"Death Smiles on a Murderer" was produced by Franco Gaudenzi, who writer-director Joe D'Amato had met through production manager Oscar Santaniello. Their first collaboration led to D'Amato directing "Un bounty killer a Trinità", one of the several films directed by D'Amato with someone else taking credit. This was the first film D'Amato directed himself where he used his real name in the credits: Aristide Massaccesi.
The film credits the script to D'Amato, Romano Scandariato and Claudio Bernabei, though the latter was said to just be a typist by D'Amato. The story is credited to D'Amato, which Scandariato said was "more or less one page". Scandariato stated the film was originally written with more suspense and more of a giallo, but this was changed out of necessity. The film was given a low budget of 150 million Italian lire.
"Death Smiles on a Murderer" was shot between November and December 1972 with a working title of "Seven Strange Corpses". Some scenes which were not in the script were improvised on set. These included a scene where Luciano Rossi was attacked by a cat, which saw D'Amato achieve his desired effect by allegedly throwing the cat against Rossi's face. (I have real doubts about this given the footage that resulted.)
Actress Ewa Aulin was well-known at the time, though has strangely fallen into obscurity. Klaus Kinski is still widely known today, though perhaps more for his madness and depravity than his acting. He became involved purely for the money and had no real opinion of the material one way or the other.
While D'amato is best known for his exploitation work and occasional outright pornography, this film is rather tame. The gore is no worse than your standard horror film of the era, and while there is some nudity and romantic elements, it is fairly restrained, nothing remotely as blatant as we might see from Jean Rollin.
The Arrow Blu-ray is superb, with both English and Italian versions of the film. The incredible Tim Lucas provides audio commentary. Ewa Aulin has a brand-new interview, almost an hour in length. D'Amto is captured in an archive interview (primarily talking about Kinski). And a video essay covering D'Amato's career is worth a watch. An all-around spectacular package for the film.