One of Arrow Video‘s recent box set series has been the Giallo Essentials. Previously we’ve had volume one (yellow) and volume two (red) that were kind of greatest hits compilations, but now there’s the third volume, the Black Edition, which brings three gialli from the early ’70s that haven’t had previous UK releases – Smile Before Death (1972), The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive (1972), and The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974).
Silvio Amadio’s Smile Before Death begins with showing you the goods instantly. No, not those goods. It opens with the bloody demise of Dorothy Emerson, and it’s definitely bloody as her throat is slit with a piece of glass, getting claret everywhere. Not even Cillit Bang will work on that.
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It’s revealed pretty quickly that Dorothy’s wife Marco (Silvano Tranquilli) and his mistress Gianna (Rosalba Neri) were responsible for the murder, as the marriage was failing and Dorothy was the rich one, and as he takes over everything they look forward to a long and happy life. Unfortunately, Nancy (Jenny Tamburi), Dorothy’s daughter from a previous marriage, arrives after being told her mother killed herself, and while she’s only a teenager, it won’t be long before she comes of age and the whole estate goes to her, which puts a huge thorn in the side of Marco and Gianna’s plan.
Smile Before Death is both a lot of fun and weird and creepy, with most of the latter coming from Tranquilli’s Marco and his infatuation with Nancy, who we’re told is 16 or 17. He falls for her, she falls for him, and everything gets complicated, and it’s these twisty love triangles that we love so much in gialli because they usually have a shocking and bloody climax, and Smile Before Death is no different. The film looks and sounds good; the production design is fantastic and the sheer breadth of designer aesthetics is amazing, and the surprisingly cheery score by Roberto Pregadio is excellent.
Francesco Mazzei’s The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive shows the innate danger in dipping your pen in company ink, especially when your company happens to be a convent. Suffice to say, when handsome priest Don Giorgio (Maurizio Bonuglia) has an affair with not one but two ladies connected with the place, he ends up in a very sticky situation. And by that, I mean sticky with blood. Seriously, if you don’t clean it up quickly it can be really gross.
After Don Giorgio’s body is discovered by nuns and the caretaker, Police inspector Boito (Renzo Montagnani) is brought in to investigate, along with assistant Moriconi (Salvatore Puntillo). You can tell what kind of man Boito is when he arrives alongside the squad cars on a motorcycle, and he’s a man of passion and good humour, even if he chooses the worst people to get romantically involved with. The suspects are many: there’s Orchidea (Bedy Moratti) aka mistress number one, and Giulia (Eva Czemerys) aka mistress number two, along with both of their husbands, and the janitor, who just happens to be an ex-con.
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The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive is perhaps an outlier because it doesn’t want to be flashy. Director Mazzei is clearly more interested in telling a solid story instead of flashy tricks, letting the unfolding narrative provide the shocks. Montagnini gives a great lead performance that supplies the backbone for the film, with Moratti, in particular, coming across as wonderfully haunted yet passionate and eager to be loved.
There are also interesting themes about adultery, not only to individuals but also to religion. Don Giorgio is found to have self-flagellated, and later there is an entire sequence where the nuns of the convent do the same, and it’s quite exhilaratingly kinky. The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive is a superior detective thriller that is very much meat and potatoes but is happy to provide both in high quality and quantity.
As the title indicates, Guiseppe Benatti’s The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is about theatricality, but also family. The rich Patrick (Chris Avram) invites family and friends to his remote villa, which happens to contain its own theatre. Lucky bastard. Unfortunately for him, someone has it in for him, and others too.
As strange things start to happen in the villa, such as moving mannequins and doors being mysteriously locked, someone makes an attempt on Patrick’s life. Immediately everyone is a suspect, and no one can escape. Suddenly, actual deaths begin to happen, a mysterious caped figure is seen running in the halls, and the question is not only who did it, but why, how far they’ll go and how many they’ll kill. Sorry, that’s four questions.
The Killer Reserved Nine Seats seems like a fairly confused film, and it often feels incoherent, and not in a good way like other Italian horrors. The back and forth between whether or not everything is someone’s tricks or if there are actual supernatural things going on helps to muddy the waters, and none of it is ever interesting enough to make you really care. It’s fairly gory in parts too, but the effects aren’t always up to it – there’s a shot of the killer nailing the hand of someone to a wall that lingers far too long on the fake hand and makes it laughable. The worst thing is that it’s boring.
Arrow has pulled together some nice transfers for this set, all of which are from 2K restorations, which means they look and sound pretty great, if not amazing, although that’s likely due to the elements available. As usual, included is a decent amount of extras including three audio commentaries – one for each film – along with interviews and deleted scenes. As usual, there is a booklet of essays included, but this was not made available for review.
Giallo Essentials: Black Edition differs from the previous volumes by including films that are all UK premieres, and they’re good choices. Some more extras may have been nice, but it’s a good price and well worth it. Roll on volume four.
Giallo Essentials: Black Edition is out on Blu-ray on 1st August from Arrow Video.