Code Red // 1972 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // July 23rd, 2010
Murder, Etruscan style.
Alcoholic archeologist Jason Porter (Alex Cord, The Brotherhood) is in Italy at the request of his ex-girlfriend's current love, the much older, hot-tempered symphony conductor Nikos (John Marley, Love Story). They are all staying at a villa conveniently located near some ancient ruins.
While rutting around the ruins, Jason discovers an ancient Etruscan tomb. He determines that it's the tomb of Tuchulcha, an old-time Etruscan demon.
Before he has time to properly celebrate his find -- ever-present bottle of J&B notwithstanding -- a couple of horny teens sneak into Tuchulcha's final resting place for a little roll in the dust. Just as the boy is -- finally! -- making his move, a shadowy figure appears and pummels the pair into bloody pulps. The killer then arranges the bodies -- "like sculptures on a sarcophagus," observes the hung-over Jason -- and outfits the girl in a pair of red shoes.
A police investigation ensues, with the inspector believing this is the work of "a sex-a maniac," but before long, there are two more victims: Nikos' son, Igor (Carlo De Mejo, City of the Living Dead) and a girl who was a dancer in Nikos' latest production. Igor lives, but he has no idea who attacked him -- or who killed his friend and re-shod her feet with red shoes.
Jason is certain that Nikos is the killer, and Nikos is equally certain that it's Jason. But suspects abound, including Nikos' simpering, put-upon assistant, the fey production assistant, and a shifty security guard.
Or is it possible that, in fact, The Dead Are Alive, and this is Tuchulcha's way of expressing displeasure that his rest has been disturbed?
A nifty little quasi-giallo with supernatural undertones, The Dead Are Alive offers up an agreeably twisty mystery, some grue-heavy kills, and enough eccentric characters and melodramatic shenanigans to power it along. An Italian/Yugoslavian/West German production shot in Italy starring two Americans and a British actress, this neglected '70's creeper is worth checking out.
Director Armando Crispino (Autopsy), who also co-wrote, eschews many of the giallo hallmarks -- while the killer is an unseen, heavy-breathing, almost super-human presence, there are no black gloves in sight. The brutal beatings lack the perverse erotics of other giallo killings -- stabbings, strangulation, or in The Sister of Ursula, death by giant phallus. There's also very little sex in The Dead Are Alive.
Instead, Crispino gets mileage out of his talented cast and convoluted plot. Backstories are revealed in pieces, with each revelation pointing to a different suspect as the fiend and a different motive for the fiendishness. Adding to the atmosphere is the killer's use of a recording of Verdi's Requiem to set the mood for murder, as well as some unintentionally funny cutaways to the "eyes of Tuchulcha" during high-stress moments. The structure is occasionally a bit haphazard -- we get a few too many moments of people explaining things that we should have seen, along with a couple of scenes that end too abruptly -- but it's overall a fun, involving film.
With his feathered hair, Daisy Duke cutoffs, and weeping 'stache, Alex Cord looks more like a '70s-era porn star than a '70s-era archeologist. He's not an especially interesting actor, but the male leads in films like this tend not to be especially interesting characters. That he's an alcoholic and prone to blackouts adds a nice level to the proceeding as it keeps him in play as a suspect.
John Marley snarls, growls, and rages his way through the role of the conductor preparing for concert in the midst of all the mayhem. Petty, vicious, and not a little dangerous, the actor steals every scene he's in, his performance echoing his more famous turn as racehorse-loving movie producer Jack Wolz in The Godfather.
Samantha Eggar plays Myra, the third leg of the triangle. Eggar was a beautiful and talented actress who got a big break early on when she was cast in The Collector. Unfortunately, her subsequent appearances failed to live up to the promise of this success, and she ended up wasted in big-budget misfires like Doctor Dolittle and The Molly Maguires, and was soon doing genre films and television. Unfortunately, she doesn't get much of a chance to shine in The Dead Are Alive. Decked out in a variety of wigs and occasionally sexy outfits, she does little besides react to the two men vying for her. You might wonder why the gorgeous Eggar finds her only choice to be a good-looking drunk and foul-tempered but important senior citizen, but in a film like this, there's really no room for such questions.
De Mejo is good as the wounded Igor, and Enzo Tarascio (Trinity is STILL My Name!) fine as the weary inspector, but Horst Frank, as the gay guy in Nikos' theatrical circle, and Nadja Tiller, as a mysterious woman with a big secret -- and a bigger agenda -- are terrific in colorful supporting roles.
Although the disc has already been released, Code Red sent over a screener for review, and it's as bare bones as they come. There's no opening menu at all, just a teaser trailer for Family Honor and then the movie. The transfer is overall decent, with a few bits of damage here and there, but nothing terrible. Audio is reasonable, though, as always, subtitles would help. I hope there's more to the actual release. Code Red has put out far better packages for lesser films, and this one is certainly worthy a few supplements.
An intriguing little mystery, The Dead Are Alive is the rare thriller that actually holds up to repeat viewings. Not the greatest giallo, but a very good one. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R