“DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER”— Gothic Horror

“DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER”

Gothic Horror

Amos Lassen

Greta (Ewa Aulin) is ill with amnesia after a sudden and disastrous carriage accident throws her into the front lawn of Walter von Ravensbrück (Sergio Doria) and his wife Eva (Angela Bo). They take Greta into their home and call for the local authorities and doctor to care for the young woman. After a complete check up by Dr. Sturges (Klaus Kinski), Greta intends to continue her journey, but the von Ravensbrück’s insist that she stay as their guest until her health is better. Greta begins to grow on both Mr. and Mrs. von Ravensbrück and the couple quickly begins to have a secret rendezvous with their visitor behind each other’s back. Jealous of her husband’s growing affection for Greta, Eva immobilizes Greta and bricks her into a room. With the sudden death of Dr. Sturges and the ghastly reemergence of Greta at a masquerade party, the von Ravensbrück’s quickly discover that their guest has brought not only passion and beauty to their home, but death as well.

Then there is also something about a lost Incan formula that may hide the mystery of eternal life and it’s possible that Greta might even be Walter’s sister. It is here that we really realize that the film does not make much sense. The plot cuts back and forth and twists and turns in upon itself.

Yet despite its foolish story, the film itself is surprisingly fun to watch. Director Joe D’Amato pulls off a number of impressive scenes, in particular a montage of flirtation and fornication between Greta, Walter and Eva is totally confusing yet successfully convey that all three of the participants are getting it on with one another. This scene follows right after one in which Eva attempts to drown Greta in a bathtub, an act which somehow arouses the lesbian lust in both of them.

Greta, a beautiful young woman who has been abused by her brother Franz (Luciano Rossi) and left to die in childbirth by her elicit lover, the aristocrat Dr. von Ravensbrück (Giacomo Rossi). Bereft with grief, Franz reanimates his dead sister using a formula engraved on an ancient Incan medallion. Greta then returns as an undead avenging angel, reaping revenge on the Ravensbrück family and her manically possessive brother. D’Amato’s film is a stately and surreal supernatural mystery with several shocking scenes of gore, and a typically sinister performance from Klaus Kinski as a morbid doctor.

The film begins with the corpse of a beautiful girl laid out for viewing. A hunchback mourner (who could be the woman’s brother, husband or lover) weeps that “they” killed her and he did nothing to stop them. Flashbacks show the hunchback chasing the woman through the woods as she taunts, “If you catch me I’ll let you do anything you want… anything.” But she has found another man.

We then have the violent carriage crash that lands the amnesia stricken Greta on the doorstep of the von Ravenbrucks and the doctor is called. The examination is where we get our first glimpse that something’s not quite right with the film. It soon becomes evident that Walter has taken a shining to Greta, much to Eva’s dismay. Meanwhile, in the secret chamber under his lab we discover that the good doctor Sturges has been using the ancient formula found on Greta’s necklace to reanimate corpses but then he quickly dies. From here on out the film gets really crazy. Eva tries to drown a bathing Greta but ends up having a little lesbian action with her and then decides to brick her up in the house’s catacombs. A cop investigating Greta’s “disappearance” (Attilio Dotessio) keeps showing up to stick his nose in things and Greta returns from the grave at a costume party.

By the end of the film, we are totally confused but even without a plot, the film is still fun to watch.

Bonus Materials

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Italian and English soundtracks
  • Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by writer and critic Tim Lucas
  • D’Amato Smiles on Death, an archival interview in which the director discusses the film
  • All About Ewa, a newly-filmed, career-spanning interview with the Swedish star
  • Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
  • Original trailers
  • Stills and collections gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Stephen Thrower and film historian Roberto Curti

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