This post is part of the Third Annual Italian Horror Blogathon hosted by Kevin Olson's marvelous blog Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies. I participated last year, and I'm very happy to be a part of it again. I don't know why, but when writing reviews of these films for the blogathon, I tend to use a goofier style than normal. I guess the films bring out that side of me. Also, I lean toward describing the plots in obsessive detail (including massive spoilers), perhaps because so many of them are next to incomprehensible. Read on if you dare!
The late Italian director Aristide Massaccesi directed somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 films over a period of more than three decades, nearly all of them pseudononymously. The most famous of his aliases, and the one most commonly used when he's referred to, is Joe D'Amato, which I love, because isn't the whole idea of an Italian director using a pseudonym based on it not sounding Italian? Massaccesi worked in a variety of genres, but he was perhaps most prolific in the realms of horror and porn. He even combined the two on occasion, with such questionable films as Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust. Many of his straight horror films, among them Buio Omega (aka Beyond the Darkness, Buried Alive) and Antropophagus (aka The Grim Reaper), were firmly aligned with the glut of ultra-gory zombie and cannibal films that emerged from Italy in the late 1970s/early 1980s in response to the success of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, but his first foray into the horror genre, which was also one of his first films as a director (and the only one he directed using his given name), was slightly more restrained than his later horror films. With that being said, 1973's La Morte Ha Sorriso All'Assassino (aka Death Smiles at Murder or Death Smiles on a Murderer) certainly more than fulfills its quota of nudity and violence. It's a curious hybrid between the earlier Italian gothic horror films, which were petering out about this time, and the newer, more violent giallo films which would come to predominate the remainder of the decade. It's a far from perfect film, but from a cinematic standpoint, it's an interesting glimpse into where Massaccesi/D'Amato's career might have led him if he'd focused more on quality than quantity.
|A peeping Franz|
|One of the earliest traffic safety films|
|Paging Dr. Kinski|
|Hang on, you've got something in your eye|
|The ground chuck school of makeup effects|
|A debutante ball for a dead girl|
|"I'm sorry I tried to drown you. Let's make out."|
|Nothing bad ever happens down in the crypt|
|Not so hot for me now, are you?|
|The party's over|
|He didn't have to wait until the morning after to regret his decision|
Death Smiles at Murder is truly an absurd film. At one point, the Inspector remarks, "I don't understand. None of this makes any sense," and that just about sums it up right there. Just when you think you're beginning to figure things out, random stuff happens that leaves you scratching your head, like the maid's hallucinations, the unexplained revival of Eva in her tomb or the flowers that turn into a cat. Despite its drawbacks, though, it's a highly entertaining, sumptuously made piece of trash cinema that holds up to repeated viewings. The production values are quite high, and it's beautifully shot, which isn't surprising given that it's the work of a cinematographer transitioning to directing films. The acting is fairly decent as these things go. Swedish actress Aulin, best known for appearing in the sex comedy Candy alongside such luminaries as Richard Burton and Marlon Brando, is the centerpiece of the film; the camera loves her doll-like beauty (except when her face is falling off). The lush score, by Berto Pisano, is quite accomplished, reminiscent at times of the music of Ennio Morricone. Best of all, the film contains some truly chilling moments, and though it's nowhere near the same level as Mario Bava's Lisa and the Devil, it has the same sort of morbid, necrophiliac atmosphere in which sex and death are inextricably intertwined. Although Massaccesi would go on to make a handful of more notorious films (and a shitload of instantly forgettable ones), this one is probably the closest he came to a work of cinematic art.