worth of never-before-seen extended nude scenes featuring Jenny Tamburi and Rosalba Neri that didn't make their way into the completed film (presented without sound but delightful nevertheless!), a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options.
The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive:
Author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas starts off the extras on the second disc with an audio commentary that spends a fair bit of time talking, understandably, about the horniness of the priests and nuns that populate the story. She puts the film into context alongside a lot of other films that came out of the Giallo boom cycle and offers a bit of a genre history that will appeal to those less familiar with the genre than those more experienced with it. She also offers up plenty of info on the cast and crew that worked on the picture, the use of Roman Catholicism in the film, the use of sex in the movie and quite a bit more.
A Man In Giallo is a new video interview with actor Salvatore Puntillo who speaks for fourteen minutes about his experiences working on the picture. He talks about it being quite a pleasant experience and offers his thoughts on the movie itself, what it was like working with the film's director, doing many scenes in only one take, getting along with his co-stars, being okay taking criticism so long as it helped him become a better actor and going on to work with Dario Argento on Deep Red.
Finishing up the extras on disc two are opening and closing titles for the lost English-language dubbed version of the movie, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options.
The Killer Has Reserved Nine Seats:
Author and critic Kat Ellinger provides a new commentary for The Killer Reserved Nine Seats and starts it off by talking about how the movie is a bit maligned and then going on to discuss modern Giallo-influenced films and the resurgence these films have caused the originals to have. From there, she covers some of the plot devices employed here, the quality of the cinematography, thoughts on the characters in the movie, details on the lives and times of the different cast members, notes on the different crew members, the theater setting used here and, of course, some gothic elements that work their way into the movie. She also talks about similarities to Blood And Black Lace, the use of the tape recorder in the movie and the film's unique ending.
Additionally there are two featurettes here, the first of which is the eight minute Hanging With Howard, an interview with actor Howard Ross. He speaks about what it was like spending most of the shoot in an old theater and shares some amusing anecdotes about temperamental leading man Avram and about the picture's director.
The second featurette the a twenty-nine minute Writing With Biagio, an interview with screenwriter Biagio Proietti who discusses how he got his start in the film industry and notes some of the other projects he was involved in. He then discusses some of the themes exploited by the film, including the supernatural angle that creeps in and his working relationship with the picture's director. Both interviews are quite interesting and again, for Giallo fans, they represent a rare opportunity to dig beneath the surface of a film that was, until a few years ago, quite difficult to see in a decent presentation.
Finishing up the extras on the third disc is an Italian theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options.
We also get some very cool boxed set packaging. The three discs load into the side of a sturdy and stylish black box that in turn fits inside a slipcover with a circle cut out exposing the dramatic artwork underneath. Arrow also includes, for the first pressing only, Iidividual illustrated collector's booklets for each of the three films in the set, featuring new essays by Rachael Nisbet, Barry Forshaw and Peter Jilmstad as well as some technical notes and credits for the three features.
Arrow's release of Giallo Essentials Volume 3 is quite strong, offering up three lesser seen genre entries in very nice shape and with some quality supplements exploring their various histories and analyzing their themes. The transfers are solid across the board, as is the audio, and we get some nice packaging here as well. Highly recommended.rn
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.