Blu-ray Review: Death Smiles on a Murderer

Giallo and Gelato night is sweeping the nation. Maybe not sweeping, but when it comes time to press play on another fine Italian thriller from the 1970s, I’ve got a big bowls of Italian-style ice cream for all. And just in time for my May night, Arrow Video has released Death Smiles on a Murderer which contains elements of both horror and giallo with a major cast. Unlike most giallo films, Death Smiles is a period piece which was rare for the genre. Why? Because most of the films didn’t have lavish budgets that could cover getting authentic dresses, slashing them with knives and coating them in fake blood. Death Smiles on a Murderer is tale of resurrection and death takes place in the early 1900s around Austria so the bowl was filled with Salted Caramel Truffle Gelato.

Greta von Holstein (Ewa Aulin) doesn’t have much luck with men. Her creepy brother Franz (I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin‘s Luciano_Rossi) has molested her for years. She meets Dr. von Ravensbrück, falls in love and gets knocked up. This goes extra bad when the good doctor dumps her and she dies in child birth. Now that would normally be enough for a sad tale. But Franz isn’t having any of that. He uses sorcery to raise his sister from her tomb. She’s not up for being a zombie incest partner and puts a stop to his intentions. She rises from the grave to get her ultimate revenge on the doctor and his family. She fakes a coach wreck near the doctor’s son estate. The son and his wife take in the injured girl. They bring in Dr. Sturges (Aguirre: The Wrath of God‘s Klaus Kinski) to examine her. Things get weird as people in the estate disappear including even Greta at one point. Who is really doing the killings at the estate?

While Joe D’Amato made nearly 200 films, this is one of the few that he used his real name, Aristide Massaccesi, in the credits. And there’s a big reason since Death Smiles on a Murderer is one of his finest. Don’t worry that he someone cleaned himself up to make a charming period piece you could show your grandmother after an episode of Downton Abbey. A woman gets her face blasted off with a shotgun by an unseen killer. There’s quite a bit of sensuality on the screen that might also shock nana. For fans of horror and giallo, the movie is rather sophisticated. Ewa Aulin is able to give such an innocent performance with her glow that it’s hard to figure out if she could possibly be a violet undead creature aiming to tear apart a family. Kinski is his always manic self especially when he recognized the secret of bring back people from the grave is engraved on her necklace. Death Smiles on a Murderer is a classy giallo hybrid that deserves the best gelato in the supermarket freezer.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the details in the period wardrobe, locations and gore. Audio is LPCM Mono tracks with either English or Italian dubs. This is an international cast so don’t worry which version you pick. The levels are bring out the subtle nature of the score and ghostly nuances. The movie is subtitled in English.

Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas, a historian focused on Italian films. He points out the name came from when it was syndicated to US television. He give a lot of background on the filmmakers and production.

D’Amato Smiles On Death (5:57) is an archival interview with the director from 1999, the year he passed away. He admits he used his own name because he really liked the film. He admits the key to casting Klaus Kinski is having his money in advance. He did enjoy working with Kinski.

All About Ewa (42:55) is a fresh interview with Swedish star Ewa Aulin about her career. She was the title character in Candy and Death Laid An Egg. They did up her first big role to illustrate her recounting of the times.

Smiling on the Taboo (21:34) is a video essay from Kat Ellinger about the works of Joe D’Amato. It includes all 50 names we know that he used on the hundreds of films he made. D’Amato liked to make horror and erotica since he could shock audiences. He used fake names so that he could make movies and still be a director of photography without giving directors the scare that he’ll take over their movie. There’s a lot of great clips that will easily turn into a list of what to get next.

Original Trailers are for both the English (2:47) and Italian (2:47) releases. The mystery just doesn’t add up to the narrator.

Stills and Collections Gallery (7:20) includes a promo from AVCO Embassy’s movie series for TV called “Nightmare Theater.” There’s even an ad from Channel 13 in Los Angeles.

Arrow Video presents Death Smiles on A Murderer. Directed by: Aristide Massaccesi. Screenplay by: Joe D’Amato, Romano Scandariato & Claudio Bernabei. Starring: Ewa Aulin, Klaus Kinski, Angela Bo & Sergio Doria. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 88 minutes. Released: May 22, 2018.

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