Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Michele Lupo, 1970
Starring: Anna Moffo, Gastone Moschin, Ida Galli

After a wealthy man dies, his catty, eccentric family gathers at his country estate for the reading of his will. To the shock of the others, Barbara, his adopted daughter (really a distant relative), is made sole heir to his fortune and his only daughter is cut off for marrying against his wishes. The bodies begin to pile up around the house and the local police – assisted by a stuffy detective from Scotland Yard – try to find the murderer before Barbara is killed.

Also known as The Story of Crime, director Michele Lupo’s thriller is often lumped in with the giallo films being made in Italy during this period, though it is more (or less) than that. It’s essentially an Italian take on the British “old dark house” mysteries that follow a standard central plot: a stuffy, possibly eccentric aristocratic family gathers in a mansion after the death of a wealthy relative to hear the reading of the will. One person, generally an innocent young woman, is made sole benefactor, which encourages the other disgruntled family members to try to murder her. Sometimes, as in And Then There Were None, based on Agatha Christie’s novel, the plot is somewhat altered (a group of strangers are called to an island, where they are all accused of different crimes by an absent host), but the general themes and structure – and the scares – are often the same.

Regardless, I basically never get tired of this formula. It isn’t for everyone and will likely ruffle the feathers of anyone hoping for a more straightforward, bloody giallo, but I found The Weekend Murders to be delightful and entertaining. It is easy to tell that this is a European film, as it has a bit more sex, violence, humor, and weirdness than the average British mystery. Early on, a decaying body is uncovered on the family golf course, while Cousin George – an attractive 20-something – is obviously sexually obsessed with his controlling mother. He can’t go through with seducing a maid, but appears to come in his pants when his mother hugs him tightly after a scolding. He also pretends to have committed suicide in the bath and later fakes a murder, setting up a series of jokes that cause the characters not to believe they are in real danger.

Everyone seems to be having an affair, especially the married characters. The numerous red herrings are generally all based around the characters’ tense relationships with one other. Keep your eyes peeled for a number of genre actors, including giallo-regular Ida Galli (Knife of Ice, A White Dress for Mariale), Gastone Moschin (The Conformist, Caliber 9, Godfather II), Marisa Fabbri (Four Flies on Grey Velvet), and Chris Chittell (The Beast in the Cellar). They are joined by British comic actors Lance Percival (Carry on Cruising) as the inspector and Ballard Berkely (Fawlty Towers) as the unfortunate butler. Inexplicably, American opera singer Anna Moffo stars as the tormented Barbara.

In addition to some capable camera work, The Weekend Murders makes great use of its location, primarily the Gothic manor – allegedly shot at a mansion in Suffolk – with plenty of dark corners and the lovely British countryside that surrounds it. There’s a robust score from Francesco De Masi (New York Ripper) and the suspenseful reveals are all punctuated by quick close-ups and explosive gunshot sounds – an effective and modern technique. The material is also modernized by the frequent humor and it would be fair to say that this is a spoof on the Italian giallo/English murder mystery genres. It is helpful to know about both to get all of the jokes, but so many – such as an early quip that since the butler died first, he can’t have done it – are already deeply ingrained in English-language culture.

The Weekend Murders is not for everyone, though fans of The Cat and the Canary and The Old Dark House are sure to love this updated twist with plenty of satire and strangeness. It would also make a nice double feature with Radley Metzer’s remake of The Cat and the Canary (1978) from just a few years later, which puts an equal emphasis on humor, without fully plunging into the same territory as Clue or Murder by Death. The Weekend Murders comes recommended. It doesn’t break any new ground and it probably won’t blow your socks off, but if you enjoy the Agatha Christie influences in giallo films (and there are certainly plenty), then this is an enjoyable way to spend 90-or so minutes. Thankfully, Code Red have rescued it from obscurity with a lovely hi-definition DVD release that even has an audio commentary track.

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