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Director: Duccio Tessari
Cast: Frank Wolff, Raf Vallone, Gillian Bray, and Gabriele Tinti
Length: 97 min
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: Italian: LPCM 2.0
English: LPCM 2.0
- Original Theatrical Trailer (Italian and English)
- Video Interview with Fangoria editor-in-chief Chris Alexander
- Illustrated Booklet written by Chris Alexander
For the horror community at least, the term giallo has often been linked to films like Dario Argento’s Deep Red and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Pupi Avati’s The House with Laughing Windows, and Lucio Fulci’s The Lizard in Woman’s Skin, but it would be wrong to consider giallo a subgenre of horror. Principle to the giallo makeup is the element of mystery—and while it would be correct to argue that horror films are almost always revolved around a central mystery unfolding, the elements differ in their approach. One film, in particular, that defies the horror aspect often associated with giallo is Duccio Tessari’s La morte risale a ieri sera aka Death Occurred Last Night (1970). Rather than combining elements of horror and crime, as in the aforementioned films, Death Occurred Last Night is more a cross between a police procedural, revenge picture, and a hardboiled neo-noir. The film, which is often overlooked, is an important and strong component of Italian genre cinema, and thanks to RaroVideo is now available in a newly restored Blu-Ray package for the first time ever.
The film follows Amanzio Berzaghi (Duca Lamberti), the father of a mentally challenged nymphomaniac who he is, after the death of his wife, forced to keep locked up in their home while he is away. Beginning amidst conflict, the film opens on Amanzio pleading with police precinct to find his missing daughter. Much of Amanzio and his daughter, Donatella’s (Gillian Bray), relationship is developed via flashback narration, as Amanzio is recounting the events that led to her disappearance. Despite having the mental capacities of a three-year old, Donatella lusts after men, in fact it would appear any man. Unable to cognize her sexual urges, she willingly surrenders herself to the men who attract her eye.
The film’s depiction of Donatella is a bit unsettling. While her duality, both mentally deficient and sexually active, serves brilliantly as a narrative device—both adding to the plausibility of the denouement as well as heightening the horrific elements —it does make for some uncomfortable moments. Gillian Bray, with her model-esque looks, adds a disturbing dimension to the role. Rather than allude to the nymphomania and sexuality, the film is explicit, even going as far as to add scenes with her character struggling to put on a bra. The audience is thus placed in a similar position as many of the characters, torn between her physical beauty and her mental capacity. It is a film that would be hard to produce under the current political climate, and should be commended for its daring attempt, even if the ideology that warrants it may be ambiguous.The rest of the plot is twofold. For a large portion, the film focuses on Duca Lamberti (Frank Wolff), an aging police officer who becomes hell-bent on solving Donatella’s case. Together with his younger partner, Mascaranti, they submerge themselves into Milan’s seedy underworld, in search of the missing girl. For this portion the film plays out like a typical police procedural, the officers fingering criminals, and taking them back to the headquarters for further questioning. However, one of the film’s strengths lies in the development of the characters through their interactions with each other, something that is utilized heavily in this portion of the film. With the exception of the kidnappers (and perhaps Donatella), almost every single character in the film is fully fleshed out. Wolff, playing the archetypical aging officer looking for the career defining ‘final’ case, is a cinematic force. His character’s emotions and motivations seep through his performance. There is no ambiguity in his actions. Through conversation with his wife and partner, Lamberti’s vision of society is played out through lengthy diatribes on justice, that neither feels forced or excessive.
As the film progresses, and the officers begin to close in on the kidnappers, the film returns to Amanzio. Through a series of coincidental accidents, Amanzio is able to track down the killers’ identities. This is a big break in tone for the film, switching from the typical police procedural, to a hybrid between procedural and revenge/hardboiled flick. In a race against each other, Amanzio and Lamberti both attempt to track the kidnappers before the other. While we won’t spoil the ending, for those who have yet to view the film, don’t expect the typical Hollywood fare.
Despite clocking in only slightly over an hour and a half, the film feels a bit long, perhaps due to a few moments that do drag. Overall, Death Occurred Last Night is quite entertaining and warrants at least a screening from any giallo or Italian cinema fan. Tessari’s direction is at its finest during the interplay between characters, however, his vision does become tarnished a bit in some of the visual compositions. The camera seems to be placed in an ever-changing state, cutting from shot to shot rapidly. While there are times where this effect works well, there are many shots that felt poorly set-up, and a few very awkward and unjustified angles are present. That being said, there are a few stand out shots that are brilliant; in particular, one that slowly tracks away from two characters (a prostitute that Lamberti has taken in and Lamberti’s wife) amidst conversation, creating a strong tension for the scene.One aspect of the film that has been subject to a lot of criticism is the score. Composed by Gianno Ferrio, who mixes a cheerful jazziness into the somewhat more traditional disco-giallo style one may be used to, the soundtrack is vibrant and upbeat. For many, the score clashes with the action of the film, failing to produce a coherent collaboration of emotions. There are moments where this is true, however, this fails to address how the uneasiness of the score’s attention to action creates a feeling of anxiety in the spectator, a feeling that works in the film’s favor. The score, in its own right, is beautifully composed and would stand well to be listened to apart from the film. It may be a point of departure for some viewers, but it is hard to imagine that it would become a place of complete departure; at most a mild disturbance.
RaroVideo have done an excellent job with the restoration. Transferred from the original 35mm negative and digitally restored, this 1080p, 1.66:1 Blu-Ray is stunning to look at. The print, which must have been highly preserved, lacks almost any sign of age related deterioration. This means that the film doesn’t show any sings of noticeable DNR processing or edge enhancement, leaving a picture that is faithful to the original celluloid.
The LPCM 2.0 sound mix, available in both the original Italian as well as an English dub, is adequate. The mix lacks a bit of dynamic range that would allow for clarity in both the loudest and quietest moments. Overall, however, the dialogue is distinguishable from the sound effects and score. In addition, despite the aforementioned critiques, the soundtrack sounds immense and clear, probably one of the best-preserved elements of the film’s aural landscape. There doesn’t exist a substantial amount of hiss or cracks that would otherwise be present in a print nearing 60 years old, but the audio is far from as stunning as the picture.
RaroVideo haven’t stepped across any new boundaries in presenting the film’s supplementary features, but what is present is strong. Aside from the typical trailer addition, Raro have utilized Fangoria editor-in-chief Chris Alexander’s expertise for both a video introduction, as well as in the creation of the accompanying illustrated booklet. Genre fans are familiar with Alexander’s work and voice, and many will find the addition a strong bonus. In this case, less may be more.
RaroVideo have continued their work presenting some harder to find, and often never before released on Blu-Ray, classic Italian gems. Together with a strong restoration and a few good extra features, this Blu-Ray package will be a delight for any fan of the film. Those fans who do not own a Blu-Ray player will also be delighted to know that Raro Video have also released a dvd version of the film, containing the same special features. Death Occurred Last Night may be a challenging film, defying both audience expectations of giallo and plot, but it is a film that begs to be analyzed. Despite being somewhat lost amongst a sea of cult classics, the film deserves just as much attention as any of its contemporaries, and now can be happily enjoyed in its original splendor.