Death Smiles at Murder (1973)

Director: Joe D’Amato

Although technically I should probably credit this to “Aristide Massaccesi”, as this was apparently the only film uncle Joe actually made under his own name… It’s filed under the giallo section of the Drive-In Delirium collection, although it’s not quite giallo, being a semi-period piece (quite explicitly set in 1909) and with the killer also being basically supernatural in origin rather than mundane. I suppose it’s really a mix of the older gothic mode with the newer giallo in some respects, with a surprising degree of gore (the evisceration of the hearse carriage driver early in the film being particularly notable). Whatever you call it, though, Death Smiles at Murder is undeniably one thing: some damned convoluted shit. In fact, for a while I actually wondered if Aristide hadn’t actually combined two entirely separate films into one; I knew he couldn’t have done, cos there was a certain overlap of characters, but it takes an awfully long time for the two narrative strands to come together. We begin with a man and his sister, whose relationship is… unhealthy at best; she meets, apparently falls in love with another man, dies mysteriously. Cut to the other story; after the aforementioned hearse accident, a young girl is pulled from the carriage who looks remarkably like our dead young lady from the opening scenes, same name and all. Doctor Klaus Kinski is called in to give her the once-over, and he finds her to be remarkably odd indeed… just like he is himself, experimenting on the side with re-animating the dead. But just as Greta gives him the key to the secret of bringing the dead back to life, well, someone sends him to join them instead. Things actually do get odder from there, though for the most part sense is kind of made… Death Smiles at Murder is watchable, in that D’Amato brings his own camera skills to bear quite nicely and the story is compelling if only because you wonder how in Hell, or even if, he means to tie things up. It is, however, let down by the gore (the latter being comparatively plentiful but also shoddily executed), and the clearly stated period isn’t exactly matched by some of the hairstyles and clothing on display (not sure about the vehicles and telephone either). Not bad, though. I’ll take this again over Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, at any rate…

Written for the 4th Annual Italian Horror Blogathon at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies

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