by Jason Coffman
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The giallo film— lurid thrillers often skirting the edge between horror and crime dramas, so named for the cheap paperback covers of the books that often inspired the films— has had something of a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, although it has always enjoyed the attention of many fans of genre films and Italian cinema. DVD imprints such as Blue Underground have been issuing these films to hungry fans for some time now, and recently another independent DVD house has joined them: Raro Video. Specializing in Italian films, Raro has thus far mostly released crime thrillers and obscure films by Michelangelo Antonioni (The Vanquished) and Fellini (Clowns), but they have expanded their roster to include giallo films such as The Perfume of the Lady in Black and, most recently, Murder Obsession, the final film of the legendary director Riccardo Freda (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock).
Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi) is an actor who is maybe working a little too hard: as the film opens, he nearly strangles his costar Beryl (Laura Gemser) for real while shooting a scene for his current film. Michael decides to take his girlfriend Deborah (Silvia Dionisio) along with him to visit his mother Glenda (Anita Strindberg) in the remote estate where she still lives. Michael has not seen his mother in years, and is shocked to find the estate’s servant Oliver (John Richardson) still waiting on her. Oliver informs Michael that his mother is gravely ill, and while she tries to downplay the severity of her condition, it is obvious that she is weak.
This visit is not just for relaxation, however, as Michael invites some of his friends from work (including Beryl) to the estate to look for locations for their next film. Deborah has a strange nightmare in which she is used in a Black Mass, and before too long Michael’s past comes back to haunt him: he has not returned to the estate for so long because he believes he was responsible for his father’s death, even though he was just a child when it happened. While confronting these demons, a mysterious black-gloved killer begins stalking the estate, and true to giallo form, the long-buried truth will explain who the killer is and why they must kill.
Murder Obsession features all the standbys of the giallo genre: the haunted past, the childhood trauma, the killer in black leather gloves, the grand estate turned into a house of horrors by long years of neglect, and plenty of sex and murder. It is somewhat unusual (and reminiscent of The Perfume of the Lady in Black) in that its storyline refers to occult and supernatural themes, while most giallo films avoid such overt genre trappings. However, there is no question that the film falls neatly into the giallo template, and North American fans will no doubt be glad to finally have a legitimate DVD release of the film.
They will also likely be very pleased by Raro Video’s presentation of Murder Obsession. While most of the film is presented in English, scenes excised for international release that were only recorded in Italian are presented (with English subtitles) as part of the film. There is a 10-minute interview with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti (who admits his experience on Murder Obsession was not ideal) and the package includes an informative booklet about the film and its director. With such attention to detail, fans will no doubt want to keep an eye out for future releases by Raro Video.
Raro Video released Murder Obsession on DVD on 6 December 2011. Special features include an interview with Sergio Stivaletti and booklet about the film.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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