A monster is stalking the canals of Venice, abducting young women, talking them to his subterranean lair and there embalming them to preserve their beauty for all eternity. “How lovely you are. Like alabaster goddesses. No living woman possesses your mysterious fascination or your sweet repose. You will stay with me always. No-one else will have you.” It is the kind of thing that sounds so preposterous that the police would never think of it, leaving it to reporter Andrea Rubis to investigate.
The Embalmer's collection of beauties grows
While standing with Nightmare Castle as one of the last Italian shockers to be filmed in black and white, this 1965 film differs from its Gothic counterpart by situating the action firmly in the contemporary world and eschewing supernatural horror for natural terror.
As ever, issues of plausibility are not that important. You just have to accept that the madman will do madman things and that professionals will be decidedly less effectual than an enthusiastic amateur.
Though this latter aspect is certainly more suggestive of a giallo than krimi film – with Andrea's occupation further connecting him back to the protagonist of I Vampiri and forward to his namesake in The Fifth Cord, Andrea Bild – the German influence is more pronounced elsewhere.
The monster is strongly reminiscent of master-criminal The Shark in Alfred Vohrer's The Inn on the River and The Phantom of Soho in Franz Josef Gottlieb's film of the same name, depending on whether he is wearing his scuba gear or robe and skull mask, while the secret passages and two-way mirrors of the the hotel that hides the monster's lair - an old monastery, long since buried and forgotten - make it seem akin to a Venetian version of the Luxor Hotel housing The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse.
Elsewhere we get a gratuitous dance sequence, again reminiscent of a similar sequence on The Inn on the River, and a bizarre musical number from a guy who emerges from a coffin!
A couple of the tourists get down
It almost looks like it could be from a Jess Franco film...
Until the man in black starts, but is he doing Johnny Cash or Glenn Danzig?
Assuming that the English-language version of the film is a fair representation – admittedly a dangerous assumption – the overall impression one gets is that of a film that has enough in it to be worth watching for the fan or scholar of the genre, with moments that also made me think, oddly enough, of Inferno and Deep Red, but which is in no way a lost classic.
The discovery of a mural behind the plaster, like Deep Red
That neither writer-director Dino Tavella nor his two leads had much of a career subsequently seems indicative of the general quality of the direction, writing and performances; though Tavella was only in his late forties when he died in 1969 this was to his second and last film.
The Embalmer - the missing link between death in the seven deadly sins sequence of Metropolis and Inferno?
While the the final 15 minutes see the pace pick up a bit – and also benefit from a surprisingly downbeat ending, that refreshingly does not see hero and heroine reunited in one another's arms – the previous hour manages to go by quite slowly, with a surfeit of tourist footage of Venice particularly unhelpful in this regard.