Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

Original title: Ill gatto dagli occhi di giada

aka The Cat's Victims

When trying to enter a pharmacy to buy some aspirin, cabaret artist Mara (Paola Tedesco) hears the voice - though whispering and disguised - of a murderer who just killed the pharmacist. That's enough to make the killer very interested in her, and next thing she knows, he's breaking into her apartment at night.

Mara has what must be some pretty heavy hang-ups regarding the police when you look at the circumstances, so instead of calling them, she moves in with her on-again off-again boyfriend Lukas (Corrado Pani); without telling him what's actually going on, of course. Coincidentally (ah, coincidence, best friend of the giallo writing team), with this she's moving right next door to another man, the loan shark Bozzi (Fernando Cerulli), belonging to a group of people targeted by the same killer. The killer, we learn, first frightens his victims via sound collages (seriously), then proceeds to take care of them in a rather more practical manner.

Since Mara still won't involve the police, Lukas decides to play amateur sleuth (alas, friends of female detectives, Mara stays home for much of the movie). His investigation soon leads him to a murder trial to whose jury all of the killer's victims belonged. Not surprisingly, the investigation also brings Lukas into serious physical danger, particularly once the killer has found Mara's trail again.

Watch Me When I Kill is one of only two giallos directed by Antonio Bido. That's a bit of shame, for - while he wasn't quite up to the standards of the best directors working in the genre - Bido had quite a hand for the not particularly sleazy (there's no nudity involved, and the murders may be cruel and brutal but are not filmed with any lingering fascination) yet gritty, stylish and to a degree complex type of giallo.

Watch Me is a film driven by Bido's often exceedingly clever editing choices, grainy camerawork that uses all the visual tricks you'd expect from your typical giallo - POV shots from the view of the killer, sudden zooms, a camera interested in rather threatening close-ups of objects, blocking that often sees the places they inhabit pressing in on the characters, the works. Nearly every scene of the film is given its basic rhythm by a fine and very Goblin-esque (Goblinoid?) score by a giallo prog band called Trans Europa Express (Kraftwerk must be so proud). Bido's approach to filmmaking seems a rather musical one, an impression I found strengthened by the important part the killer's creepy audio collages and an old song have for the film's plot.

That type of stylistic overload can - in the wrong hands - turn into a series of visual clichés that are interesting to look at but don't actually do the film at hand much good at all. With Watch Me, Bido manages to avoid this pitfall. All the stylistic excess stands in the service of manipulating the audience's mood, opening up possible meanings of scenes beyond their effectiveness as parts of a tale of suspense (not that there's anything wrong with tales of suspense, of course). Thanks to this approach, Watch Me still feels very personal and auteur-like for a film that has little that is aesthetically original about it. The way something new, whole and personal is build from clichés and old ideas is of course one of the particular beauties of genre filmmaking, when it is good.

Thematically, Watch Me When I Kill is a film interested in exploring how the never openly faced horrors of the at the time of its making still recent Italian past cause further horrors because of their repression. That kind of repression of our own past atrocities happened here in Germany, too, so I can relate to this quite well. The past's evils eating away at the peaceful surface of the present is a recurring theme in the more serious-minded giallos, though only very few of them so explicitly tie their plot to the Holocaust and Italian involvement in it as Watch Me does.

This still being a giallo and not a moral-philosophical tract, the film doesn't spend much time explicitly philosophizing about its theme; if you want to know what a film like this has to say about something, you have to take a look at what it shows you. In this case, what it shows are buildings, interiors and people who are curiously shabby even where they're supposed to represent a new and better time; everything is overshadowed by a past nobody ever really wants to talk about yet which still eats away at the present from the inside.

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