Thursday, January 19, 2012

L'etrusco uccide ancora (The Dead Are Alive) (1972)

Alex Cord is Jason, an archaeologist who has uncovered an Etruscan burial ground which has been undisturbed for a couple thousand years. Jason is having an affair with Myra (Samantha Eggar) who is currently living with Nikos (John Marley), an elderly and world-famous orchestra conductor. Nikos has son named Igor (Carlo De Mejo). There are other characters who populate the narrative of L'etrusco uccide ancora (The Dead Are Alive) (1972) but these are the main characters. Since L'etrusco uccide ancora is a giallo/mystery, the collateral characters are red herrings and the like. By the end of the first act, a young couple has been murdered in the Etruscan tomb, and their corpses have been placed to mimic an Etruscan sacrificial rite.
The first act of L'etrusco uccide ancora is strong. There is no clunky exposition and the pacing is swift. The first act is effectively concluded with the young couple’s murder. The second act, however, is the complete undoing of the film: here comes the melodrama; here comes the stereotypes; and here comes mechanical narrative. Virtually every character is a stereotype. Jason appears an alcoholic womanizer; Myra is an emotional young trophy bride; and Nikos is a controlling older man, eager dominate most in front of him. Most of the character interaction is cringe worthy. For example, when Nikos catches Myra leaving their mansion to rendezvous with Jason, Nikos chides her and admits to her that he knows where she is going and with whom she is meeting. Nikos doesn’t stop Myra from leaving. Instead, he pulls her close to him and gives her a forceful and strong kiss. In the subsequent scene, equally mind-boggling, Myra and Jason meet. The dialogue is precious in its stupidity: Jason’s seduction involves asking Myra if an Etruscan tomb turns her on. Way to go, Jason. As for the narrative, there is way too much labor expended to establish red herrings and then too much labor to exclude those red herrings. At the end of the film, there are only three real clues, and little of the narrative focuses upon them. This is a shame but this is also expected.
The third act has inspired moments, but it’s very conventional. The police discover who the killer is; the police are wrong; the real killer is still loose; and the remaining character(s) confront the killer. Familiar stuff, all around.
Armando Crispino is a unique Italian director. He is perhaps best known for his excellent film Macchie solari (Autopsy) (1975). In that film, Crispino showed an adept eye with the subjective shot. Color, film speed, light, and composition, for example, are all effectively manipulated and contrived by Crispino, creating some brilliant disorienting sequences. Some of that ability is present in L'etrusco uccide ancora. For example, the murder of the young couple at the Etruscan tomb is unique (and come to think of it, really only Lucio Fulci rivals Crispino, here). The killer, of course, is never shown. The audio and the editing of the murders are seemingly out of sync. The murder appears like a bloody montage of screams and literal cuts. There is also an effective shot of the two corpses, placed upon two altars. One of the essential clues to the mystery is an orchestral composition that plays whenever the killer is about to strike. It’s a rousing and intense composition. (I wonder if it is the work of Riz Ortolani who scored the film. Ortolani’s film score is brilliant.) Despite the mechanical nature of the narrative, this orchestration is always effectively used. In addition to his use of audio, Crispino dominates his visuals, especially his use of shadows. There is little to praise in L'etrusco uccide ancora but of what little there is, it deserves very high praise.
L'etrusco uccide ancora was intended to be an enigmatic, magical and evocative film,” says Crispino. “If I’d had my way, I’d have taken the film even further into fantastic dimensions, but, unfortunately, I was prevented. The idea came to me, one day, during a casual visit to the Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri, where, as I was walking around among the tombs, I began to have the strangest feelings--it was almost as though I could feel tangible ‘presences’ hovering about me.” (from Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Fantasma Books, Key West, FL, 1996, p.39) I wish that Crispino had his way, also. The Etruscan imagery and setting in L'etrusco uccide ancora is woefully underused. The film ends up becoming a conservative and mechanical thriller/mystery/giallo. For die-hard fans of the genre, only. Code Red released this film on DVD about a year and a half ago, and it seems as if it is already out of print. Screenshots are taken from my old DVDr of an original VHS release of L'etrusco uccide ancora.


Alex B. said...

I like your review-with-a-review of MACCHIE SOLARI. That film is so articulate, shows just how well Crispino knows the grammar of filmmaking

Hans A. said...

Cheers, Alex. Absolutely about Macchie solari. It's one of my favorite Italian films of all time.

Alex B. said...

I love the Morricone theme. That music when the guys falls slow-motion at the very end.

Dr.LargePackage said...

Tops review, Hans. In the story of my life, I think I am the red herring. Clocktowers are large and in charge.

Alex B. said...

Watched the Etruscan for the first time just a few hours ago. Agree that the characters are clichéd to the point of caricature. I wish they'd explored the Etruscan angle of it a bit more. Both Crispino and Martino put Etruscans in the title but only Andrea Bianchi ever showed etruscans 'in action' :)