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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

So Sweet, So Dead (1972)

Roberto Bianchi Montero, father to the infamous Mario Bianchi, has gone somewhat unsung in the digital age. Whereas his spawn has gone on to achieve some notoriety, Bianchi senior has still yet to find his place in Euro-cult history. Born in Rome on the 7th December 1907, Montero made his directorial debut; as Roberto Bianchi, in 1943 with comedy Gli assi della risata. A jack of all trades, Montero bounced from genre to genre during his time as director, finding work constantly from his debut up to his death in 1986; which by that time had seen him move into the hardcore industry working with Mario on smutty projects for Porn icon Marina Hedman (a.k.a Marina Lotar) such as L'amore e la bestia. From Noir to Peplums and Gialli to Pornography, Montero was willing to try his hand at anything if there was money to be made. One of his more memorable films has just been given a deluxe release from Camera Obscura, who’ve just released So Sweet, So Dead his sleazy 1972 Giallo starring Hitchcock regular Farley Granger.

A maniac is murdering affluent women in a small Italian town, at the scene of each crime the killer has left incriminating photographs of the victim in the throws of passion with men whose faces have been obscured; however one thing is certain, the men in the photographs are not the murdered women’s husbands! It appears there’s a moral avenger on the prowl for unfaithful wives and Inspector Capuana (Granger) is the man handed the case due to his big city experience. As high-society fears for its women, politics comes into play as the men upstairs demand that Capuana keep his nose outta rich peoples business, as the fact that their wives had been unfaithful is enough to ruin their reputations, and focus on finding this low-rent scumbag. Red herrings pile up, twists abound but the killer remains as elusive as ever, until Capuana goes to the press with details of the supposed killer … making himself a possible target.

So Sweet, So Dead is a very accomplished Giallo. It’ll appeal more to Sergio Martino fans than Dario Argento’s as it aims to please fans through gratuitous nudity and violence as well as a sterling storyline. Many may see it as misogynistic, which isn’t hard to see why, but the film is almost forty years old and from a stern Catholic country that holds marital vows in high-regard; so it’s more of a ‘warning’ than an out and out attack on women; much like the Slasher movie, which was influenced by the Giallo, was a ‘warning’ to teenagers about the dangers of pre-martial sex! It may seem a dated view point today, as does the Slasher, but back them I’m sure it cause a stir amongst high-society, much like other Gialli in this vein, like Forbidden Photo’s of a Lady Above Suspicion, would have.

Montero handles the death scenes with great style, well some great style as one instance of slow-motion starts off rather effective but then over-does it and becomes unintentionally hilarious as it begins to outstay its welcome. That small stylistic hiccup aside the film proves quite an impressive little shocker, with an intriguing premise and plenty of obviously creepy red herrings thrown into the mix as the story progresses; my favorite being genre legend Luciano Rossi as Gastone, the macabre mortician whose love of death is only matched by his love for the naked, preferably dead, female from! He’s obviously not the killer but his presence is eerie and adds discomfort, and at times, sympathy from the viewer.

What stops the film from achieving more respect though, and no doubt the cause of its obscurity, is the slow second act. After establishing a strong story following Capuana trying his damnedest to get a lead the focus shifts over to the daughter of a high-flier who witnesses a murder, seemingly shifting from a Martino inspired effort to an Argento inspired one that fails to remain as gripping as the opening act. Luckily the focus shifts once again back on Capuana for one of Giallo cinemas finest, misanthropic finales that manages to pack quite a punch still. One scene that also stands out as a fine achievement for Montero is the opening scene of police gathered around the corpse of a slain woman discussing the details of the crime. It’s a gripping introduction that launches the viewer into the mystery from minute one.

For Giallo fans, this title is a must. The one big flaw will be forgivable to hardened fans of the genre; it’s one that you’ll have experienced in more than your fair share of titles. Camera Obscura has created a lovely package for us, as with their previous addition to the Italian Genre Cinema Collection, the equally sleazy Terror Express, this disc is the definitive edition of the film. Housed in a gorgeous slipcase with a fold out cardboard inbox that houses the disc and inlay notes from German Cult film specialist Christian Kessler, who writes a small essay on the feature (which contains both English and German text). Kessler is also on hand for a audio commentary with fellow Cult expert Marcus Stiglegger, it’s in German but the kind folks have seen to it that English subtitles have been added!

The presentation itself is a thing of beauty bar two scenes that have been sorced from what must be VHS, this takes away nothing from the film actually and probably wouldn’t have been missed, but like any good completist they’ve included them here for the full effect: plus some of the added material is additional Susan Scott nudity so I guess we should be thankful for that! Supplement-wise we’re given an extensive interview with composer Giorgio Gaslini, who created a memorable and effective score for the film, which spans his whole career in the Italian film biz. A very nice, geeky extra is the inclusion of the French photo novel! Once again they have provided us with English friendly subtitles for those, like moi, who don’t speak French! It’s also scored for added effect.

Alas there is no trailer for the film, which is a let down but who can be disappointed by that when the package is this great? There was talk that they would include the XXX version of the film which was released stateside as Penetration but due to lack of source elements that has not come to fruition, which is shame as Farley Granger staring in a Harry Reems and Tina Russell shag-a-thon is one hell of a proposition! The material was not shot for the film of course, so has no relevance to the actual finished product but it would have served as a great reminder for a bygone era where producers would go to any length to scrape a few extra bucks from their acquisitions!

So Sweet, So Dead has deservedly been rescued from obscurity and afforded a beautiful release by one of the finest companies out there with a true respect for the product they’re releasing. I’m already excited for their next release, La Orca, which is due out later this year. Genre fans owe it to themselves to treat themselves to this gorgeous release: beg, borrow, steel or ask a loved one – just get it!

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  1. Ha, Bianchi was born exactly 80 years before me! :D

    Superb review again Phil. Will definitely be buying this.

  2. Haha, sharing your birthday with a trash legend dude! Have you grabbed this disc yet?