Death Smiles on a Murderer
directed by Aristide Massaccesi aka Joe D’Amato
starring Klaus Kinski, Ewa Aulin
Death Smiles on a Murderer is the first official film to be directed by Italian schlock-master Aristide Massaccesi aka Joe D’Amato and has finally come home on a loaded, gorgeous Blu-Ray from Arrow Films. Despite the clunky title the movie is not so much a giallo but rather an gothic horror film with some giallo style trickery. Death Smiles on a Murderer cribs heavily from Edgar Allan Poe as well as H. P. Lovecraft, and the contemporary Hammer Studios Karnstein Vampire films inspired by Sheridan LeFanu’s Camilla (The Vampire Lovers, Lust for Vampire, and Twins of Evil).
The plot, which is loose at best, involves the reanimated corpse of a young woman seeking revenge while Klaus Kinski chews the scenery as a creepy doctor with scene stealing forehead veins and a chemistry set but never really figures into the story in a meaningful way. His scenes have the tell-tale feel of pick-up footage added to either pad out the already thin narrative and run time or to cash in on Kinki’s international fame. Swedish actress Ewa Aulin plays Greta who appears at the villa of the Walter and Eva Ravensbruck. Sexual tensions rise as both Greta seduces both Walter and Eva, all the while Klaus Kinski’s Dr. Sturges toils in his lab. Nothing fits together or makes narrative sense, but it is all shot and cut with such conviction it feel like there is more going on in the narrative than is actually present. What is present is crammed with gothic tombs, unconvincing gore, soft core lesbian sex, people walled alive, and leering voyeurism. Edgar Allan Poe stories “Bernice”, “The Black Cat”, “A Cask of Amontillado”, and “Masque of the Red Death” are all heavily riffed throughout the film and especially during the Kinki-less second half. Of course style over substance is a huge part of the charm in Italian genre films/ D’Amato’s movies were never as gorgeous as Mario Bava, as artful as Jean Rollin, or as kinky as Jesus Franco, but they do have their appeal and are important entries in numerous genres and it is well past time more of his films see proper video releases.
This Blu-Ray is the first proper home video release for Death Smiles on a Murderer and Arrow Films makes sure it was worth the wait. English dub and Italian language versions are included. The film has undergone a 2K restoration. The film looks and sounds beautiful allowing D’Amato’s often showy camera work and Berto Pisano’s haunting score to really shine. The disc includes a treasure trove of extras including an outstanding audio commentary by Tim Lucas and a video essay entitled Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the Horror Films of Joe D Amato which covers the movie and touch on D’Amato’s work in general from Diabolique Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Kat Ellinger . These are the kinds of supplements that add real value to the disc.