Color, 1979, 98 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Mario Landi
Starring Leonora Fani, Jeff Blynn, Gianni Dei, Michele Renzullo, Eolo Capritti
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), X-Rated Kult (Blu-ray) (Germany R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
By the time the wildly disreputable Giallo in Venice (or Giallo a Venezia) rolled around at the tail end of the '70s, the Italian thriller subgenre that spawned the film's title had slid in a truly bizarre (but temporary) direction that now seems fascinating. The seeds had been sown all the way back in 1971 with the ultra-sleazy Slaughter Hotel and its graphically sexual variants, but as giallo box office turnout was declining around 1977, it became more common for softcore and even occasional hardcore sex elements to become a major selling point, for better or worse. Among these offerings were the sordid Sister of Ursula and the shameless Play Motel, but nothing else out there is quite like Giallo in Venice. Here the viewer is assaulted with a mixture of low-budget sexual shenanigans of varying degrees of explicitness, swirled around with some of the nastiest murder sequences to spew out of Italy including a still-shocking sequence involving a kitchen table leg amputation.
In the middle of the afternoon, a married couple turns up dead by the shore with Flavia (Pensione Paura's Fani) drowned and Fabio (Spirits of Death's Dei) repeatedly stabbed in the crotch with a pair of scissors. Investigating cop and unrepentant hardboiled egg addict Angelo De Pol (Blynn) soon discovers that the couple was involved in some very kinky shenanigans around Venice, with Marzia (Burial Ground's Giordano) a particularly valuable source of information (via flashbacks) about everything from S&M to movie theater exhibitionism. However, there's also a weaselly, balding killer in sunglasses on the loose inflicting all means of genital mutilation and immolation on the cast. How they're connected remains a perverse puzzle that only our egg-fixated detective can put together.
As a mystery, this final giallo of the '70s from Mario Landi (Patrick Still Lives) gets points for trying a few new things, including a twist ending that's bound to frustrate a lot of viewers but at least offers a bit of a change from the usual killer unmasking. However, the plot's really secondary here as the film indulges in numerous long, loooong sex scenes and those aforementioned murders, whose mean-spirited nature is still quite shocking today. None of the actors really get to offer terribly nuanced performances (Blynn in particular seems totally adrift), but the whole enterprise is so weird, tacky, and utterly alien to anything in modern cinema that time has actually been somewhat kind to it. There's at least a slight veneer of respectability thanks to the poppy soundtrack, a patchwork of tracks by Berto Pisano (mostly pilfered from his much-loved Interrabang score) and library cues.
Giallo in Venice may have been trying to sync up with the commercial tastes of Italian audiences at the time, but that didn't translate to play beyond its borders much at all apart from a Greek VHS release that was sourced for its infamous rounds on the bootleg tape circuit for several years. An English dub never existed, so intrigued viewers had to make due with a muddy Italian version without subs and, much later with some resourcefulness, fan subbed copies floating around. Though many Italian classics have yet to get the HD treatment, it's somehow comforting to see a film like this get a Blu-ray special edition (its first North American home video release of any kind) -- in this case from Scorpion Releasing via Ronin Flix, complete with a limited slipcover edition including a folded poster sporting the outrageous, eye-catching new artwork by Devon Whitehead. Try hanging it up over your desk at work and see what happens. The Blu-ray opens with a disclaimer that the film is presented "from the best materials available to us," which in this case means what appears to be an unrestored HD scan of a good print. Don't worry though; if you're familiar with this film's history, it's a staggering upgrade over the blurry copies we've seen before and an attractive, colorful presentation. (A German Blu-ray prior to this also had English subtitles but without the color correction seen here.) There's a fair amount of debris and white specks popping up now and then, but in this case it doesn't detract from the tone at all. The Italian DTS-HD MA mono audio track also sounds quite good and much clearer than before, with optional English subtitles provided. So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films author Troy Howarth gets another giallo commentary notch in his belt here (or would notch on the bedpost be more appropriate here?) with what is easily his least prestigious assignment to date, but it also results in a jovial listening experience complete with recurring swigs of J&B, hilariously escalating exasperation with "cut-rate Maurizio Merli" Blynn's constant egg business, and more than you ever needed to know about the intersection of giallo and smut. He doesn't even try to make a case for this film in the upper echelon of its peers but also engenders more affection for it than many viewers might possess going in. Bonus trailers are also included for The Psychic, The Gates of Hell, Murderock, Red Rings of Fear, and Opera.
Reviewed on August 29, 2018