L’assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora
aka Il ragno
aka Matador Implacável
aka The Dark Is Death’s Friend
aka The Killer Must Kill Again
aka The Killer Must Strike Again
Director: Luigi Cozzi
Released: 1975 (filmed 1973)
Starring: George Hilton, Antoine Saint-John (as Michel Antoine), Femi Benussi, Cristina Galbó
Running time: 86 min
Genre: giallo, suspense thriller
Divorce Italian-style. A gaunt figure carries what appears to be a sleeping woman toward a car with its engine running and lights on. It’s dark out, and the pair could be a groom and his new bride for all the tenderness he shows as he gently places her into the car’s passenger seat. But when he enters the driver’s seat and tenderly strokes her hair and face, we see by her waxen pallor that this woman is no longer living. The gaunt figure abruptly becomes sinister, then shocking as he suddenly gropes the dead woman’s breast. His long, slim fingers tense as he gazes upon his handiwork, and then he turns and drives toward us, and into the night. The screen goes black, illuminated by only a tracery of red spiderweb as the ominous music kicks in. We are watching The Killer Must Kill Again.
The movie resumes, this time on a quiet city street, perhaps even on that very night? It’s dark and peaceful, and the only person we see is an anonymous man strolling his bicycle down the sidewalk. But as the camera pans across the boulevard, zooming in on a lit window, we hear the angry voices of a domestic argument. The camera dissolves into a shockingly AWESOME yellow (GET IT?) apartment, and here we are introduced to Norma, who may or may not be stupid or hysterical. Seated on the genuine Muppethide sofa is Giorgio (George Hilton, of All the Colors of the Dark, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, etc), sporting silver wings in his hair that give him the air of an elder
statesman Lothario. From their bickering we come to understand that it’s Norma who holds the pursestrings in their marriage, and that she’s sick of Giorgio’s shit. Women calling day and night and talking in sexy voices, lies, debts … Though he denies the shenanigans, citing “business” and “clients,” Norma is through with him. She’s closing his bank account, cutting him off with a mere ten thousand dollars. Enraged, he calls her sick in the head and tells her he’s leaving. As he storms out, he asks her to tell that woman who’s been calling that he’s on his way. SICK BURN.
To calm himself, Giorgio drives through the city, ending up at a payphone, where he parks and tries calling Frederica, the putative sexy-voiced woman. After leaving a message with her roommate, Girorgio looks out over the water to reflect. In the distance is a red Beetle, and Giorgio notices our sinister gaunt figure. Without even checking that the coast is clear, our dear killer arranges his victim in the driver’s seat, then casually rolls the Beetle into the water. Our Dear Killer pauses to enjoy the sensation of a job haphazardly done–and the refreshing flavor of Marlboro Country: Where the flavor is–and it’s then that we really get a good look at this curiosity. Our Dear Killer is long, tall, and ugly, one of the oddest faces in film, one that only a mother–or casting agent–could love. Antoine Saint-John’s (The Beyond, My Name is Nobody) features are both skeletal and simian, and they are brutally shocking when Cozzi finally reveals them. Giorgio, however, knows a good thing when he sees one. Approaching ODK like a playboy would an ingenue, Giorgio takes ODK’s lighter, offering him a light–WITH HIS OWN LIGHTER. And then he makes an offer ODK cannot refuse.
They discuss the arrangement in what may be the world’s only late-night ice skating rink: ODK will murder Norma and dispose of her in such a way as to suggest that she’s been kidnapped. Giorgio will collect a ransom, which he will pay to ODK for his help, and the two will part ways, ODK to continue molesting dead women and disposing of them in a slipshod fashion, and Girogio to spend his dead wife’s inheritance and talking to sexy-voiced women. The perfect plan, yes? No! This being a thriller, nothing will go quite the way it should, and both Giorgio and ODK will play their own individual games of cat and mouse with a wily police detective and two joyriding teens, Luca and Laura. There’s a Woolrichian twist, and suddenly Giorgio must scramble to protect his hoax, while ODK pursues Luca and Laura, perhaps for his own reasons. Round and round it goes; where it stops, nobody knows.
What you are is an hysterical lunatic! Not only is The Killer must Kill Again (henceforth referred to as TKMKA) a taught thriller by any standards, it is also a unique giallo, one that upends genre conventions and alternates between asking hard questions and reveling in black humor. It’s a must-see for your gialli checklist. Or is it? Do its antecedents blind the viewer (read: Fisty) to its flaws?
Bill: Oh, man, I gotta say, I love how sleazy this one starts out. You have to admire a film that has Skeletor feeling up a dead slut in a red (the color of sluts) Volkswagen before you even see the title screen. Kind of a bad choice of car for aqueous body disposal, however, as Fisty has told me they float. Well, Beetles anyway. I don’t know if just any Volkswagon would float. Fisty?
Fisty: As far as I know, Bill, it’s just the old Beetles that were airtight. When I was little, we were driving my stepsister to her mom’s house in Ewa Beach, which still had a lot of undeveloped (read: dirt n’ gravel) streets when we came to an intersection that was one giant puddle. I mean, the ENTIRE intersection. My mom kept driving her ’78 Beetle Cabriolet through, and midway across we began to float. Fortunately, we had enough momentum so that the tires hit ground after a few minutes, and we continued on our merry way.
Enough digression! The Killer Must Kill Again! By the way, that’s kind of a terrible title, even in a genre known for bizarre international retitles and generally obscure titling practices. Actually, so is the original Italian title, Il Ragno, The Spider (which explains the title sequence). Well, it’s not great; perhaps something referring to the constant cat and mouse games would be better. I suppose the killer must indeed kill again, not only because he is apparently driven by unknown forces to kill, but also to cover his and Giorgio’s tracks. Our Dear Killer is not only a Man Without a Name–perhaps the initials DA on the lighter are his, or perhaps it belonged to a victim, we’ll never know more than Cozzi’s allusion to mentor Dario Argento–but also a Man Without an Apparent Motive. We learn nothing about him, not even in the film’s coda, but that he is driven to kill and that he makes what legions of my past arithmetic teachers would call “careless mistakes.” (I especially love the twist sequence, when he’s cleaning up after himself post-Norma and leaves … well, you’ll see.) Most gialli make at least a nod to compensating the audience’s interest in knowing the the motive, the why, the reason everything happened. In TKMKA we understand Giorgio’s motive–a wonderful spur of the moment one, and very mercenary too, also contra to the usual elaborate and long-cherished giallomotive–but never ODK’s. And Antoine Saint-John, what a great killer. He could just rely on his bone structure to sell the inscrutable murderer, but he never does. His body language, his eyes, they sell his role. Even in moments when he doesn’t speak a word–a particular one we’ll discuss later–he communicates an essential humanity. And damn, he is funky looking.
Saint-John and Hilton really carry the film. Not that the rest of the cast sucks, by any means. No, Cozzi assembled a band of professionals. I find Cristina Galbó’s (What Have You Done to Solange?, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) Laura a bit too passive a nonentity but fine, and Alessio Orano (Lisa and the Devil) is competent with his slimy Luca (and he really looks weirdly familiar to me; perhaps he just looks like he could be hanging out on the North Shore–I don’t know). Femi is Femi, god love her. Tere Velázquez’ (The Night of a Thousand Cats) Norma is well-played, taut and histrionic. And of course veteran villain Eduardo Fajardo (Django, The Mercenary, Compañeros) has a good time with his clever police inspector role. BUT! The bulk of the movie concentrates on Giorgio and ODK; in fact, we presume that Giorgio is the protagonist, only to discover with a Cornell Woolrich-worthy twist that ODK is the real heart of the movie–in more ways than one. Hilton’s Giorgio is the framing story, though he does end up being the baddest of the bad men, and a cold motherfucker, too; despite his extramarital affairs, he lusts only for money. We even see him tenderly caressing the filthy lucre at one point. His motive for doing away with Norma has nothing to do with the other (sexy-voiced) women, but is all about the Benjamins. I daresay he married her for it, after all. ODK, on the other hand, is a man consumed by his passions. Granted, those passions amount to rape and murder–not always in that order–but his is the emotional core of the movie. He kills because he is driven to it for whatever reason, and is shocked and exhausted by his biggest murder scene, while Giorgio calculatedly kills because he wants to, because it gains him something. He is the really nasty one.
The two have a strange relationship, with a kind of a maybe gay subtext. Look at how they meet, Giorgio picking up ODK like a john with a streetwalker, particularly the very sexually charged gesture of lighting ODK’s cigarette, WITH HIS OWN LIGHTER. (I cannot emphasize that enough. Where are my ULTRACAPS?) Now, moving along, when they first hash out The Plan, it’s an the all-night ice skating rink, a date location. And Cozzi treats us to some splendid play on the male gaze and class consciousness with his featuring an ice skater throughout their conversation; there are some really nifty edits here, too. Their second date is in a movie theater (Fun fact: The movie playing is The Tunnel Under the World, Cozzi’s indie first project.), where they all but hold hands as they finalize their plans. And lest we forget, all Giorgio can think about while making love to Norma is ODK (and The Plan, yes yes, I know). This is not unfamiliar territory for Hilton, who played with gay subtext in several of his spaghetti Westerns (see Every Man for Himself and Fulci’s Massacre Time), and he is the essence of all that is smooth whether with the ladies or the gents. As per uszh, amirite? Though ODK also is hetero-not-so-normative is his attentions to women, he is easily seduced into Giorgio’s plan, because it is something he’s into all along. Both men are flexible, able to insinuate themselves into whatever role is necessary.
They’re both devious, and fiends in their own ways, ODK somewhat less so. But so are all the men in the movie. They’re all liars, intent on playing their games with each other, and the women are merely the means to their ends. Giorgio toys with ODK, who toys with Norma, then Luca and Laura. Luca plays with Laura, and the Inspector plays with Giorgio. (Another upending of genre convention: The police inspector knows all along what kind of game Giorgio is playing, he’s just cynically setting a trap for him. Not so much the bumbling polizia of other films.) Every woman is a hapless victim and sexual object; interestingly, they all outrank the men with whom they are paired, too. Sexual and class warfare mingle in a commentary on contemporary Italian society.
Bill: Digression? Moi? No way, Mrs. Homo-Subtext. I was totally giving you an in to talk about all the killery blunders, like trying to dispose of a body in a car that’s still going to be visible at the surface of the water days later without even looking around to see that some dude is watching you. Like you said, however, despite his “careless mistakes,” ODK is a great baddy. I love that we never get to know his story. He is a total old school mystery murderer, like The Shape or Leatherface or Billy from Black Christmas. Why does he kill? Because he does and that’s all you need to know. One little action of his, even more than the killing and corpse groping, provides some meat for your ‘magination about just how ‘”off” he is, and maybe why, and that’s the way he tenderly, even believably, professes to love one of his victims as he’s brutally attacking her. Man, what a creep! And, yeah, he looks like an emaciated Seal in whiteface, which helps.
Fisty: Now, I gotta stop for a moment, and call your attention to something. I’m not sure you realize how AMAZING it is that TKMKA is so good. Because it is, if you have a passing knowledge of its director, Luigi Cozzi. You see, Cozzi is perhaps most well known for his Video Nasty, the inoffensive Alien meets Zombie sci-fi schlocker Contamination. He also did Starcrash and some Hercules flicks, among others. What these later films have in common is that they’re all pretty bad. Fun, incoherent, harmlessly silly entertainment for devotees of Italian genre films, and MST3K fodder. Even knowing that he worked with Argento on Four Flies on Gray Velvet, among other projects, seeing his name attached to a giallo, and then discovering that the film in question is undeniably GOOD would be like finding out that Chris Sivertson directed Silence of the Lambs. Which he did not. Because he makes not good movies. Get it?
Bill: Dude. You forgot to mention the Italian Godzilla. How could you forget to mention Cozzilla?
Fisty: One way in which TKMKA is dissimilar to other gialli is the style. Simply put, TKMKA is somewhat lacking in that department. Not to say that it’s ugly, not at all. But it has far fewer of the striking (and campy) fashion and set dressing to which I am accustomed from other notable gialli. One exception is the Mainardi’s giallo apartment–which isn’t a set, but someone’s actual living space! It’s amazing, a swankily tacky modernist’s tacky dream/nightmare, all glossy surfaces odd angles. The low budget precluded a lot of elaborate sets, and Cozzi sets most of the action in the apartment, or the stolen car, or at a few random locales like the canal. The only other noteworthy location is the seaside villa, which is not so much stylish as ominously bizarre. Did Hieronymous Bosch decorate?
Fashion-wise, there are only two ensembles I even remember: ODK’s and Femi’s. The former is a sleek, all black bell-bottomed look, later accented by the classy Mercedes he drives–the one L&L steal. ODK has a low-key luxe air, which sharply contrasts with Giorgio’s antiseptic tastelessness. I only noted Femi’s because it was reminiscent of her police interview ensemble in Strip Nude for Your Killer–but less slutty. So TKMKA strays from the giallo mold (ha!) in making stylishness part of the landscape, rather than a focus.
I had about enough digression earlier, but I’m gonna digress again over here for a minute. It’s still blowing my mind a little about Cozzi making TKMKA. I’m fascinated by how a director with such an assured, skillful film debut could have gone on to a career like his. If I’d never heard of Cozzi, or seen anything else by him, and had only seen TKMKA, I would expect him to either have a lot of genre output like most other directors of the period, but specializing in horror or thrillers (Bava, Martino, Lenzi, etc). or to have stayed within the horror/thriller genre, rather than going on to science fiction, fantasy with science fiction flava, or horror with science fiction flava. But after seeing him interviewed on the DVD, I now understand. Cozzi is a thougtful, intelligent, well-spoken … fanboy. A sci-fi fanboy like whoa. And unfortunately, he was a) plagued by too many grandiose ideas on too-small budgets, and secondly, not good at that thing he loves. Which is sad. If only he’d continued with gialli…
Bill: Enough about enough digression! I think your familiarity with Cozzi’s other work is leading you to over-praise TKMKA a bit. Yes, it’s a good movie, Saint-John is great, Hilton is great, but it does have a really big flaw: The middle third of the movie is BORING! The first third is great, introducing you to a charmingly amoral husband, a creepily creepy killer, and a sort of Hitchcockian, Strangers on a Trainish plot that’s pretty unique for a giallo. The last third, starting with a nasty rape/murder scene that is intercut with some fun car sex (the standout scene in the movie,) is pretty great, too. In between, however, is a lengthy stretch of teen carfeefs, Luca and Laura, just driving and not having sex and talking and not having sex and going to the beach and not having sex and exploring an old villa and not having sex and trying to make the place comfy and not having sex and being hungry and OH MY FUCKING GOD, LAURA, WOULD YOU JUST GIVE IT UP ALREADY! The movie is only 86 minutes long, for fuck’s sake!
Exhale. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. … Ok. I’m fine now.
So, yeah, TKMKA is kind of like The Toolbox Murders in that regard. It’s not ruined by the slow crawl through the middle, but it is kept from being really great.
Fisty: I think you’re being a little hard on it. Yes, it does drag a bit, but less than a lot of gialli that are too busy throwing red herrings around and showing how stupid the polizia are and how clever the general public in comparison. And I feel Cozzi actually keeps moving things along during that section: Though I give a rip neither about Laura putting out and Luca being a steaming turd of a person, nor the subtext of those things, we’ve got Giorgio and the police inspector’s amusing little cat and mouse game going on, and Cozzi using ODK’s search for Luca and Laura to slowly amp up the suspense. We know he will have to find them, and that SOMETHING will happen when he does, but Cozzi stretches out that suspense unbearably; the whole reason things slow there is to increase the tension. And this is a remarkably tense thriller.
And it’s funny you should mention Hitchcock. Like the Master, Cozzi eschews the surprise factor so integral to the giallo, to the mystery, and concentrates on the suspense in the story, playing with our expectations as the maestro would. After all, as I’ve previously mentioned: For the most part, we know what will happen in TKMKA. We just don’t know how. Cozzi slowly increases the tension steadily throughout, sustaining and building on everything prior until we reach that final, standout scene. Norma is particularly useful for that. First there’s the scene where ODK comes to kill her. We know why he’s there, though she doesn’t, but she senses the inherent wrongness in ODK. Her nerves, and the way he toys with her makes the scene incredibly creepy–and in sometimes unexpected ways. When she returns from fetching him a drink, she doesn’t see him. But it’s not because he’s no longer in the room, or is sneaking up behind her, he’s simply moved elsewhere, throwing her off balance (along with our expectations).
Her corpse provides more of that unexpected tension. There are so many near misses, moments when you’re just SURE she’s going to pop out of the trunk, changing the game … but she doesn’t. It’s only at the final act that Femi Benussi, in her role of “Dizzy Blonde” (And oh, is she dizzy. And irritating.), FINALLY opens the trunk and Norma is FINALLY discovered. ODK appears just then, and Femi is just stricken. You see a glimmer of suspicion, but she wants to believe ODK too much, and she goes with him into the villa to her doom. It’s an absolutely riveting moment in all its inevitability. From the moment we met Femi, we knew she would die, that it was foreordained and only a matter of when and how. But standing there on that grey, beach, before that decayed villa, Femi is so glowingly vital and alive and–despite her irritating character–so human that it’s almost unbearable to see her go off to her end, especially when it seems that she is unconsciously aware that it IS her end. But the movie doesn’t end there, and we get no relief from the tension.
Bill: Luca isn’t that bad. He’s very patient with Laura, even when she’s yammering on at him about the rich dudes that take her out joyriding in their daddy’s cars, knowing that poor Luca has to steal a car, just to take her out. And he always stops to help stranded motorists. Especially ones he wants to have sex with behind his girl’s back. Or in a threesome with his girl, who he will leave behind if she doesn’t consent. Okay, the guy’s a turd. But at least he’s handsome. He looks kind of like that Jordan Catalano kid would if Jared Leto had darker hair and was male.
Anyway… I still think the movie needed a little something extra–some titties? some murder?–some kind of action to liven up the plodding middle. The worlds slowest car chase and the world’s most laid back cop just weren’t cutting it. Sure, the ever-threatening to pop out Norma corpse adds some suspense, but that wasn’t enough to keep me fully engaged. While you’re spot on about the stalking/slayings of Dizzy Blonde and Norma being tense stuff and way more competently handled than you’d expect, given Cozzi’s other flicks, those scenes are at opposite ends of the film and probably have a good hour between them. And, a minor gripe: In the aftermath of the attack on Dizzy Blonde, Cozzi did linger a bit too long on Femi continuing to breathe after she was supposed to have been dead. I got a laugh out of that.
We’ve got ahead of ourselves though. We’re talking about the Femi stalk and discovery of bodies already, when we’ve only passingly mentioned the roughest, most vile, most powerful scene in the movie. After taking forever to get there, ODK finally comes into contact with our trio of young innocents and you get to see how really depraved the skull-faced bastard is. He spouts off about “love” while brutally attacking and raping one crying girl. That’s bad enough, but the scene isn’t just played out straight. Instead, it’s interspersed with scenes of a different couple having empty, carefree, backseat sex in a car parked just off of a nearby road. I’m trying not to spoil too much of the movie, so it’s hard to talk about this scene and how it will make you feel for the victim and what it will make you think, besides just yo-yoing you between titilation and revulsion. It’s this scene that kicks off the violent climax of the movie and has you retracting your wishes from just a few moments before, that something would happen already. Now you feel bad for, and are praying for mercy for, characters that you were previously annoyed with.
Fisty: The last thing TKMKA needs is more murder, and I’d usually grant you the titties on general principle, but in this case, I just can’t. One of the reasons the finale is so effective is because when the killing suddenly begins, it is shocking because we suddenly realize how little blood we’ve seen so far. And since we as viewers of gialli have expectations about the amount and type of gore and violence we will see, it is especially disconcerting, adding to the shock value of the finale.
The rape scene is nasty, powerful stuff, one of the grimmest scenes in a often grim genre. I’ve seen a lot of rape scenes in movies, and this is perhaps the worst of all. Not necessarily because it’s explicit–no, Cozzi is extremely circumspect. It’s because the rape scene is the apogee of a technique and idea Cozzi has been using to toy with us, the viewers, throughout the entire film. Or, depending on your perspective, it’s the absolute nadir.
Now, I’mma back up here for a minute. Cozzi uses a cross-cut technique several times in TKMKA, including in the rape scene, and always to great and disturbing effect. After Giorgio and ODK make their plans, Giorgio returns home, well pleased with himself, and proceeds to take an essential step: Making nice with Norma. In order to allay suspicions and especially to prevent her from making any financial changes to his detriment, he must seduce his wife all over again. And, being George Sexy Motherfucker Hilton, he does. But all the while, as Giorgio makes sweet, sweet love to Norma, Cozzi cross-cuts to the previous scene with OH NO, NOT THAT FACE ODK. Cozzi juxtaposes Giorgio’s outward and inward feelings, the passionate lovemaking and the calculated plans for murder, and it’s extremely disquieting. Cozzi further plays on our feelings of unease during Norma’s murder, cross-cutting again, this time between ODK toying with and then killing her and Giorgio setting his alibi, partying and laughing it up with friends. Then, ages after those sequences, nearing the finale, we’re suddenly assaulted by another cross-cut, this time of the rape/lovemaking scene Bill mentioned above.
On the one hand there’s Luca and Femi going at it with sensual abandon, and it’s good stuff to look at: sexy, beautiful, fun. And on the other there’s Saint-John’s harsh, impassive features and Laura’s eyes streaming tears–which is about as much as we ever see of the rape, which is neither exploitative nor explicit. But her terror and pain is so explicit, and the humanity Saint-John projects so pitiful, that the brutality is heightened to an unbearable degree. Thanks to superb direction and editing on Cozzi’s part, and Saint-John’s acting, ODK is implicitly human; this savage rape is as close to a normal human interaction as he is capable of, and perhaps the only way he can feel feeeeelings. In contrast, Luca’s essential vapidity, callousness, and lack of humanity makes his lovemaking with Femi empty and shallow. Who is the real monster, ODK or Luca, the little Giorgio in training? And beneath even that is Cozzi’s great joke on us all: As spectators, we can enjoy neither the sex nor the violence we came to see and take pleasure in, and furthermore, we are complicit in the crimes by our very act of watching.
Cozzi knows his audience, the giallo‘s audience. Not looking so much for art or story, they/we came for shocks, style, sex, and violence. Hence the beefing up of so many gialliwith red herrings and drawn out, ever increasingly gory and elaborate murder sequences and nudity. Hell, some movies were only made to surround the murder setpieces someone conceived of beforehand. I’m not looking at anyone in particular, DA. Cozzi throws those expectations out with the bathwater and implicates the spectators in the violence in TKMKA.
Bill: Ahem. “Then, ages after those sequences…” Exactly my point. The majority of the praise you’re heaping on the movie is for scenes at the beginning of the flick and at the very end. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like TKMKA. A lot. Every nice thing you’ve said about it is spot on. THIS IS A REALLY GOOD MOVIE. Bold. Underlined. I just think the pacing was a little off, the middle a little too slow. It’s not a long movie. It doesn’t need any cuts, but just a tad something extra to pump you up when it lags. Now I’m harping on the problem, like it’s the worst fucking thing ever. It’s not, it just seems that way, because I don’t have anything else to bitch about, because, again, it’s a good movie. It’s got savage violence, a menacing baddie, suspense in excess, a few fun, unintentional laughs, and an original plot. Great at both ends and okay in the middle.
Oh, and one last thing from me: That Giorgio may be one scummy fuck, but he sure knows how to handle himself with class, even when he’s backed into a corner.
Fisty: He’s Beverly Hills classy.
Also: YOU’RE NOT LISTENING. But, I’m done. There’s so much we barely touched on, but we’ll leave that for someone’s dissertation.
I think it’s safe to say we agree that The Killer Must Kill Again is a bravura giallo, worth your time and consideration. Luigi Cozzi demonstrates surprising mastery of the genre, jettisoning many tropes and deconstructing its ass off, occasionally even outdoing his mentor, Dario Argento. Clever use of a low budget, skillful photography and editing, subtle direction, a good soundtrack, and excellent performances all make for a gripping and merciless thriller, with nods to Hitchcock, Leone, Tourneur, Truffaut, roman noir, and Universal horror, among other allusions. The only real disappointment for me is that Cozzi did no more. Perhaps if it had been released when it was made at the height of the giallo craze we would have seen more fine work from him in that genre. Oh well, at least we have Cozzilla.