Michael (Stefano Patrizi) is acting in a scene with Beryl (Laura Gemser), and something within Michael takes over while he's strangling her. "You seemed as if you really wanted to murder her," says director Hans (Henri Garcin) to his leading man, after it takes half the crew to pull Michael's hands away from Beryl's throat. Michael cools out at his flat, strumming his guitar, when a sudden gush of wind blows through the window. This gush of wind prompts Michael to want to see his mother, Glenda (Anita Strindberg) after many years without. Michael and his girlfriend, Deborah (Silvia Dionisio) drive to Michael's childhood home, where they are greeted by the manservant, Oliver (John Richardson). Glenda's ill and has desperately missed her baby boy. Michael's going to scout some film locations around the villa's countryside, so Hans, Beryl, and Shirley (Martine Brochard) are invited to the villa for both business and pleasure.
Riccardo Freda's Murder obsession (Follia omicida) (1981) is a mess. Highly influenced by Dario Argento's previous films, such as Profondo Rosso (1975), Suspiria (1977), and Inferno (1980) in terms of themes, style, and atmosphere, Murder obsession lacks Argento's inimitable and singular style and atmosphere; and unfortunately for Freda, he's unable to direct a film that's an Argento-esque mess (a whole other level of sublime beauty). Murder obsession is bits and pieces of a lot of motifs and genres which escalates to a surprisingly focused ending; yet for all its ending's focus, it reaches the heights of incredulity. Black-gloved killers and sexual obsessions are side by side with psychic phenomena and the occult and a black mass, which are further indulged by hallucinatory dream imagery from dated Gothic horror and as much bloody gore and special effects that can be sculpted and then shot. Like Michael making an associational link between a gust of wind to calling his neglected mother of many years, Murder obsession works in the same way: completely irrational (and certainly supernatural), the film is a lot of guilty fun.
Patrizi's Michael is a complex and enigmatic character, only because Freda (and his co-writers Fabio Piccioni, Antonio Cesare Corti, and Simon Mizrahi) doesn't know in what direction to take his main character (or his film, for that matter). Michael's initial sequence on the set while strangling Beryl curiously hints to Michael having a psychological affliction or some supernatural possession. Freda plays to both. Michael's father was murdered when he was a child and he was present at his father's death, along with Strindberg's Glenda. Michael has grown up to become a dead ringer for his father. Apparently, Michael was quite fond of his mother as a child, and now as an adult and at the villa, he's rekindled a strong attraction to his mother (Strindberg, incidentally, looks the same age as Patrizi or only slightly older). Glenda is also taken with her grown son, and although bed-ridden and ill, she immediately begins her subtle seduction. Michael's somewhat Oedipal upbringing combined with his childhood trauma could be the source for his "murder obsession" that is blossoming. However, Freda's treatment, like the mysterious gust of wind, dreamy flashback sequences of Michael's childhood, and the over-dramatic use of music hint also that perhaps not only does Michael look like his dead father but might be literally becoming the dead man. (It's later revealed that Michael's hidden secret is related to his father being abusive to his mother.)
Gemser's Beryl, Brochard's Shirley, and Garcin's Hans appear in Murder obsession, seemingly, to provide a body count or a red herring. Gemser's character is not developed at all and has really no depth. She wakes frightened from a sound (or a dream) to have Brochard's Shirley suggest that she take a bath. While in the bathtub, a black-gloved killer hides in the shadows and attacks her. Gemser's Beryl survives the attack only then to be placed in a giallo signature voyeuristic scene with Michael. Michael emerges from the woods with knife in hand to encounter the contemplative Beryl at lakeside. Michael pockets the knife, and without words, the two embrace and have sex. The two sleep after lovemaking to only have one wake up. Brochard's Shirley has even less depth than Gemser's character, although Freda and company intimate in a few scenes that Shirley and Brochard are having an intimate relationship (only hinted at, again, and never developed). Garcin's Hans, revealed in a long dialogue sequence with Strindberg's Glenda absent from the English-language print of Murder obsession, is not only a film director but also quite interested and knowledgeable about the occult. Hans has several strong beliefs about reincarnation and death. Foreshadowing? No. Hans and the occult do not commingle again in the film. When chainsaw appears, however, innocuously in the hands of Richardson's Oliver cutting wood, it does make an appearance again...as a murder weapon. Score one for Freda.
Among a cast of actors (all of whom have made notable appearances in European cult cinema), Silvia Dionisio stands above all as Deborah with her performance. (Dionisio's performance, like Strindberg, appears to be one of her last.) Deborah is a great character, and if Freda could have found some focus and development to match Dionisio's talent and enthusiasm, Murder obsession might be more well-known (and subsequently appreciated). When Michael first introduces Deborah, it is to Oliver as his "girlfriend." However, when Deborah meets Strindberg's Glenda, Michael introduces her as "his secretary." Dionisio's Deborah immediately and intuitively picks up on Glenda's jealousy, and the two become rivals for Michael's affection. The few scenes that the two have together are charged and tension-filled (Strindberg gives a fantastic performance, as well). Deborah's both sweet and smart: she knows that something is wrong with Michael, and despite his attempts to push her away, she's still affectionate and caring towards him. The best sequence of Murder obsession (and also Freda's most indulgent) comes with a very long dramatization of Deborah's nightmare that she tells Michael upon waking. Dionisio's Deborah descends into the deep, dark Gothic catacombs of the villa where she is being chased by a caked-face figure in a shroud. She spies a beautiful, Eden-like garden on the outside, only to have her path blocked by a giant rubber spider and its web. Through a foggy, sinister thorn forest, she ends in the hands of two dark figures in the midst of a black mass. Real snakes and a motorized spider lay in front of the bound Deborah, as the dark duo prepare their sacrifice. Utterly amazing. Dionisio carries the sequence, despite the laughable effects and ridiculous settings. Wide-eyed and frightened, most actresses would be unable to conjure as much credible emotion as Dionisio. All of her scenes within the film are welcomed. Sensuous and beautiful, it's hard for me to take my eyes off of her.
Included on the Raro release of Murder obsession is the longer Italian-language cut of the film without the options of English subtitles. An English language audio track is included, and for the scenes cut out of the English-language version, English subtitles are provided for the Italian audio. A short scene is included from the English print, absent from the Italian, less than thirty seconds, dark and murky of just really Gemser splashing in the bathtub. The highlight, and only other extra is an interview with Sergio Stivaletti, who worked (uncredited) on Murder obsession's special effects with Angelo Mattei. Mattei, according to Stivaletti, had previously worked with Dario Argento (apparently created the corpses for the underwater scene in Inferno.) Stivaletti describes Murder obsession as his first break, working with Mattei and Freda, and anecdotes about the production. The film is presented non-anamorphic and letterboxed. It doesn't have the sharpest picture or most clear audio, but I found it more than acceptable (considering the title's obscurity).