The more gialli I see, the more I come to appreciate the light, campy ones. Of course, the best remain the ones that make you think as well as entertaining you, but there's also a lot to be said for the ones that are so silly that they become entertaining purely by virtue of the ridiculousness of the plots, characters, acting and atmosphere 70s kitsch. The Case of the Bloody Iris would be a perfect example of enjoyably silly entertainment; unfortunately, however, Autopsy (Macchie solari) is not. A film that desperately wants to be taken seriously but is never as insightful or intellectual as it would like to be, it becomes so overwrought that it threatens to collapse under its own weight.
While working on a thesis investigating the differences between real suicides and murders designed to look like suicides, pathologists Simona Sana (Mimsy Farmer) begins hallucinating and imagines corpses coming back to life. Her uncaring boyfriend, Edgar (Ray Lovelock), puts it down to exhaustion and/or a cry for attention, but Simona continues to immerse herself in the grisly subject, and when she discovers that one particular young woman was in fact murdered instead of having commited suicide, she teams up with the victim's brother, a former racer turned priest named Father Paul Lenox (Barry Primus), to find out the truth. But where do Simona's aging playboy father, a grumpy caretaker, a museum of torture appliances and one of the hottest summers Rome have ever seen fit into the equation?
Directed by Armando Crispino and photographed by Carlo Carlini, 70s Rome has never looked so unappealing. The sun-bleached locations practically ooze the word "heatwave", the cast all look positively dehydrated, and even the camera seems on the brink of keeling over with exhaustion. While Sergio Martino was filling his films with a delightful degree of campness, Dario Argento was gleefully capturing angular architecture and Mario Bava was painting his frames in baroquely hellish hues, Crispino's raison d'être with Autopsy seems to have been to make the world depicted seem as unattractive as possible. Admittedly, this is completely appropriate to the story and subject matter, but it makes for thirsty watching nonetheless. It's a frustrating situation: I would guess that the end result represents complete accomplishment of the director's aims - and certainly it seems highly reminiscent of my one and only trip to Italy - but I can't help thinking that his chosen style is too abrasive.
Admittedly, things do get off to an impressive start, with a decidedly disturbing montage featuring various images of murder and suicide - the most disturbing one being a father who, having slaughtered his two young children, puts a machine gun to his chest and opens fire - all of it set to the sounds of orgasmic moaning: Ennio Morricone at his most deliciously perverse. However, nothing else in the film can quite live up to this. Several tense stalk sequences are included, but they do little to make up for the sluggish moments of ennuie that connect them, and at 100 minutes a great deal of material seems to be extraneous. I will admit one thing, though: an authentically macabre undercurrent runs throughout the film. Whether it's the various authentic photographs of torture, the mutilated victims lying on slabs or the scenes in which Simona hallucinates about corpses coming to life, this film can be nasty when it wants to be, and on such occasions doesn't pull any punches. It's just a shame it wasn't tightened up a bit, as there really isn't enough material here to support the running time.
Mimsy Farmer heads the cast and, barring the afforementioned preliminary montage, is the best thing about this movie, even if Crispino has somehow managed to rob her of her usual quirky, flower-child beauty. Her character, like so many of the others she played throughout her tenure as a mainstay of giallo cinema, is constantly of the verge of a nervous breakdown, but while there really is nothing new for Farmer to bring to the part, she plays it beautifully, even if she does fall back on biting her bottom lip to demonstrate her crumbling emotions. Ray Lovelock is fine as her callous boyfriend (what is it about characters played by Mimsy Farmer attracting all the wrong sorts of men?), but Barry Primus is on top form as Father Paul, the tormented priest with enough dark secrets for an entire cast. The rest of the cast do their best, but as we all know, acting has never been the giallo's strongest suit, and it's just a shame that Crispino's direction is not enough to make up for this.
Autopsy is by no means a poor film, and indeed the grisly aura surrounding it is commendable, but unfortunately it takes itself far too seriously and offers nothing to lighten the oppressive and stifling mood. The cast is fine, the subject matter is potent and the ambience of the final piece seems more or less to correspond with what the director was aiming for, but it doesn't really hold together enough for me to give it a serious recommendation.
Autopsy is presented anamorphically in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the results are something of a mixed bag. It's hard to tell just how many of the imperfections are a result of the movie's age or Crispino's intended style, but the film stock looks rough and cheap, and the colours are somewhat muted. Detail levels are decent without being exceptional, and the darker scenes are reasonable enough, although the shadows look a bit murky. There are no problems with the compression.
Separate English and Italian dubs are included, preserving their original mono mixes, and they sound fairly good, all things considered. When Autopsy was released to English-speaking audiences, it was shorn of around 15 minutes of material (including, so I'm told, nudity, sex scenes, violence and exposition), and so some scenes on the English track are presented in subtitled Italian. Infuriatingly, only these segments include subtitles of any kind, so without a decent knowledge of the language, there is no prospect of watching the film in Italian. This is also an incredibly shoddy way to treat the deaf and hard of hearing, but from Anchor Bay I should have expected as much.
Released at the height of Anchor Bay's giallo craze at the beginning of the decade, extras are limited to two fairly distinctive trailers: the US version, entitled Autopsy, and the international one, bearing the name The Victim. Both of these trailers are spoiler-heavy, so avoid watching them until you've seen the film itself.
Although a reasonably effective giallo, there is little in Autopsy to recommend over countless other examples of the genre that are available on better DVDs than this. A truly average effort in all respects, this release is best reserved for dedicated giallo completists.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:23:33