Following their UK division's release of the unexceptional DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT last year, Mondo Macabro USA has dipped once again into the popular giallo genre and unearthed a better example of what makes the Italian-bred thriller so popular among Eurocult fans. Directed by Luigi Cozzi, who had just lensed a popular installment of Dario Argento's TV series "Door Into Darkness," THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (better known as THE KILLER MUST STRIKE AGAIN) is without a doubt his most accomplished work, but doesn't come without a few flaws.
Henpecked husband Giorgio Manardi married for money; his wife Nora comes from a wealthy family with cash to spare, which he dips into to support his mistresses. But when Nora cuts off his bank account in a fit of jealous rage, Giorgio is left angry and perplexed as to what to do. Enter the killer, a skull-faced monster who is caught by Giorgio dumping a car into the lake with a dead woman's carcass in the backseat. Not wanting to waste a golden opportunity, Giorgio agrees to keep the killer's secret...in exchange for the murder of his wife! Once the heinous deed is done, the killer drags Nora's body and hides it in the trunk of his car...which is stolen by two thrill-crazed teenagers going to the beach for a sunny weekend! The killer is not far behind, ensuring that their fun will be cut short...with a knife...
Considering Cozzi is most familiar from his sci-fi train wrecks (CONTAMINATION, STARCRASH) and Lou Ferrigno action/adventure flicks (HERCULES, SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS), THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN is a pleasant surprise for the skeptical. Of his entire filmography, Cozzi has had a troubled time in the horror genre. Witness PAGANINI HORROR, with a goofy 80s sensibility and awesome theme song but little else, and THE BLACK CAT, a supposed third entry in Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy. But this one is different. There's a beginning, a middle and an end, with a tight storyline which is intriguing and easy to follow. Cozzi develops nailbiting suspense in several sequences, including the killer's stalking of and preamble to murdering Nora (with an homage to Jacques Tourneur's CAT PEOPLE (1942)), Laura left alone in the abandoned seaside castle, Luca returning to the castle to find a strange red car in the driveway and the final confrontation between Laura and the killer.
Unfortunately, while this is definitely one of the better non-Argento, non-Martino gialli to come out of the Golden Age of the genre, the characters themselves are a pretty nasty bunch, making it hard to sympathize with anyone. Even Laura, the supposed "heroine," giggles as her boyfriend steals the killer's car and helps him rob a gas station attendant by reluctantly flashing her boobs. It is the lack of emotional core to the characters that makes the film come up a little light during the long stretch between the murder of Nora and the killer catching up with the teenage thieves. Yet no matter how undeveloped the character of Laura is, there is no denying that the repellent rape scene, intercut with Luca's backseat shagging of the dizzy blonde with car trouble, is truly nauseating and ranks as one of the filthiest sequences in Eurocult cinema. Cozzi provides little bloodshed in the film (except for the vicious fate of said dizzy blonde), possibly due to his previous experience shooting a bloodless suspense thriller for TV, but none is required. This is a taut suspense thriller which is far from predictable and deserves to find a larger audience thanks to this well-done DVD.
To make the film even more appealing to Eurohorror enthusiasts, check out this cast! Giallo king George Hilton (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, MY DEAR KILLER, CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL) is the slimy Manardi, in his usual good-looking bad guy role. The killer is played by Michel Antoine (aka Antoine Saint-John), with the strangest face since Reggie Nalder! He should be recognizable from his spaghetti western roles (A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE, MY NAME IS NOBODY) and of course as the ill-fated painter in Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND. Interestingly, this film reunites two co-stars of Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL (1972): Eduardo Fajardo and Alessio Orano. They don't share any screentime here, but it's a cool sidenote. Fajardo plays the inquisitive police inspector investigating the disappearance of Nora Manardi, and (the much too old) Orano plays the teenage car thief Luca, who's really a horny bastard who ditches his virgin girlfriend for a sexy blonde.
Once the viewer see Cristina Galbo as the victimized Laura, it's obvious Orano is C-R-A-Z-Y! Ms. Galbo is one of the most adorable and warmest actresses of European cult films. Every one of her performances is worth seeing; she almost always played the innocent teenager thrust into a bizarre world of depravity and horror, but injected an earthiness and vulnerability that endeared her to audiences. The Spanish-born beauty kicked off her horror career in the masterpiece LA RESIDENCIA (1969) and didn't appear in another bad genre piece for the rest of the decade; WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (1972), LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974) and THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (1975) all contain superb Galbo performances. The simply stunning Femi Benussi made her film debut in the cult classic BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965) and from there steadily worked in Eurosploitation for the next 20 years. Notable films include the title role in TARZANA THE WILD GIRL (1969), Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1971), THE SLASHER IS THE SEX MANIAC (1973), STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975) and many, many more. She even appeared in the Greek Ajita Wilson film EROTIC PASSION (1981) near the end of her career. Femi is given a thankless part as a dizzy blonde girl (the blonde wig obscures her flaming red hair which was her trademark) but provides nudity and several winning smiles to make it worthwhile.
Mondo Macabro provides a beautiful anamorphically-enhanced widescreen transfer culled from the original negative. Presented in 2.35:1, its scope aspect ratio, THE KILLER has never looked this good! Always shown in muddy fullscreen tapes with dark nighttime scenes and faded colors, this DVD is a revelation! Clear and crisp night scenes, bold colors (especially in the all-giallo apartment of the Mainardi's), solid blacks and robust reds and not a speck of grain, dirt or dust to be seen. This print, strangely enough, has the on-screen title of THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN during the opening credits, but the closing credits refer to it as THE SPIDER (IL RAGNO)...hmmm... Two audio options are provided: the English dub and the original Italian track with English subtitles. The latter is preferable, as the majority of the cast spoke their lines in Italian or Spanish (Antoine in French); the English dub actually bogs the film down and makes the suspensefully slow pace much more lethargic.
To appreciate the feature film, Pete Tombs and Andy Starke have provided a slew of fabulous extras with the help of director Luigi Cozzi. First and foremost is the feature-length audio commentary with Tombs and Cozzi. Cozzi explains the film's original title, THE SPIDER, having to pay high prices to get George Hilton in another thriller, trouble with Teresa Velasquez ("Nora") in her nude sex scene, and great memories of Michel Antoine, Cristina Galbo, Alessio Orano, Eduardo Fajardo and Femi Benussi. He also discusses his filmmaker influences like Hitchcock and Argento, a Dashiell Hammett short story figuring into the teenagers subplot, the moments of black humor which might fly over some viewers' heads, and even minute details, like who played the dead corpse in the opening shot, the initials on the killer's lighter and the film playing in the theater attended by Hilton and Antoine, are hit upon. This is as in-depth a commentary one could ask for!
A collection of featurettes feature two on-camera interviews with Cozzi. In the first, "The Road to the Killer," Cozzi gives us background on his childhood fascination with Famous Monsters magazine and his love for all things film. He was the Italian correspondent for Uncle Forry's magazine, regularly kept in touch with sci-fi writers like Ray Bradbury, became assistant editor of a local sci-fi magazine and worked on dubbing American films for Italian cinemas! See rare glimpses of his student film THE TUNNEL UNDER THE WORLD, too! "Initials D.A." discusses Cozzi's lifelong friendship with Dario Argento. He contacted Argento after the success of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (which he recognized as a film version of Fredric Brown's "The Screaming Mimi"), directed the episode "The Neighbor" for Argento's TV series "Door to Darkness" and worked with him behind the scenes on CAT O'NINE TAILS, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET and DEEP RED. Their friendship also resulted in Cozzi creating the indescribable mess BLACK CAT aka DEMONS 6: ARMAGEDDON, which is the unofficial final entry in the Three Mothers Trilogy. The featurette "Death Walks at Midnight and the Giallo Genre" was produced for the aforementioned R2 release of DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT, so there are liberal clips of that film (the best moments of the film, actually). The familiar female narrator and writer Adrian Smith (whose book Blood and Black Lace is a must-own!) discuss the history of the genre, from Bava's early works through the mid-70s when the really great films began to be few and far between.
The disc also includes the original theatrical trailer under another alias, THE DARK IS DEATH'S FRIEND; the very cool original Italian title sequence under the title IL RAGNO (THE SPIDER), with a spider spinning a web as the titles roll; well-written biographies of Cozzi, Hilton, Galbo and Benussi; a history of the film's production (where nuggets of info reveal the film was financed with French and Spanish money, hence the international cast, and Gloria Guida was originally cast to play Femi Benussi's part); and two galleries of fascinating behind-the-scenes photos and Italian posters and lobby cards. And be sure to watch the Mondo Macabro promo reel, enticing consumers to pick up essential discs like ALUCARDA, THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, ASWANG, THE LIVING CORPSE, BLOOD OF THE VIRGINS, SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN, LADY TERMINATOR, the less-than-essential CRAZY LOVE, MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, DANGEROUS SEDUCTRESS, and the upcoming GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FAY! (Casey Scott)
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