Edge of the Axe

B&W, 1965, 89 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Ernesto Gastaldi, Vittorio Salerno
Starring Dominique Boschero, Mara Maryl, Giancarlo Giannini, Luciano Pigozzi
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Cinekult (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Far more widely seen via its Libidoprovocative stills in Euro horror publications than as an actual Libidofilm, Libido is one of the great missing pieces in the puzzle of giallo history for English-speaking viewers. Most importantly it was the first of only a tiny handful of features directed by the most prolific and influential of all Italian screenwriters, Ernesto Gastaldi, who had already penned classics like The Whip and the Body, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, and Castle of Blood by this point. Joining him as director and writer was Vittorio Salerno, who went on to perform the same duties on No, the Case Is Happily Resolved, while star Mara Maryl (Gastaldi's wife) also got a story credit and went on to write a couple of Sergio Martino films. On top of that you get to see an impossibly young Giancarlo Giannini (credited as "John Charlie Johns!") in his screen debut just before he became a brief teen idol in some Rita Pavone musicals. With that pedigree, it's amazing the film hasn't had a single legit English-friendly home video release of any kind until Severin Films finally issued a welcome correction with its 2022 Blu-ray edition.

Featuring only four actors on screen, this twisted tale follows an ill-advised attempt by Christian (Giannini) to go back to his ancestral home with his wife, Helene (Boschero), where as a child he witnessed his father committing a murder. Along for the demon-exorcising trip are his guardian, Paul (Italian horror Libidomascot Pigozzi) and his wife Brigitte (Maryl), who soon find themselves stuck in a labyrinth of murder and madness Libidowith the past coming back to haunt them with a vengeance. Repeated sightings of a smoking pipe belonging to Christian's father have him believing someone else must be in the house, or is something a lot closer to home out for blood?

Fairly restrained given its title apart from a bit of bondage kink, Libido is a nicely atmospheric and twisty little thriller with some chilly horror overtunes thanks to suggestions that the estate might be genuinely haunted. There's also the usual inheritance murder plot element at play here with a game cast and some gorgeous cinematography by Romolo Garroni giving it a spooky scene, accentuated by the effective score by Carlo Rustichelli (who had just done the honors for Mario Bava's groundbreaking Blood and Black Lace). The execution here ends up feeling quite a bit like all those black-and-white Hammer thrillers that turned up throughout the '60s, plus a dash of Bloody Pit of Horror for extra shock value.

Libido was barely shown anywhere outside of Italy and was impossible for English-speaking viewers to access for decades, with an Italian-only DVD eventually turning up from Cinekult. The Severin Blu-ray appears to mark the film's first HD appearance anywhere, featuring a superb 2K restoration from a dupe Libidonegative and with the Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track sounding great. In a nice surprise, it also features an Libidounreleased English track as well, making this a major find for fans of Italian genre dubs a la Severin's earlier An Angel for Satan. Optional English subtitles are included, both translated from the Italian and SDH for the English dub. A new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger is largely focused on Gastaldi and his contributions to the horror and mystery genres, as well as touching on the Gothic thriller tropes and the conventions of the giallo. "I've Got You Under My Skin" (57m7s) features Gastaldi recalling his early screenwriting days, the reason he took this film on as a kind of dare for pocket change, the rationale behind the many pseudonyms here including a singular one for himself and Salerno, his thoughts on the final product, and the giallo tropes he explored here that informed the rest of his work. However, the highlight might be hearing him say, "I guess that line about big butts really aggravated the censors." The English-language trailer is also included in beautiful condition.

Reviewed on June 9, 2022