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Watch Me When I Kill (1977)
23rd Jan 09
When a woman witnesses a murder in Rome, she becomes the next target for a mysterious killer.
I feel a need to confess. I'm constantly compelled to watch gialli. I just can't seem to help myself. So, the other night I yanked Watch Me When I Kill out of my collection and gave it a go. Afterwards, I found myself in a state of being really rather impressed, even momentarily flirting with giving it a 4-star review. But then a funny thing happened, and I found myself compelled to watch yet another giallo, this time Sergio Martino's The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (which I had seen previously), and all of a sudden I had a special warm feeling, you know, like the feeling of being in love. Edwige Fenech was there, baring all on my big TV screen, and that is a beautiful thing, but it wasn't her I was in love with (though I would like to think you wouldn't blame me if I was). It was the genre itself. You see, some years ago, The Strange Vice... was perhaps the first non-Argento giallo I had ever seen, and life was never quite the same again. This might sound like a familiar scenario; maybe you've experienced it first-hand, but before long I felt a furious desire inside me to watch as many of these deliciously camp and delriously sexy horror movies as I could lay my hands on. Trust me, even laying your hands on them was - and in some cases, still is - hard enough.
What I'm trying to say is that pedigree 70's gialli like the best of Martino and Argento really are as good as the genre gets, with very few exceptions, and that after 30 minutes of The Strange Vice..., Watch Me When I Kill didn't seem like a 4 star movie any more; I was probably just really impressed that it fell into the 'above average' category for the genre, a standard being reached less and less as often as I continue my fantastic journey into the world of blood and black leather gloves. Or latex gloves, in the case of Watch Me When I Kill.
When Mara, a cabaret dancer, stumbles upon the murder of a doctor at a pharmacy one night in Rome, she becomes the next designated victim for the seemingly motiveless killer, who wastes no time in tracking her down. She manages to escape his latex grasp for the first of many times. Bizarrely unfazed by the attempt on her life, she nevertheless confides in her sound engineer pal (and younger John Carpenter look-a-like) Lukas, who decides to do what we've come to expect from many a male lead in giallo territory - undertake the investigation himself. After all, "The police are useless!" By coincidence, his neighbours, Giovanni Bozzi and his ex-wife Esmeralda, have been receiving some freaky phone calls, a cacophony of unintelligable, strange noises which Bozzi records and plays back to our smug hero. In a neighbourly act, Lukas then attempts to isolate and decipher the noises on the tape in his studio, revealing a series of agonising screams, shouts, and barking dogs.
The murders continue when Esmeralda meets a deliciously sadistic demise involving an oven, her bubbling potato bake, and her face, before being garnished with a damn good stabbing. Lukas then discovers that the all the murder victims so far had, years prior, served on a jury which convicted criminal Pasquale Ferrante for murder, and moreover, that Ferrante has recently escaped from prison. Not long after Lukas believes he has solved the case, the smug smile is wiped off by the hand of doubt, when he realises that Ferrante is left-handed, and thus couldn't have committed the right-handed murders. As Lukas relocates his investigation from Rome to Padova, Bozzi is nastily disposed of while having a peaceful bath, and the remaining sleuth trail soon brings to light the identity of the killer, along with their motives.
Antonio Bido's film is a relatively late giallo, made after he had been concentrating on documentaries for a number of years, but his relative lack of dramatic experience doesn't show here. The influence of genre peers, in particular that of Argento, is very apparent, not least in ideas like the initial witness of a murder and subsequent use of sound to isolate clue-yielding elements, but Bido is less willing (or chooses not) to rely on the type of audacious camera techniques employed by the high-fringed giallo master, instead mostly employing a more subtle approach to style. His murder scenes are extremely well-crafted however; Esmeralda's bubbling face carnage is a real peach and the preceding set up is top-drawer. Bozzi's watery demise, too, is the stuff of legend - picture this: an elderly man sat upright in his hot bath, therapeutic opera music playing in the front room, when the killer approaches from behind, wrapping the shower cord around Bozzi's neck - it's quite a protracted scene, as Bozzi struggles like a man possessed until he can fight it no more; we're actually relieved when it's all over. Few bath tub deaths can match this for sheer brutality, even if many could lay claim to more originality.
While Watch Me When I Kill delivers on nasty deaths, you might feel a little short-changed on the sleaze front. It's bereft of the wild, delirious sexiness that characterises a great many other movies of its kind, like Strip Nude for Your Killer or The New York Ripper, but then again, neither did early Argento, i.e. before he grew his pervy wings to the point of getting his own daughter's kit off in front of the camera (did anyone else find all that business a bit wrong?). Perhaps by way of apology for fleshy deficits, Bido does treat us to an amusingly bizarre cabaret scene near the beginning, in one of those seedy-yet-inviting clubs that only ever seem to exist in gialli - the act onstage, which features our leading lady, Mara, is quite unlike anything yours truly has ever seen, not even on The X factor regional competitions.
The music by 'Trans Europa Express' (why does that name sound familiar?) is another highlight. A small handful of Goblin-influenced themes recur throughout, lacing Bido's threatening scenes with added atmosphere. Who Trans Europa Express are, though, is a mystery; according to imdb.com, the only movie they scored is the one you're reading about now, which is a real shame.
Much like the film itself, Iím saving the best to last. While I cannot spoil anything by revealing the murderer, I feel itís safe to impart the impact of the closing revelation. As is usual with the giallo guessing game, we are kept waiting for the killer pay-off in the final minutes, before a characteristically abrupt act makes way for the closing credits. In many cases, you can see it coming a mile off, but itís not always so easy. In this case, even if you do guess the killer's identity, the motive revelation is still likely to knock you for six.
On the downside, the main actors who drive the story forward (Corrado Pani and Paola Tedesco) mostly fall short of the mark on charisma and charm; itís only during the last act where Mara shows convincing signs of stress as a result of multiple attempts on her life, looking bizarrely unaffected until that point. Lukas at least has the benefit of character quirks, like his penchant for cheap cigars, but heís not the easiest guy to root for. Where is George Hilton when you need him? Minor characters do help to bring colour and vibrancy to the cast, thankfully, like the shady-looking pharmacist, or the troubled opera fan, Mr Bozzi.
Watch Me When I Kill may suffer from an inappropriate and oddly generic title (originally changed from The Catís Victims for the US market), but if you can ignore such misgivings, then take a seat at the big yellow table of delights for a satisfying feast, complete with all the bloody trimmings. Latex gloves available on request.