DEATH SMILES AT MURDER
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Written by Joe D'Amato
Screenplay by Joe D'Amato, Claudio Bernabei & R.Scandariato
Production Manager: Oscar Santaniello
Music by Berto Pisano
Cast: Ewa Aulin, Klaus Kinski, Luciano Rossi, Angela Bo & Franco Cerulli
1972/85 mins/Color/Dolby Digital Mono
1.85:1/English/Italy/PAL Region 0
Review of the Italian Shock DVD
Another welcome release from Italian Shock Video in Europe. LA MORTE HA SORRISO ALL' ASSASSINO (DEATH SMILES AT MURDER) was one of Joe D'Amato's first attempts at solo direction in 1972, after years working in the business as a cinematographer/assistant director on other people's productions. It is a world away from the films he is best remembered for, including BEYOND THE DARKNESS, ANTHROPOTHAGOUS THE BEAST and a selection of hardcore films from the 90's. The violence, gore and sexual explicitness that we came to expect from Mr D'Amato are sadly absent in this earlier venture. What there is is very brief and very tame. DEATH SMILES AT MURDER is a tough film to review as it's incredibly disjointed with a loose narrative. It takes at least two viewings to come to terms with and I can't see most people nowadays having the time or patience to bother. The extensive use of flashbacks doesn't help matters; characters who are seemingly killed in one scene are merrily bounding around in the next!
Ewa Aulin stars as young Greta. She is involved in a carriage accident with her driver being impaled on one of the wheels. She suffers a bout of amnesia after the crash and is looked after by a kind-hearted couple who call in Dr Sturges to examine her. The kindly doctor is played by none other than Klaus Kinski. He immediately insists she undress and then for no explicable reason sticks a needle in the side of her eye-socket, with absolutely no response from her. Greta gets down and dirty with the couple bedding both, whilst Dr Sturges carries out experiments to reanimate the dead. In one of those remarkable coincidences (which only seem to happen in the movies) Greta has in her possession an old Inca medallion, which has a secret formula engraved on it, "the power of life and death" which the greedy doctor uses for his continuing experiments. The doctor is strangled to death by an off-screen attacker as he finally achieves his goal and brings a cadaver back to life. Greta vanishes, seemingly dead, only to reappear as a ghost. As bodies mount up, a police inspector investigates stating "I begin to doubt whether I'll ever solve this mystery, somehow it just doesn't add up!" Never a truer word has been spoken!
DEATH SMILES AT MURDER is a real enigma, which leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. The strange cast of characters includes Greta's hunchback brother (played by Luciano Rossi). He is responsible for a string of murders before being killed off by his loving sister. Klaus Kinski's role is just an extended cameo (shot in three days) and he gives a pretty laid-back performance with his character dying forty minutes into the film. The murder scenes are tame by today's standards, but there are still a few moments of inspiration from D'Amato, including one character repeatedly slashed across the face with a razor, a shotgun wound to the face, a body nailed to a door and a killer cat! The mournful soundtrack accompanying the film, by Berto Pisano, is very reminiscent of the work of Ennio Morricone and is possibly the best thing about the film, alongside the accomplished cinematography.
Italian Shock's European disc is uncut and letterboxed at 1.85:1. The PAL print is coded Region 0 and has a high level of detail with little or no damage (although in the opening five minutes there are some irregularities with large white spots appearing in the black bar above the image). The English dubbed mono audio track suffers a far worse fate and has a horrendous amount of crackling which occurs on and off throughout the film. The disc comes with 12 chapter stops, liner notes, a short trailer, an animated slideshow and is housed in a plastic keepcase.
Almost despite itself DEATH SMILES AT MURDER does contain some haunting imagery with a frightening sense of despair and dread, although it won't appeal to those in search of explicit gore. Whilst the audio track on this DVD is very disappointing, visually it looks fine.
This Film Features:
Review by Brendan Maltman. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©
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