Giallo Essentials [Black Edition] Blu-ray Box Set Review: Back in Black

Arrow Video is back with their third limited-edition box set exploring three lesser-known giallo films from the early 1970s. 

In Smile Before Death, a middle-aged stepfather and his girlfriend conspire to cheat a teen girl out of her inheritance after murdering her mother. The plot is imaginitive and expertly paced, doling out generous helpings of sex and violence along the way, making this the strongest entry in the set. In the minus column, the limited and dated score is so oddly cheery it sounds like The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek composing for The Brady Bunch. Most of the soundtrack consists of the theme song endlessly rehashed, also so upbeat it contains flighty female laughing in its ‘70s elevator music style.

The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive is set in a church where a dogged police commissioner struggles to solve the case of a murdered priest, somehow managing to fall in love with the victim’s illicit girlfriend along the way. The film is a fairly conventional and not particularly intriguing murder mystery, aside from an unnecessary scene where some nuns disrobe together and whip themselves to atone for their perceived sins. While the plot can be interpreted as a diatribe against religious exceptionalism, and an odd kid living in the attic of the church throws our expectations off-kilter, this was my least favorite entry in the set.                                                     

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats follows a group of posh adults as they explore an old abandoned theater at the invitation of a mutual friend. Unsurprisingly, they start feeling like they’re being watched and try to escape, discovering that they’ve been locked in. As a murderer starts working his way through their roster and posing their corpses like artworks, they struggle to stay alive and discover his identity. It plays out very much like The Phantom of the Opera crossed with a Hercule Poirot mystery, and the large cast keeps things interesting as we try to guess the killer. Its ponderous pacing somewhat dims the thrills to be found in its sporadic gore, but overall this is a worthy recipient of its “essential” designation.

All three of the films have been restored in 2K from their original camera negatives, and feature lossless mono audio tracks. The results are mostly clean, but occasional specks and scratches stick around to retain some of the original theatrical flavor. None of the films are particularly strong from a technical standpoint, making even the format upgrade to Blu-ray seem like a bit of overkill for productions that would be fine on DVD.

Bonus features include brand new audio commentary tracks by critics, as well as image galleries for all three films. The first film includes racy deleted scenes along with a new interview with the son of the director, strangely unsubtitled so worthless for anyone who doesn’t understand Italian. The second film has a brand new interview with the actor who played the junior partner of the police commissioner, resulting in a fun trip through his memories of the film and director, as well as some of his other film projects. The final film has interviews with screenwriters and one of the actors, as well as the original Italian theatrical trailer.

Arrow Video is to be commended for continuing to spotlight the giallo genre in this handsome new box set. While Smile Before Death is the shining star in the set, viewers interested in learning more about the genre will find much to admire in all of the films.

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Steve Geise

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