Tag Archives: Joe D’Amato

CAPSULE: DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (1973)

La morte ha sorriso all’assassino

DIRECTED BY: Aristide Massaccesi (Joe D’Amato)

FEATURING: Ewa Aulin, Sergio Doria, Angela Bo, Klaus Kinski

PLOT: Greta is dead. Greta is not dead. Greta is dead. Eva is jealous. It’s the early 20th-Century. H̶e̶r̶b̶e̶r̶t̶ ̶W̶e̶s̶t̶, I mean K̶l̶a̶u̶s̶ ̶K̶i̶n̶s̶k̶i̶, I mean Doctor Sturges tries some re-animating. Walter’s father returns. A cat appears. They’re brother and sister.

Still from Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTDeath Smiles on a Murderer plays out like a $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet. There’s a musical score that constantly suggests the movie will collapse into soft-core pornography, plenty of sudden and inexplicably violent murders, a cluttered timeline, and Klaus Kinski once more seeming as if he’s acting in an entirely different movie. Plenty of choice, yes, but the overall crumminess makes you question the six-dollar outlay.

COMMENTS: Swanning in just to grab his paycheck, Klaus Kinski adds a bit of his own supernatural allure to an otherwise pointless giallo outing.

Composer Berto Pisano keeps the audience on its toes as he veers between grunge eldritch Western guitar riffs and pornographic melodies, adding, at least in his own unique way, to the muddled horror experience.

Not one to be restrained by coherency, Aristide Massaccesi uses every camera trick he learned as a cinematographer to keep the image moving even while the story goes nowhere.

Falling into the realm of “so-bad-it’s-crummy”, Death Smiles on a Murderer ends up in that unfortunate “Fulci-Valley”: never good enough to merit much respect, never bad enough to inspire wonderment.

As you may have been able to tell from the above grab-bag of opening lines, there are about as many (dismissive) ways to approach this movie as there are reasons to wonder why the director couldn’t either get his act together or abandon it entirely. I’ve been sitting on this review for some weeks now, having let the experience of watching Death Smiles on a Murderer sit awkwardly in the back corner of my brain, and am only now taking up the challenge of completing it after some direct prompting from the authorities. Despite this very loaded start, I’ll do what I can to give this thing a fair shake.

Aristide Massaccesi (better known as “Joe D’Amato”) directed not quite two hundred movies over the course of his career, and unfortunately it shows. Even more telling is that this is the only movie of his that he was proud of enough to attach his actual name to. This twisted tale of Italian-looking, German-named aristocrats collapses shortly after the formulation of the premise: a young woman (Ewa Aulin) arrives at a villa (or perhaps more appropriately, a “Schloss”) after a carriage crash that kills the crazy coachman, having no memory of her preceding life. The nobles (Angela Bo and Sergio Doria) on whose property she crashes immediately take her in and, after having her looked over by the local creepy doctor (Klaus Kinski), both fall in love with her. As my opening sentence suggested, things almost veered into Eurotrash art-porn. Alas, they did not. I’m not saying I demand art-porn from all my ’60s and ’70s low budget Italian movies, but when the score demands it and nothing else is on offer, it’s a letdown when it doesn’t show up.

But what goes on? Everything that does, goes wrong. There are pointless fish-eye lens shots of a menacing hunch-backed psycho intercut with shots of a fleeing maid; endless corridors and staircases abound, advertising just how abandoned the castle site is; Kinski’s doctor character gets killed well after he’s gone off into his own sub-movie that involves both Incan black magic and Day-Glo re-animation fluid; and if I could talk about the insane cat-attack scene without breaking into a smirk, I might give it a go.

It’s a pity, too, because Massaccesi/D’Amato very obviously loved this film (expressing his pride in no uncertain terms in an interview included on the disc), but it’s more of a camera-man’s résumé (and a pretty weak one, at that) than a movie. Not even two additional screen-writers could save this incoherent and very occasionally ambient mess of giallo, genre, and Kinski tropes. But, I suppose I can’t say I’m unhappy I saw it. That’s about as fair a shake as I think I can muster.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Narratively speaking, it doesn’t make for the most graceful of mash-ups: there are times when the asides feel so extraneous that you find yourself wondering just what they have to do with, well, anything. D’Amato doesn’t exactly provide the most compelling answers for some of them, especially the weird, wild digression involving Kinski’s doctor.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: BLACK COBRA WOMAN [AKA EMANUELLE AND THE DEADLY BLACK COBRA] (1976)

Eva Nera

DIRECTED BY: Joe D’Amato

FEATURING: Laura Gemser, Jack Palance, Gabriele Tinti

PLOT: An exotic dancer moves in with the wealthy, snake-obsessed Judas Carmichael; a series of murders-by-snakebite follow—but is Judas responsible?

Black Cobra Woman aka Eva Nera

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In spite of its herpetological conceit, Black Cobra Woman quickly turns into a run-of-the-mill revenge story—aside from one particularly memorable scene.

COMMENTS: The sexploitation film lives and dies on its perversity. The best of them, notably the works of and , create a sense of danger simply watching them. They disgust and arouse at the same time, lambasting any illusions the viewer may have about their own dignity or propriety. When the sexploitation film fails to offend and settles for titillation, it founders.

Black Cobra Woman climaxes in one of the cruelest, most gruesome acts of the sexploitation genre. This makes it all the more disappointing that the prior 80 minutes feel so lifeless. The sex is dull and tired, a series of sad-looking women stripping and touching each other’s thighs. There’s no thrill to any but the final two scenes, and the rest of the film is padded so heavily with travelogue footage of Hong Kong that the journey isn’t worth it.

The central conceit is promising. Amateur herpetologist Judas Carmichael, played by a weary Jack Palance, falls in love with Eva (Laura Gemser), a lesbian dancer who performs with a live cobra. Eva moves in with the wealthy Carmichael, who shows no interest in sleeping with her. Judas keeps Eva only as an object of fascination, like one of his many pet snakes.

Black Cobra Woman sets up Judas as Eva’s keeper, but it never pursues the implications of that relationship. Judas displays hardly any possessiveness or abusiveness towards Eva, and happily ignores the succession of women she brings back to his house from Hong Kong lesbian clubs. Black Cobra Woman’s villain turns out not to be Judas, but rather his brother Jules, who becomes obsessed with Eva. Using his brother’s snakes, Jules seduces and murders each of Eva’s girlfriends.

Gabriele Tinti plays Jules with appropriate sadism, but the character ultimately falls flat. His lust for Eva feels contrived, especially when Jack Palance’s character has such clearer motivation for jealousy. His murders are far too tame, as well. Sexploitation films eroticize murder, but despite the obvious phallic implications, all but one of the snake scenes come across as pedestrian. When Jules throws a venomous snake onto a naked woman, he comes off as a schoolboy teasing a girl with spiders, not a psychopath.

Black Cobra Woman aka Eva Nera

When Eva discovers that Jules is responsible for the killings, she arranges for his murder. Two hired thugs ambush Jules on the beach, beating him and tying him down on all fours. They sodomize him with a cobra while Eva taunts him. The scene is shocking and revolting, but surprisingly non-graphic. There’s no gore, only Jules’ anguished screams. This restraint might be admirable in a more exciting film, but Black Cobra Woman is so dull up to this point that the lack of any gore hurts.

Black Cobra Woman feels like a victim of bad casting. Laura Gemser spends nearly the entire film looking at the ground like a depressed prisoner. In theory this should make her eventual rebellion all the more satisfying, but that never happens. She murders Jules, not her captor Judas, and her suicide in the last scene feels less like an escape from her cage and more like an easy way to end the film.

Jack Palance disappoints even more. At the nadir of his career in the late 70s, Palance could still turn in sinister, hate-worthy performances even in pablum like Angels’ Revenge. Here he comes across as a doddering old man. The red cardigan he wears doesn’t help, making him look like a washed-up Mister Rogers.

Black Cobra Woman sets up an intriguing relationship between a snake-woman and her owner, but quickly turns into a routine murder and revenge story. The villain’s comeuppance is grotesque, the lead-up doesn’t earn it. One scene, no matter how shocking, can’t salvage a boring film.

Black Cobra Woman can be found on a newly-released Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber under the title Emmanuelle and the Deadly Black Cobra.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This bizarre curio from veteran European exploitation filmmaker Joe D’Amato is unexpectedly high on style and depressingly low on substance.”–Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide