Directors: Dino Tavella/Renzo Russo

An Italian horror/thriller double feature brought to us on DVD courtesy of Retromedia. These two thrillers are on one DVD, and unlike previous, double or triple features, there is no need to flip the disc over to watch them both. THE EMBALMER, from 1965 is directed by Dino Tavella and stars Maureen Brown and Luigi Martocci (using the alias Gin Mart) while THE RED-HEADED CORPSE from 1972, is directed by Renzo Russo and features Farley Granger and Erika Blanc. Both movies have been given the anamorphic treatment, however THE EMBALMER is the better of the two, for both the film and its picture quality.

THE EMBALMER is a fairly basic tale of a madman on a killing spree in and underneath the streets of Venice, Italy. But instead of mutilating the faces of these women, he injects them with an embalming fluid, preserving their beauty so he can look at them and do...whatever. Newspaperman Andrea (Luigi Martocci from GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS) goes to investigate and meets Maureen (Maureen Brown), who is staying at a hotel with lots of nubile young girls close to where the Embalmer’s underwater lair is (so he can easily obtain more victims). The Embalmer has two disguises; one is in scuba gear as he grabs women, chokes them out and takes them underwater where he preserves all his beauties; and the other outfit is when he’s in a robe with a fright mask somewhat resembling the Phantom of the Opera and just as chilling. There probably is a better way for him to go about his business without changing his wardrobe all the time, but that would make the movie far less interesting to look at.

THE EMBALMER is a very chilling, creepy, atmospheric movie combining the elements of both an early Giallo, an Italian Gothic horror (such as NIGHTMARE CASTLE) and a German Edgar Wallace Krimi film. It runs a brisk 77 minutes, with the last 20 minutes of the film really picking up speed, leading to the macabre conclusion; whether it is satisfying or not in the end, that is for you to decide.

THE RED-HEADED CORPSE, the second feature of this set stars Farley Granger (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, SIDE STREET, ROPE) as alcoholic painter John Ward, trying to survive by selling his paintings. He acquires a mannequin, paints it, and turns it into a sexy, living woman (Erika Blanc from THE DEVILS’ NIGHTMARE). At first she's mute, but then starts to talk, and wants to make love not just to Ward, but any other man that crosses her path. What’s worse is she becomes more hostile toward her creator, openly being promiscuous with other men, which drives him crazy, to the point where he wants to kill her. The reasoning behind all of this is somewhat unclear, as we don’t know if Ward hallucinating the whole thing, or if he has actually done something supernatural. Even the ending to THE RED-HEADED CORPSE is ambiguous. The movie will hold your interest due to some erotic scenes with Erika Blanc who appears unclothed for nearly half of the movie. And it’s also fairly short, clocking in at around 78 minutes.

The pairing of these two films on a DVD set is also intriguing as THE EMBALMER is a gothic black and white horror from the 1960s while THE RED-HEADED CORPSE, which is in color, is definitely in the common euro-sleaze trend of the 1970s. The only thing that the two films have in common is that they are both Italian made genre movies; but in the case of THE RED-HEADED CORPSE, it’s a co-production between Italy and Turkey (Turkey indeed!).

Retromedia presents THE EMBALMER in 16 x 9 anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), unlike their first DVD release which was not, and the results are more or less the same, with the same specks, vertical lines, a few pop sounds here and there. It’s still far better than the release from Alpha Video (but what releases aren’t) and to me it adds to the gritty appeal of this black and white film, although a Blu-ray release would be welcome. THE RED-HEADED CORPSE is another story. It’s anamorphic but the source used was somewhat washed up looking with print speckles, print damage and horizontal lines throughout. It looks to be from a VHS source; however its aspect ratio is around 1.66:1 and not 1:33:1 which most VHS releases were. The movie is still perfectly watchable, despite the distractions with the print quality. The English audio on both is fine with no real problems with the dialog or the music. The only extra is a trailer for THE EMBALMER.

Overall it’s a serviceable release; for those seeking an anamorphic upgrade to THE EMBALMER, you are in luck, because here it is, and you get a second feature to go with it. Until a Blu-ray of either movie gets released, this is the best DVD release available. (David Steigman)