Director: Dino Tavella
Retromedia/Image Entertainment

The Italian-made THE MONSTER OF VENICE is better known to American audiences as THE EMBALMER, where it was released by Europix in 1966 with a lurid advertising campaign and co-billed with Michael Reeves’ THE SHE BEAST, starring Barbara Steele. In the early 70s, the company brought it back to drive-ins when it played on a triple bill with THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS and THE CORPSE GRINDERS. Shot in black & white when many Euro exports were exploiting vivid color to its full potential, the film comes off more like a German “krimi” entry rather than something directed by Mario Bava or Riccardo Freda, but is also somewhat like your more typical “giallo” in its approach.

In scenic Venice (admittedly, a moody setting for horror and mystery cinema) young women are disappearing rapidly. It seems that some unidentified nut – who surfaces in frogman gear but looks more fashionable in a hooded robe and skull mask – is creeping about the city, abducting women, and bringing them to his underground/underwater lair beneath the canals. These beautiful girls are laid on a slab, are embalmed and placed on display to be preserved while our scoundrel chats with them endlessly. A handsome reporter named Andreas (Luigi Martocci, aka Gin Mart) is investigating the disappearances and tries to convince the police that there’s a “monster” on the loose. Naturally they don’t believe him, and more fodder arrives for the phantom menace, as a troop of nubile site-seeing lovelies checks into a hotel, as escorted in by gaurdian Maureen (Maureen Brown). Andreas forms a romance with Maureen while trying to track down the killer, who now has a fair share of pretty casualties to choose from.

THE MONSTER OF VENICE is a quirky little movie, made during a respected and beloved period in Italian horror, and it’s not successful on a whole, but does have its moments. Most of those moments are saved for the climax, when the hooded and skull-masked killer is given the most screen time in his eerie, darkly lit catacombs. Director Tavello (who didn’t do much else) has him scaring the hell out of one of his victims, while a bunch of sitting hooded skeletons are scattered around as a memorable attraction. The killer even camouflages himself with the other corpses in a moment of ingenuity – the other piece of uniqueness being where the film freeze frames on the next victim, as there probably wasn’t much surprise in store anyway. The whole idea of killing victims to embalm them was pretty sleazy at the time, and the camera is not shy at leering at women’s legs or revealing the hotel manager as a peeping tom with a two way mirror reserved for his more attractive female guests. Where the film is a letdown is in its exposable characters, its comic relief (a duo of annoying Venice street workers), impromptu musical numbers (a Spaghetti Elvis clone strums a guitar on stage) and its very ordinary plotline. The jazzy score is entertainingly inappropriate, and the dubbing is simply a riot (listen to Maureen Brown’s character reiterate herself just to pad out the mouth movements!).

Retromedia’s DVD of THE MONSTER OF VENICE (which maintains THE EMBALMER screen title) delivers a nice presentation of this title. The black & white film is presented in its original 1.85:1 hard-matted aspect ratio (non-anamorphic) and has deep blacks, bright whites and very good picture detail. Except for a few lines and brief abrasions during reel changes, the print source is in exceptional condition. The dubbed English track is very clear and comes through with little hiss or scratchiness. Alpha Home Video also released this title (as THE EMBALMER) and although both discs appear to be culled from similar film sources, the Retromedia version is easily the superior one in terms of quality. The only extra is the memorable U.S. theatrical trailer. (George R. Reis)