Color, 1975, 86m. / Directed by Luigi Cozzi / Starring George Hilton, Antoine Saint-John, Femi Benussi, Cristina Galbo, Alessio Orano, Teresa Velazquez / Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

While dumping a corpse off a lonely dock at night, a pasty murderer (The Beyond's Saint-John) is spotted by an unscurpulous businessman, Mainardi (giallo regular Hilton), who decides he's stumbled onto a bit of good fortune and, in a darkened movie theater, use the killer's talents (via a hefty cash offer and some not-too-subtle blackmail) to dispose of Mainardi's clueless blonde wife (Velazquez). While Mainardi is off hobnobbing with his associates, the killer accomplishes the deed and deposits the body in the trunk of a waiting automobile - which is promptly stolen by a young joyriding couple, Luca (Lisa and the Devil's Orano) and Galbo (The House that Screamed's Galbo). While Mainardi fends off the police who suspct there's more to the situation than meets the eye, the killer tracks down the car thieves to a desolate seaside cottage, his most savage instincts are unleashed.

Easily indebted to Alfred Hitchcock more than any other 1970s giallo, this striking thriller from Cozzi (whose later output displayed a precipitous drop in care and interest) plays like what might happen if Brian De Palma got hold of an Italian cast while in Rome. The plot plays like an especially dark hybrid between Strangers on a Train (the murder-swapping protagonists and a vital cigarette lighter which plays a role in the denouement), Dial M for Murder (the scheming rich man who arranges his wife's murder while off at a dinner party and has to cover up his tracks afterwards), and Frenzy (notably an extended second act rape scene filmed entirely in disorienting close ups). However, Cozzi uses these elements to his advantage by placing Hitchcock's well-tested plots as a springboard for a surprising, often nasty chain of events in which each character's baser inclinations lead them deeper and deeper into trouble.

Among the best of her peers, the beautiful Galbo takes top acting honors for her stellar work here; when pitted against the creepy Saint-John, the film ratchets up the tension to a surprisingly high level and pays off with a chilling climax. Orano is his usual blank-eyed self, which is fine, while the always enjoyable Hilton does the shifty rich guy bit he perfected in a string of titles for Sergio Martino. Displaying a surprisingly assured visual style, Cozzi wisely sets most of the film at night and makes excellent use of his black-shrouded scope compositions punctuated with vivid bursts of color, such as the dazzling yellow inside Mainardi's home. (This would make a great aesthetic co-feature with The Fifth Cord).

The second of Mondo Macabro's giallo releases (after the nutty Death Walks at Midnight), this rarely seen and wholly underrated film gets a very respectable presentation. The transfer looks marvelous, with dead-on widescreen framing and nary a flaw or nick in sight. Colors and detail look excellent. (Note that the end credits make use of the film's original export title, Il Ragno or "The Spider," explaining the spiderweb motif of the credits.) The disc defaults to the English soundtrack but can also be played with the Italian soundtrack, with optional English subtitles; the latter is actually preferable as the bulk of the film was clearly shot in Italian (and later looped in both versions). Both soundtracks exhibit some crackling and signs of deterioration, but they're still acceptable and won't offer many distractions.

Cozzi and Mondo Macabro's Pete Tombs contribute an enjoyable audio commentary; a veteran co-writer and behind-the-scenes man from the genre's golden years including stints on Argento's landmark animal trilogy, Cozzi offers some valuable insight into the methods and madness of giallo filmmaking during the 1970s. He never runs out of stories and clearly remembers even the smallest details about the participants and locations, making this a valuable historical treat for fans. Cozzi also turns in two video supplements, "Road to the Killer" (a sketch of his career during that decade and the circumstances leading to the film's production) and "Initials D.A.," an account of his days working with Argento (a partnership still continuing to this day). Another video extra, "The Giallo Genre," is repeated from the earlier Death Walks at Nightnight disc, offering a somewhat altered version of an episode from the priceless Eurotika series (but with several clips removed in exchange for poster montages). Also included are the original Italian main title sequence (from a fuzzy-looking VHS source), the theatrical trailer (under the appropriate title The Dark Is Death's Friend), three galleries, production notes by Tombs, cast and crew bios, and the ubiquitous Mondo Macabro promo reel. Fans may gripe that surviving actors like Hilton aren't present, though given his sketchy memories on the DVD for All the Colors of the Dark, it's doubtful how much he could have contributed. Highly recommended.

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