The Italian genre of “Giallo” films is one that’s been popular amongst horror nerds for as long as it’s existed. Combining a variety of high brow motifs (tits, gore, black leather gloves) with a pulp detective novel sensibility and some pretentious final touches (jazz soundtracks and freaky camera angles), the Giallo is perhaps an acquired taste but one that certainly stands you out as a Connoisseur when you order it.
For years, part of the genre’s appeal lay in its obscurity. So many of the films produced in 1970s Italy for next-to-nothing were lost to the void, the original masters sat in some old studio boss’s cupboard amongst the dirty socks and dust mites. The film titles themselves were flamboyant, if not downright outrageous, and this is perhaps what inspired fevered collectors to spend years and a small fortune in international phonecalls to track that elusive uncut print of The Iguana With The Tongue of Fire or a watchable version of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. It’s got a certain appeal hasn’t it? Being able to say you’ve got even a fifth generation VHS version in English of What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body? is something not everyone can boast. It’s an elitist’s wet dream (that’s dripping wet and crimson, naturally).
Thankfully, the folk at Shameless Screen Entertainment are doing some of this hard work for us nowadays, dredging lost gems from the depths of the Mediterranean and packaging them in garish, retro-style sleeves for our viewing pleasure. But are they barking up the wrong tree?
My Dear Killer is not a particularly notable giallo but it’s a solid enough example of the genre and its tropes. You could do a lot worse. It spins a surprisingly traditional mystery plot involving the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a young girl (who, of course, is the daughter/heir of a rich businessman). The case is never solved, but gets reopened after an insurance investigator who worked on it is found dead, having had his head removed by a JCB digger (a classic opening scene if ever there was one!). George Hilton plays the moustachiod detective who almost loses his wife and his sanity when he becomes deeply embroiled in all the child-slayin’ skullduggery.
This story is well structured and whilst a little too close to Agatha Christie for comfort at times, it provides enough mystery and suspense to keep things moving. There isn’t a great deal of gore (and not even that many breasts); in fact the box cover (in the exploitation tradition of “All Sizzle, No Steak”) makes a point of showing you all of the sex/nudity, so if that’s all you’re there for, just nick the sleeve from the video shop. It’s competently directed at times and woefully amateurish at others (a scene where the actor playing the killer accidentally drops a (fake) spinning power tool on his foot and just quickly moves it away without a scratch is cringeworthy), so it’s no wonder that director Tony Valerii’s name is hardly household. That said, the mindbending jazz soundtrack is awesome and almost makes up for some of the aesthetic shortcomings.
My big disappointment – and where I began to question Shameless who, with their brand design and enthusiasm had impressed me – was that whilst, yes, I appreciate that an obscurity like this even made it onto DVD, it would’ve been nice to have some extras on the disk (I believe that there is a R1 version lurking around with some interviews). Yes yes, I know, We become accustomed to certain luxuries (fifteen years ago, I’d’ve watched a fuzzy VHS copy from a boot sale and been happy) but there are companies in the US who are putting out way better rare old Italian films with way more extras.
I think Shameless are on the right track and have the potential to get better but it’d be nice to see some quality control. I’m happy for a workmanlike-but-rare giallo like My Dear Killer to get a release, but really… Killer Nun? Venus in Furs? Flavia The Heretic? Didn’t Redemption already do these ones? And don’t even get me started on how the world really doesn’t need another version of New York Ripper or Phantom of Death.
If we start seeing some proper classic rarities come out of these guys (how about House With Windows That Laughed, eh?) and get the kind of extras that some of the bigger, better US companies stick on such discs, they could be a serious force. I’d like to think that My Dear Killer is a sign that they’re just warming up. We shall see.