Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Hubrisween 2018 :: K is for The Killer Must Kill Again (1975)

After losing another dust-up with his wife over her controlling interest of the marital purse strings, the husband storms out of the house, drives off into the night, and then picks a lucky spot to stop and cool off, near a canal, where he fortuitously witnesses someone disposing of a body by stuffing it into the boot of a car and then pushing both into the water, where they sink of sight.

How is this lucky, you ask? Simple. See, this man’s wife is loaded and ready for a divorce, while he’s a leech and a philandering deadbeat who’s about to lose his meal ticket. Thus, our scheming lothario has no intention of doing his civic duty and inform the police. Nope. Blackmail is what he intends. And though he has an insatiable desire for money, Giorgio (Hilton) is willing to barter for something else in this situation. And the price for his silence? Simple. He's willing to keep his mouth shut, and even offers payment for services rendered, if the killer will kill again for him and bump off his wife, Nora (Velázquez), which would give Giorgio all the loot and the last word on how he spends it. With such an offer he can't really refuse, the Killer (Antoine), who kinda looks like Peter Weller dressed up as Christopher Lee’s monster in Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), agrees to this unholy bargain.

Now, their plan is to make Nora’s death look like a kidnapping for ransom gone wrong, with the Killer doing his part while Giorgio firmly establishes a rock-solid alibi at a cocktail party -- after one final shag with the wife, who forgives him too late because she's already dead but just doesn't know it yet, which firmly says what kind of a turd-burger this guy, Giorgio, really is. Thus, on the designated night when Nora is left alone, the Killer does the deed without much fanfare. And after placing Nora's body in the trunk of her own car, the Killer returns to the house to set the stage for the faux kidnapping. And once the ransom note is done, all that's left to do is dispose of the body and the debt will be fulfilled. Perfect plan perfectly executed, right? Well, it would’ve been except for one slight hiccup, signaled by the turn of an ignition key, which explains why, when the Killer returns to the street, the car, and the body, are long gone...

When most folks, myself included, think of Luigi Cozzi, the first thing that most probably pops into your collective heads is Caroline Munro as the leather bikini-clad space pirate, Stella Star, who teamed up with Marjoe Gortner, the Hoff, and a redneck Robot sheriff to save the galaxy in the whole six-pack of awesome known to we mere mortals as Starcrash (1978). Cozzi also churned out all those Lou Ferrigno vehicles in the 1980s, where the former Hulkster took a shot at Sinbad the Sailor in Sinbad of the Seven Seas (1989) and two shots at Hercules (1983) -- with the sequel, The Adventures of Hercules (1985), proving even more stupefying than the first one -- and we all remember how Herc punched a bear into orbit in the first one, right? So, yeah, Cozzi is mostly known for these hair-brained sci-fi and fantasy epics that are goofy as hell but pretty good -- eh, make that pretty great, on those terms -- if you catch my drift. And when judged against this later output it makes the genuinely impressive suspenseful quality of his first foray into feature film even more baffling.

By the time he was a teenager growing up in Milan, Italy, Cozzi was already a hardcore science-fiction and horror aficionado; an obsession which landed him a coveted spot as an Italian correspondent for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, giving him an outlet to espouse on those genre films he loved. Around the same time, Cozzi also managed to sell some of his own fantastic fiction and got published. This proved fortuitous, as it led to several contacts in the publishing industry, where he quickly moved up the editorial ladder, which led to more writing on film and a meeting with one of his new cinematic heroes, who we'll reveal in just a second.

For all the while Cozzi was putting pen to paper growing up, he was also shooting his own 8mm movies, aping one of his favorite directors at the time, Roger Corman -- who was in the middle of his Poe cycle by then, beginning with The House of Usher (1960); some complete with Cozzi’s own home-made stop motion animation, which would come to define most of his later sci-fi output. And as he honed his craft, using his literary contacts, Cozzi landed the rights to Frederik Pohl's The Tunnel Under the World (1969): a satirical, poke in the eye at the world of advertising and market research, which the novice director turned into a self-financed, meaning no-budget, avant garde piece of weirdness that became an underground hit in the Continental art-house circuit.

Ironically enough, it was while writing about a different medium that brought Cozzi into contact with Dario Argento for that fateful encounter I mentioned earlier. Taking a half-assed rumor that inadvertently predicted the break-up of the Beatles just days before it actually happened, this "scoop" landed Cozzi a job in Rome, which gave him enough clout to pursue interviews with his favorite genre directors. A lone voice, apparently, for no matter how well the films did at the box-office, critically speaking, horror and sci-fi films held a spot just barely a notch above pornography. These interviews forged a lasting friendship that was cemented when Argento invited Cozzi to pitch-in with his latest project, which turned out to be Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), another gialli on the heels of Argento’s groundbreaking The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971).

Defining what makes a gialli a gialli as opposed to a more conventional thriller / murder mystery is like trying to explain how a square can be a rectangle while said rectangle can't be a square. The basic elements are present in both: a murder, or string of murders; a murderer; a protagonist caught up in the investigation to catch said murderer; a few unearthed clues; a few suspects; and maybe a late twist or two to add some punch before wrapping it all up for the closing credits.

Where the gialli starts to differentiate itself from this formula is how this nebulous genre seems to be more interested in the howtheydunit as opposed to whodunit -- and the more baroque theydunit the better, and whytheydunit is basically irrelevant. The plots in these things are absolutely Rube Goldbergian in structure, starting with the protagonist, along with the audience, witnessing something -- usually a murder. This then sets off an unstoppable chain-reaction of other nefarious events or murders, usually made worse by the protagonist’s efforts to stop them. False starts, false leads, and a healthy dose of red herring doesn't help make things any easier to unravel or decipher what's really going on. Nothing appears to be what it seems on the surface. Nothing is concrete, and confusion the norm.

And while the audience, through the protagonist, is focusing on one thing, nine times out of ten our eyes and attention should be focused somewhere else. For once these plot dominoes start falling in these twisted menageries, it's hard to keep up with each separate line of falling blocks: some stall out, others reach a dead end, and some make pretty designs and a lot of noise but will prove pointless and irrelevant to the bigger picture. Which is usually why, when the climax is reached and the whys and whyfores come out, a viewer's frustration factor might be needling into the red a bit. And that's completely understandable when the big pay off craps out. But sometimes, well, sometimes the view along the way is still worth the trip.

Thus, Cozzi helped his friend Argento hammer out a script to fit these parameters by bouncing pillaged murder scenarios off of each other to fit the title and was encouraged to hang around the set once filming commenced, earning himself a spot as an assistant director. This experience, in turn, led to his first professional directing gig: Il vicino di casa (The Neighbor), which proved to be the most watched and definitely the best episode of Argento's TV anthology series, La porta sul buio (The Door into Darkness). And on the heels of that, when producer Giuseppe Tortorella approached Argento to do another thriller for him, Argento, ready to do something different, declined but gave Cozzi such a glowing recommendation he was soon in the director's chair again for Il Ragno (The Spider), which was eventually tagged with the much more blunt and matter of fact title, L'assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora -- The Killer Must Kill Again (1975).

“I'm sick of the unknown killer,” said Cozzi, lamenting the sorry formulaic state of the gialli as a genre at the time. “You see the hands of the killer. You see the eye of the killer. You see the mouth of the killer. The finger of the killer. But you never see the face until the last shot of the picture. I wanted to start [this] picture with a shot of the killer.” And that's exactly what Cozzi did, which makes The Killer Must Kill Again less of a gialli and more of a conventional thriller, whose roots can be best described as a mash-up of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) -- a man blackmailing another into killing his wife, and a novel by famed Italian crime-writer, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Al mare con la Ragazza (At Sea with the Girl), where a boy takes his new (and unwitting) girlfriend to the beach with the body of his ex-girlfriend tucked away in the trunk.

And that's exactly what happens in the film, when two bored teenagers see and seize a golden opportunity -- a set of keys carelessly left in the ignition, and putter off to the beach, blissfully unaware of what's stuffed in the trunk, leading to several scenes where Cozzi really gets his Hitchcock on when the body is nearly but not quite discovered, keeping our couple also blissfully unaware of the danger they're in while the Killer relentlessly pursues them to get back what he needs. Meanwhile, thanks to the Killer's cock-up, Giorgio's kidnapping scheme starts to unravel when the cops, led by a wily Inspector (Fajardo), start poking into his ever-fraying account on what happened to his wife when things don't quite add up at the crime scene.

Back on the road, our two teenagers, Luca and Laura (Orana, Galbó), finally reach their seaside destination and follow their noses into an abandoned villa. There, the girl is charmed by the bizarre maritime decor but the boy has something else on his mind and an itch in his pants, which apparently does most of the thinking for this cretin. Rebuffed, a frustrated Luca is sent out to find some food. But once he's back out on the road, our boy is delayed when he stops to help a stranded motorist, which is why Laura is all alone when the Killer finally catches up with them, leading to the film's most notorious scene, where Luca, once more thinking with that itch in his pants, and the blonde ditz (Benussi) he picked up strip and have at in the back seat of the car, while poor Laura is attacked and brutally raped back in the villa by the Killer.

Disturbing and unforgivably explicit at first glance, Cozzi shot and edited this scene together much more skillfully than that on the second. Yes, the sex between Luca and Blondie is very explicit and titillating but the rape, thankfully, is not. And with his sure and steady hand, with the two scenes juxtaposed, basically right on top of each other, it's all as tough and nasty and repulsive as it sounds; as it should be, and it's exactly what Cozzi intended and I think he deserves some major props for how he handled it. And what gives that scene even more impact is the disquieting aftermath, when we cut between Blondie casually fussing with her hair while a devastated Laura tries to pull herself back together. Tough, tough scene, folks. And in lesser hands -- well, I'd rather not even think about it.

And so, staking Laura out as bait, the Killer waits for Luca to return with the car. Which he does, so he can introduce Laura to his new girlfriend and give Ms. Prissy-Pants the big kiss-off. And, really, can a viewer be blamed for cheering a little (okay, a lot) when Luca proceeds to get his ass kicked and his head caved-in by the Killer. But strangely enough, the Killer has no intention of killing these two car thieves once he susses out neither of them realized what's in the trunk. Well, check that. Seem he WASN'T going to kill them until Luca's little roadside tryst comes back to bite all of them on the ass. E'yup. Guess who finally took a look in the trunk?

And so, with his secret discovered, the somewhat reluctant Killer dispatches Blondie most gruesomely with a butcher knife (-- strangely enough, the only real gratuitous violence in the whole picture, though you'd swear there was more). Drained after all that blood-letting, the exhausted Killer slinks off to recuperate. And with Blondie dead, and worthless Luca beaten senseless, I guess it's up to Laura to save their collective hash -- which she does, in a scene of such Herculean effort it should be etched in stone in the annals of The Plucky Heroine Hall of Fame.

Thus, with the Killer dead, the body recovered, and Laura ready to dump Luca as soon as the Inspector is done taking their statement, all that leaves is that ass-hat, Giorgio, whose fault all this is, was, and ever shall be. Never fear; his goose was long ago cooked, even before the final coda, where the Inspector finally gets his man via the old hoisted petard.

Technically speaking, Cozzi's episode of The Door into Darkness was also based on Scerbanenco's novel, making The Killer Must Kill Again nothing more than another rehash, where he expanded that nail-biter to feature length. And Cozzi was up to the task, too, with this relentless, near pitch-perfect suspense yarn of constantly overlapping games of cat and mouse, keeping the tension pulled so taut from beginning to end I don't think any amount of hammering would produce a single note -- the piano wire was strung that tight, metaphorically speaking. And for being considered a gialli, the film makes way too much sense, plot-wise. Not a knock on the genre, mind you; just an observation.

In front of the camera, Christina Galbó steals the movie, despite Antoine St. John's best efforts as the stone-faced killer. Aside from Barbara Steele, I'm hard pressed to find a more alluring pair of eyes in film than Galbó’s. She just puts all her chips on the table for every role I've seen her in -- this, The House that Screamed (1970), What Have You Done to Solange (1972), and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974), and sells it with everything she's got. And despite all these efforts, where she's put through the wringer, a lot, I think she's terribly under-appreciated as far as Euro Scream Queens go, which is a damned shame.

When it was finished, despite most of the violence being implied, The Killer Must Kill Again (also released as The Dark is Death's Friend) was hammered so hard by the Italian censors its release was held up for almost two years. From there, it basically disappeared off the cinematic map and Cozzi's film career became defined by the interstellar insanity that followed.

Fortunately, the fine folks at Mondo Macabro got this lost classic back in circulation in 2004, and I cannot recommend this DVD enough. Stuffed with all kinds of special features, including several interviews with Cozzi, the highlight of the disc is a commentary track with the director, where he breaks down the film in great detail (-- I've barely scratched the surface here, and why listen to me when you can hear it from the man himself), including the family oriented financing, with the producer's wife's car playing a pivotal role, and the producer's son's girlfriend making a cameo as a corpse. But most importantly, the film, though not as obscure as it used to be, is readily available for all to see. And when you do, I think you'll agree with those of us who have already rediscovered it, The Killer Must Kill Again is relentless, deliciously nasty, and just plain fantastic. And all the credit goes to Luigi Cozzi. Go figure.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow the collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 11 reviews down with 15 to go! Up Next: Canada takes one for the team as the Earth faces global extinction via an errant projectile. And if you thought The Deadly Mantis had a lot of stock footage, believe me, Boils and Ghouls, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.

The Killer Must Kill Again (1975) Albione Cinematografica :: Git International Film :: Paris-Cannes Productions / EP: Giuseppe Tortorella / P: Umberto Lenzi / CP: Sergio Gobbi / D: Luigi Cozzi / W: Luigi Cozzi, Daniele Del Giudice, Adriano Bolzoni / C: Riccardo Pallottini / E: Alberto Moro / M: Nando De Luca / S: George Hilton, Antoine Saint-John, Cristina Galbó, Alessio Orano, Eduardo Fajardo, Tere Velázquez, Femi Benussi


Dr. Freex said...

Yeah, and the title makes too much sense, too!

W.B. Kelso said...

Still waiting on that sequel, THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN AGAIN!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...