ARROW BOX SET RELEASE: Giallo Essentials: Black Edition

Arrow Video has restored three giallo films and provided their usual impressive range of in-depth bonus features with this new box set, featuring Smile Before DeathThe Killer Reserved 9 Seats and The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive.

Smile Before Death (1972): Smile Before Death* was a revelation to me. I came in expecting nothing and was rewarded with a film that has multiple antagonists and a continually twisting close, a near race to the finish to see who will end up on top.

Marco (Silvano Tranquilli, Black Belly of the TarantulaSo Sweet, So Dead) and Dorothy are trapped in an open marriage that feels incredibly confining. To make things worse, her best friend Gianna (Rosalba Neri, Lady FrankensteinThe French Sex Murders) is his mistress.

Is it any surprise that Dorothy gets killed and it looks like a suicide and that Marco did it? Soon, he’s in charge of her estate until her daughter Nancy (Jenny Tamburi**, The PsychicThe Suspicious Death of a Minor) turns twenty. So Marco retires and lives a life of leisure with his mistress until Nancy returns home.

That’s when everyone starts playing each other, with Gianna trying to get Marco to kill his stepdaughter, Nancy seducing him and — spoiler warning — Gianna falling for her as well.

Silvio Amadio only made one other giallo and that would be Amuck! Much like that film, this one also proves that Silvio was perhaps more interested in filming gorgeous women misbehaving as he was showing the kills when it came to giallo. No matter. This movie has plenty of plot to go around and I was genuinely surprised by the conclusion of this caper.

Roberto Predagio’s theme song — with plenty of scat singing by Edda Dell’Orso — will be burned into your mind by the end of this.

*The translation for the Italian title is The Smile of the Hyena. I have no idea what that means in relation to the film’s story and blame the animal-themed demand for post-The Bird with the Crystal Plumage giallo titles.

**Tamburi won the femme fatale role of Graziella in La Seduzione because Ornella Muti, the original actress, was considered too attractive.

The Killer Reserved 9 Seats (1974): To celebrate his birthday, wealthy Patrick Davenant (Chris Avram, The Eerie Midnight Horror ShowEmanuelle in Bangkok) brings his friends to his family’s unused theater — empty for a century, which is how long his family has been cursed, which in no way is taken from The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.

There’s his sister Rebecca (Eva Czemerys, Escape from the Bronx) and her lover — look how ahead of its time Italian giallo in 1974 was — Doris (Lucretia Love, who was in The Arena and the astoundingly titled When Men Carried Clubs and Women Played Ding-Dong). And he’s also decided to bring his ex Vivian (Rosana Schiaffino, once called the Italian Hedy Lamarr) and her new husband Albert (Andrea Scotti, Horror Express), along with Patrick’s daughter Lynn (Paola Senatore, Ricco the Mean MachineEmanuelle in America (1977) and Eaten Alive!; due to an unplanned pregnancy and being hooked on drugs, she ended her career by appearing in an adult film, Non Stop… Sempre Buio in Sala before being arrested for possession and trafficking of drugs) and her boyfriend Duncan (Gaetano Russo, Crazy Blood), as well as Patrick’s fiancee Kim (Janet Agren, City of the Living Dead), her ex-boyfriend Russell (Howard Ross, otherwise known as Renato Rossini, The New York Ripper) and finally, to finish off this cast of gorgeous people who all hate one another, some dude no one can really figure out where he belongs (Eduardo Filpone, Flavia the Heretic).

Oh yeah — there’s also a caretaker played by Luigi Antonio Guerra from Spasmo.

Before you know it, everyone starts getting killed, including one death via stabs to the lady business and their cranium being nailed to a board. You’d think with all this mayhem, the movie would be pretty interesting, but sadly, it drags.

The mysterious stranger — when he’s not looking funky fresh in blue blazer and fancy medallion — is given to saying things like, “You know what I like about you people? … You’re so civil to each other as you tear each other apart.” and “I spent a night here a hundred years ago” and “The actors are present and now the play may start…”

Janet Agren gets to act out a scene from Romeo and Juliet before she dies at least.

You know how people decry American slashers because they punish anyone who enjoys sex or drugs or any behavior deemed aberrant? This movie takes that notion and delivers it in spades. Of course, it also presents sin in all its glory but uses violent death as the square-up reel.

This is the last movie that Giuseppe Bennati made. It fits in with post-Argento giallo, but doesn’t add much to the form other than a great title and poster.

The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive (1972): The Weapon, the Hour & the Motive examines not only murder but the idea that a Catholic priest — Don Giorgio — is having an affair with two different women — Orchidea (Bedy Moratti,  — Women in Cell Block 7) and Giulia Pisani (Eva Czemerys, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats) — and tries to break things off with both of them before he’s killed. Since Inspector Boito (Renzo Montagnani) has already fallen for Orchidea — whose husband has just committed suicide — what’s the hope for a fair inspection of who the killer could be?

The only person who may know is a young orphan who lives in the church named Ferruccio, who once watched while Don Giorgio self-flagellated, and who now is kept drugged and quiet. There’s also the matter of a skeleton-filled catacomb under the church in addition to nuns taking baths fully clothed and whipping one another fully nude.

This is the only film that Francesco Mazzei directed, while he also wrote This Shocking WorldSergeant KremsConvoy of Women and A Girl Called Jules. He co-wrote the story with Marcello Aliprandi, who would direct a similar movie, Vatican Conspiracy, in 1982. Mazzi also wrote the screenplay along with Mario Bianchi, The Murder Secret), Bruno Di Geronimo (who wrote A Quiet Place to KillWhat Have You Done to Solange? and Puzzle) and Vinicio Marinucci (SS Experiment Love Camp). 

I can’t even imagine the reaction this movie had when it came out. Fulci had been abused by the way audiences, critics and social critics treated him after Don’t Torture a Duckling.

The Giallo Essentials: Black Edition from Arrow Video has new 2K restorations from the original camera negatives of Smile Before Death and The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive exclusive to Arrow and a 2K restoration from the original camera negative of The Killer Reserved Nine Seats.

The packaging has a rigid box with original artwork in a windowed Giallo Essentials Collection slipcover and reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais, Peter Strain and Haunt Love.

Smile Before Death has new commentary by authors and critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, the original Italian and English front and end titles, an image gallery, a new interview with Stefano Amadio, film journalist and son of director Silvio Amadio and never-before-seen extended nude scenes not used in the final film.

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats has new commentary by author and critic Kat Ellinger, interviews with Howard Ross and screenwriter Biagio Proietti, the Italian theatrical trailer and an image gallery.

The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive has new commentary by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, a new interview with actor Salvatore Puntillo, an image gallery,  and front and end titles for the lost English-language dub.

You can order this set from MVD.

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