Monday, October 28, 2013

The Embalmer AKA Monster of Venice ( Il Monstro di Venezia) 1965

"Beauty After Beauty Dragged To A Sunken Crypt...Petrified Playthings Of
 The Embalmer"

     Odd little Italian horror flick from 1965, the same year that produced the delirious Bloody Pit of Horror, the Barbara Steele vehicles Nightmare Castle & Terror Creatures From the Grave along with the Mario Bava space horror fever dream Planet of the Vampires. When placed alongside these the Dino Tavella directed The Embalmer seems almost quaint in comparison with a somewhat creakily put forth story line for 1965 (probably for 1955 also...) along with some great unrealized potential lurking there about. With its hooded killer as a fake monster and PG rated cheesecake this has more in common with the German Edgar Wallace "krimi" films being produced at the time then its fellow Italian horror projects from the same year.

   Hiding out in the catacombs of Venice (beneath a hotel & nightclub) a fiend in Monks robes and a skull mask periodically ventures out in the canals in a skin diving outfit to snatch girls off the always strangely deserted Venetian streets and drag them back to his underground liar. Once there he embalms them (off -screen of course) and places their bodies in display cases where he can "gaze upon their eternal beauty as they will never grow old".  As with the usual plot point, ineffectual police plod about looking for the killer while the the main hero guy Andrea (a newspaper reporter of course) played by Luigi Martocci (or as he's credited here "Gin Mart" !?) presciently investigates the weird goings-on.

   Luckily for the Embalmer (and for us) a bunch of twenty-something "schoolgirls" from Rome show up at the hotel chaperoned by Maureen (Maureen Brown) who upon making the acquittance of Andrea accepts his invitation for a tour of Venice. Unfortunately this means that next we're treated to some mind numbly boring travel log footage that ends up at the nightclub where an Italian Elvis impersonator (in a black turtleneck) emerges out of a coffin (!?) and bangs out a pop ditty. To help make things (hopefully) more interesting a lecherous desk clerk at the hotel has a handy some one-way glass installed in the women's dressing room.

   In addition to the random female victims (who have their face shown by a freeze-frame right before their demise) the Embalmer also knocks off a snooping archaeologist who's been poking around the basement of the hotel and sticks his body in Elvis's coffin so it falls out before the nightclub audience. After the Embalmer drags one of the schoolgirls right out of a gondola into a canal, Andrea then dons his own wet suit to track down the fiends lair while at the same time Maureen finds a secret passage in the hotel and in the best tradition of Italian horror heroines grabs a nearby candelabra and heads down to the catacombs (although quite not up to Barbara Steele's candelabra carrying, she does a pretty competent job). Its here that the movie does sluggishly come to life a bit as it creates a fair amount of tension and sets up some pretty nifty set pieces such as the room of hooded seated skeletons (old entombed monks ??).

    The big problem with this movie (in addition to the dragged out middle section & tons of filler) is that the Venice setting is never really utilized what with the dreary B&W photography (one wonders what Mario Bava could have done with this project) with even the scenes in the  Embalmer's liar having a flatness & dullness to them. What could have been great elements - petrified woman, creepy hooded monster & underground catacombs are never really exploited for their potential - plus the sometimes hilarious dubbing & a jazz library score don't help matters much. The Embalmer endlessly perfonicating in front of his displays of petrified babes does have a certain charm however and admittedly, I am a sucker for these  movies.
   It was released in 1966 on a double bill with Michael Reeves directorial debut The She Beast (which itself is a bit of a endurance test) and later in 1973 was put in a triple bill with The Corpse Grinders & The Undertaker and his Pals (where it must have seemed absolutely prehistoric by that time). A long time constant presence in those cheap horror multi-packs, Retro-media released this on DVD in non-anamorphic widescreen from a slighty worn 35mm print. Once again a big thanks to Kevin J. Olson over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies for putting this blogathon together.



  1. Im always a sucker for skull guys, might be part of why I'm enjoying the Blind Dead movies so much.

  2. You can't go wrong with a skull guy. The Phantom of Soho has a great one.