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Countdown to Halloween: "E" is for The Embalmer (1965)




The physical characteristics of a 1960s low-budget American horror movie are distinct, but similar characteristics of a 1960s low budget Euro-horror film are usually masked by unique style and exotic locations; they somehow just don't feel as cheap. There are exceptions to every rule, though, and The Embalmer (1965) is one in this instance.

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The fundamental indication that a movie, American or European, is "cheap" is when one type of room is used as the set for an entirely different kind of room and, in a poor attempt to disguise the difference, a curtain is hung along the back wall. I'm just saying, I haven't seen many police stations with curtains for walls (not that police don't have a knack for interior design.)

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Just because a movie looks cheap does not mean I won't like it. I liked The Embalmer. It has a definite Phantom of the Opera vibe, although the "monster's" lair is not beneath an opera house; it's beneath a hotel dinner club (as best I can tell.) The music and frivolity from the establishment is clearly heard within the lair.

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Neither does the killer (not actually a monster at all) focus on only one woman. He dons his wetsuit, dives into the canals of Venice, and leaps out to abduct a number of beautiful young women, then takes them to his lair where he embalms them, places them in a glass display case, and whispers sweet nothings to them like, "You shall be my goddesses, preserved here forever."

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This is not a spoiler. We witness his modus operandi before the opening credits even begin. This makes for a terrifically creepy start to the movie. It remains pretty creepy, too, as long as the mystery man is moving around either in a hooded cloak in his lair, or in his wetsuit in the water. It's only when his face is revealed and the story shifts gear into action that the thrills lessen.

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When the authorities are reluctant to believe the theory of relentless local reporter, Andrea (Luigi Martocci), that there's a maniac running around the city, he takes it upon himself to solve the mystery and stop said maniac. No, they don't believe there's a serial killer, but instead say, "Your story should be serialized for readers of comic books!"

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Meanwhile, the killer grows quite prolific, just as a busload of young female tourists arrives in town. Andrea somehow takes the group under his wing, acts as their tour guide, and falls in love with one of them. Naturally, she'll become a potential victim. If you don't recognize that fact by the formula, the camera often does a freeze-frame on the face of the future embalmed beauties.

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The killer also grows bolder. In the beginning, he's discreet, snatching women one by one. By the end, he's tipping entire gondolas and grabbing whoever falls out. There's never any explanation for why he's doing this and I'm not even completely sure of his identity. That's due to the poor public domain print I watched, as well as some horrendous dubbing.

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Still, I like the gothic trappings such as the dimly lit subterranean passages and even a secret door in the fireplace. The Embalmer is one of only two movies directed by Dino Tavella. He's also credited for the story and as one of its four writers. It's not a good movie by any means, but it is fun.

Written by Paolo Lombardo, Gian Battista Mussetto, Dino Tavella, Antonio Walter

Directed by Dino Tavella

Starring Maureen Brown, Luigi Martocci, Alcide Gazzoto, Alba Brotto RT 83 min.

Home Video Retro Media (DVD)



Part of the Countdown to Halloween. Click here for a list of all the blogs participating. Each offers its own distinctive month long celebration of the chilling holiday we all love.