... aka: Le monstre de Venise
... aka: Monster of Venice, The
Filmed very early in the Italian giallo cycle - just a year after the defining film in this movement; Mario Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) - this slow, boring and utterly forgettable time-waster was made by a completely unknown director (whose only other credit was a long-forgotten and seldom-seen war drama filmed the same year) and features a cast of mostly unknown actors. With its mystery killer plot, mild off-screen violence and shadowy black-and-white photography, it actually comes off less like a prototypical giallo and more like one of the krimi crime-thrillers popular in West German at the time... well, minus the sense of humor, decent writing, good acting and polished production values the krimi usually possessed. Reading over a plot description of the earlier krimi Inn on the River (1962) - "A serial killer named The Shark is terrorizing London by killing his victims with a spear gun and then, dressed in a scuba-diver's wet suit, using the city's sewer tunnels to make his getaway." - almost makes this sound like a complete rip-off as this also features a serial killer dressed as a scuba diver using an underground tunnel system to hide out in.
The plot is a rather simple one - "beautiful young women," all 17 or 18 years old, are turning up missing in Venice and the police are baffled. Handsome reporter Andrea ("Gin Mart" / Luigi Martocci, a popular male model at the time) has a hunch there's a "maniacal sex fiend" hiding out somewhere in the city, but his editor refuses to publish his hypothesis in the paper without first having concrete proof. Andrea also runs his ideas by the city police commissioner but he writes the idea of a killer off as being pure fiction. Andrea does at least find one ally in Detective Shira, who's skeptical but at least willing to listen and help.
Teacher Maureen (Maureen Brown), who's escorting a dozen or so teenage girls (uh oh) on a school trip along with elderly fellow teacher Catherine and Catherine's shady archaeologist nephew Nicky, soon arrive in the city. Right as they get to their hotel, both the manager, Mr. Torray, and sleazy desk clerk Franco start leering at the young ladies, with the latter intentionally putting flirtatious student Grace (Anita Todesco) on the first floor all by herself and away from the rest of her group just so he can watch her undress through a hidden two-way mirror. Andrea bumps into them one day and he and Maureen quickly fall in love. Andrea takes her and the girls on a sight-seeing tour (that never seem to end) and boat rides (ditto), then accompanies Maureen out for a romantic dinner and dancing and... Oh screw this... Where's that psycho again?
Rest assured the killer is still on the loose and every once in awhile slaps on his wet suit and scuba gear and hits the streets looking for young prey. After setting his sights on and stalking a potential target, he waits for the right moment to leap from the water and drag a victim down into the water with him. She's then drowned and taken back to a series of catacombs underneath the city (a former submerged monastery) where the "Embalmer" lies them on a slab, injects them with his "special potion" to preserve them, dresses them in togas and then adds these "alabaster goddesses" to a set of upright glass coffins he dubs his "temple of beauty." Yes, the sick-o has his own ever-growing collection of freshly-preserved teen girl corpses. The killer also loves talking to the bodies, proving himself to be both selfish ("You shall stay here with me always. No one else will have you!") and arrogant ("Only *I* can defy the laws of nature!"... "No one can duplicate my secret formula! Hahahaha!") in the process.
I've always been a fan of this film's various posters, which are usually graced with a skull-faced fiend in monk garb, but the film itself is unfortunately a big disappointment. Not only are the actors and direction both forgettable and bland, but this thing is loaded down with filler (lots of touring the city, a musical number by an Italian Elvis impersonator [!!], etc.) since there's not nearly enough story to keep it afloat. You'd figure that with young girls disappearing left and right (not to mention the archaeologist character's murdered corpse turning up in place of the hotel's scheduled entertainment one evening) would prompt Maureen to keep a tighter leash on her girls, if not cancel the vacation and leave the city altogether, but nope! She's too busy taking romantic, carefree gondola rides with her new beau in the canals. After a slow and almost entirely useless first hour+, this finally becomes somewhat entertaining in the final fifteen minutes, with some nice creepy imagery, but by then it's far too late for this to rebound.
In America, the film was horribly dubbed, re-titled The Embalmer and then released on a double bill with the goofy THE SHE-BEAST by Europix Consolidated Corp. in 1966. In the early 70s, it was reissued, this time as part of a drive-in triple feature that included The Undertaker and His Pals (1966) and The Corpse Grinders (1971), and then became a staple on late night TV for years. The run time of this U.S. print (copyrighted 1966 by Walter Manley Enterprises and the most common source print for cheap DVD releases from Alpha and other companies) is 78 minutes. There are better-quality prints on the market than what I watched (notably Retromedia's DVD release) that also run 78 minutes but I wouldn't bother with this one unless you're a very forgiving Italian horror buff who just has to see everything.