Director - Riccardo Freda
Cast - John Richardson, Stefano Patrizi, Silvia Dionisio
Country of Origin - Italy
Discs - 1
MSRP - $19.98/29.98
Distributor - Raro Video
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 2/5
Life is far from being a bed of roses and pasta primavera for Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi); the handsome and popular actor has a career fast on the rise and the love of the beautiful Deborah (Silvio Dionisio) to comfort him in times of despair. During the production of a horror film Michael embraces his role of the killer a bit too much and almost strangles his lovely co-star Beryl (Laura Gemser) to death. He then takes a break from the shoot and travels with Deborah to his family home in the countryside for the first time in many years to visit his mother Shirley (Martine Brochard) and get some much-needed downtime. Joining the happy couple are Michael’s director Hans (Henri Garcin), and co-stars Glenda (Anita Strindberg) and Beryl (surprisingly not nonplussed about the on-set incident with Michael). Glenda is initially warm to her son’s friends enjoying a weekend holiday at her house, but the creepy family retainer Oliver (John Richardson) isn’t hiding his suspicions about the bunch. Not long after their arrival Michael and his friends begin to fall prey to an unknown assailant who uses a variety of crude weaponry to do away with their victims, including axes, chainsaws, and a bathtub full of good ol’ running water. Somehow the killings tie into a shocking event from Michael’s past, one that has never been revealed to Deborah and his friends until now, and before the weekend is over much blood will be spilled and a horrifying family secret will finally be brought to light.
Murder Obsession is one of the more obscure Italian horror films of the 1980’s and for a good reason. Although it encompasses both the best and worst elements of that country’s notorious genre filmmaking output that had a huge influence on American horror films made around the same time Riccardo Freda, who also co-write the script with Antonio Cesare Corti and Fabio Piccioni (with dialogue contributions from producer Simon Mizrahi), has made a handsome-looking film awash in an atmosphere of mystery and dread - with much help from cinematographer Cristiano Pogany (who past credits include the Italian rape-revenge flick The Last House on the Beach and the 1986 NBC miniseries Noble House). The plot, although more than slightly derivative of the far superior films that inspired Murder Obsession, at least is interesting enough to keep you guessing throughout. But the pacing is very sluggish and the attempt by the filmmakers to merge bloody giallo, supernatural horror, and psychological thriller into one package results in an narratively inert and confused film with yet another of those “what the fuck” endings the Italian horror genre is well known for - although Murder Obsession’s final shots do have a haunting power about them.
There is a serious and fascinating story at the core of the fabulously muddled mess that is Murder Obsession, the idea that our hero figure is cast from the beginning in a dark light because of a terrible crime he committed in the past that may have forever altered his fragile psyche. Sadly the idea doesn’t get much follow-thru in the film; it only carries value to director Freda as a handy plot device when the body count starts to rise. The first two acts take too much time setting up the story and characters because there’s hardly enough of either to justify the amount of screen time spent on their development. Only when the characters begin to kick the bucket in gruesome fashion does Murder Obsession finally embrace its true nature, but by then it’s too little, too late. The murder sequences don’t even get as juicy as even the poorest Italian horrors allow for their gore: one person dies with an ax to the skull but the death comes practically out of nowhere, lacking the slightest build-up, and the effect is accomplished (if you could call it an accomplishment) with a fake head that looks like a melon with a sun-dried Michael Myers mask pulled over it. Troma Films could do a better job than that. A chainsaw throat-slicing draws a little more blood but Freda cuts away - no pun intended - from the action before the effect can have any impact at all.
The true highlight of Murder Obsession is a whacked-out sequence that may or not be a dream - you’ll have to watch the movie to find out. It involves rubber bats and spiders, ghoulish figures in white robes drooling liquid decay, the slaughter of a cockerel, and human skulls with blood pouring from the eye sockets. I mustn’t neglect to mention the fact that Laura Gemser gets nude several times in the movie. Why, you might ask? In a slight revision of the Everest Principle, because she’s there.
Note: Raro’s release of Murder Obsession restores a few brief scenes long absent from any English language print of the film. These moments enhance the characters and beef up the narrative somewhat but their exclusion from prior releases is understandable. The scenes are in Italian with English subtitles.
The 1.85: 1 widescreen presentation boasts a strong and clear restored picture with deep blacks in the nighttime scenes, brightly-lit blood that looks like melted Crayola, and lush greens during the daytime exploration of the wooded area that surrounds the Stanford family home. But an English (with occasional Italian for the restored scenes) 2.0 mono audio track is an utter failure. Nearly every line of dialogue comes through your speakers tinny and muffled and there’s no balance between the spoken scenes and the film’s score, which when it strikes up will make you think a university marching band has invaded your home.
The Blu-ray of the film which was released months later features a superior AVC encoded 1:85:1 1080p transfer of the film in 2 separate cuts (an international release version, and a shorter English variation). The Blu-ray offers great color reproduction, excellent fine detail, and a healthy level of film grain throughout the presentation not to mention nice deep black levels and fairly accurate flesh tones. The English version does have some minor issues with softness in comparison to the international version.
The audio track for the International release is a DTS-HD lossless Italian track 2.0 track which definitely has many similar issues, but the score appears to be quite strong, and the dialogue is fairly clear thoughout. Optional English subtitles are included.(Blu-ray details by S.M.)
The only extra of any worth on offer here is a 10-minute interview with Italian horror effects expert Sergio Stivaletti (Cemetery Man), who began his film career as an unaccredited special effects assistant on Murder Obsession. There is a lot of information crammed into the brief running time as Stivaletti discusses the beginnings of his career, films that has worked on as a special effects artist and as a director, and his work on Freda’s movie. I wish the interview had been longer but what we do get is very nice.
The DVD also comes with a booklet featuring a biography of director Freda, some bits of trivia, and a spoiler-laden breakdown of the film’s plot. Don’t read before watching the movie if you actually want to be surprised.
In terms of overall quality Riccardo Freda’s psychological horror flick Murder Obsession falls somewhere on the spectrum of Italian horror cinema smack dab in the middle. It’s a noble failure that is moderately enjoyable and interesting to look at but lacks the courage of its convictions. Fans of Pasta Land slice-and-dice flicks will want to check this movie just to say they did. Everyone else will want to look elsewhere for unhinged thrills and fountains of spilled guts and gore.