Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bonking the Biddies: The Dead Are Alive (1972)

The Dead are Alive (L'etrusco uccide ancora) (Italy, 1972)
rating: ***1/2
starring:  Alex Cord, Samantha Eggar, John Marley

With a very misleading title and video boxart, where it showcased what appears to be a living corpse with half of its face rotting off, I wouldn't be surprised if you were expecting a zombie movie.This is a lie.

Make no mistake, The Dead are Alive is far from a cannibalizing undead film despite its tagline “There’s No Place To Hide When… THE DEAD ARE ALIVE!” .(what a load of boh wash...)  It is, rather, a purebred Italian giallo.

An archeologist with a drinking problem, Jason, visits the countryside with his crew to excavate and study an Etruscan tomb. He's staying in the mansion owned by a renowned orchestra conductor Nikos, and his wife Myra, whom the latter Jason once had a romantic flair with until the relationship went bitter due to his drinking.

On the following day, a couple of teenagers were found bludgeoned to death inside one of the tombs Jason's group was digging to, before another girl was found killed a little later. All signs point to Jason as a possible suspect, mainly because of his habit of blacking out after drinking and always ending up present with the bodies. However, it appears he may not be the only one getting tangled in this mystery as we also have a curly-haired gay choreographer who has a habit of disappearing during after practice, a woman with a past and a horribly burnt scalp, a possible cult, and even the Etruscan god itself being considered as susects!

Whoever is behind it, it's likely they'll do it again, and Jason is running out of time to prove himself innocent...

Director Armando Crispino's debut giallo film, he would later helm another cult favorite known as Macchie solari (1975), AKA "Autopsy", and while not as outlandish and obscure as that title, The Dead are Alive is still a riveting Euro-Horror that's high on the mystery and creepiness, albeit its lengthy running time.

Narrative-wise, I like the archeological premise of this film as it's an unusual (if not rarely tackled) subject to focus on, adding the possibility of a supernatural or supernaturally-inclined motive for the deaths. The first act of the film was rather productive with the characters being introduced in depth, letting us know at least a bit of what may be running through their heads. Some possible red herrings were thrown in to provide some twist and turn to the story but, sadly, it all strolls further along, a melodrama involving a love triangle between Jason, Myra and Nikos starts to get it the way in a not to welcome fashion.

Around these parts, the film relies on a lot of exposition and narrative to get the story going, but in turn, it dulls down its main casts into your classic giallo stereotypes such as cheating wives, unfaithful lovers, and a lead with a hidden past that may or may not point him/her out as the culprit. The dilemma's something we'd seen before, thus becoming a chore to watch at some point. Thankfully, by the time another pair of teens were killed off, the third act finally unravels and leads on to a poetic (if not basic) climax involving one of the leads being stalked and hunted by the actual killer.

The murders here were a change from the usual blade stabbings as the killer uses an archeological probe that was meant to capture the insides of a tomb without fully damaging it. An interesting concept added to these killings was that whenever the killer's about to murder, or is around, he plays and leaves a cassette player booming away an orchestral composition, as a mean of a calling card.

The score, both from the red herring tape and the entire movie itself, was provided by Mondo Cane's Riz Ortolani, which did an outstanding job. The film boasts some beautiful country side shots and some great cinematography; especially during the last act where it's full use of shadows and corners brought up the much needed intensity of the danger.

I could blame the misleading marketing this film has, but for all giallo enthusiasts, this is a definite keep. While most would prefer the hallucinatory nature of the director's next giallo effort, or some would be wondering when will the zombies make their shambling entry, The Dead are Alive is a clever and beautiful giallo that really deserves a lot more than what's coming to it.

1 male and 1 female bludgeoned to death with probe
1 female found beaten to death
1 male found beaten to death
1 female beaten to death with probe
1 male dies from drug overdose
1 male gets a glass shard to the gut
total: 7

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