Raro Video // 1981 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // December 29th, 2011
Someone forgot to wipe their feet!
Riccardo Freda doesn't have the name recognition of some later Italian genre directors, but he had a long career in the business, mentored the great Mario Bava, and directed what is arguably the first Italian horror film in I Vampiri. He quit working, though, just as genre filmmaking was hitting its stride in the country, but he returned in 1981 for one final project. Cashing in at the end of a trend, he came out with Murder Obsession, a black magic-tinged giallo that isn't a great example of the genre, but is still some pretty entertaining exploitation.
Horror actor Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi, Young, Violent, Dangerous) needs some time away from the rat race, so heads to his childhood home with his girlfriend, Deborah (Silvia Dionisio, Andy Warhol's Dracula), to visit his mother (Anita Strindberg, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin) whom he hasn't seen in years. After his friends show up at the house to visit him, he reveals a dark secret from his past about the murder of his father. When one of them turns up dead, the rest finger him for the crime, but something much more sinister is happening in the house that clears Michael, but only if he survives.
Like any good giallo, Murder Obsession has an absurd, almost nonsensical plot that you just have to ride with. If you try to examine each individual plot point, you'll wind up driving yourself crazy. As a whole piece, though, it works pretty well, with enough sex and violence to satisfy exploitation film fans and a story that is fun if you don't put too much thought into it.
It starts on a movie set, with Michael getting a little too into the murder scene he's appearing in and nearly strangling his costar to death. He sees images from his childhood involving the death of his father, who was a famous composer and looks exactly like the adult Michael, so decides to relieve the stress by heading to his creepy childhood home where his sick mother, who appears to have been about four when she had him, and an extremely weird butler (John Richardson, Black Sunday) live by themselves in silence and virtual darkness. Once he gets there, it's clear that mommy has a thing for baby boy and doesn't like his girlfriend hanging around ruining her good time.
I'm unsure exactly why all of Michael's friends come for a visit, but once they do, mom's really not happy, and it's on. Once all the pieces are in place, the violence can start and, while it's not the most gruesome example of the genre, the murders do come fast and mean. Slashing, beheadings, and chainsaws all come into play in pretty good order, defying logic but delivering death at every turn. Then, when the dark magic comes into play, it really gets going with a few downright crazy scenes of black masses, human sacrifice, and sexual shenanigans. Even if it doesn't make very much sense, you can't go wrong with this kind of stuff.
Freda was a journeyman director and Murder Obsession is definitely a journeyman style production. The story is fun, but there's nothing particularly special about the film. It has plenty of sex and blood, shades of incest, and a twist ending that is pointless, but makes sense, what more can one really ask from an exploitation thriller? Oh yeah, Laura Gemser (Emanuelle in America), not a great actress but an incredible onscreen presence, who makes everything better by her appearance. Murder Obsession is far from the best giallo ever made, but it's a fun little movie that will definitely entertain genre fans.
Raro's DVD for Murder Obsession is nearly a bare-bones disc, but technically superior. The image looks far better than it ever did on video and, really, quite good by any measure for a piece of thirty year old exploitation. The transfer is nearly perfect, with hardly a speck of dirt or damage anywhere. The colors are sharp and the black levels are always deep and full. The sound isn't the same high level of quality, but it's pretty decent in its own right, with a noise free mono mix, a clear musical track, and dialog that is good and strong throughout. The only extra on the disc is an interview with director and special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, who worked in the effects department for this film in his first real break. The interview is mostly just one ten minute story about the first time he met Freida, but it's well worth a listen.
There are plenty of dumb things about Murder Obsession, but overall, it's an above average giallo with some good ideas and a few really good, really strange scenes. Fans of the genre can certainly do a lot worse than this film, especially given Raro's superb release.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated