May 19, 2014

Movie Review: Death Carries a Cane

After a weekend filled with Godzilla films, it was nice to switch gears and take a trip back to the 1970's. The movie of the moment is a 1973 Italian giallo called Tormentor. Well, the copy I watched had that title, when I went looking for more information I found nothing. So, I looked up the director, Maurizio Pradeaux, and started going through his thankfully short filmography. There, everything was in Italian, it took a few clicks, but I found it! The movie was originally titled Passi di danza su una lama di rasoio and seems to be more commonly known in English as Death Carries a Cane. I must say, I like that title.

The film is a rather entertaining slice of sleaze and murder. It is a definite step back in time, a time when thrillers were not afraid of a little nudity, a little nasty gore, and some silly characterizations. Most of this stuff would never fly today in its present form. They are a distinct product of a bygone era. I can only imagine what it may have been like to hit up grimy theaters for the latest crime thriller du jour. I am a novice when it comes to giallos, but this one does not seem particularly original, but it manages to hold your attention until the final reveal.

At the center of the mystery is Kitty (Susan Scott, a giallo regular having starred in films like Death in High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight). We meet her at a lookout point. She is using one of those coin operated binoculars that you do not really see anymore to look for her late to arrive boyfriend, Alberto (Robert Hoffman of Spasmo). As she is scanning nearby buildings, she witnesses a woman being savagely murdered. However, before she can see the killer's face, the time runs out and the lens closes.

She takes this information to the police, but they do not seem to believe her (then there is that fireman she initially approaches, he is a good example of some of goofy characterizations that are employed throughout). Anyway, she goes back to work with her husband, making mannequins for some bizarre art project Alberto is working on with his composer friend, Marco. It isn't enough to just be in the mannequin business, they have to be turned into weird and morbid facsimiles of death.

Before we can get very far into the art project, Kitty continues to look into the murder she witnessed. At the same time, the killer is out to eliminate all potential witnesses. This is when the police decide to believe and do some investigating of their own. The biggest piece of evidence is a bloody cane imprint, which they use to determine the killer must have a bad leg. Fortunately, the movie has no shortage of cane users and characters with bad knees/ankles.

Death Carries a Cane keeps you guessing at every turn and has no shortage of entertaining sequences. There are a few nicely crafted stalk and slash bits, including one involving a guy I swore was Tom Savini (it wasn't, but there was definitely a resemblance). It all builds to a solid conclusion that finds Kitty unable to complete a sentence as she tries to tell Alberto her discovery, only to be discovered by the killer. This bit leading to the climax is a nice piece of suspense as the camera gets close to Kitty's terrified face and the killer shines a flashlight around, searching to silence her before she can tell anyone.

I am not sure where this ranks in the pantheon of giallo-dom, but I can say I rather enjoyed it. I thought some of the dialogue was unintentionally hilarious, the kills were nicely gruesome, the pacing kept things moving, and it all paid off nicely in the end. This is certainly one to spend a little time with.


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