Out now, this 1972 Italian horror-thriller from director Aldo Lado is brought to Blu-Ray from Arrow Video.
Following the murder of his young daughter Roberta, sculptor Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) attempts to find the killer’s identity. Along the way, he uncovers a depraved conspiracy of sex, drugs, and blackmail, all while desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged wife, Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg).
Right away, what sets Who Saw Her Die? apart from some of its more exploitative brethren is the ways in which the seedier elements of the film are portrayed. Aside from a disturbing (yet quickly cut) murder at the beginning of the film and an intense strangulation near the midway point, the violence of the film is mostly off-screen or shot in a way that doesn’t directly focus on it. There’s more horror in the ways our characters react to the violence and depravity around them.
Even the use of sex and nudity in the film is done in an unexpected way. Though there is quite a bit of it throughout, none of it seems to be used for titillation. Franco and Elizabeth sleep together after a blow-up at Franco’s place following Roberta’s funeral. Gabriella tries to use sex as a means of escape from her life of servitude. The film uses sex as a way to illustrate how far people will go for what they want, so it never feels “fun,” but it never quite feels exploitative, either. Sex is just another layer of the feeling of dread that permeates the film as a whole.
Lado sets the camera far away from his players, using long takes to allow us to soak in the atmosphere of each location, breaking away in quick cuts and occasional closeups only to shock us out of complacency. In a way, we’re a part of Venice, here seen as a place where a child can be abducted in broad daylight, with people around. We’re allowed to become accustomed to each new place we visit, so that it feels all the more sudden and violating when we see the boldness of the killer stalking the canals.
The score from the great Ennio Morricone is a total nightmare, which I mean as a compliment. For those of you more familiar with Morricone’s instrumental scores, the vocal arrangements in this film will come as a shock. Morricone employs a children’s chorus that builds to a cacophony, underscoring the more chaotic moments and building tension in interesting ways. In the earlier parts of the film, the music will begin to play moments before the killer is seen on screen, heralding the presence of danger to the audience. There are also moments when the score will cut out abruptly as the film switches locations, with one fantastic instant being when a night watchman closes a door to the outside. It’s as if the danger has been cordoned off, the score silencing along with it.
The whole of the film feels gritty and dirty, even without the death and sex. Red herrings are presented to us in quick succession, with everyone seeming to have a dangerous edge just bubbling under the surface. Adding to this are the locations used in the film, old rundown mills and bathhouses that have been converted into cramped apartments. There’s a sense of claustrophobia that pervades even the widest shots.
The cast do an admirable job of anchoring some of the odder moments of the film. As Elizabeth, Anita Strindberg is vulnerable, but refuses to play a victim. She’s clearly on edge, but has such a sense of love and duty to her family that she’s willing to stick things out to their most horrifying conclusions. Lazenby plays Franco like a loaded gun with the safety off. He’s ready to go off at any second; but makes sure he’s trained on the right person until he does. The one-time Bond even gets in some decent action, particularly in a chase scene that ends with him performing a very real and dangerous stunt in which he swings from some stray rebar. It’s a shame that the way this film was shot precluded him from looping in his own dialogue, because this could be one of his finest performances.
That brings me to the audio in the film, which is presented in both its original Italian and English dubs. Both tracks have been cleaned up wonderfully and the sound quality is crisp, though the English track comes off somewhat less muffled. It’s also interesting to note that the English track somewhat sanitizes some of the events of the film, with a few instances of offscreen characters and dialogue seemingly attempting to take some of the punch out of the uglier, more complex beats of the story.
The special features, as with most Arrow Video releases, are a treasure trove. There’s a feature length commentary track that gives the audience some interesting background on the film’s production history and its place in the Italian giallo genre, as well as interviews with director Aldo Lado and actress Nicoletta Elmi, along with several other featurettes covering various parts of the production, making the Blu-Ray well worth a purchase.