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Creepy though Confused Gothic Tale from the Sleaze-Master
Joe D'Amato is often said to have directed nothing but worthless sleaze, but this reputation is certainly not (completely) justified. I have personally been a fan of the prolific Exploitation filmmaker for years, and though it is true that his repertoire includes a wide range of crap, he is also responsible for several downright great films, and for many vastly entertaining ones. Such as the ultra-gruesome video nasties "Antropophagus" (1980) and "Buio Omega" (1979). Or this stylish little film, in which D'Amato dabbles in the great sub-genre of Gothic Horror. "La Morte Ha Sorisso All Assasino" aka. "Death Smiled At Murder" of 1973 is a stylish, obscure and incredibly atmospheric Gothic tale that is incredibly creepy at times. Even though this is not as nauseating as "Antropophagus" or "Buio Omega", the film is genuinely nasty at times, with a wide range sexual intrigue and perversions as well as a bunch of very gory scenes. The film's arguably greatest aspect is the mesmerizing score by Berto Bisano, which contributes a lot to the film's uncanny atmosphere. The casting of the always-sinister Klaus Kinski in the (sadly small) role of a mad scientist is another highlight that makes this a must for my fellow Italian Horror lovers.
The one weak point of the film is that the story is a bit too confused for its own good. I love convoluted plots, but this one has several huge holes. A proper description would be difficult, as the film handles several topics that are interlaced, and the structure is not always 100 per cent comprehensible. Set in early 20th century Europe, the film is basically is about an ancient Incan formula, which is capable of awakening the dead. A beautiful young woman (Ewa Aulin) is injured in a coach accident near a castle that leaves the driver dead. The castle is owned by a kinky aristocratic couple, Walter Von Ravensbrück (Sergio Doria) and his wife Eva (Angela Bo). The mysterious beauty who cannot remember anything after her accident is first checked by the (equally mysterious) local Doctor Sturges (Klaus Kinski)... A macabre Gothic tale, the film also bears some elements of the Giallo and Zombie genres but it is mainly in the style of 60s Gothic Horror, transformed into a nastier and sleazier 70s style. The great Klaus Kinski (one of the greatest actors ever, in my opinion) gets top billing, but, sadly, little screen time. The man gets the best out of the screen time he has though, he simply was one of the most brilliant actors ever to play madmen. Although not as constantly sleazy as many other D'Amato outings, the film provides female eye-candy. The female cast includes beautiful Ewa Aulin in the lead and the equally sexy Angela Bo. The performances are generally quite good, other than the Kinski and the two leading ladies, the cast also includes two other cult-actors that any fan of Italian genre-cinema will recognize: the hunchbacked Luciano Rossi, who, due to his ugly looks, would mostly play crooks and psychos, who plays another demented role here, and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, who is probably best known for his role in Mario Bava's Gothic masterpiece "Operazione Paura" (aka, "Kill Baby Kill") of 1966. Overall, "Death Smiled at Murder" has only one major flaw, which is that the storyline is too co fused. Otherwise, this is a creepy, atmospheric and vastly enjoyable Gothic tale from D'Amato that lovers of Italian Horror should not miss! My rating: 7.5/10
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