CAMERA OBSCURA DVD Updated review on August 10, 2017.
Directed by Roberto Bianchi Montero
Starring Farley Granger, Sylva Koscina, Silvano Tranquilli, Annabella Incontrera, Chris Avram, Femi Benussi
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Camera Obscura (Austria R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The throat-slashing murder of a prominent general's unfaithful wife proves to be a challenge for the chief investigator, Inspector Capuana (Granger), who's ordered by the public and his boss to catch the killer without causing any humiliation to the cuckolded husband or the mystery lover, whose face is scratched out of incriminating photos left at the crime scene. Soon another important man's wife (Benussi) is sliced up on the beach after being photographed in the park with her lover, and Capuana realizes he has a serial killer on his hands. However, the black-gloved, black-coated assassin's agenda seems to run deeper than simply punishing women for straying from their spouses, which leads Capuana into very dangerous territory when his own wife (Koscina) might be one of the next targets.
Despite lifting its killer's appearance straight out of Blood and Black Lace, this nasty piece of work clearly belongs to the 1970s as the relaxation of worldwide censorship allowed gialli to amp up the sex and violence to ridiculous extremes. As with the previous year's similar Black Belly of the Tarantula, this film uses a married inspector as the focus of a story that exists primarily to trot out a string of gorgeous female guest stars who disrobe and die horribly. However, this one outdoes its predecessors by unleashing a breast-and-blood quotient that's truly surprising for 1972. Considering the opening pre-credit scene begins with the line "Be sure to get lots of close ups" over the bloody body of a naked woman, it's clear right away where this story is heading. Director Montero (a genre-hopping craftsman who dabbled in everything from westerns to action films to hardcore porn) barely tries for cinematic artistry here apart from Benussi's slow-motion beach murder at dusk and the startling final ten minutes, a twisted finale that really sets this apart from its ilk.
Not surprisingly, the original unwieldy Italian title of Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile (or "Revelations of a Sex Maniac to the Criminal Investigation Chief") was adapted for English speakers to more sleaze-friendly options like The Slasher Is the Sex Maniac! (shortened to simply The Slasher more frequently during the VHS era) and the more appropriate So Sweet, So Dead with which it's more commonly associated now. However, its most notorious permutation came in 1976 when American distributor Bill Mishkin (best known for Euro imports and a string of Andy Milligan films) repurposed the film by replacing the shutterbug sex scenes with hardcore porn inserts composed of loop footage featuring Harry Reems, Kim Pope, and Marc Stevens. The subsequent patchwork version was reissued as on the X-rated market as Penetration before Granger successfully sued to have it yanked from release. Given the Mishkin legacy of trashing most usable film elements, it's no surprise that this variation has yet to resurface anywhere on home video.
Most video editions of So Sweet, So Dead have been fairly miserable over the years, with VHS copies from Japan and the US (among many others) all missing various snippets of footage and sporting wildly varying aspect ratios. Camera Obscura's 2010 DVD (now long since discontinued) marks the first official digital release and turns out to be quite a firecracker indeed. The transfer from the original Italian negative is a knockout by SD standards with stunning color saturation and razor-sharp picture detail. Two scenes (a very enthusiastic sex scene with the typically exhibitionist Susan Scott and an interrogation scene between Granger and one of the victim's spouses) were extended slightly in some non-Italian prints, so that extra footage has been reinstated here from a noticeably inferior tape source. Don't worry though; it's quite a quick interruption, and the attention to detail here is welcome. Mono audio options in Italian and German are included with optional English and German subtitles. The widely bootlegged English dub is absent here; Granger (star of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and Rope) didn't provide his own voice but spoke his lines in English, and it looks like everyone else was speaking Italian or something else. (Incidentally, Farley was quite busy in the early '70s in Italy appearing in the likes of They Call Me Trinity, Amuck, The Red Headed Corpse, and a puzzling bit part in What Have They Done to Your Daughters?). As a result the Italian version has a markedly different tone, and some of its sexual politics are a bit more complicated than expected.
The biggest extra is a lengthy interview with composer Giorgio Gaslini (who also scored Argento's Deep Red before Goblin came aboard and changed the entire musical direction), who certainly seems to appreciate the luxurious perks of his job and talks more about his overall career than this particular title. Christian Kessler and Marcus Stigglegger contribute an enthusiastic commentary track in German with optional English subtitles; they cover Granger's career, the giallo conventions of the time, and the histories of the all-star cast of familiar Italian exploitation faces. Kessler also provides the liner notes (in English and German) in a booklet covering a more overall appreciation of the film, while the disc extras finish off with the French photo novel (with optional subs) and a solid gallery of poster, still, and video art.
In 2017, Code Red brought the film to Blu-ray with its more grindhouse-y English dub (DTS-HD MA mono) and cover art sporting the Slasher poster art in all its sordid glory. The actual HD transfer from what appears to be the English-language export version negative is actually So Sweet, So Dead, and the image quality looks quite impressive with a generally warmer and much more detailed appearance. It's also much easier to make out the beach pursuit scene, which was extremely dark on the DVD. Framing-wise there are some substantial anomalies here, with some scenes featuring less peripheral information on the edges of the frame and others looking either identically framed or close to it. Not surprisingly, some of the brief VHS-sourced extra footage not present in the original negative is absent here (the extra angles of Scott writhing around and an alternate, tighter version here of her full nude shot). This transfer also runs at the correct film speed so it clocks in at over 100 minutes versus the 96 and change on the DVD. Extras include a dupey English trailer and bonus trailers for After the Fall of New York, Hands of Steel, Cry of a Prostitute, The Great Alligator and Almost Human.
CAMERA OBSCURA DVD
Updated review on August 10, 2017.