The Embalmer (1966)

APRIL 16, 2011


As it's starting to get hotter out, I live in greater fear of my Xbox "red-ringing" (heat is its Kryptonite), and thus I opted for a rare viewing of a budget pack title at home rather than load something up on Netflix Instant (I am between mail-in rentals right now). I usually don't watch them at home because they are of such poor quality I almost feel guilty subjecting my HDTV/6.1 surround theater to a glorified VHS transfer, but when it comes to my Xbox, there's nothing I wouldn't do to protect it (especially with Portal 2 hitting in a couple days), so I gave it the afternoon off. And thus I put in The Embalmer (Italian: Il mostro di Venezia, or The Monster Of Venice), which sounded pretty cool and potentially not work-safe anyway.

Well, it was OK for work, as there wasn't any nudity or explicit violence, but if I HAD watched it there, I probably would have started "corner of my eye"-ing it after 15 minutes. It's an OK enough time-waster, but it's very poorly paced and repetitive, and the poor dubbing provides some but not enough unintentional humor to qualify as a "so bad it's good" affair. But my cell was charging in the other room and I didn't have a magazine nearby, so I had no other distractions. It may not have been WORTH my full attention, but that's what I gave it, dammit!

For a serial killer movie it's a pretty good travelogue, however. Venice is one of those cities that even a terrible director (or a poor Mill Creek transfer!) couldn't botch making it look nice, but Dino Tavella (who has only one other film on his resume, an obscure war film called Una sporca guerra from the same year; he died four years after these) goes the extra mile, including a lengthy sequence where our hero shows a bunch of lovely females around town. It'd be fine if the locales were used later, or if any of the information he was providing tied into the plot, but no, he just points out locations and the girls go "ooh" and giggle because he's so dreamy, and then finally, the plot resumes again, half a reel later.

I was also a bit tickled by the killer's getup. As with yesterday's Stupid Teenagers Must Die, I inadvertently celebrated the release of Scream 4 by watching a movie that had something in common with it. Here, our killer wears an oversized black robe and hood, with a skull mask covering his face. The key difference, of course, is that when he's finally unmasked, it's not a big "holy shit, it was HIM?" moment, but more a "Wait, who was that guy, again?" one. It took me a few minutes to remember who he was, because he only had 1-2 scenes in the movie prior to his reveal, and the reveal did not carry any information along with it, such as, you know, WHY he was killing women. Why bother making it a whodunit if you're not going to provide a worthy explanation for it? It makes the reveal completely arbitrary, if you ask me. It's like the killer turned out to be whatever one of the male actors in the movie was available to come shoot that day.

The final chase was also disappointing due to the fact that I spent the whole thing distracted by the silliness of how it was staged. It appears to be a beautiful morning in Venice, but I guess the city was closed for the day or something, because our hero chases the still masked killer around several locations and yet not a single person can be seen. If it was night I could at least buy it, but even then I'd suspect they'd at least come across a party-goer coming home, or a homeless dude or something, considering how far they travel from the start of their chase to the end.

I will give the movie's ending credit for one thing: it's surprisingly grim. The few girls that are murdered don't carry much weight, because we don't know anything about them prior to their death, but near the end (spoiler!) the killer offs our hero's love interest, which I did not expect. The non-kill scenes of the movie have a fairly breezy and light tone to them (there's even a lengthy music/dance scene featuring what I assume is an Italian Elvis impersonator), so killing off a woman who is essentially our heroine was a bit of a shock. I also liked the somewhat creepy "freeze-frame" motif that preceded each kill, like the cinematic version of a "last known photograph".

There's also a creepy scene that I don't even know if it's intentional. Our killer wears a scuba suit when he's stalking/kidnapping his victims (it's not until near the end of the movie that we see the "skull & cloak" disguise), and then there's a scene where the cops and our hero reporter are in a boat while a scuba diver looks below. The cop in the scuba suit surfaces and gets back in the boat, but we never see his face, so I wondered if he was actually the killer, right under the detectives' noses. Sort of like how Spacey was a photographer in Se7en (hey wait a minute, that movie surprisingly killed off the hero's woman at the end too! It's just a rip-off of The Embalmer!), but I'm guessing it was NOT intentional since the killer turned out to be someone not involved with the cops in any way. Just an unintentional red herring, I guess.

While it may not be a very good movie, I do wish it was available in its native Italian, as the dubbing leaves much to be desired. In addition to the usual lack of proper room tone behind the new voices and other factors that make it sound exactly like what it is (a guy in a booth), it also falls victim to a lot of everyone talking simultaneously to make it fit over the footage. So someone will ask a question and the other person will give the answer at the same time, making them seem like a rather rude psychic. I also would have liked to hear the Elvis-y song in Italian.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Don't talk about the red ring of death bro, that's true horror!

    Keep up the good work.


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