Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973)

Once you watch this film, you’ll wonder — just how did this play on TV? It was part of the 13 titles included in Avco Embassy’s Nightmare Theater package syndicated in 1975 (the others were MartaManiac MansionNight of the SorcerersFury of the Wolfman, Hatchet for the HoneymoonHorror Rises from the TombDear Dead DelilahDoomwatchBell from HellWitches MountainMummy’s Revenge and The Witch) and several of these films aired intact on regular television! I can’t imagine — nor will you once you read this — what people thought! I even found a mention that the scene where Klaus Kinski inserts a pin into a girl’s eye aired uncut on Pittsburgh’s beloved Chiller Theater (indeed, it played on  July 7, 1979 and December 26, 1981, thanks to the amazing listing on the Chiller Theater fan site).

1906. Austria. Greta von Holstein (Ewa Aulin, Candy from Candy as well as Death Laid an Egg) has been used and abused by all of the men in her life, including Dr. von Ravensbrück, a rich cad who knocks her up and leaves her to die in childbirth.

Three years later. Her hunchback brother Franz, besotten with incestual love, brings her back to life with a magic medallion inscribed with the secret of life over death. He tries to get back into her pants, so she throws a black cat at his face. It eats his eyeballs, because, well, this is a Joe D’Amoto movie. She then escapes into the world where she seeks revenge on the von Ravensbrück’s family.

Walter, the son of the doctor who done her wrong, and Eve, his wife, take her in after an accident outside their home. They both fall in love with her, which gives D’Amoto license to shoot long lovemaking scenes. You may know him on one hand for his horror films, like Beyond the Darkness, AtorAntropophagusFrankenstein 2000 and Absurd. But you may also know him for his adult films like Porno Holocaust and the Rocco Siffredi vehicle Tarzan X – Shame of Jane. Here, he combines his love of the female form with his eye for murder and insanity.

Eva is becoming jealous of Greta. But what he doesn’t know is that her new lover is wiping out people left and right, just for fun. The butler in the gallery with a razor. The maid in the woods with a shotgun. A lab assistant in the lab with a metal club. Even the family doctor (Klaus Kinski, do I need to say more or tell you he was in Schizoid, Crawlspace, Marquis de Sade: Justine and more? Or that he was also maniac who was drafted to the German army, spent time as a POW and drank his own urine to get sick and get home earlier. This is not the craziest Kinski story, by the way) is strangled right after he learned how to use hr amulet to bring back the dead that he had been experimenting on (as you do).

Eva’s jealousy wins out, so she walls her up alive in the rooms beneath the castle, killing her. But Greta isn’t done yet. She shows up as a ghost at a party and lures Eva toward falling off the roof. That night, Greta’s ghost gives Walter a fatal heart attack in bed. And all of this was just to lure her old lover, Dr. von Ravensbrück, to the funeral, where she leads him to a vault and suffocates him.

A police inspector wonders if he’ll ever add up the case, as he finds the corpse of Greta’s brother near her empty grave. She’s gone and he wonders what ever happened to her. The person he has been telling the story to? Greta.

I was really struck by Berto Pisano’s music in this. He also contributed the starnge soundtrack to Burial Ground. Here, his music is jazzy and then atonal, with sharp stings to call out the action.

I feel like I need to take a long shower after watching this movie. Which isn’t a bad thing, really. It’s an effective mix of giallo and gothic romance, with plenty of sleaze and gore for those seeking those thrills.

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