Color, 1969, 91 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by Riccardo Freda
Starring Klaus Kinski, Christiane Kruger, Margaret Lee, Günther Stoll, Annabella Incontrera, Sydney Chaplin
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Universum Film (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The intersection of the giallo and krimi has been covered quite a bit in recent years everywhere from print to podcasts, though only a tiny handful of films officially straddle the line between the two. One of the first and most fascinating of these is Double Face, an Italian-German co-production released as a straight-up giallo in Italy (with a largely Italian crew to boot) and an official Edgar Wallace entry in Germany (as an adaptation of the novel The Face in the Night, though it actually isn't), complete with frequent krimi star Klaus Kinski as the headliner. Either way it's an entertaining and (for the time) surprisingly sordid little offering with a sterling pedigree for its story and screenplay including director Riccardo Freda (using his standard "Robert Hampton" pseudonym) and Lucio Fulci, who used some of the same concepts in his own film that same year, Perversion Story.
Upper class industrialist John Alexander (Kinski) has a most unusual, initially happy marriage to Helen (Venus in Furs' Lee), who carries on an apparent affair with Liz (Incontrera) and professes not to care about her husband's own dalliances with his secretary as long as they keep up appearances and give each other breathing room. All of that turns upside down when someone tampers with Helen's car, which sends her careening to a fiery and seemingly fatal end. Upon returning to London, he finds the pretty, enigmatic Christine (Kruger) crashing at his place and is soon led by her into the swinging Soho scene where an evening of nightclubbing and psychedelic lighting leads to a stag film screening where one of the participants, thanks to a telltale ring, seems to be Helen herself. Donning a fedora, John tries to get to the bottom of the mystery and discover the truth about his wife whose fate remains very much up in the air.
A film that improves steadily as it goes along, Double Face is a sumptuous time capsule that manages to mix in Freda's penchant for flickering candelabra Gothic horror (as in his earlier classics, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock and The Ghost) with the current youth culture and relaxation of censorship standards. As with his subsequent The Iguana with the Tongue of FIre, Freda is indifferent and sometimes downright sloppy in the visual effects department (especially the early rear projection and toy train/car shots) but clearly in his element when it comes to a sinister atmosphere and an atmosphere of twisted, poisonous sexuality. Though he openly didn't get along with his director, Kinski is quite good here in a rare sympathetic(ish) leading role, and the film is helped immensely by a haunting, piano-heavy score by Nora Orlandi, the middle of three essential gialli she scored including The Sweet Body of Deborah and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh.
Though quite tame by today's standards, this film was cut in many territories for some reason and rendered utterly incoherent by the time it hit U.S. VHS from Unicorn in a savaged TV print. An uncut bootleg DVD release from Alfa Digital (as Liz and Helen) came from a composite of a letterboxed French source and a much dupier VHS (running in total 87m13s at unconverted PAL speed) with English or French options, the former containing a few French inserts for scenes without English dialogue. The substantially reworked German version (Das gesicht im dunkeln) appeared on DVD from Universum as part of its essential Edgar Wallace series of box sets, running 78m27s and featuring the rather effective "hier spricht Edgar Wallace!" opening titles. However, it isn't English friendly and is mainly worth a look for curiosity value.
Fortunately the long wait for a prime quality, uncut release of this film finally ended with the 2019 Blu-ray release from Arrow Video in the U.S. and U.K., featuring the usual reversible cover options including a new design by Graham Humphreys. The new 2K transfer from the original camera negative is going to be a real treat for anyone familiar with this film's underwhelming past history on home video; the baroque interior scenes in particular have a richness and attention to detail that was impossible to appreciate before. The film can be played in either its English or Italian versions (with respective credit sequences) in LPCM mono with optional English subtitles (SDH or translated); both sound pristine. Tim Lucas provides an audio commentary (or rather a self-described "audio essay" in this case) offering a comprehensive overview of the film's position in the Italian thriller canon, the krimi connections, the irrelevant Wallace marketing hook, a 1973 French release augmented with hardcore sex footage, and plenty more. "The Many Faces of Nora Orlandi" (43m28s) features the return of soundtrack collector and DJ Lovely Jon, who fills in plenty of biographical info about the composer including her crucial vocal contributions, her artistic crossroads with Robby Poitevin and Alessandro Alessandroni, and her other memorable roles in the Italian music scene. Then Orlandi herself appears for "7 Notes for a Murder" (32m18s), a very entertaining and fascinating interview charing how she went from a determined young girl going to a music conservatory to a soundtrack composer and choir head; she's quite hilarious and candid, including recollections about the "funny and mean" Freda with whom she only worked once. A new Amy Simmons video essay, "The Terrifying Dr. Freda" (19m53s), makes a case for the director as a pivotal figure from his watershed Italian Gothic film I Vampiri through his essential horror and giallo titles, which may be few in number but rich in rewards. Separate image galleries are included for the German pressbook, German promotional material, and Italian cinemromanzo, while the (incredibly long) English and Italian trailers are also present.
Reviewed on May 21, 2019.