Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Giallo Essentials Collection (Black Edition) – Arrow Video (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Dates: Italy, 1972 (Smile Before Death, The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive), Italy, 1974 (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats)
Directors: Silvio Amadio (Smile Before Death), Francesco Mazzei (The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive), Giuseppe Bennati (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats)
Cast: Jenny Tamburi, Silvano Tranquilli, Rosalba Neri, Hiram Keller, Dana Ghia, Barbara Bouchet (Smile Before Death), Renzo Montagnani, Bedy Moratti, Eva Czemerys, Salvatore Puntillo, Claudia Gravy (The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive), Rosanna Schiaffino, Chris Avram, Eva Czemerys, Lucretia Love, Paola Senatore, Howard Ross, Janet Agren (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats)

Release Date: August 1st, 2022 (UK), August 30th, 2022 (USA)
Approximate Running Times: 88 Minutes 20 Seconds (Smile Before Death), 103 Minutes 51 Seconds (The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive), 103 Minutes 32 Seconds (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats), 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Smile Before Death)
Rating: 18 (UK), NR (USA)
Sound: LPCM Mono Italian (All Films), LPCM Mono English (Smile Before Death, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats)
Subtitles: English, English SDH (All Films)
Region Coding: Region A,B
Retail Price: £59.99 (UK), $99.95 (USA)

"While the release of Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage gave rise to a glut of imitators, there was more to the giallo than just shameless copycats setting out to ape a rigid formula. This volume of Giallo Essentials celebrates the range and breadth of the genre with three lesser-seen films from its early 1970s heyday. In Silvio Amadio's Smile Before Death, familicide with a sprinkling of Oedipal love is the order of the day when teenager Nancy returns home to discover the apparent suicide of her mother, and quickly comes to suspect that her stepfather and his mistress are to blame. Next, Horny priests and self-flagellating nuns abound in Francesco Mazzei's The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive, as police commissioner Franco Boito investigates the brutal murder of a young clergyman, only to enter into an affair with the dead man's lover. Finally, in Giuseppe Bennati's The Killer Reserved Nine Seats, an assortment of wealthy degenerates - including Italian cult mainstays Andrea Scotti and Howard Ross - answer the summons of an eccentric nobleman and assemble in the theatre attached to his ancestral home, only to find themselves trapped in the decaying building while a savage killer picks them off Agatha Christie-style! With gory murders, wanton debauchery and left-field plot twists a-plenty." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 4.25/5 (Smile Before Death), 4/5 (The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive), 4.5/5 (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats)

Here’s the information provided about Smile Before Death's transfer, "The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 2K resolution at Cinema Communications Services, Rome. Restoration and grading were completed at R3Store Studios, London.

All original materials usde for the restoration were made available from Minerva Pictures."

Smile Before Death comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 34.3 GB

Feature: 28 GB

The source used for this transfer is in excellent shape. Colors are nicely saturated, flesh tones look correct, the image looks crisp, black levels are solid, and grain remains intact.

Here’s the information provided about The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive's transfer, "The original 35mm camera negative was scanned and restored in 2K resolution at L'Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna. The film was graded at R3Store Studios, London.

All original materials usde for the restoration were made available from Movietime."

The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 34.6 GB

Feature: 28 GB

The source used for this transfer looks great. Colors, image clarity, and black levels are solid, and the image retains an organic look.

Here’s the information provided about The Killer Reserved Nine Seats' transfer, "The film was restored in 2K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative by Movietime and Camera Obscura/Uber Productions. Additional grading and restoration work was completed by Arrow Films at R3Store Studios, London.

All original materials usde for the restoration were made available from Movietime."

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 43 GB

Feature: 28 GB

The source used for The Killer Reserved Nine Seats’ transfer is comparable to Camera Obscura’s transfer for their 2014 Blu-ray release. The source looks excellent. Colors are nicely saturated, image clarity and black levels are solid, and grain remains intact.

Audio: 4.25/5 (LPCM Mono Italian - Smile Before Death, The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats), 4.25/5 (LPCM Mono English - The Killer Reserved Nine Seats), 3.75/5 (LPCM Mono English - Smile Before Death)

Smile Before Death comes with two audio options, a LPCM mono mix in Italian and a LPCM mono mix in English. Compared to the Italian language track, the English language track sounds flat, and there are some minor silabance issues. That said, dialog always comes through clearly, and ambient sounds and the score are well-represented. Smile Before Death comes with two subtitle options, removable English subtitles for the Italian language track and removable English SDH subtitles for the English language track.

The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in Italian and removable English subtitles. The audio is in great shape; dialog comes through clearly; everything sounds balanced and robust when it should.

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats comes with two audio options: a LPCM mono mix in Italian and a LPCM mono mix in English. Both audio tracks sound great; dialog comes through clearly; everything sounds balanced and robust when it should. The Killer Reserved Nine Seats comes with two subtitle options, removable English subtitles for the Italian language track and removable English SDH subtitles for the English language track. It should be noted that there is a second English subtitle track when watching the film in English because this track translates some Italian dialog for moments that were never dubbed into English.

Extras:

Extras for Smile Before Death include an image gallery (11 images-poster/stills), never-before-seen extended nude scenes, not used in the final film (3 minutes 15 seconds, no sound), an interview with Stefano Amadio, film journalist and son of director Silvio Amadio titled Smile of the Hyena (23 minutes 25 seconds, LPCM stereo Italian, no subtitles), an audio commentary with film critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, reversible cover art, and a twenty-four page booklet with cast & crew information, an essay titled The Artifice of Image: Distorted Realities in Silvio Amadio’s Smile Before Death written by Rachael Nisbet, and information about the restoration.

It should be noted that the interview with Stefano Amadio is missing English subtitles. Though Arrow Video has not made any comment about this yet, they have delayed the street date by a few weeks, presumably to address this issue.

Extras for The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive include an image gallery (10 images-poster/lobby cards), front and end titles for the lost English-language dub (3 minutes 26 seconds, LPCM mono English, no subtitles), an interview with actor Salvatore Puntillo titled A Man in Giallo (13 minutes 32 seconds, LPCM stereo Italian with removable English subtitles), an audio commentary with author and film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, reversible cover art, and twenty-four page booklet with cast & crew information, an essay titled Illuminating the Obscure: The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive written by Barry Fotshaw, and information about the restoration.

Extras for The Killer Reserved Nine Seats include an image gallery (23 images-posters/lobby cards), a theatrical trailer (3 minutes 14 seconds, LPCM mono English and LPCM mono Italian with removable English subtitles), an archival interview with screenwriter Biagio Proietti titled Writing with Biagio (28 minutes 38 seconds, LPCM stereo Italian with removable English subtitles), an archival interview with actor Howard Ross titled Hanging with Howard (8 minutes 23 seconds, LPCM stereo Italian with removable English subtitles), an audio commentary with  author and film critic Kat Ellinger, reversible cover art, and twenty-four page booklet with cast & crew information, an essay titled And Then There Were Nine: The Gothic Stylings of Giuseppe Bennati written by Peter Jilmstad, and information about the restoration.

Other extras include a rigid box packaging with original artwork in a windowed Giallo Essentials Collection slipcover.

Summary:

Smile Before Death: After an opening murder sequence, which lays the foundation for the events that follow, the narrative does a great job of focusing on who the killer is and why they are trying to find the daughter of the woman murdered in the opening sequence. Though the narrative gives an indication of who the killer is, it is not only through a series of flashbacks late in the narrative that their identity is fully revealed.

Smile Before Death was directed by Silvio Amadio, whose other notable films include Amuck, So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious..., and That Malicious Age. He does a superb job directing Smile Before Death; he allows key moments to resonate and delivers several stylish visual set pieces. That said, Smile Before Death is a beautifully photographed film, especially when it comes to its two leading ladies, Jenny Tamburi (The Psychic) and Rosalba Neri (The Girl in Room 2A).

Performance wise, the three leads, Jenny Tamburi in the role of Dorothy, Rosalba Neri in the role of Marco’s mistress, and Silvano Tranquilli (The Bloodstained Butterfly) in the roles of Marco, the murder woman’s husband, and Dorothy’s stepfather, were excellent. Silvano Tranquilli gave the best performance of the three. Another notable cast member includes Barbara Bouchet (Don't Torture a Duckling), who makes an uncredited appearance as a party guest.

Content-wise, Smile Before Death has all the elements that you would want and expect from a Giallo. The premise is well-executed, the narrative does a great job of maintaining tension, and there is a twist finale that puts an exclamation mark on the events that preceded. Another strength is Roberto Pregadio’s (The Last House on the Beach) score, which is anchored by a playful main theme that's the opposite of what's going on on screen, and yet it somehow works. Ultimately, though Smile Before Death is not a top-tier giallo, it is a mid-tier giallo that's not too far behind.

The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive: However, there are only so many scenarios and suspects for any Giallo to choose from. The bulk of Gialli seems to gravitate towards a handful of scenarios and suspects. That said, the best giallos still have the ability to keep you guessing until their moment of truth arrives. A case in point: The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive is a film that revolves around one of Giallo cinema’s most notable suspects, the priest, who this time around is the victim.

The narrative revolves around a pernicious priest whose many affairs lead to his murder. Along the way, blackmail rears its ugly head. Unfortunately for the blackmailers, things do not turn out well for them. As the bodies pile up and the killer tries to keep their identity secret,

The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive was directed by Francesco Mazzei, a film producer and occasional screenwriter who never directed another film. Even the cinematographer, Giovanni Ciarlo, has limited experience, having only worked as a cinematographer on Eye in the Labyrinth. That said, when it comes to the visuals, do not expect anything flashy, or any stylized murder set pieces.

Though Giallo’s is known for assembling casts of recognizable faces, this is not the case with The Weapon, the Hour, and the Motive, whose most notable cast members are Eva Czemerys (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats), and Claudia Gravy (Marquis de Sade's Justine). That said, the performances work well within the story at hand.

From a production standpoint, The Weapon, the Hour, and the Motive is a film that maximizes its resources. Though it features a familiar premise, it is well-executed, and the finale provides a perfect coda. Unfortunately, The Weapon, the Hour, and the Motive has some flaws, including a slow-moving narrative and a lack of onscreen killings (the first onscreen killing occurs around the 58-minute mark). Ultimately, The Weapon, the Hour, and the Motive is a film that die-hard Giallo fans are sure to enjoy, while those just getting into Gialli should start with somewhere else.

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats: Despite not receiving credit, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is yet another film that was clearly inspired by Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (aka The There was none).

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats has all the ingredients that one would expect and want out of a Giallo. It has stylish murder set pieces and a few really nasty kills, most notably a scene where the killer repeatedly knives a lesbian character in her genitals. And the nastiness does not end there, as that same character later reappears with her lesbian lover as she is in a crucifixion pose.

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats keeps things simple and to the point from a narrative standpoint, as each death is spaced out for maximum effect. Also, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats does a very good job of filling in who everyone is and what their motivations are. And this establishing of a character's backstory helps reinforce the notion that the killer can be anyone, thus making all the red herrings all the more tangible.

At the center of this murder and mayhem is a wealthy man who is the killers' main target. And after a failed attempt on this man's life, the killer shifts gears to throw suspicion and cause more confusion amongst the guests. This objective is easy to execute since everyone at this party would benefit in some way if its host passed away.

Besides the traditional staples of the Giallo genre, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats also dabbles heavily in the world of the supernatural. A few more notable moments in this regard include everyone's inability to escape once they enter the theater and a mysterious character who comes and goes throughout, only to be seen by a select few.

Though the cast features a few recognizable faces like Janet Agren (Eaten Alive!) and Howard Ross (The New York Ripper), their characters quickly become an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. The strongest performance comes from Rosanna Schiaffino (La Mandragola) in the role of Vivian, the former lover of the wealthy man throwing the party. Another performance of note is Paola Senatore (Salon Kitty) in the role of the wealthy man's daughter. This unhealthy father-daughter relationship proves to be the key behind the events that are unfolding. The most memorable moment revolves around her character as she dances nude in front of a mirror before shifting gears and trying to seduce her father. Ultimately, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is a highly entertaining supernatural thriller that delivers the goods and then some.

Whereas Arrow Video’s two previous Giallo Essentials Collections, the Yellow and Red Editions, were just repacks of films that they had previously released. This new collection, titled Giallo Essentials Collection Black Edition, contains three films never released before by Arrow Video. That said, all three films come with solid audio and video presentations and a wealth of extra content. Giallo Essentials Collection Black Edition is another solid release from Arrow Video, highly recommended.



























Written by Michael Den Boer

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