blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973, Joe D’Amato)

Until Death Smiles on a Murderer gets so inane it’s exasperating, at least the music (by Berto Pisano) isn’t terrible, and the editing (Piera Bruni and Gianfranco Simoncelli) is excellent. I don’t think either of them get worse once the rest of the movie does, but at that point, the film’s so bad it’s not like not incompetent music or even good cutting will make a difference.

Murderer opens with Luciano Rossi mooning over sister Ewa Aulin’s corpse. In flashback, we learn Rossi assaulted Aulin at least once and planned to take her somewhere else so they could live as a couple, not siblings. Not surprisingly, Aulin runs away into the immediate arms of older man Giacomo Rossi Stuart. Rossi is chasing her when she meets Stuart. Basically, Aulin sees Stuart on a park bench and is like, take me away.

I need to mention Rossi–the actor and his character—is a man with a hunched back. The film codes it as terrifying and evil.

The action then jumps ahead approximately three years, where bored landed gentry marrieds Sergio Doria and Angela Bo watch a speeding carriage crash at the front gate. The driver’s dead, the passenger’s unconscious. The passenger… is Aulin, alive and groggy and suffering from amnesia.

Police inspector Attilio Dottesio comes out but doesn’t bother interviewing Aulin or even checking in on her (later on, the movie says it’s important; it’s not). Instead, he just tells Doria to have doctor Klaus Kinski check on her and then write the death certificate for the driver. Kinski then inspects Aulin with Doria and Bo, then tells them to leave so Aulin can undress for his further inspection. It seems suspicious because Kinski can’t do anything without it being suspicious, but we’ll soon learn he’s not a perv. Or, at least, he’s not just a perv. He’s got his reasons for being curious about Aulin.

Could they have anything to do with what maid Carla Mancini finds so interesting about Aulin? We’ll have to wait for that answer, which will never be satisfactory.

Kinski tells Doria and Bo to keep an eye on Aulin until her memory returns, then heads off to his laboratory to do a bunch of chemical mixing. There’s got to be six minutes of chemical mixing montages. The first act of Death is incredibly padded, which ends up being okay because at least the music’s pretty and the editing is good. The less story, the better.

But pretty soon, Doria confesses his love to Aulin, who reciprocates (albeit without much enthusiasm). She’s a lot more enthusiastic—or at least director D’Amato’s more enthusiastic—when Bo also confesses her love to Aulin. Apparently, D’Amato convinced Bo to do a lot more nudity than Aulin; in addition to Bo and Aulin’s Skinemax scene, Bo’s also got one with Doria. Their scene—intercut with other footage of the throuple possibly happy (it’s very unclear)—also implies a new status quo, which we soon learn isn’t accurate. Except the inciting incident isn’t shown in scene. It’s like D’Amato knew not to ask his actors to do too much acting. Especially not Aulin, who spends the film looking diminutive and subservient in various outfits.

Everything eventually comes together—inspector Dottesio, Kinski’s experiments, older man Stuart—except D’Amato and his two co-writers are rather bad writers, so instead of tight knots, it’s a loose jumble of threads, less tied than tangled. Except for the music and editing, it often seems like no one’s invested in Death except to get Bo or Aulin undressed. Then there will be some gory sequence and, even though the gore’s low budget, at least the filmmakers were engaged.

D’Amato also photographed, and he’s most competent in that role. He’s downright bad at directing actors, regardless of who dubbed them later on (Death’s Italian), and low middling as far as composition, but his lighting’s fine.

I guess the best performances are Bo and Dottesio. Bo because she gets the only honest part, which helps her through the exploitative aspects. Dottesio’s just the most obviously competent.

Death is gory, lewd, lurid, and inordinately bad.

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