Raro Video // 1981 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // May 18th, 2012
"For centuries, theologians, philosophers, and poets have delved into the universe in search of proof of the existence of the devil. It would have sufficed to have looked into the depths of their own souls."
As the '70s faded into the '80s, the glutted Italian giallo genre faded a bit too. The glory days, those simple times when all that was needed was Edwige Fenech, her breasts, and a pair of black gloves, were all but over, though that didn't stop folks like Lamberto Bava (Body Puzzle) and Lucio Fulci (Murder Rock) from churning out sleazy, blood-'n'-sex-soaked thrillers well into the '90s.
Riccardo Freda started directing films in the '40s. He's likely best remembered for 1961's The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock, a great gothic horror that starred the great Barbara Steele. Freda also made an uneven '70's giallo, the Dublin-set Iguana with the Tongue of Fire.
Freda's final film, Murder Obsession, is a little bit gothic and a little bit giallo, and all kinds of head-scratching crazy. It really doesn't work, but it's fun in its convoluted way.
Michael (Stefano Patrizi, Young, Violent, Dangerous) is a horror movie actor who starts taking his job a bit too seriously. Needing a break, he takes his girlfriend, Deborah (Silvia Dionisio, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man) for a week end retreat at his mother's estate. Michael hasn't seen his mother, Glenda (Anita Strindberg, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) in 15 years, and she's evidently spent the past decade-and-a-half mooning around the estate with the family servant, Oliver (Torso) and memories of Michael's father, a famous classical music conductor who was murdered when Michael was a child -- by Michael!
Glenda seems none too happy to meet Deborah, so Michael lies that she's his assistant. Mom is also none too happy when three of Michael's movie friends show up. Of course, Mom's a nutty neurotic mess and seems none too happy about anything.
Not to worry, the unwelcome houseguests won't be sticking around too long -- not as long as there are hunting knives, chainsaws, and hatchets to be had on the premises.
And a moldy cellar full of bizarre secrets and head-shaking revelations.
Imagine if halfway through The Godfather, the film switched focus to Michael's domestic misadventures with his new wife in Sicily and the whole thing became...a romantic comedy! Then, back in America, Sonny formed a band, and the whole thing became...a musical! Then, at the end, the entire Corleone family went on a camping trip where they're systematically slaughtered by a masked killer, and the whole thing became...a slasher movie! If you think those kinds of crazy tonal shifts would make for a fun viewing experience, then Murder Obsession is right up your alley.
The film hops around with so many twists and redirects that long before the end, the viewer is numb to them. It doesn't help that nothing makes sense -- major plot points just appear out of nowhere, and there's no real progression or development, just a series of out-of-left-field curve balls and some crazy expository speeches leading up to a macabre if nonsensical denouement. As Judge Daryl Loomis noted in his review of the standard-def DVD, "If you try to examine each individual plot point, you'll wind up driving yourself crazy."
Murder Obsession takes an awfully long time to really get started, and when the obsessive murders occur, they're over pretty quickly. The gore effects are remarkably lame -- just for a laugh, pause on the terrifying hatchet murder. There are also a bunch of sex scenes thrown in, including an enticingly asinine S&M fantasy complete with a giant rubber spider and party-store bats, and a near-naked, chained-up woman, scored with "Ode to Joy."
Plus, everyone wears black gloves, just as giallo characters should.
Patrizi is a pretty bland leading man, but exploitation regular Strindberg is always worth watching. In case you're wondering if Glenda's looniness has a tinge of incest, consider that the foxy Strindberg is only seven years older than her on-screen "son."
Weird and random as it all is, Murder Obsession is not without merit. The gothic mansion setting is nicely atmospheric, there is a fair amount of cool imagery, and it's fun trying to keep up with all the bizarre subplots. The blares of classical musical that punctuate every revelation or act of horror are unintentionally hilarious, as well.
Raro's release of Murder Obsession (Blu-ray) offers a significant upgrade of the standard DVD that was released in late 2011. The Blu-ray contains both the Italian and English-language versions of the film, with the Italian running around five minutes longer than the English. Unfortunately, the audio on the Italian version is pretty lousy, with music far louder than the voices, which are often muffled and muddy. The 1080p image is solid, with deep blacks and great color.
In addition to the English-language version of the film, the disc contains some recent interviews: Sergio Stivaletti, who worked on the effects; Claudio Simonetti, a member of Dario Argento's group Goblin, who speaks generally about Italian horror film scores; and director Gabriele Albanesi (Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show), who talks about Freda's career and makes a case for rediscovering Murder Obsession. There are also some deleted scenes and a booklet with an essay by Chris Alexander of Fangoria and a biography of Freda.
Fantastically goofy, Murder Obsession is recommended for fans of bizarre Euro-thrillers. Raro offers up a good Blu package in terms of supplements and image, not so much in the audio department.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Italian)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* English Version
* Deleted Scene