Sunday, April 21, 2024

Mio caro assassino (1972)

... aka: Folie meurtrière (Murderous Madness)
... aka: La ronda de la muerte (The Round of Death)
... aka: Sumario sangriento de la pequeña Estefania (Bloody Summary of Little Stefania)
... aka: My Dear Killer
... aka: O Carrasco da Mão Negra (The Black Hand Executioner)
... aka: Time to Kill, Darling!

Directed by:
Tonino Valerii

This Italian / Spanish co-production starts with a very cool pre-credits sequence of a man at a rock quarry being grabbed by the neck by a excavator claw, lifted off the ground and decapitated, but don't get your hopes up. It's one of the only memorable moments in the entire film! The victim - insurance investigator Umberto Paradisi (Francesco Di Federico) - had curiously rented the piece of heavy machinery for one day only, and the operator - Mario Anzuini (Remo De Angelis) - has vanished without a trace. Police inspector Luca Peretti (George Hilton - THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH) is on the case. First assuming Mario accidentally killed the man, panicked and then fled, their initial theory soon falls apart when Mario is killed himself. Though found hanging, Luca determines that he was actually murdered and the scene was staged to look like a suicide. 

Believing the excavator was rented for the sole purpose of finding something in a swampy lake at the quarry, Luca orders it thoroughly searched, and then interviews both a strange old couple (Dante Maggio, Lola Gaos) living near the quarry and Umberto's former employer (Corrado Gaipa - CRAZY DESIRES OF A MURDERER). The same name comes up both times: Moroni.

Umberto had been tasked with investigating insurance claims made by the Moroni family. Their young daughter, Stefania ("Daniela Rachele Barnes" / Lara Wendel, in her film debut), was kidnapped. That was followed by an extortion attempt that was paid by her family, but when the father, Alessandro (Piero Lulli), tried to follow a mediator to the location of the blackmailers, he too disappeared and was found dead a month later, along with the little girl. Alessandro's insurance policy mentions the names of four people who'd been interviewed during the investigation: Eleonora "Rita" Canavese-Moroni (the wife), Oliviero Moroni (brother), Giorgio Canavese (brother-in-law) and Paola Rossi (a teacher). Luca decides to acquaint himself with all of these people.

Meanwhile, Umberto's widow (a wasted Helga Liné) shows up to identify the corpse and attempts to aid the police in the investigation. However, she's stopped dead in her tracks when a black gloved killer stalks and kills her in a highly unbelievable scene where she's strangled with her own scarf in the middle of the day in a very crowded post office. Though there were many witnesses to the crime (though apparently not a single one who tried to help the victim), none can seem to agree on what the killer looked like. The only clue left behind is a child's drawing clutched in the victim's hand, which leads investigators to a school called Instituto Benedettine.

At the school, Luca consults Paola Rossi (Patty Shepard), who'd previously been questioned by Umberto. She helps place the drawing as having been made just a week prior to Stefy's disappearance. Later that night, she inadvertently lets the killer into her apartment because she personally knows whoever it is and is then killed with an electric saw, making a complete mess of her spotless white kitchen in the process! For an encore he bashes her skull in with a statue, though that takes place off-screen and we only hear about it later.

Our hero then pays a visit to the dreary Moroni household and discovers that Stefy's mother, Eleanora (Dana Ghia), has gone mad and is still expecting her little girl to return home from school at any moment. Slightly more help, or at least a little more lucid, are brother-in-law Oliviero (Tullio Valli) and his wife, Carla (Mónica Randall - THREE DAYS IN NOVEMBER). While Oliviero, who lost an arm in the war, holds his late brother in high esteem, Carla resents him for having been a charlatan and a leech.

The other Moroni brother, Beniamino (Alfredo Mayo - VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST), is an artist and used to take little Stefy outside for long periods of time, he claims, to shield her from her parents' constant bickering. The two were on the verge of divorcing. His creepy artwork centers around dismembered baby doll parts and he's seen in his studio with a naked pre-pubescent girl, whom he claims is "a model." Then there's Eleanora's shady brother, Giorgio (William Berger), who owns an international shipping company involved in illegal activity; potentially drug smuggling. Giorgio may also enjoy the company of underage girls employed by a local brothel, just in case we needed a second potential child molester on the suspects list. Luca assures him that if he's willing to cooperate that no one will ever find out about any of that though (!)

Lumbering, talky, overlong and filled with multiple sketchy suspects and possible motives behind the crimes, this is a fairly competent example of the giallo subgenre, but middling and (mostly) bland all the same. Leaning very heavily into the police procedural side of these films, there are endless scenes of Luca and his colleagues, Chief Marò (Salvo Randone) and Brigadier Bozzi (Manuel Zarzo), standing around, sitting around, walking around or driving around discussing the case, plus endless scenes of Luca drilling various suspects. Because so much time is spent with the cops, most of the supporting cast (and there are actually some good actors in this bunch) are stuck playing flat, uninteresting roles. Sadly, that also includes whoever it is who's laying the killer. The person is so ill-defined that the big reveal doesn't hold any kind of impact whatsoever. It may as well have been a complete stranger.

Similarly, the direction here is extremely workmanlike. It's not stylish or creative, merely adequate, and the few murder set pieces, which should be highlights, are poorly staged and lacking in suspense. Though Valerii had previously co-written a couple of Gothic horror films (Crypt of the Vampire and THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH), he doesn't seem to have much flair for this kind of stuff; which is probably why he's better known for spaghetti westerns like My Name Is Nobody (1973). A good example of botched potential is Shepard's death scene. While memorably bloody, the execution leading up to it kind of undermines its overall effectiveness. After running away from the killer, she "hides" by standing right in the middle of her kitchen with the door wide open, then stares at the killer, turns her back, crouches down and just lets the person saw her to death!

There are completely disposable characters wedged in here, as well, especially poor Marilù Tolo in a completely useless role as Luca's girlfriend, Dr. Anna Borgese. Being a doctor and all, you'd assume she'd come in handy helping to create a psychological profile of the killer or something, or at least be put in jeopardy at some point herself, but nope! The only reason she's in this is to appear topless a couple of times. She looks miserable and all of her dialogue is huffing and puffing that the detective is too busy to spend any time with her. Nobody cares!

Four different writers, including the director and Roberto Leoni (Santa Sangre), are credited with the messy script. The best thing to extract from this one is the nicely eerie score composed by Ennio Morricone, with Bruno Nicolai serving as conductor. The soundtrack is available from Death Waltz Recording Company.

While this was not theatrically released here in the U.S., it was in France, Italy, Spain, Brazil and some other countries (mainly in Europe). This also never received any kind of home video release in the 80s or 90s here. It wouldn't be until 2003 that Shriek Show finally got it out in an English-subtitled DVD. The British company Salvation also distributed an English-friendly version in the early 2000s. In 2020, Vinegar Syndrome included this in their box set "Forgotten Gialli Volume 2," which also includes French Sex Murders (1972) and The Girl in Room 2A (1974). Extras for this title include the rare English-dubbed print of the film, a new interview with co-writer Leoni and archival interviews with the director and star Hilton.

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