Wednesday 23 October 2013

Watch Me When I Kill (Antonio Bido, 1977) DVD Review

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Otherwise known as “The Cat's Victims” or “The Cat With The Jade Eyes”, Watch Me When I Kill was Antonio Bido's first foray into the world of giallo filmmaking. Coming from a background in art house film, Bido wanted a commercial hit that would appeal in equal measure to film buffs and general audiences. Taking inspiration from the likes of Hitchcock and Argento, and combining the original, artier script with more mainstream adaptations, Watch Me When I Kill came into being.

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“Someone's trying to kill me for one reason or another.” Diving head-first into what will become a complex murder mystery mottled by red herrings, the opening minutes brandish Bido's directorial skill. The intrigue comes fast as a nervous chemist frets over the phone to unknown 'Esmeralda' after receiving a threatening letter, but shortly after burning it the pharmacist is slain with a knife across his throat. The sequence is all the more electrifying thanks to the score by Trans Europa Express – a nerve-plucking medley of guitars and stabbed bass strings that recall the iconic Goblin soundtracks for Dario Argento's most famous films (indeed, Deep Red was an influence on Bido). This delicious sound-scape returns throughout the film, changing slightly with each iteration to up the tense uncertainty. Interrupting the aftermath, however, is Mara (Paola Tedesco) – a dancer who, along with former flame Lucas (Corrado Pani), quickly becomes embroiled in a series of violent murders.

“She was killed for motives of personal revenge.” True to giallo form, the police are given little consideration as a solution to their deadly predicament (written off as 'useless' and 'stupid' by Mara), leaving cigar-chomping everyman/audio engineer Lucas to solve the mystery himself. After a failed attempt on Mara's life, and with Lucas' loan-shark neighbour Giovanni seeking his help at deciphering a terrifying phone message, the stakes soon begin to escalate as suspicious glances and allusions to past transgressions muddy the waters. Barking dogs, sinister voices, and obscure music – what could these jumbled audio clues mean? Might an escaped criminal be to blame, or how about that co-worker fond of giving suspect glances, and what part does the enigmatic Esmeralda play in all this?

“You don't run the risk of being killed without a reason.” The script – written by Vittorio Schiraldi, Antonio Bido, Roberto Natale, and Aldo Serio – is certainly fond of layering the film with mysteries upon secrets upon dangling doubts. The viewer is kept guessing, but the range of clues leads to Lucas – and the film – becoming too wrapped up in detective work once the action slows and reaches the ancient streets of Padova. “There is a fracture of style” says Bido of the Padova segment (an unchanged excerpt from the original version of the script, which he fought to maintain), and it shows. While curious dream-like interludes entertain – such as Lucas' arrival in the near-abandoned town, or his encounter with a babbling loon in a decaying house – this late portion of the film does tend to become bogged down in exposition and investigative leads that don't always lead somewhere.

“There's some things you never forget.” That said, one of Bido's finest flourishes in the film comes during this uneven portion – a knowing wink to Hitchcock's Psycho, whereby another victim is dispatched in a fast-cutting strangulation scene in a bath. Soundtracked by Verdi's “Dies Irae”, it makes for a fantastic moment in the entire lexicon of gialli (a well-deserved hat-tip to editor Maurizio Tedesco in an analogue era where such frenzied cuts were uncommon). In spite of the lull around the end of the second act, Watch Me When I Kill is – much like Bido's second-and-final giallo The Bloodstained Shadow (1978) – filled with beautifully composed visuals (Mario Vulpiani worked on both) that pleasingly clash with the POV sequences that were personally shot by Bido, from a position of deliberate uncertainty to the movement.

“One more risk and it'll be over for good.” Considering that Mara is introduced to us as the main character, it's unfortunate that she is somewhat cast aside come the final act while Lucas is off doing detective work. However, Tedesco's confidence on-screen shines through, particularly during a desperate encounter in a parking garage, or both main attempts on Mara's life – the latter involving a nice touch with the beads of her broken necklace cascading down moonlit wooden stairs.

“They were all guilty before God, it was right for them to die!” While Bido's second giallo was a more consistent and tightly crafted affair, his first is still able to pack an emotional punch come the finale. Once the killer is revealed and the motive is laid bare, Watch Me When I Kill manages to pull of a significant coup – the exposure of a shocking back-story filled with more heart-felt tragedy than most (or perhaps any) giallo film ever made. The precipice from which the viewer is dropped, avoids slap-dash 'whodunit' conclusions or gore-drenched triumphalism, and instead leaves you on a sobering note well worth contemplating. Bido, in spite of some moments of slackened pace, definitely achieved what he set out to do – combine art house thoughtfulness with mainstream thrills.

“And when you have found something true, just look behind you and you'll find you're back at the beginning again.” Shot on Gaevert Colour film stock, now known to suffer over time, the visual presentation on Shameless Screen Entertainment's 18th release (from 2009) is as best as you could realistically hope for. Some dark scenes have a red-ish tint from ageing, and there are moments of noticeable murkiness, but it all comes down to the film stock suffering the ravages of time. It's far from bad, but it's a shame that some of the depth and detail has forever been lost.

Similarly, the audio presentation took a beating from the hand of fate. Originally one of the earliest films to be mastered in Stereo, only a Mono track seems to now exist, thus losing some of the breadth and depth of the original aural arena. As such, some sound effects come across as murky or buried under the dialogue, which is thankfully clear.

The DVD features an informative and pleasant 20 minute interview with Bido, a text commentary, alternative title sequences and trailers (USA and International), photo gallery (with behind-the-scenes shots from Bido's own collection), as well as six trailers for other Shameless releases and the obligatory two-sided DVD cover art.

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