So Sweet, So Dead (Roberto Bianchi Montero, 1972)
aka Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile
For my money there are two key gialli that helped shape the genre, I’m not talking about films that helped create the genre, but films that gave it a direction for imitators to follow. The first was Argento’s 1970 debut, THE BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMMAGE. This gave us the ‘innocent civilian caught up in a police hunt’ angle that would become a major staple of the genre. It’s also a high-tier movie that strives beyond its genre trappings, whereas the second feature I find an inspiration for the genre played very much too those trappings, Sergio Martino’s excellent 1971 effort, THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH. A film that focused more on the de-robing of its actresses, before slashing them to ribbons, than it was on the revelation of the culprit.
The latter is also the inspiration for the latest release from Camera Obscura, 1972’s SO SWEET, SO DEAD from Roberto Bianchi Montero; father of SATAN’S BABY DOLL’s Mario Bianchi. Montero also shares more in common with Martino than their admiration of breasts and bloodshed, in as much as they’re both ‘jack of all trade’ types within the Italian film industry; turning their hands to various genres during the course of their careers, from Westerns to sex comedies via mondo documentaries, although Martino didn’t go as far as Montero, who took the plunge into hardcore porn towards the end of his career.
Hitchcock favourite, Farley Granger, stars as Inspector Capuana, a big city cop living the easy life in a well to-do town. Only the peace isn’t going to last long, as a sexual maniac – or as some call him – moral avenger, is on the loose dispatching the unfaithful wives of the towns successful husbands. As the bodies pile up, the only clue left at the scene is the photographic evidence of the wives betrayal; due to political pressure Capuana is urged to stay out of the lives of the wealthy and focus on the obvious low-rent who is behind the killing spree. Capuana takes action by setting up an innocent man, causing the killer to take drastic action to reclaim his mantle.
An outdated Catholic morality tale may come across a little misogynistic 40 years after the fact, but the film is hard to label as such as all the characters, male and female, are depicted as liars and cheaters. It’s more of an attack on the upper-class than an attack on women. The widowers wish to keep the fact that their wives had cheated on them out of the press due to the damage it would do to their reputations, it all indicates the film is a product of a time that we will have to have lived in to have fully understood, a time where men were expected to have a mistress and wives were expected to deal with it silently, however, for a man to be cuckold was enough to ruin his career.
The real issue facing the film is the distracting second act. After a gripping and quite frankly excellent first half hour, the film oddly decides to shift focus from Capuana’s investigation to pay homage to Argento’s preferred modus operandi of having an innocent witness get caught up in the investigation after seeing the killer at work. It throws the film’s flow slightly and isn’t as interesting as the opening act, but it does finally shift back to focus on Capuana’s investigation before the brilliant, and still controversial, finale.
Where the film does shine though is in its audacity. Martino brought an increased level of sex and violence to the genre, but Montero takes it into overdrive here. Bringing with him a truckload of Euro-starlets, he provides the audience with enough nudity to carry three movies of this ilk. Actresses such as Femi Benussi (THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN) and Nieves Navarro (DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT) have pretty much been hired to strip, run, scream and get covered in fake blood; unrewarding work sure but it helps maintain the films pace and momentum perfectly, so sterling work all round. Montero always amps up the style for his murder set-pieces, some are more effective than others; for instance a murder early in the film, on a beach, is greatly realised (why are night for day shots so endearing?) but over does it on the slow-motion. The scene overdoes it to the point of laughter.
Much has been made of the US X-rated re-edit of this film known as ‘PENETRATION’ which featured inserted hardcore sequences with Porn legends Harry Reems, Marc Stevens and Tina Russell. Camera Obscura were initially going to provide that alternate version, but source elements foiled their plans, how the film would play with hardcore inserts is questionable as the film really is classier than it may sound and the inserts will no doubt cheapen the effect of the film. Still, it would have made a great addition as a curio; what with Farley Granger seemingly sharing the screen with Harry Reems!
What they have provided us with though is, hands down, the definitive release of the film. Being rescued from obscurity would have been lucky enough for the film, but Camera Obscura have gone above and beyond once again, providing fans with a brilliant looking anamorphic print that suffers only two instances of poor quality due to the difference in source material. The inferior material pads-out a sex scene and adds a little bit of missing dialogue that really wouldn’t have harmed the film if it were omitted, but always the perfectionists, they’ve provided the longest print available. They included both the Italian dub and the German dub of the film, which comes with flawless English subtitles.
As with previous releases the digi-pack contains the gorgeous original poster art with the cardboard inbox housing the disc and liner notes from German Cult specialist Christian Kessler, who offers his thoughts on the movie in a small essay. On the disc we have ‘Revelations of a Jazz Maniac’ which is an in-depth interview with the film’s composer, Giorgio Gaslini. There’s also an audio commentary from Kessler and fellow Cult enthusiast Marcus Stiglegger, which is in German but once again English subtitles are thankfully provided. The final extra is pretty sweet, in a geeky sense, as it’s a French photo novel that plays out to the films soundtrack; once again English subtitles are provided. The only thing that’s missing is a trailer, but they’ve more than compensated for that. Again Camera Obscura have done a grade-A job on rescuing a much deserved title from the depths of obscurity, this release is essential for any fan of the Giallo genre or Italian Cult film.