Death Smiled At Murder
Directed By Joe D’Amato
Starring: Ewa Aulin, Klaus Kinski, Angela Bo, Sergio Doria, Luciano Rossi
Running Time: 92 minutes
Region: 0 PAL
DVD Studio: Italian Shock
Greta von Holstein (played by Ewa Aulin) is the only survivor of a terrible carriage accident. The trauma leaves her physically unharmed but her memory has been erased. She is taken in by Walter and Eva von Ravensbrück (Sergio Doria and Angela Bo), a kindly and wealthy couple. Dr. Sturges (Klaus Kinski) examines Greta and discovers that she is neither dead nor alive. Suddenly, the von Ravensbrück estate is plagued by a rash of horrendous murders as a mystery involving Greta’s brother, Franz (Luciano Rossi), and Walter’s father, Dr. von Ravensbrück (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), begins to unfold.
Hello, Joe. What do you know? Aristide Massaccesi AKA Joe D’Amato directs this gothic and dreamy horror film. D’Amato’s cinematography is top notch as usual and Berto Pisano’s soundtrack is superb which is not surprising considering some of his other efforts: Strip Nude for Your Killer, Malabimba, Giallo A Venezia, etc. The plot is a tough one to crack (read as: slowly paced). Let’s just say it is anything but complicated yet remains just out of reach throughout the film’s running time. For some viewers, this will add to the dreaminess of the experience and for others, it will cause massive hair-pulling. But hey, this is a D’Amato flick. The token amounts of either extreme gore or rampant nudity (or both in this case) are present and well accounted for.
She is cute, she is deadly, she is Greta. Ewa Aulin of Death Laid An Egg and Candy goes berserk in this one and I couldn’t be happier. Little seen actress Angela Bo is quite good as the beautiful but very psychotic Eva von Ravensbrück. Although I’m not entirely sold on Sergio “Creepy Mustache” Doria, he plays Walter well enough. Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Kill, Baby, Kill!, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of Her Grave) plays Walter's father and isn’t given much to do. In fact, his character seems more like an afterthought of the script. However, there is a chilling moment when Dr. von Ravensbrück hides in a tomb which he believes (very incorrectly) to be inhabited only by the dead.
As usual, I am blown away by the screen presence of the always memorable Luciano Rossi. This guy played some seriously freaky baddies in over 60 films. Sadly, he doesn’t get nearly enough screentime as the incestuous Franz von Holstein but easily steals the show much like he did in Death Walks At Midnight and The Stranger’s Gundown. A charismatic and often frightening performer, Rossi will be sorely missed by this Eurotrash film fan.
For me, Death Smiled At Murder delivers that satisfying yet cheap and dirty feeling that only Italian horror movies provide. Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagus and Beyond The Darkness also have the same effect on me. I can only hope that folks who are down on D’Amato’s horror efforts will come around one day. I consider his small contribution to the genre absolutely essential viewing for Italian horror fans.
If not for the supernatural themes and the early 20th century setting, Death Smiled At Murder would make a great Giallo with its brutal murders, trashiness, beautiful actresses, visually appealing sets, and obtuse plot. The gore effects are cheap but quite gruesome with a highpoint being Klaus Kinski stabbing a needle into an unblinking eye. Don’t miss this one, folks. Trust me, it’s worth staying awake for.
The Italian Shock DVD looks pretty good. The widescreen print isn’t anamorphic or anything but there isn’t much damage in the form of lines and scratches. The mono audio is the most problematic with a noticeable hiss through much of the film. Luckily, the dialogue isn’t affected by this noise and all of the actors are easy to understand. There are no other audio options on this disc other than the English language with removable Dutch subtitles. The extras include the film’s trailer, a slideshow with some screenshots (with the bizarre menu music playing over it), and liner notes (10 pages long!).