Shameless label are back with another smashing release, Formula for a Murder aka 7, Hyden Park: La Casa Maledetta, a previously well sought after rare mid-80’s giallo, starring the late, great David Warbeck, Christina Nagy, and Carroll Blumenberg (in her one and only acting role). A twisted tale of a wealthy heiress Joanna (Nagy) who has been wheelchair bound since her childhood when a creepy priest sexually assaulted her and threw her down the stairs breaking her back, Joanna has no knowledge of this however having repressed the memory. When Joanna marries Craig (Warbeck) strange things start to happen, and someone seems intent on ruining the young love-birds happiness. Joanna is stalked by someone dressed in priest garb who carries a bloodied child’s doll, and with doctors warning her heart is weak, has she reached her limit. To add to Joanna’s problems her long-term companion Ruth (Blumenberg) has decided to move out, not wanting to play piggy in the middle, and Joanna is having a hard time adjusting. Our stalker does not just have his sights set on Joanna however, and a series of priests are getting murdered in gruesomely horrific ways.
Formula for a Murder is an interesting film, part giallo, part murder mystery, part slasher even (which borrows in some part from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques), the story of a vulnerable woman who has attracted the attentions of a vicious killer, unbeknown to her the man she just married ( I would not usually give this away but it features in the trailer and synopsis of this release and so I figure it is fair game); there are some marvellous set pieces on offer here especially when it comes to the scenes which feature stalking and murder. Of course for the well-seasoned viewers, some of the turns are going to be glaringly obvious, but for me at least, it mattered not one bit, as the film holds up as entertaining with some nice elements of tension. Even when the twist has been revealed, quite early on, you are still left with a certain amount of confusion as to where the plot is going to go and the film ends on an ambiguous note which made it all the more interesting. As a giallo it lacks the element of sleaze seen in many other examples (however Nagy and Blumenberg both provide small flashings of nudity), and given the murder victims are mainly male priests, it also fails to provide beautiful women being murdered in vicious ways, however it still carries the trademarked black gloved killer, and unseen murderer. Given you know who the killer is from early on I am sure many giallo diehards would argue whether this one holds enough aspects of a traditional ‘gialli’ to be completely deserving of the tag, but again this is seen in Luigi Cozzi’s The Killer Must Kill Again, so everything is debateable.
For the cast, David Warbeck plays one of his juiciest roles, as sweet talking husband Craig turned yellow mac sporting nutcase (the tagline on the cover boasts Warbeck goes berserk), and turns out a performance I really enjoyed, only hampered by the fact that he seems to have been dubbed with a dodgy American accent, by an Italian Antonio Colonnello which makes it even more bizarre. Warbeck’s sneering and double crossing behaviour is a joy to watch and a far cry from his usual heroic roles, he manages to inject a brilliant air of sadism and sociopath into his role, while also hamming it up like a pantomime villain. Likewise Christina Nagy as the female lead, while portraying a vulnerable wheelchair bound woman who has lead a somewhat sheltered existence after the vile episode which occurred during her childhood, makes for a strong character with a lot more balls than initially apparent. It is interesting that director Alberto De Martino used a similar female focus in his wacky Exorcist clone L’Anticristo (1974) some 11 years earlier (he also penned the screenplay to both films), with the lead in the aforementioned film Ippolita also suffering some sort of paralysis and being confined to a wheelchair. Carroll Blumenberg as close friend and companion Ruth makes for an intense character, with her scenes played out with a sense of eroticism, lust and obsession, it is a shame she does not seem to have appeared in anything else apart from this, as she does put in a decent performance.
Formula for a Murder is by no means perfect, some of the plot twists seem to be based on wild fantasy, and the performances are hammed up in a perfectly over the top way, but that is not to say it is not a good film because despite all this (or maybe because of) it works to make the entire thing thoroughly entertaining. The murders are nasty and grizzly, one featuring a priest getting his head caved in with a shovel is a particular highlight of the piece, even if he takes an awful long time to actually go down, and Gino Vagniluca is generous with the gore. The effects are nicely done for the most part, and the viewer gets to see all the grue just hang out there, no panning away for the juicy parts. Similarly the stalking scenes with an unknown assailant posing as a priest, who carries a bloodied child’s doll, are executed with a fantastic creepy vibe, including a twisted little song which omits from the doll which adds to the flavour, and a warped score by Francesco De Masi. Talking of the score quite strangely the music from New York Ripper (also composed by De Masi) pops up during the scene featuring Staten Island ferry which certainly added to the sometimes bizarre nature of this movie, not to mention made us chuckle!
One thing that works in favour of Formula for a Murder is the film is competently shot, cinematography provided by Gianlorenzo Battaglia who is known for his work with Lamberto Bava on Demons, Demons 2 and A Blade in the Dark as well as working on De Martino’s Miami Golem and Michele Soavi’s early project documentary ‘Dario Argento’s World of Horror’, and there is skilful use of the camera to create a tense atmosphere at the right moments. The atmosphere is also helped along by the lavish setting, Joanna’s luxury home, a location which incidentally also turns up 3 years later in Ruggero Deodato’s Phantom of Death as Edwige Fenech’s character’s house, which includes a riverside location, and appears to be relatively isolated (adding to the element of terror when Joanna is alone with the killer). The house, specifically the staircase, is used to great effect, given that Joanna has not got use of her legs (however the extent of the paralysis seems to change from scene to scene), and features in a terrifically OTT no holds barred climax.
Shameless have done a terrific job bringing this once relatively rare release to digital format, in a pristine widescreen transfer. The print is great quality and the audio clear. Being the first ever English language DVD release (previously only available on a badly panned and scanned Italian DVD) this is one giallo fans are going to lap up. This release comes with the following extras:
1. Limited Edition Collector’s Edition
2. In depth Audio Commentary with Cinematographer G. Battaglia
3. Trailer & Shameless Slashers
4. Shameless Yellow Killer Mac
5. Choice of English or Italian audio tracks (with optional English subtitles included)
6. Reversable cover art
Formula for a Murder, while not being the greatest, or most serious, example of a giallo (if indeed it can be given that moniker), is fun, gory and thoroughly entertaining, with a brilliant campy performance from David Warbeck, (dubbing aside), grizzly murders, and some nice moments of tension. For fans who have been long awaiting to see this in all its gruesome glory I can promise you won’t be disappointed; definitely one for all giallo fans and lovers of 80’s trash slashers.
Head on over to the Shameless official site for more information : http://www.shameless-films.com/films/formula-murder/