The peak period for the giallo film was arguably the first half of the ’70s: Dario Argento made a string of gialli that became popular around the world, inspiring a wave of like-minded films that included impressive work by the likes of Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci. The genre would continue into the ’80s but the popularity and the funding began to decline in the second half of the ’70s.
That said, there were still strong films made after that peak period and some of those still tricked down to the international market. Watch Me When I Kill is an interesting example. It was directed by journeyman Antonio Bido, who made the film in 1977. It made the rounds in the U.S. around 1981, right in time to cash in on the mania for psycho killer fare induced by the box office success of slasher films, and went on to become a staple of the horror section at VHS rental stores.
Like many a giallo, Watch Me When I Kill begins with a mysterious killing: a pharmacist fretting over threatening phone calls in murdered in his own pharmacy. The killer’s exit is briefly seen by nightclub performer Mara (Paola Tedesco) and she is soon targeted for death by the killer. She turns to her boyfriend Lukas (Corrado Pani) for help and he begins his own investigation of the situation. He begins to uncover a situation that has to do with the justice system and a decades-old injustice as the killer takes out more victims connected to the mystery.
The resulting film has an interesting cumulative effect. The first hour is done in a traditional giallo style: an inciting murder is followed by danger for a protagonist, leading to an investigation where the uncovering of clues are alternated with more murders of people involved in the situation. Bido directs the proceedings in a uniquely subtle fashion, focusing on suspense more than bloodshed and avoiding the sexual elements that became prominent during the giallo’s ’70s era. The effect is somewhat like a subtler, less stylized response to Deep Red: both films share an amateur sleuth with a musical background and a murder that seems to reference a famous bathroom-set killing from Deep Red but restages it in the kitchen(!).
Bido’s efforts during this first hour are effectively supported by sleek photography from Mario Vulpetti and a sly, subtly humorous lead performance from Pani. The most unique element is a score by studio group Trans Europa Express that blends Goblin-style prog rock elements with avant-garde drone effects and a touch of acoustic folk. It fits the genre but embroiders the expected musical elements to an interesting degree.
The final half-hour of Watch Me When I Kill is where the aforementioned cumulative effect really kicks in. There’s an interesting detour where Lukas travels to a rural town for clues and is confronted with some moments of Fellini-esque surrealism from the odd locals plus a tense suspense setpiece that makes effective use of a bathtub and a piece of classical music. Best of all, the climactic surprise reveal is more substantial than usual because it offers a unique motivation for the killer and a final showdown that goes for tragedy and a touch of unexpected poignancy rather than knee-jerk shocks.
In short, don’t let the aggressive title of Watch Me When I Kill throw you. It’s a classy and understated giallo that leans on the mystery and methodical investigation angles of the genre and proof that the giallo still had some gas in the tank after its commercial peak came to a close.
Blu-Ray Notes: after years of cheap VHS and DVD releases, Synapse films picked this title up for a proper hi-def remastering on blu-ray and DVD. The blu-ray was viewed for this review and it boasts an excellent, 4K-derived transfer from the original negative that boasts rich levels of color and detail. Extras include a commentary from Nathaniel Thompson, a interview with giallo scholar Mikel Koven, three short films by the director and – included in the blu-ray set only – a CD of the film’s original score. In short, a great value for giallo collectors.