Color, 1972, 105m.
Directed by Armando Crispino
Starring Alex Cord, Samantha Eggar, John Marley, Enzo Tarascio, Horst Frank, Carlo De Mejo
Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Eurovista (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1)
The first of two Italian thrillers directed by jack of all trades Armando Crispino, The Dead Are Alive is also known to giallo fans under the more evocative but equally misleading title of The Etruscan Rises Again. Sporting the usual international cast, a few gory murders, and a labyrinthine plot which frequently rises to the level of pure hysteria, this is '70s shocker filmmaking at its most typical, though newcomers to Eurosleaze may be left scratching their heads half an hour into the story wondering where all the living dead went.
Jason (Cord), an American photographer/alcoholic/attempted marital rapist, arrives at the excavation site of a series of Etruscan tombs tagged for archaeological study. His appearance sparks a stormy reunion with his ex-wife, Myra (Eggar), who is now the romantic companion of a much older but equally temperamental conductor, Nikos Samarakis (Marley, most famous for waking up with a horse's head in The Godfather). The Etruscan dig is disrupted when two interloping teenagers are brutally clubbed to death (a scene highly reminiscent of Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet, only bloodier), and the bodies are arranged in a strange fashion suggesting the ancient sacrificial rites of Tuchulcha, an Etruscan god whose face adorns the tomb's walls. The murders continue to pile up, accompanied all the while by startling bursts of loud choral music, as Jason scrambles to deal with his feelings toward Myra and unravel the mystery in the process. Meanwhile Nikos prepares for an elaborate musical show to celebrate the ancient Festival dei Due Mondi, whose timing coincides with another violent turn of events.
Though less explicit and outrageous than Autopsy, Crispino's second horror outing, this film shares with its successor a batch of dysfunctional and often unlikable characters, a gimmicky supernatural conceit designed to divert suspicion from an all too human murderer, and a melancholy, poetic finale. Though hardly an outstanding entry in the giallo sweepstakes, the proceedings are enlivened by the unusual settings, some earnest performances (with Marley in particular leaving the scenery torn to shreds), and a beautiful score by Mondo Cane's Riz Ortolani that's quite a gem all by itself. The murders are appropriately brutal for the time without resorting to explicit knifings, and for once in this subgenre, the male victims outdistance the female ones.
Complete with an unusually good American dialogue track with voices from most of the original actors, The Etruscan Rises Again was briefly released in the U.S. under its alternate title by National General Pictures, who also distributed the American edition of Argento's The Cat o' Nine Tails. The film was been infernally difficult to see ever for a few decades after that, with many European prints (particularly the one prepared for co-financier Germany) missing both violence and crucial plot points, including one of Marley's better tantrums (though it did add a random extra butt shot if you're so inclined). Even uncut prints (such as the Dutch video edition entitled Overtime) have been terribly cropped, destroying the original scope compositions.
A scope 16mm print was transferred to video by now-defunct Luminous Video Wurks under their Eurovista banner on DVD, but that version suffered from rampant print damage and a recurring tiny tear in the lower left corner throughout the entire film. The scope aspect ratio is also misframed, likely a flaw from the original source, with the top matte coming in far too low at times and covering up the upper half of people's heads. The picture is also squeezed out horizontally a bit too much, with the framing actually measuring out closer to 2.45:1. More inexplicably, the first few seconds of the opening shot are missing, and while trying this disc out on four different players, the film abruptly freezes and returns to the main menu just before the end credits kick in. To watch the credits, you must either fast forward for a moment past the final shot of the film or access them directly from the scene selection menu. Extras include a black and white "Terror Times" booklet reproducing the original U.S. press kit, a gallery of international lobby cards and video art, and some sketchy talent bios.
Much, much more satisfying is the later authorized 2010 DVD from Code Red, taken from a crisp, colorful, very fresh-looking print with far more accurate framing. It's really a night and day comparison against the old DVD and easily blows away its home video predecessors. The climactic reel shot mostly in the dark still looks a bit muddy compared to the rest of the film, but for 90% of the running time, it's an impressive presentation with only fleeting, minor debris visible. The sound is also far better, with more intelligible dialogue and distortion-free music. Apart from the obligatory trailer for Family Honor(of course), there are no extras-- hilariously, not even a menu.
In late 2016, Code Red revisited the title as a Blu-ray release sold through its online store. The packaging touts a new HD scan from an internegative, and indeed, it does look like a bit different with more image info visible on the right and a very slight sliver off the left, as well as far fewer damage marks. Colors look a couple of notches more realistic and restrained than the DVD, with whites more under control and less prone to blown out detail. For a comparison to the Blu-ray frame grabs seen in this review, see the same shots from the DVD by clicking here, here, and here. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds very solid for the most part, though the increased audio resolution reveals some minor rumbling in a few spots, most notably the opening distributor logo and part of the first scene. Extras include bonus Code Red trailers for Seven Bloodstained Orchids, The Violent Professionals, The Devil's Wedding Night, and Almost Human (as The Death Dealer).
Updated review on February 18, 2017.