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.
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...