Sunday, 8 July 2007

L' Assassino è ancora tra noi / The Murderer is Still with Us

The opening images of L' Assassino è ancora tra noi / The Murderer Is Still with Us, trees silhouetted against a violet sky as darkness descends, recall Sergio Martino's occult-themed All the Colours of the Dark. The impression is enhanced when the writing credits indicate that scenarist Ernesto Gastaldi performed a similar role here, in conjunction with director Camillo Teti.




Darkness descends

Another Martino / Gastaldi giallo, Torso, is then brought to mind as a couple, parked in a lover's lane, fail to notice the stalker outside until it is too late. His modus operandi, however, throws us for a loop, as he unceremoniously guns them down in a manner more reminiscent of The Son of Sam than your typical giallo killer.

Artistry and perversity then combine as the figure drags the woman's body away, removes her remaining clothes, and indulges in some strange shadowplay as the silhouette of his hand caresses her corpse before, using a knife, he makes a few exploratory incisions, as if testing the tensile strength of her flesh, before apparently violates her with a tree branch.


The hand of doom, aesthetically interesting to look at but somewhat problematic from the perspective of a film based on a true case

A telephone rings and we segue from what could have been the feet of the female victim to those of our protagonist, criminology student Cristina Marelli, as she is informed that the killer has struck again.

Deciding to use the case for her thesis, Cristina begins her own investigation, and soon threatened herself. Worse, she comes to suspect that her pathologist boyfriend Alex may be the killer, through a combination of circumstantial evidence like bloody gloves and fetishistically wrapped scalpels and his conspicous absence whenever the killer strikes...


The assassin's tools, or just a coincidence; giallo film or real life fetishistic (re)presentation?

Featuring some truly nasty violence reminiscent of the likes Giallo a Venezia and The New York Ripper type, this 1986 giallo arguably even outdoes such models in sheer tastelessness by taking its inspiration from a still-unsolved real case, that of the so-called “Monster of Florence”. (Koven's argument that the idea of the serial killer is alien to Italian culture is supported by the numerous references to il mostro, the monster.)


Despite such reports, the idiot plot prevails as a succession of victims position themselves to be killed in a manner more akin to slasher film ciphers than convincingly drawn characters

The result is a highly curious blend of fact and fiction in which the foregrounding of the amateur-type investigator figure against a seeming backdrop of official and public concern – a succession of victims feeling the blade of the ripper, albeit posthumously – feels inappropriate. (It is worth noting here that both Giallo a Venezia and The New York Ripper emphasised the poliziotto professional instead.)

The style of The Murderer Is Still with Us also vacillates awkwardly between documentary and giallo conventions, as when the lights go out out in Cristina's apartment to allow for some highly stylised expressionistic lighting effects.






Neo-realism it ain't

In the end Cristina even attends a seance in the hope it might help illuminate the case, at which point the film-makers cut between the participants and the monster's latest atrocity, although his mutilations of a young woman's body is shown in unflinching, no cutaway close ups.

Such touches work in Deep Red and Opera which don't purport to be about the quotidian world – “it all depends on what you mean by reality,” of course - but again leaves a unpleasant after-taste here.


The nightmare becomes reality?

This itself isn't necessarily a problem – a film with this subject matter should position us outwith our comfort zone, I would argue – but we are not given further spur to thought except to question the motives of Teti and his collaborators, especially when an open ended (non-)resolution takes us into self-reflexive, mise-en-abyme territory as Cristina settles down with Alex to watch a giallo entitled L' Assassino è ancora tra noi...

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just a minor issue, but I fail to see how the references to il mostro support Koven's (highly questionable imho) claim that the idea of the serial killer is alien to Italian culture.
If anything, the existence of a real-life il mostro (and a public so fascinated by the case that a fictional movie about it must have seemed to be at least a commercially sound idea) would seem to weaken Koven's point. Certainly the demonising of the killer itself can hardly be seen as evidence of a culture unfamiliar with serial killers - I seriously doubt that we'd be seeing radically different headlines in the UK or US in such a case (just think of the demon barber of fleet street).

I think the main difference between Italy / the rest of Europe and the UK/US isn't that there are no serial killers in Europe, but rather that these cases are primarily seen as examples of mental illness and thus mostly social issues, which makes these killers a lot less glamorous and attractive than their American and British counterparts. This would also fit in well with Koven's thoughts on the Giallo form without resorting to the sort of (at least statistically) dubious claims about Italian culture and the lack of serial killers (despite his claims that there isn't a word for "serial killer" in Italian, there actually is, namely "il mostro" (also the title of a Benigni (sp?) movie, where he is mistaken for a serial killer btw.), which is always the label used by the public/press in these cases.

K H Brown said...

You know, the more I think about it the more I agree with you. I think part of the problem is that the term serial killer is itself a fairly recent invention, but there have long been multiple murderers to whom the label could be retrofitted or not.

I think we'd need to look beyond the cinema to see how Italian media and culture describes killers of this sort. I suppose in the case of the Monster of Florence there must be some true-crime type writing out there. Perhaps the Roberto Succo case - made into a film, but a French one - would be instructive as well?

Another thing that comes to mind are Argento's recent films - in Sleepless it would seem odd if the killer's activities when in Italy were somehow not those of a serial killer, whilst those when he was in Geneva or New York were. Likewise, what does the inclusion of an American style psychological profiler mean when The Card Player's killer gets described as a "thrill seeking hedonist" - is that a label for a old style monster or a new style serial killer?

In the end I suppose I'm coming round to something of "a rose by any other name" position here, that it really doesn't matter too much and maybe Koven was making too big an issue out of the purported mostro / serial killer distinction.

K H Brown said...

A little indication that the term serial killer does get used, albeit without translation: Movie maniacs - Il cinema dei serial killer:

http://www.bloodbuster.com/index.php?idlingua=1&pageid=dettagli2&idprodotto=525

Craig said...

Cannot find this anywhoere!

mad283 said...

Regarding Italy and serial killers, the point is that the Monster of Florence was the first real serial killer active here in Italy, so the term and the very idea of a man killing multiple people were in fact alien to our culture. Of course, not any more... This fact, the uncommon situation of having a serial killer on the prowl, was one of the main reasons the police couldn't figure out how to investigate on the murders, not to mention how to capture him...

mad283 said...

Regarding Italy and serial killers, the point is that the Monster of Florence was the first real serial killer active here in Italy, so the term and the very idea of a man killing multiple people were in fact alien to our culture. Of course, not any more... This fact, the uncommon situation of having a serial killer on the prowl, was one of the main reasons the police couldn't figure out how to investigate on the murders, not to mention how to capture him...