Color, 1984, 96 mins. 10 secs.
Directed by Slobodan Šijan
Starring Taško Načić, Nikola Simić, Srđan Šaper, Rahela Ferari, Sonja Savić
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Anyone who's experienced Serbian / Yugoslavian cinema knows that it can get a bit, well, bizarre, ranging from the warped Gothic madness of Leptirica and A Holy Place to the extreme transgression of The Life and Death of a Porno Gang and the notorious A Serbian Film. Then there's Davitelj protiv davitelja or Strangler vs. Strangler, a pitch-black horror comedy that somehow got acquired by Cannon and sent to cable TV in its English-dubbed form where it ended up being presented by Joe Bob Briggs on Drive-In Theater in 1991.
In Belgrade, a town striving to become a real metropolis according to the opening narration, it's only natural for crime to flourish including peeping toms, daredevil car thieves,and flashers. However, to become a really major player it needs a bona fide serial killer. Enter Pera Mitić (Načić), who strangles any woman in pants who doesn't like the carnations he sells. His unusual occupation is done at the bidding of his overbearing and abusive mother (Ferari), and his life gets even more complicated when his crimes are investigated by bumbling police inspector Strahinjić (Simić) and a song inspired by the murders becomes a major radio hit for a band called the Symbols. The front man, Spiridon Kopicl (Šaper), has an obsession with the strangler that might be a tad unhealthy, which becomes clear when he tries to throttle radio host Sofija (Savić) on the air. Eventually the paths of all three men are bound to cross, with deadly consequences.
A film that redefines violent tonal shifts, Strangler vs. Strangler tosses in lots of nudity, post-punk music, telepathy, vintage intertitles, ear violence, and even some goofy cop drag comedy straight out of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. It's a lot to take in with the whole cop element taking up more time than some viewers might like, but the attitude is eccentric enough to keep it all chugging along with a barrage of flourishes like irises and split screens keeping you on your toes. It's broad, it's sweaty, and it's weird, all ingredients that would've made this a likely cult item of sorts had it been seen under better circumstances. Unfortunately the English dub is a ridiculous confection with multiple characters sounding like variations on Don Adams or Walter Matthau, which doesn't exactly gel with the skewed Eastern European comedic sensibility.
Fortunately you can see the film on its best behavior with the 2022 Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro featuring the original Serbian-language track (LPCM 2.0 mono) with English subtitles along with the English dub, perfect for comparing and contrasting at will. Definitely stick with the Serbian version for your first viewing though. The new 2K restoration from the original negative looks excellent with the naturally grainy but detailed textures left intact and plenty of vibrant colors during the nightclub and radio station scenes. An English-language commentary by film critic Dejan Ognjanović and filmmaker Igor Stanojević is an informative survey of the Slavic Gothic, the local relationship to genre cinema, the social commentary here compared to films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Serbian perception of what makes a metropolis, the social class depictions, and more. In "Killers and Carnations" (29m50s), director Slobodan Šijan clowns around with a couple of standees from the film and recalls the "no-no" nature of the film that made it controversial at the time, the influence of prior serial killer films like M and 10 Rillington Place, and the casting of the Peter Lorre-like Načić.
Reviewed on June 12, 2022.