JANUARY 13, 2012
The main user comment for Murder Obsession (Italian: Follia Omicida; aka Murder Syndrome) on IMDb claimed that the story was "a mess even by giallo standards", which got me all excited - I was in the mood for a good "What the FUCK?" laugh-fest. But that viewer must not have been too bright or have seen many gialli; it's pretty standard fare with regards to the killer's identity, and his/her motive is clearly established throughout the film instead of just springing a bunch of back-story out of nowhere during the climax.
However, there were some elements that never quite gelled, so I guess if you're putting a lot of stock into them (or again, simply aren't used to the rather scattershot plotting of these things) then it might seem confusing. There's a subplot involving psychic/supernatural nonsense that mostly just seems to exist in order to smooth over a few would-be plot holes, and the "black mass" elements are never fully clarified, but again, these don't have much to do with guessing who the killer is, or even their main goal. It's like saying Die Hard 3 was a mess because you couldn't figure out the five gallon jug riddle.
Anyway, it's a cool flick; one that is partially influenced by the splatter films of the time as well as traditional gialli from the early 70s. It takes a little while to get to the kills, but they deliver - a chainsawed head being the big gore highlight. And if you enjoy the nudity in these things, this more than delivers - I think just about every female cast member disrobes at one point or another.
There's also a slight hint of incest between the mother and son, which is interesting to note because a similar element played into Tragic Ceremony, which was the previous horror film from director Riccardo Freda. Now THAT one was all over the place, certainly, but they both blend more fantastical elements with straight up thriller, giving them a unique identity in the sub-genre. This one isn't as funny (there's nothing as glorious as Ceremony's "monster or steamroller" news report), but it's never dull either; even with pretty much all the kills confined to the final 35 minutes, it's still peppered with "action".
And that includes some wonderfully goofy attempts at keeping everyone as a suspect - it's remarkable how many characters own black gloves, and how they act sneaky with regards to wearing them. I like to think that because this was 1981, the characters had all seen a bunch of gialli by now and realized that owning black gloves might make you look suspicious to anyone else. I was also charmed by a ten minute "dream sequence" that includes a giant spider and a bunch of bats on strings - and since it was a dream sequence, the strings don't even matter! We're told it's a dream right off the, er, bat (sorry), and parts of it really do resemble dreams (instantly changing locations and such), so it's nice that Freda gets to go for broke, without the usual crutch of having to try to fool the audience into believing that what they are seeing is actually happening.
I also liked that it seemed to have a small homage to Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" (aka "Ten Little Indians"), as important information is relayed on a recording, utilizing a device that is set up similar to the way the killer in that story had himself killed. Maybe it was unintentional, but as with the story, it's sort of a "Here's the part of the story you weren't aware of" thing delivered by a character who is already dead, so it's certainly similar enough to warrant the thought.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get backup from the accompanying DVD booklet. Unlike Body Puzzle, Raro didn't commission a detailed analysis of this one, so all we get is a synopsis (which thankfully doesn't reveal the killer), a brief mini-review of sorts, someone's picks for the best scenes (who cares? Also, these DO spoil the ending), a couple of notes about the cast, and a mini-bio of Freda. In other words, it's a nice little booklet, but it's all stuff you could get on the IMDb page or something. I would think that the fact that it came out at the time when Italy was primarily focused on zombie films would warrant more insight from someone far more respectable than myself (so, pretty much anyone), but no dice. The disc's only extra is an interview with makeup man Sergio Stivaletti - this was his first job and he recounts a funny story about pissing off Freda on the first day, but he doesn't say much about the film itself (I would wager that it was taken from a longer interview about another topic, actually).
Another "unlisted" extra is that the film is presented with a few scenes that were originally cut from the US release, which also may have contributed to the IMDb guy's confusion if he saw the other version - one in particular explains (or at least, further hints at) the "psychic powers" subplot; without it those elements must REALLY be out of nowhere. The new scenes are easy to tell - they're still in Italian while the rest of the movie is dubbed, as once again Raro has misled the audience with the film's language. While it claims "Italian with English subtitles" (which are listed as "New and Improved" in the special features column!), the only option is a dubbed English track, excepting the 3 minutes' worth of restored footage (which was presumably never dubbed). Considering the work they put into the booklets and restoring the films, it baffles me that Raro has opted not to include the original soundtrack. For Body Puzzle I didn't mind much - half of the cast was speaking English anyway - but here it's a fully Italian-speaking cast, and while the dub is fine, those few moments in the original Italian are enough to make you bemoan the switch back to dubbing. That the original soundtrack is promised on the back of the DVD is just twisting the knife.
But again, it's great that they are releasing these films uncut for the first time on DVD (in the US anyway) and given nice transfers and respectable (if slim) extras as well. I'm sure I'll die before I ever get a decent release of Cathy's Curse.
What say you?