With his kinky thriller Tango Of Perversion, Greek journeyman director Kostas Karayiannis showed he wasn’t afraid to get lurid to deliver the kind of thrills that the sex and violence crowd craves. The same year, he also made a film called The Wife Killer that took things even further. The results play like a Hollywood thriller premise that overdosed on ‘70s grindhouse sleaze — and the results are likely to entertain exploitation movie fans.
The Wife Killer is built on a double-cross straight out of Strangers On A Train. Dimitris (Lakis Komninos) is the husband of the loving, doting and rich Eleni (Dorothy Moore) but he’s just using her. He really wants to run off with his girlfriend but doesn’t want to lose out on Eleni’s money. He comes up with a solution when he hires Mike (Vagelis Seilinos), a man terrorizing the city with a secret crime spree as a rapist/murderer. Dimitris wants Mike to add Eleni to his list of victims, with the offer of a payout in return. Of course, Dimitris isn’t that honest and Mike has a few sleazy tricks up his sleeve that will further complicate things.
The Wife Killer delivers all the sleaze its premise alludes to: there’s plenty of sex, both willing and coerced, and lots of murders, with detailed sequences of Mike enacting his creepy rape-and-murder plans. However, it’s also worth noting that film is carefully and often cleverly plotted by writer Thanos Leivatdis, hitting an interesting combination of Euro-style sleaze and surprisingly traditional Hollywood structuring and plot hooks (it even borrows a key narrative element from another well-loved Hitchcock title).
Director Kostas Karagiannis crafts the film with same economical yet hard-hitting approach he brought to Tango Of Perversion: he never shies away from the violence or nudity but he focuses on a careful, steady plot progression in a way you wouldn’t see in a giallo film. He also exploits the Greek settings nicely to give the film a sense of scope and supports his pace-conscious direction with a melodic, driving score by Yiannis Spanos.
Karagiannis also brings back some key cast members from Tango Of Perversion in Komninos and Moore. Komninos doesn’t get to be as gleefully nasty as he was in Tango but makes for a suitably amoral exploitation film anti-protagonist here, again giving off a very Hugo Stiglitz-style vibe. Moore is a trooper in a basically thankless role that requires her to be terrorized, manhandled, stripped nude, etc. That said, the revelation here is Seilinos as Dimitris’s nasty co-conspirator: he gives a sweaty, dead-eyed performance that dives headfirst into his character’s cruelty and obsessive pursuit of psychopathic kicks. He’s a truly nasty piece of work and exploitation film fans will marvel (and flinch) at his viciousness.
In short, The Wife Killer is as grim and brutal as any American grindhouse flick of the early ‘70s but also throws in a surprisingly tight thriller plot and some continental flair that you might not expect. Anyone into the darker side of foreign exploitation fare should give it a look.
DVD Notes: This title just made its DVD debut in the U.S. courtesy of Mondo Macabro, who released it concurrently with Karagiannis’s Tango Of Perversion. Like that disc, a title card before the transfer warns it was taken from the best elements they could fine but it actually looks quite good, particularly the colors. Both Greek and English soundtracks are provided, including subtitles for the former, and both sound nice and clear.
As usual, Mondo Macabro also includes an informative set of extras. Carried over from the Tango Of Perversion disc are the “Sunshine And Shadows” featurette, several cast and crew bios and the ubiquitous Mondo Macabro preview reel (click here to read more information on those extras in the Tango Of Perversion review).
The new extras are also worthy of exploration. The bios sections adds a writeup for the film’s villain, Vagelis Seilinos: surprisingly, he had previously been half of a beloved Greek dancing team in the mold of Rogers and Astaire. A set of alternate English credits is taken from U.S. VHS version known as Death Kiss, complete with video-toaster generated main title card, and plenty of Anglicized names.
The neatest of the new extras is a set of U.S. trailers: one theatrical and an edited-down version for the VHS release. This film was released in the U.S. as The Rape Killer and it’s a stunningly tacky trailer that makes a sleazy film look even sleazier than it actually is. The narration is guaranteed to make your jaw drop and its one of the all-time champions among exploitation film trailers. The VHS spot uses the Death Kiss title card and amusingly tries to cut around the nastiest excesses of the theatrical trailer.
In short, this is another winner for the exploitation crowd from Mondo Macabro. If you enjoy foreign weirdness/sleaze then definitely pick it up.