Slaughter Hotel

| December 6, 2014

RaroVideo USA’s release of Slaughter Hotel (La bestia uccide a sangue freddo, 1971) on Blu-ray and DVD on Dec. 9, 2014 marks their ninth release of a picture directed by Fernando Di Leo. The film was produced between Di Leo’s police procedural Naked Violence (1969), which appeared on the Di Leo Italian Crime Collection Vol. 2, and his gangster masterpiece, Calider 9 (1972), which appeared on the first Di Leo Italian Crime Collection. I stress this to emphasize how much of a stark contrast Slaughter Hotel represents when compared to the poliziesco pictures that have typified our experience with Di Leo’s work in the States. Slaughter Hotel replaces organized crime with crime of an altogether different sort: the crimes of a psychopathic woman-killer, hatcheting his way through the homicidal, suicidal, and otherwise sexually deviant female patients of a mental institution.

Di Leo lets you know from moment one that he means business here. His establishing shot of the asylum holds for an inordinately long time, and just when you think it seriously can’t hold any longer, the camerawork goes berserk. The editing takes up random quick-cutting to shots of the same exterior, just from different distances and with jarring tilts, so as to establish not only our titular “hotel,” but the horrors that lie within as well. Then we take to following our killer, who works his way through the establishment and into a nude woman’s bedroom where he stares at her crotch and prepares himself for murder.

From there, Di Leo takes us on a perverse, sexually-charged journey that strings together a series of erotic images and psychoanalytic discussions interspersed with horrible murder, thereby creating an Argento-inspired, notably pre-Halloween (1978), proto-slasher. What sets the film apart from Argento’s work and the slasher movement that would follow is the explicitness of Slaughter Hotel’s sexual imagery rather than the violence, which is pretty tame. While slasher films are criticized for their exploitation of the female form as an object of desire that also must be destroyed, the nudity in your average slasher is purely ornamental, titillating to only the most immature of psychosexually developed individuals. Di Leo avoids the conservative trappings of slasher nudity and instead presents viewers with what some might consider straight-up pornography. The nudity here is gratuitous to a fault, lingering on nude bodies for an eternity, the actresses’ pelvic areas in particular. A good piece into the picture, in fact, the film depicts some surprisingly graphic female masturbation (which may indicate that this particular cut is not Di Leo’s own, but instead a foreign cut, according to the “Asylum of Fear” featurette). I mean, you basically see everything!

The effect of the nudity, to my mind at least, is that it makes the resultant violence less about popcorn-chomping entertainment than it is utterly disturbing in a way that few slasher films ever achieve. This formula will of course make the film less palatable to some, especially those who don’t want their conservative horror spoiled by an actual, negative visceral reaction. Of course, even I, as someone who found a lot to appreciate in the film, won’t be apt to revisit it any time before next Halloween as a result of said reaction, but it’s that effectiveness that makes the picture special, what gives it that Di Leo touch.

Slaughter Hotel also, I should note, stars Klaus Kinski, which is probably the greatest attraction here apart from the opportunity to see Di Leo try his hand at horror. I didn’t mention it earlier, however, as Kinski’s contribution to the picture is truly negligible. He’s there all right, looking like Klaus Kinski, the ultimate pestilence himself. But just as with most Italian pictures of that era, there was no on-set recorded dialogue for Slaughter Hotel, meaning that his voice is ultimately dubbed by someone distinctly not Kinski in both the English and Italian dubs, just as with Bud Cort in Hallucination Strip (1975). The effect is jarring, making his presence more of a distraction than anything, I find.

As for the Raro release itself, this is by far their most consistent Di Leo release to date in terms of clarity and cleanness. The image is totally clear and virtually free of debris or damage. The color becomes exceedingly yellow in one shot and noticeably damaged in another shortly thereafter, but the picture is otherwise so stunning that these deficiencies hardly bear mentioning, especially since I’m pretty sure those are issues that plagued the original print given other inconsistencies in that same sequence. Special features on the release include an interview with actress Rosalba Neri, a look back at the picture that most excitingly features an interview with Di Leo himself, and even some deleted scenes, while the booklet for the release features a short essay by Fangoria editor, Chris Alexander.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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