In Luigi Cozzi’s The Killer Must Kill Again (1975) aka L’assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora, Giorgio (George Hilton) and his wife Nora (Tere Velazquez) don’t get along. Giorgio is more interested in his mistress, but he’s utterly dependant on his wife’s fortune. When he’s out late one night, he just so happens upon a murderer (Antoine Saint-John) disposing of a body and makes a deal with the man that he will keep his mouth shut… if he disposes of Giorgio’s wife while Giorgio is out establishing an airtight alibi. Everything goes as planned until a joyriding teenage couple (Eduardo Fajardo and Cristina Galbó) steal the killer’s car when their own runs out of gas. He is forced to chase them to the countryside, hoping to reclaim and hide the body before anyone notices.

For my money, The Killer Must Kill Again is director Luigi Cozzi’s best film, though his roots are spread throughout Italian horror. He directed Starcrash (1978) and the mind-blowing Contamination (1980), though I think Cozzi is generally best known for being a disciple of Dario Argento; he directed episodes of Argento’s short-lived TV show, Door into Darkness, and the documentary Dario Argento: Master of Horror (1991). He wrote or co-wrote Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) and The Five Days of Milan (1973), but The Killer Must Kill Again proved that he was capable of moving out from under Argento’s thumb. While it could have been a paint-by-numbers rip-off of Argento’s beloved and stylish giallo formula, The Killer Must Kill Again is something else entirely. It has some excellent suspense sequences and falls somewhere between giallo, exploitation movie, and crime film, with a hint of proto-slasher.

For this October’s Gialloween celebration, I’ve already written about sleazy late-period giallo films like The Sister of Ursula (1978) and Giallo a Venezia (1979), which focus on graphic sex and quite lurid violence more than they do on the complex mystery plot trappings of a typical giallo. The Killer Must Kill Again is very much of this camp, as such it will not appeal to the faint of heart, though it does borrow considerably from Hitchcock—far more than from Argento or another giallo master like Sergio Martino. The Killer Must Kill Again takes the concept of the perfect murder, a general preoccupation of giallo films in general—as seen in earlier films like Strangers on a Train (1951), though here Cozzi borrows most directly from Dial M for Murder (1954)—and takes it to its most extreme, illogical conclusion.

Interestingly, this is a giallo where the killer is not infallible; often in these films, particularly Argento’s, the murderer seems to possess an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, to narrowly escape detection or retributive violence, and so on. But that is notably not the case with The Killer Must Kill Again, where the titular killer (which is also all he is referred to in the script) comes up against the same obstacles and most of teeth-gnashing suspense as his intended victims. Played by the unforgettable, skull-faced Antoine Saint-John (aka Michel Antoine)—who genre fans will recognize as the tormented painter from Fulci’s The Beyond (1981)—is not a standard giallo murderer in really any sense. I will expand on this shortly, but he rapes one of his victims and is far more than an anonymous, black-gloved killer lurking in the shadows. There is something delightfully sinister about his very presence and I can’t help but think that the film’s original title, Il ragno aka The Spider, refers to his particular onscreen quality.

I tend to think of giallo antagonists as someone driven to kill because they are triggered by a past trauma (as in many of Argento’s films) or someone who cooks up an elaborate plot to make off with a large inheritance (as in many of Martino’s films). Certainly this latter trope applies to George Hilton’s greed-fueled Giorgio, but he spends much of the time offscreen. I tend to think of Hilton as the leading man of giallo films, thanks to several key collaborations with Martino, not to mention directors like Tonino Valerii, Giuliano Carnimeo, Tulio Demicheli, and others. Here is just a complete bastard, in only the way George Hilton could be. He is sadly underused here—though I think it’s less a problem with the film and more an issue where I actively miss him when he isn’t on screen. He’s great in his few scenes and—to the surprise of no one who has seen his previous giallo films—gets his just desserts at the end of the film. I’m going to stay on this horse for a minute, because I want you to take a minute and really think about which other male leads in giallo films were quite so versatile? He’s believable as the romantic hero, but even better as the smarmy asshole who—surprise!—seduced you, convinced you to murder your husband, and is now going to pitch you off the side of a cliff and make it look like an accident, all because he wanted the fortune himself.

Soon, he will sail off to a beach with 12 mistresses, each one more buxom than the last, totally scot free.

At least, this is my mental picture of what George’s life is like.  

Anyway, some might take issue with the fact that, like Giorgio, most of the characters in this film—and the majority of these later giallo efforts—are just outright unlikable. If you consider the fact that greed, perversion, and trauma are typically the frequent motivating factors in giallo films, this doesn’t leave for a lot of friendly, wholesome characters, but The Killer Must Kill Again really puts its cast through the ringer. The film drips with cruelty and unpleasant violence. The early scenes where Nora, the wife, is killed are quite effective, even if it is completely implausible that Giorgio would just happen to stumble across a murderer dumping a body and then decide to blackmail the killer into taking care of his own “problem.” But it’s that kind of willingness to go the distance that makes Cozzi’s film so noteworthy.

Blackmail, spousal murder, and double-crosses are a dime a dozen in giallo films, but The Killer Must Kill Again takes things in something of a new direction when the body, hidden in the trunk of a car, wanders off with some teenagers who have casually stolen it. Laura, a teenage virgin, is going joyriding with her boyfriend to the beach, where it is implied that she’s agreed to have sex with him for the first time. The seaside setting is attractive and gloomy, though the expecting deflowering of a teenage girl adds the same sort of pall that colors Dallamano’s Schoolgirls in Peril trilogy. Laura—played by lovely Spanish horror and giallo regular Cristina Galbo (of films like fucked up Spanish proto-slasher La residencia or What Have You Done to Solange?, speaking of Dallamano)—comes close to being a genuine protagonist. It’s easy to feel sorry for her, as her boyfriend (Alessio Orano of Lisa and the Devil) leaves her alone in an abandoned beach house to get some snacks and picks up a stray blonde (the wonderful Femi Benussi, inexplicably blonde here) along the way. The two soon pull over to have sex, leaving Laura to the eerie-looking killer, who graphically rapes her in a nauseating, oddly intimate scene, which is contrasted uncomfortably with her boyfriend and the blonde having sex in a car.

Several of the later period giallo films dispense with the standard “amateur detective tries to solve a mystery and a find a killer leaving behind a string of bodies” plot, and this is part of what makes The Killer Must Kill Again so successful. It is obvious that the titular killer must catch up with the teens at some point and the film draws inexorably towards that point, feeling more like an exploitation film and less like a giallo all the way. The blend of exploitation elements, sexual violence, and some blatant misogyny may be off-putting to some viewers, but—aside from the rape scene—it’s not really much worse than your average giallo film. It’s worth watching for Antoine’s performance alone and I have to admit that he is so strange and charismatic onscreen, I found myself hoping he would manage to reclaim the corpse in the trunk. His character is one of giallo’s more underrated villains, sort of a sleazy, despicable evolution of the deadpan, nihilistic assassin in film noir classics like This Gun for Hire (1942). I’m not suggesting that I wanted the rapist to win in the end, but he’s preferable to the disgusting would-be date rapist boyfriend, who delivers some incredible dialogue that must be heard to be believed, like “Aren’t you bored of being a virgin?”