Original Title: Macchie solari
Directed by: Armando Crispini
Distributed by: Blue Underground.
After revisiting this title, I have to confess that I got quite surprised by it. I didn’t remember it as freaky and surreal as it indeed is. I recall seeing it years ago when I was a young lad exploring all the bizarre titles I could lay my grubby little hands on, especially the ones with words like Blood, Death and especially Autopsy in the title. Titles designed to jump out and appeal to a young cineaste on search for his next fix of carnage, which is what lead me into the amazing world of EuroHorror.
Even though Autopsy may not be the most violent or blood drenched little oddity you may think from the title, it is a really entertaining and fascinating movie that works out of the Giallo mould. It’s fair to say that it’s one of those Gialli that expand the boundaries of the genre and treats its audience to a wild ride indeed.
The movie jump starts with a series of violent suicides, nekid' woman slits her wrists, old geezer stuffs head in bag and jumps in river, a father takes a machine gun to the heart after killing his kids, all provoked by the intense heat wave hammering down on Rome. Crash cut to a bunch of American tourists having problems understanding the piazza vendors, a young redhead helps them with the explanation that she too is American. She hails a cab and just as she gets in, a man climbs in with her and bursting into tears she falls into his arms. Right now this little scene is a mere parenthesis, but in good old Gialli style it’s of importance will be revealed before the film is over. The meat wagon driving the corpses elegantly leads us to the morgue where medical student Simona [Mimsy Farmer from Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet 1971, Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume of a Lady in Black 1974, Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat 1981 to name a few], is currently working.
Following a presentation of Simona’s character through a sequence shot almost in documentary type realism of corpse gutting and intestine removals, the long work and heat causes Simone to start hallucinating while she is working in the morgue. And she sees some amazing stuff, like a corpse winking at her, corpses get up and dance, and even two corpses making, out only to end up shagging on the floor (on a conveniently placed rug of course) – Now there’s one way to work in some gratuitous nudity for your audience if there ever was one.
After a baleful practical joke conducted by her boyfriend Edgar [the always a blast, Ray Lovelock from Jorge Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie 1974, Umberto Lenzi’s The Oasis of Fear 1971, and Lucio Fulci’s Murder Rock 1984] and Ivo [Ernesto Colli who you get bonus points for if you spot him in Sergio Martino’s Torso 1973] her sleazy colleague, Simone is driven home by the laughing, taunting Edgar who tries his best to get in her pants before she climbs out of the car. But Simone rejects him and says that there will be none of that until she’s finished her thesis.
In the comfort of her flat, decorated with photographs of dead, mutilated bodies all over the place, she starts going over her work, and we learn that Simone’s thesis is a study on the differences between real suicides set against murders staged as suicides, sounds like a bizarre study, but this is Giallo territory and it will all make sense eventually… we hope. There’s a sudden knock on the door in the middle of the night, and in comes Betty [Gaby Wagner] who wants to borrow an envelope (another sub plot plant) and then claims to be renting the flat above Simona's – a flat hat belongs to Simona's father… …a man Nancy says she doesn’t know. After she leaves Nancy takes a walk and is pretty soon pursued by the headlights of a car. The car stops and Nancy, with a sigh of relief says, ”Oh it’s you again” and walks towards the car… Hmmm once again a delicate sub plot is planted, and we are given our first hint at the culprit of the movie. It all makes sense in a while.
The following morning Simone and her colleagues gather round the latest ”suicide corpse” that was found in a deckchair on the beach with a gun in hand, and ponder over the question whom she can be… Simone’s sleazy colleague Ivo obviously cops a feel as he washes the dead female body in preparation for his rebuilding of her disfigured face. Simone goes for a lunch with her father Gianni [Massimo Serato who you may recognize as the evil warden from the recently deceased Rino Di Silvestro’s Women in Cell Block 7 1973, Giulio Berruti’s The Killer Nun 1978 and Antonio Bido’s The Bloodstained Shadow 1978], during their lunch poppa Guilin reveals that he’s met a woman whom he plans to marry, but his girlfriend seems to have missed their appointment. Simone feels faint and leaves the restaurant only to run into Giuliio’s ex, Daniela [Angela Goodwin] an artist preparing her next exhibition in the death museum. Daniela’s red hair gives Simona a premonition of who the dead girl might be and returns to the corpse in the morgue with a red haired wig. Just as Simona solves the mystery girl’s identity Father Lennox [Barry Primus] makes his entrance claiming that the dead woman is his sister, and that there is no way possible that she would have killed herself.
That’s just the first twenty minutes of Armando Crispino’s Autopsy. He’s introduced all the main players, their traits, and solved the initial mystery only to spark further mystery that drives the movie forth from here and introduced a gallery of interesting suspects that might be responsible for the death of Betty, and I’m totally drawn in.
It’s a wonderful little piece that brings a lot to the screen with it, double identities, mysterious books found in flooded libraries, suspicious characters and side winding plots that will throw you off track over and over again, There is quite little of the customary killing sprees of a masked murderer here, most murders take place off screen or with the killer completely out of sight, but never the less, it’s the mystery plot of who’s who that makes this movie such a treat.
There’s also a great sub plot with Simona rejecting her boyfriend Edgar, displaying a cold sexual repression that reminds me of Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion 1965, but at the same time she lusts for and falls in love with Father Lennox, a man she can’t have due to his faith which complicates things. But then at the same time, Father Lennox beats the crap out of Simona’s landlord during one of his nightly stakeouts screaming ”I’ll Kill You, I’ll Fucking Kill You!” so it’s doubtful that this man of the cloth is true to his vows. There’s also a fantastic scene where the killer tries to arrange a dual suicide with Simona and Father Lennox after drugging them and leaving them in a bathroom slowly filling with gas. It’s a very exciting and suspense full little scene, and familiarity with the genre will let you know that you never know who is going to get it next, so the killer has a fair chance of killing off the leading lady.
Eventually there’s a wonderful climax that will have you gasping, as the killer ignorant of his past deeds goes about his regular routines and is finally confronted by the only person who know the truth of what has been going on, and that little scene at the beginning with the redhead and the man in the cab, the envelope that Nancy asks for, the mysterious car driver who Nancy recognizes, there all small details that will make sense. I love it when gaily wrap things up and small bit’s that at first seem incoherent and almost like filler scenes drop into their place in the story and you get that rush of insight. It’s one of the small perks of watching movies in this fantastic genre that make it all worthwhile.
Something that I find recurrent in Gialli, apart from clothing supplied by the major fashion houses, and constant fraternisation with the art world, there’s a recurrent display of the cutting edge technology. Be it enormous seventies computers that take up a whole wall, or gigantic matrix printers technology keeps making itself apparent in the genre. Here there’s a bizarre machine that is supposed to help one of the characters, now totally paralysed, to speak with the police and give them a clue to who the killer may be. It’s an enormous machine, that looks more like an instrument of torture than anything else, but more petite and functioning versions are actually used today by people in paralysis. So even how ridiculous the scene may seem today, there is a fascinating foresight in there. Sort of like when you watch classic Star Trek and see their “future tech” which we all have in our households and everyday life today.
Farmer does what is expected of her, she wanders from scene to scene with a puzzled, almost lost look on her face and gives a grad performance as the confused Simone. Once again Lovelock, get’s to play the chauvinistic, misogynist part that he plays so wonderfully. He’s self centred, filthy rich and truly a disturbing character, all he wants’ is to have fun, shoot his photographs and get his rocks off with Simone. He repeatedly tries to get it on with Simone, to varied results, but it is a primal urge hat he can’t resist. Edgar even gives it a shot when he get’s Simona home and after her colleague tries to rape her, Edgar coldly says – ”Well you can’t blame the guy for trying” and sticks his hand up her dress. Sinister and misogynist to the very end. But also Primus gives a decent performance here, even though he made no more Gialli after this one, but disappeared into US TV serial bit parts. But in Crispino’s Autopsy it’s possible that he was given some great direction, as he makes an impression that many other one off Yankee’s in Italian genre pieces didn’t.
Editor Daniele Alabiso [Ruggero Deodato’s Last Cannibal World 1977, Phantom of Death 1988, and Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City 1980] does a wonderful job with the movie. The timing is impeccable, and right on cue. Also he takes a few wild transitions into play to add to the delicate weave. Just keep an eye out for the sequence when Simona’s father is introduced, as he intercuts Massimo Serato swimming towards something, Ivo is remodelling the face of the female corpse, Serato swimming, the corpse with Simona watching on in puzzlement, Serato swimming up to a pair of female feet, the completed corpse being photographed, Serato revealing that the feet belong to Simona standing by the pool greeting her father – Serato. It’s a wonderful part and there’s that great short thread of mystery spinning off the larger – the unknown female corpse – which soon will be integrated with the shorter thread and lead to the solution of the larger sub plot. Great stuff that has the movie stands out over many other Gialli.
Finally there’s Ennio Morricone’s marvellous score. It’s a fascinating and eclectic score filled with both electronic minimalism, and full-feathered orchestral parts. Gentle flutes, brooding synthesizers mix in a catchy but disturbing blend. The use of the electronic harpsichord played heavily brings an added dimension to the score, as it’s a rather delicate instrument played violently. Also Morricone uses his long time collaborator Edda Dell'Orso on the soundtrack, which makes it even more interesting as she’s something of a female Mike Patton of the sixties and seventies. A tremendously talented singer she also explored alternative vocal performances, styles and ranges (like Patton) in many great Italian genre pieces; Morricone’s great scores for Mario Bava’s Danger Diabolik 1968, Dario Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage 1970, Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? 1972 (With those great child quires) and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have you Done To Solange? 1972, to give you a few highlights of her amazing talent. For Autopsy she supplies vocal performances ranging from sensual groaning to heavy breathing to death rattles, which makes the soundtrack one of Morricone’s better dark horror works. Definitely a soundtrack worth picking up if you are into that kind of thing.
1.85:1 – Anamorphic 16x9
English and Italian Dialogue in Dolby Digital Mono
Very scarce, but there’s the US theatrical trailer and an international trailer for the movie under the name The Victim.