Blu-ray Review: MURDER OBSESSION (Raro Video)

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
Raro Video USA's latest Blu-ray offering is another short window DVD upgrade, this time for Ricardo Freda's Murder Obsession, which was just released on home video in December. Murder Obsession is another of those grand genre mish-mashes that Italy was so adept at pasting together in the golden age of exploitation cinema. Not unlike our recently covered Tropic of Cancer, Murder Obsession also features what seems to be a straight giallo storyline that heads into supernatural Weirdsville in the final act. This can seem frustrating and disjointed, but I actually get a charge out of films taking me completely by surprise with left-field revelations, though I concede, it is probably an acquired taste.

Murder Obsession is the story of a twenty-something actor returning to his ancestral home for the first time since he was a child. There is a traumatic experience involved, one of which he was only vaguely aware in his childhood, that prevented his return for those many years. In order to help smooth over his discomfort he brings his girlfriend, though he pretends she's a secretary, who is naturally less than thrilled with the charade in which she must play a part. Soon thereafter, some of his show biz pals show up for a nice weekend in the country and within a matter of hours, they begin dropping like flies. Horribly mangled, brutally eviscerated flies. Who is behind this madness? You'll have to watch and see.

Ricardo Freda is among the fathers of Italian horror. He directed what is generally accepted as the first Italian horror film, I Vampiri, with a young Mario Bava on his production crew. Alongside Bava, Freda helped to pioneer the giallo genre of which Bava became the '60s greatest artist. Murder Obsession begins like a giallo, there are stranglings, black gloves, POV murders, and so on. If the film were shot entirely this way, it would be boring and a film out of step with the trends of 1981. However, Freda made either a horrible or brilliant choice for the second half of the film, turning a simple murder mystery into a supernatural, satanic, fantasy nightmare on film that will blow your mind.

The effect of the paradigm shift toward the end of the film is like an ax to the face (which we get to see). Murder Obsession turns expectations on their heads and leaves the audience either scratching their heads trying to reframe the film, or cheering in the aisles at the audacity of the move. Seeing as how Freda was quite an old man at this point, and had been out of the game by this point, it is difficult to imagine how much of this effect was an intentional mindfuck, and how much was simply him attempting to hold onto his past glory while satisfying investors. I don't really care, because as slow and somewhat generic as I found the opening to be, the closing goes fucking crazy and left me with a big smile.

The film does have his rough patches. In one of the bonus features FX artist Sergio Stivaletti, who worked anonymously on the film, recounts the numerous FX disasters on set. He's right, the gore effects, though bloody, are mostly just awful. There are wax figures that look absolutely terrible, and one ax murder in particular makes it look like they didn't even try. These are almost bad enough to lend to the shabby authenticity, but instead they just look pathetic, and are the film's one major demerit.

What is not a demerit is the quality of the cast, specifically the ladies. With a film like this, you expect to see a little skin, and Freda does not disappoint, recruiting Black Emanuelle herself, Laura Gemser, to provide the titillation for the film. Anita Strindberg, also of Tropic of Cancer and beyond, makes her final film appearance in Murder Obsession. It turns out that this would also be Ricardo Freda's final film, even though it seemed like it might be the beginning of something. The extra features help to explain that he wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the film and that he was a gruff old bastard even then.

In spite of Freda's disposition, Murder Obsession works wonderfully as a piece of insane bravado and intractable nostalgia. I enjoyed this film because of its narrative flaws, not in spite of them. This one is worth checking out!

The Disc:

Raro Video's Blu-ray looks great. There are numerous instances where close up shots have astounding detail, and the color palate appears to be very well reproduced on Blu-ray. In fact, there are a few fantasy sequences that have colors so vivid, that I can't imagine seeing them on DVD at all. The audio is a bit of a mixed bag, as the dialogue is mixed quite low with the background score often drowning it out completely. I would imagine that is an issue with the source materials, but it is irritating nonetheless. However, I didn't notice any major audio dropouts or other issues.

This is one of Raro's more loaded discs in terms of extras. We get three interviews, two of which are quite enlightening, the third is not. The first is with Stivaletti, whose contribution I mention above, the second with Claudio Simonetti (Goblin) who talks about not only this film, but the contemporary film music scene in great detail. This is an interview worth cehcking out if you're a fan of '70s Italian film music, or Simonetti in particular. The third is some director I've never heard of talking about how much he loves this film. Beyond that we get a great booklet, a few seconds of deleted footage, and the significantly shorter English language version in HD on the disc. A great little package overall, definitely recommended if you're interested, it can't get much better than this.
Special Features:
- Interview with Sergio Stivaletti
- Interview with Claudio Simonetti
- Interview with Gabriele Albanesi
- Deleted Scene
- English Language Version of feature film
- Booklet featuring an essay by Chris Alexander of Fangoria
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