Roberto Bianchi Montero, 1972
Starring: Farley Granger, Sylva Koscina, Silvano Tranquilli
In a small town in southern Italy, a maniac begins killing local women, all wives unfaithful to their husbands. After mutilating them, he leaves them fully or partially nude with pictures of their indiscretions on top of their bodies. Stressed out Inspector Capuana is new to the area and was hoping for a more relaxing assignment, but he’s put on the case. Though he has few leads, he realizes that all of the victims are married to prominent members of society – businessmen and politicians. The killer is seeking to expose corruption within Italian society and he soon begins taunting Capuana directly, determined to put every obstacle in the Inspector’s way.
Director Roberto Bianchi Montero’s lurid example of giallo, which literally translates to Revelations of a Sex Maniac to the Head of the Police Squad aka The Slasher is the Sex Maniac, opens with a scene that sets the tone for the whole film: a naked, bleeding, and mutilated woman is examined by police, who swarm around the scene. The camera lingers luridly over her nudity and if you’re squeamish about such things, So Sweet, So Deadly is not the film for you. This film is certainly in the running for “Most Sex and Nudity in a Giallo,” along with Ferdinando di Leo’s Slaughter Hotel from the same year. There is actually another, hard to find version of the film titled Penetration, which includes hardcore porn inserts (!!!). Montero actually went on to helm porn and erotica (Caligula’s Hot Nights, anyone?), but star Farley Granger was so enraged by the admittedly misleading publicity – he does not appear in any of these added hardcore sequences (but look out for Harry Reems) – that he sued and had Penetration removed from U.S. distribution.
I still find it a little dizzying that Farley Granger – who I associate with ‘40s and ‘50s American thrillers like They Live By Night (1948), Rope (1948), and Strangers on a Train (1951) – actually had a career in Eurocult films like this, Visconti’s Senso (1954) and totally bonkers giallo films The Red Headed Corpse (1972) and Amuck (1972). Granger is seriously, stately, surprisingly mustachioed, and grim alongside the faintly ridiculous black-gloved, black facial stocking and fedora-wearing killer, with whom he develops an adversarial relationship. It takes him outside of the bounds of by-the-books police work and provides for a wonderful twist ending and a bleak final note.
The film is packed with likely suspects, including a perverted morgue attendant who gropes the female corpses and giggles wildly while on the job. In a somewhat tragic scene, he admits to Capuana that he lives alone and doesn’t have a girlfriend, because no women will stick around when they learn about his profession. Others include a high-priced lawyer, a shady politician, and more. The murders themselves are not overtly stylized, but they are rather misogynistic, as the killer happens to catch the women when they are in a state of undress, awaiting their lovers, and he viciously (if repetitively) slashes their throats and breasts and stabs them in the abdomen. Unlike many other giallo films, the kill scenes are shown on camera rather than implied, and a few are quite graphic.
While it’s easy to read So Sweet, So Dead simply as another misogynistic horror film, the real vitriol is directed at political corruption, hypocrisy, and media manipulation. The killer is punishing powerful men – and seemingly the institution of upper class marriage – by killing the unfaithful wives. There is not a single happy, loving relationship depicted on screen and sexual coercion, infidelity, voyeurism, and malicious gossip are practiced all the way through the town’s different economic classes. This sort of uncomfortable mean-spirited flavor is reminiscent of the nastier giallo films of Lucio Fulci, like Don’t Torture a Duckling and New York Ripper, where no one can be trusted and everyone has a base motivation.
Available uncut on region 2 DVD from Camera Obscura, So Sweet, So Dead comes highly recommended. This exceptionally trashy film is not for everyone, but I think it’s delightful. Granger gives a solid, if exhausted performance and while he seems out of sync with the film’s fast-paced, sleazy first half, it soon catches up to his grim mood and offers up a number of surprises that elevate this film to near-classic giallo status.