Sunday, December 22, 2013

So Sweet, So Dead (1972) review



Farley Granger (Inspector Capuana), Sylvia Koscina (Barbara Capuana), Chris Avram (Prof. Casali), Silvano Tranquilli (Paolo Santangeli), Annabella Incontrera (Franca Santangeli), Angela Covello (Bettina Santangeli), Femi Benussi (Serena), Luciano Rossi (Gastone), Nieves Navarro (Lily), Krista Nell (Renata), Jessica Dublin (Rossella)

Directed by Roberto Bianchi Montero

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***

The Short Version: An unusually good script punctuates this tale about a depraved avenger of morality snuffing out licentious Italian housewives married to men of stature. The newly transferred police inspector finds small town life of little difference from the manic city in Roberto Montero's sex and breasts obsessed giallo thriller. The minimalist political pandering is a welcome change of pace -- supplanted by a storyline demonstrative of immorality; and it's brought to you by a director who dabbled in movies with sexual themes, and ended his career doing porn pictures. One helluva punch at the end, too. SO SWEET is so recommended.

A serial killer with a twisted moral sensibility is slashing the unfaithful wives of prominent, successful men and leaving photographic evidence of their infidelity at the scene of the crime. Curiously, the faces of the men in the photos have been removed. Inspector Capuana is a former Sicilian policeman trying to piece the small town murder mystery together. Coming up with a number of false leads and obstacles in his way, Capuana learns more than he bargained for upon discovering the killers identity.

Roberto Montero's movie starts off in suitably nasty fashion displaying a perfectly posed, and naked female corpse with knife wounds on various parts of her body. His giallo thriller gets off to a fabulously grim start with this gruesomely sexual image; and while it maintains a level of professionalism and sleaze appeal, the nastiness of this opening scene dissipates quickly. The murder scenes all occur in the same fashion and never get too messy. However, there's a great deal of suspense derived leading up to some of them.

The film has some striking subtext regarding women of status in their marriages to powerful men. It doesn't paint them in a very dutiful, or positive light. They're often depicted as gossiping, callous, horny females who want their cake and eat it too; or simply have lost interest in their significant other and seek satisfaction elsewhere -- sometimes with other men of power. The inspector doesn't shirk from making his opinions known when referring to the licentious, and now dead women as whores.

The writers touch on a variety of pertinent subjects, but some of these are just glossed over without much time spent on them. Young adults interested in politics and anarchy are among the topics broached. Loneliness, societal detachment and homosexuality are likewise touched upon. The decline of Italian culture into a more salacious arena where married couples, as one character puts it, knowingly look for other sexual partners via newspaper ads is likewise explored.

The film wallows in a sexual paradigm indicative of the decade; and of a deviancy that knows no social status -- from the bourgeois, to the squalor at the bottom of the totem pole. The difference is the former hide their lewd conduct to preserve reputation while those of lesser standing (prostitutes and such) depend on their reputations to stay in business. The picture also paints with a voyeuristic brush in that both the killer, and the cops are constantly watching and snapping away with cameras. 

Refreshingly, Montero avoids leftist-centered politics that dominate so many Italian productions with their sometimes overbearingly repetitive reliance on social class warfare. However, the film does flirt with politics on a few occasions with dialog regarding the medias opposition to civic authorities and their handling of the murder case by protecting the names of those involved to save their reputations. This later proves contradictory as it becomes apparent that everybody knows your business in a small town.

Jettisoning a central political theme, the main focus is on morality; and at the crux of that morality is the promiscuity of the women depicted in the film. The men aren't free from guilt, but it's the women (all of upper class standing, mind you) whose lives are being ended out of some sort of moral retribution -- depraved as it may be. The means by which the women are dispatched is always the same, and equally coital in nature. The carnal violence visited upon their bodies results in cut throats and slashes at the breasts and extremities; the last two clearly denoting the killers hatred towards feminine sexual proclivities. At one point in the movie, the black-clad killer is confronted by a male paramour. The slasher shows no interest in killing the man, but merely keeping him at bay to make his escape. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the justification, and the frequent reasoning for the ladies' lascivious behavior is stated rather succinctly by one of the female characters with 'it's the adventure that gives danger its flavor'. Montero's script is steeped in a dichotomy of sex and death. The progeny of the giallo, the slasher movie, often presented sex (of the teen-aged, premarital variety) as a precursor to death. In SO SWEET, SO DEAD, it's extramarital affairs that result in murders, but directed exclusively at (older) women. Some may find this misogynistic while others may see this as societal decline with Catholicism being quietly subjugated by hedonism.

Personally, I don't think the filmmakers -- the director in particular -- were trying to make a concerted statement on immorality. Moral decay is the central motif, but considering the director previously dabbled in sexually oriented motion pictures, and ended his career doing porn movies, it would seem Montero was simply making a movie using a subject he was familiar with.

In the pictures only true misstep, at approximately 45 minutes in, the film introduces a subplot that threatens to derail the police procedural of the first half. This concerns a young revolutionary named Bettina who witnesses one of the murders. This deviation lasts about five minutes before it's abandoned altogether, and Bettina is never seen again. After that, we're back into the main storyline right up to the rather shocking ending.

Giorgio Gaslini's score is quite beautiful and jazzy, even if it sounds like the same few cues playing in a loop. There's little diversity in the soundtrack, but you will likely find yourself humming along just the same.

The plentiful murders themselves are repetitive, and occasionally feel pedestrian in execution. Some of these sequences are enlivened by variances in location, while others succeed by a suspenseful build.

In America, the film was modified with hardcore porn inserts and re-christened PENETRATION some time in the late 1970s. It also played under a variety of other titles. Considering the trajectory Roberto Montero's career took around this time towards the end of the decade, a porno version of SO SWEET, SO DEAD kind of makes sense.

SUSPECTS: Who do you think is the killer?

Gastone the morgue attendant: He is fascinated with the bodies of the young women. He laughs wildly upon satisfaction with his work. He fawns over their "remodeled" corpses, and is essentially a societal outcast and possible necrophiliac.

Professor Casali: Works closely with inspector Capuana in deciphering the mindset of the mysterious black masked, black gloved murderer.

Paolo Santangeli, the lawyer: His wife is among the murdered women. He was enjoying dalliances with his crippled next door neighbors' wife, Lily. He lies to the inspector about the last time he saw his wife before her death.

Fans of Giallo cinema are rewarded with a tight story that touches on numerous topics, but focuses primarily on a single one. The sexual content is high in this, so if you're into sleaze done classy, this is par for your course. SO SWEET, SO DEAD is capped by a great shock ending, too. Lots of big names here in what was a fairly obscure murder thriller till Camera Obscura gave it newly restored life on the digital format.

This review is representative of the Camera Obscura R2 DVD.

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