Coffin Corner: DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER Is a Bizarro Gothic Euro Horror Jam Courtesy of ARROW
A few months ago during a Joe D’Amato binge I managed to scoop up a subpar DVD release of Death Smiles on a Murderer, a bizarro gothic horror jam with some giallo-esque tendencies that seemed riiiiight up my alley. Despite the less than perfect picture presentation, I totally jived with this surreal supernatural mystery, but couldn’t help but think ‘this needs a stellar Blu-ray!’ Shortly after Arrow Video announced this would be slated for release and now, this oft unseen D’Amato gem is available to the masses with the treatment it deserves!
As per the official synopsis: Set in Austria in the early 1900s, Death Smiles on a Murderer stars Ewa Aulin as Greta, a beautiful young woman abused by her brother Franz and left to die in childbirth by her illicit lover, the aristocrat Dr. von Ravensbrück. Bereft with grief, Franz reanimates his dead sister using a formula engraved on an ancient Incan medallion. Greta then returns as an undead avenging angel, reaping revenge on the Ravensbrück family and her manically possessive brother.
If that sounds nutso it’s because it is. There’s a lot to unpack there, but I can attest to Death Smiles On A Murderer being a bizarre, hallucinogenic, eurogothic jam that features sexual love triangle seduction mixed with violently vengeful murders in the vein of Poe. Pepper in some incest, psycho murder cats, and Klaus Kinski briefly appearing as a screwjob doctor salivating over Incan secrets of reanimation and kaboom! Even on his first horror film Joe D’Amato (using his real name in this picture,Aristide Massaccesi) was very much ‘on brand.’
That’s all just for starters as numerous atrocities show up pleasantly paced during the runtime: An impaled body with guts spilling out, Klaus Kinski shoving a pin in someone’s eye, a double barreled shotgun skinning the face off a screaming victim, incestuous sex, a man’s faceflesh shredded apart by a violent razor blade attack, and a bouquet of flowers thrown at someone and midair turning into a cat who viciously mangles his face—decimating his flesh and tearing his eyeballs out. That’s one hell of a first horror picture Mr. D’Amato.
Death Smiles on a Murderer isn’t perfect, the plot is well... all over the place, but if you’re a fan of style of substance based Italian cinema of this era than you know that isn't always a detriment. In fact, it gives this gothically tinged sleazefest more of a dreamlike quality—which I’ll take over standard plot construction any day. Two things really stood out to me: the score by Berto Pisano totally swept me away with beautifully orchestrated themes that expertly contrasted some of the nightmarish imagery and heightening the dreamlike haze I was in while watching it. The other standout was the intense camera work—totally engrossing me in a surrealistic pillow as it swept through castle hallways giving me that “I don’t know what’s happening at this specific moment, but holy shit I don’t even care because this is fantastic” vibe. I gotta say, it gets my seal of approval and I’ll be throwing this into my yearly rotation of eurohorror watches.
If you’re a fan of D’Amato, gothic madness, or even weirdo 70’s cinema, I totally recommend picking up this release, yet another excellent Arrow edition for the masses that’ll hopefully find some new recognition and fans now that it’s more readily available. As far as extras go, this supernatural sleazefest mystery is presented here with the usual Arrow care:
Brand new 2K HD restoration from the original camera negative.
Original Italian and English soundtracks
Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack.
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack.
brand New audio commentary by writer and critic legend Tim Lucas
D’Amato Smiles on Death, an archival interview in which the director discusses the film
All About Ewa: a newly-filmed career-spanning interview with the Swedish star.
Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by the amazing Kat Ellinger.
Stills and collections gallery
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
Check it out, and as always… Stay Spooky!