Color, 1973, 88 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Aristide Massaccesi (Joe D'Amato)
Starring Ewa Aulin, Klaus Kinski, Angela Bo, Sergio Doria, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Luciano Rossi
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/B HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9),Japan Shock (Holland R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

The Death Smiles on a Murdererfirst major solo effort in the director's chair for the Death Smiles on a Murdererinfamous Joe D'Amato is a far cry from the sleaze in which he was destined to wallow. Best known for low budget horror films like Anthropophagus and a bevy of soft and hardcore adult films, D'Amato began his career as a cinematographer before embarking on this peculiar film, a throwback to the Italian Gothic tradition of the 1960s laced with some commercially viable helpings of nudity and gore.

The "plot" set in the early 20th century is so fragmented as to be nearly avant garde, but generally it concerns a beautiful young woman, Greta (Candy herself, Ewa Aulin), who suffers a nasty case of amnesia after a carriage crash which leaves her driver impaled on a broken wheel. She's taken in by a well-to-do couple, Sergio Doria and Angela Bo, and attended to by the curious Dr. Struges (Klaus Kinski in a glorified cameo), who treats her condition by ordering her to strip and then plunging a needle into her eyeball! While Greta seduces her hosts, the doctor returns to his nocturnal practices of reviving the dead only to wind up murdered for his trouble. Meanwhile Greta's lunatic, incest-loving hunchback brother, Franz (Rossi), skulks around in flashbacks and may be responsible for a series of killings, including the facial shotgunning of a lesbian maid who's been watching Greta. And then there's Walter (Kill Baby Kill's Death Smiles on a MurdererRossi Stuart), Death Smiles on a MurdererGreta's lover seen mostly in flashback, who's also experimenting with corpse reanimation. Throw in a couple of masked balls, an extended homage to Poe's "The Black Cat," another variation on Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black male body count formula reminiscent of Jess Franco's Venus in Furs and She Killed in Ecstasy, and you've got the recipe for a surreal, very memorable hour and a half.

Not surprisingly, D'Amato's strong cinematography background serves him well. The eerie opening sequence, which finds Rossi grieving over Aulin's body, is a beautiful intro aided by Berto Pisano's haunting and ravishing score, perhaps the film's strongest asset and featuring exceptional vocalism by Edda Dell'Orso. As the story lurches from one vignette to another, D'Amato's succession of fetching images and music keeps avid Eurocult fanatics glued to the screen even when they don't know what the hell is going on. The film's situation wasn't helped much when it went straight to American TV courtesy of Avco Embassy, who hacked it down to 70 minutes to fit an hour and a half time slot. This also meant removing all of the plentiful gore from the rousing finale, which features the world's only flying killer kitty bouquet.

A longtime staple of the bootleg video circuit from labels like Legend House, La morte ha sorriso all'assassino (translated on European prints as Death Smiles at Murder but shown in America Death Smiles on a Murdererunder the more literal Death Smiles on a Murderertitle of Death Smiles on a Murderer) fared poorly in the VHS days, with the colorful but awkwardly cropped Greek VHS standing as the most watchable option. The Dutch region free DVD offers a solid widescreen transfer of the uncut European version and, more importantly, finally restores the original letterboxed framing. The transfer still has some problems, namely a few odd digital glitches in the upper letterbox band during the first five minutes and some wildly inconsistent black levels. Unfortunately the audio suffers from consistent crackling and noise during quieter dialogue scenes, but at least the score comes through well enough. Just don't play it too loudly through your receiver. The disc also includes the European theatrical trailer, a gallery of stills, and surprisingly insulting liner notes which, apart from some glaring factual errors, knock the film before offering a half-hearted apology.

In 2018, Arrow Video finally brought the film to official home video featuring both the English and Italian versions with optional English SDH or standard English (translated from the Italian) subtitles; audio quality on both is excellent and far more dynamic than older releases. However, the big news here is the video quality, a massive leap beyond any version we've seen before. Death Smiles on a MurdererIt's so good that there's Death Smiles on a Murdererbound to be a serious reappraisal of this film as a key entry in the later wave of Gothic '70s horror, revealing some truly beautiful imagery in D'Amato's careful manipulation of light and darkness.

Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas provides a new audio commentary, touching on the genre credentials of all the key players while offering a reading of this film's cinematic influences (including a Bava nod) and touching on its voyeuristic themes and the heavy lifting performed by the score. Video-wise, "D’Amato Smiles on Death" (5m57s) features an extract of a 1999 interview with the late director talking about his pleasure at getting to mount a genre film and the balancing act of working with Kinski. However, the really major coup here is "All About Ewa" (42m55s), which finally puts the Swedish-born Aulin in front of the camera to chat (in Italian with English subtitles) about her entire career in great detail. She's quite charming and well-spoken here as she devotes time to all of her titles and the circumstances that led to her acting career. Interestingly she spends the smallest amount of time on Candy but has a lot to say about this film, Start the Revolution without Me, Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion, Death Laid an Egg, Death Smiles on a MurdererThe Legend of Blood Castle, and the excellent, still undervalued The Double, Death Smiles on a Murdererwhich desperately needs a special edition of its own. She also goes into her reasons for leaving acting after only a few years and touches on some of her other artistic pursuits, including the song "Arizona." In "Smiling on the Taboo" (21m34s), film critic Kat Ellinger tackles the film's place in the career of D'Amato, who she regards as one of the most "daring and transgressive" of his ilk, and notes how his horror work ties to his collaborations with Alberto De Martino. Though she only makes brief references to the feature at hand, it's a thorough and articulate guide to the highlights of D'Amato's horror-tinged efforts from the late '70s and early '80s. (It also reminds us just how woefully overdue we are for a good edition of Emanuelle's Revenge.) The Italian and English trailers are also included along with a gallery of stills and promotional art. The packaging features reversible sleeve art options including a new design by Gilles Vranckx, while the first pressing also sports an insert booklet with liner notes by Stephen Thrower and Roberto Curti.

Updated review on May 6, 2018.