My Dear Killer Review
When histories of Italian cinema are written, many fine directors find themselves at the very margin of the accounts because they are presented as being in the shadow of the great Sergio Leone. Even two immense and notable talents like Bernardo Bertolucci or Dario Argento, can find themselves relegated to secondary importance because of their roles in writing the story for Once Upon a Time in the West. The sheer popularity of Leone's horse operas has left a lot of his collaborators unrecognised other than through reflected glory, and it is crucial that someone puts a word in for the creators and directors of excellent genre films like What have they done to Solange, Milano Calibro 9, and the cracking My Dear Killer.
Tonino Valerii acted as one of Leone's assistants on two of the Dollars trilogy, but in his own right deserves praise for his westerns, Days of Wrath, an excellent pairing of the ageing Lee Van Cleef and the young gun Giuliano Gemma, and, his Kennedy conspiracy allegory, Price of Power. It was with these films already on his CV, that Leone chose Valerii to direct My Name is Nobody and then, apparently, rampantly interfered, trying to play up the comic opportunities afforded by casting Terence Hill, and the end of era western became a slapstick hybrid that both Leone and Valerii can count as one of the least accomplished of their respective careers. With the rumour doing the rounds that the best parts of the film were really directed by Leone, and with the blame for the poor comedy shovelled in Valerii's direction, some have dismissed Valerii's work as a whole and preferred to think of him as a hanger on to the Maestro.
My Dear Killer is clear evidence that the director should be shown more respect. It is a giallo which meets genre expectations and surpasses them in some excellent sequences of mayhem and bloodshed. In writing Deep Red together, Bernardino Zapponi and Argento hit upon the idea that the audience would identify with murders committed using instruments that they were used to, and in doing this they were following the logic of this earlier giallo which avoids un-scary guns for the everyday terror of power saws and excavation trucks. If Argento had set up the staples of POV camerawork and black gloved killers in his first two animal thrillers, My Dear Killer truly nailed the importance of killings using the familiar and the everyday before even Dario truly grasped it.
George Hilton is Inspector Luca Paretti who follows a trail of killings back to the kidnapping of a child from a rich family years before, and who must discover the truth about the old crime before he can understand these new murders. Every witness he seems to interview soon meets grisly deaths as the killer tries to silence those who can identify him before Paretti can reveal the truth. The clues Paretti follows are classic mystery territory, and if he can recover torn out pages and the reason why the child was found next to a sharpened nail, the murderer will have nowhere to run to. The obstacles he must get over are the horrendous Moroni family and their shifty servants - mad mothers, a taciturn chauffeur, a pedophile uncle and the single handed brother in law.
Valerii handles the set-piece killings with excellent camera work from the killer's perspective, and he shows a real flair for peril. He is a little less sure-footed in the tense sequences where the police try to protect potential victims with a notable lack of alacrity and a misplaced sense of etiquette - do you really let a potential victim stay in their flat alone simply because you can't get through on the phone and despite having a squad car immediately outside? These moments apart, the film works very well and uses the squawks and quasi jazz of Morricone's score in a way that is eerily similar to Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The cast includes many fine actors familiar to genre fans, and the grotesques of all the potential murderers allows the maguffins to be very effective in making the killer less than obvious.
Valerii even has a little fun as the imperiled school teacher settles down for the night to watch a western, which turns out to be his contemporary Corbucci's Django, and she tells her visitor that "I was just watching a terrible western on television". Some of the characters are also deployed to balance the tension with a comic recycling tramp and a cynical old cop, and Hilton's Paretti holds the film together as a decent, principled sleuth. For his only giallo, Valerii uses the good Gastaldi script and an interesting cast to create one of the best films of the genre.
The existing R1 release carries interviews with Valerii and Hilton and a transfer which is awfully dark and suffers from poor conversion from PAL to NTSC. Shameless' disc is a single layer, all region deal with a much brighter transfer from a presumable PAL source. It is far from perfect with issues with contrast and colour boosting, and edges which are very noticeably ghosted during the title sequence and throughout the film. Brighter colours look a little dirty to my eye and the image is soft and lacking detail overall. Given the imperfections of the Shriekshow disc, this transfer is superior but those who used to own the old salvation/redemption VHS will wonder why this film is yet to get a DVD transfer as nice as that lo-fi version. Beneath you see frames from the Shriekshow and Shameless releases:
I find little difference in the two discs' audio treatment of the film as both exhibit some distortion and source damage, and I conclude that the Shameless release is the better treatment of the film for being properly converted and lighter. Shameless present the disc with a reversible sleeve again, which uses almost the same art as the R1 disc with the customary bad taste slogan, and a much more prosaic alternative is offered on the reverse. The theatrical trailer is accompanied by those for Baba Yaga, Ratman, Torso, Black Cat, Night Train Murders and, tantalisingly, Massimo Dallamano's excellent What have they done to your daughters.
Uncut, properly converted and an excellent giallo, Valerii's single entry in the genre is superb and well worth tracking down.