"Watch Me When I Kill" is undoubtedly an Argento-inspired giallo knock off, some might even say a rip-off. By 1977 the giallo subgenre's conventions and motifs were well established, but this whole movie plays at times like an actual remake of Dario Argento's masterpiece "Deep Red", with everything from the core relationship between the male and female protagonists to the plectrum-pounding electric bass lines of the music cues that kick-in before every set-piece murder sequence replicated with an almost comically slavish verisimilitude. The music score is the first clue to where Bido's film is actually coming from, so similar is it to Goblin's groundbreaking Prog Rock score for "Deep Red". Trans Europa Express, the group credited with writing much of the score here, even overdub a few "Suspiria"-inspired music box arpeggios and wailing, witch-like moans and screams, just to consolidate the already very obvious Argento connection. ("Suspiria" had been released only a few months before, so it must have seemed very obvious to audiences at the time.)
As the film progresses it is easy to see how plot, incident, and character have all been influenced by Argento's oeuvre up to then. Even the original title of the film, which translates as "The Cat with the Jade Eyes" ("Watch Me When I Kill" is the international title), is a reference to Argento's animal trilogy -- despite the fact that there are no references to cats anywhere in the film (the brief shots of what appear to be cat's eyes, which flash on screen just before each murder, are in fact a shot of the eyes of a teddy bear from a picture which appears as a clue later in the film).
If anyone ever needed a demonstration of what sets the early and middle-period work of Dario Argento apart from just about everyone else who ever worked in the giallo genre (even the other popular names like Martino and Fulci), then they need only watch this and "Deep Red" back-to-back. That would tell them more than I or anyone else ever could say in a review, because "Watch Me When I Kill" is actually not a bad film at all, despite its derivative nature. It probably comes fairly high up in the middle tier of gialli by directors who never specialised in the genre but who nontheless were able to replicate its features adequately enough (although Bido's "The Bloodstained Butterfly" is miles better). It just doesn't ever come near the heart-stopping brilliance of "Deep Red", despite being so crammed full of aural, visual and plot references to that and other Argento films. It certainly never recreates the profound unease and the unsettling atmosphere, the air of uncanniness with which Argento imbues almost every frame of his original film. That's not to say Bido doesn't come up with some very worthy material along the way.
The film begins with a murder. A jittery chemist called Dezzan (Giovanni Vannini) is axed in the head, and stage actress and dancer Mara (Paola Tedesco) gets involved when she hears the voice of the killer after she inadvertently interrupts him while stopping off on the way to the theatre to pick up some headache tablets. When first his ex-wife, Mara, is targeted by the killer and then his next door neighbour starts receiving strange, threatening phone calls, mustachioed sound-engineer Lukas (Corrado Pani) also gets involved. With Mara unwilling to bring in the police, she and a reluctant Lucas decide -- in true giallo style -- to solve the crime themselves!
A tape of the neighbour's phone calls reveals that it is made up of a disturbing concoction of growling Dobermans and human screams. The neighbour, one Giovanni Bozzi (Fernando Cerulli), seems a bit shifty about the whole thing and when his "friend" Esmeralda (Bianca Toccafondi) is also murdered (by having her head shoved into an oven, in a face scolding scene ripped straight from a similar scolding bath scene in "Deep Red") it is discovered that Dezzan and she, and Bozzi the neighbour, all served on a jury which convicted one Pasquale Ferrante (Franco Citti) of murder several years previously. When Lukas learns that Ferrante has recently escaped from prison, he goes to warn the then-presiding judge (Giuseppe Addobbati) that he also might be in danger. However, unbeknown to he and Mara, the truth is even more macabre; and when Bozzi is finally killed (after several previous failed attempts) by being strangled in his bath with a shower cable while hiding out in the picturesque town of Padua, Lukas goes there to finally confront the strange truth.
The film follows a very familiar course, and not just to fans of "Deep Red", although it is definitely a similar story. This form of plot is basically the giallo template, variations on it proliferate throughout the genre. The relationship between Mara and Lukas obviously recalls that of Daria Nicolodi and David Hemmings (not least because Paola Tedesco looks very much like the young Daria), although the added twist of having them be ex-husband and wife, and that during the course of solving the crime they fall in love again, is a good one and works well here. Their relationship is very sweet, not least because of Lukas's understated reaction to all the male suitors which come Mara's way during the course of the film.
Bido is good at building up suspense before each murder scene; his style is of course much more conventional than Argento's, who in this period was experimenting wildly with peripatetic camera moves, strange angles and offbeat POV shots. Bido takes a much more Hitchcockian approach but manages to build tension nicely before Esmeralda's death scene; and his handling of the bath strangulation -- which is choreographed and edited to fit a snippet of Verdi opera -- though inspired by "Psycho", comes the closest to capturing the energy of Argento's work. The plot is contrived to bring in other classic references such as the sequence with Lukas discovering a clue in a taped message (an idea taken from "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage") and his exploration of a crumbling old house a la "Deep Red", where secrets from the past hold the key to a present mystery. (Although Bido rather over-eggs it by having a cackling madman spring up out of nowhere!) Bido also unconsciously echoes Argento by staying away from explicit sex scenes in the film. The giallo often happily wallowed in seedy sex, but Argento was actually one of the few who stayed away from this aspect of the genre almost completely during his heyday.
Bido, who was not a fan of the giallo at the time the film was shot, but who has since revised his opinion on the films of this period in Italy's cinema, has taken part in a twenty minute video interview for this Shameless release where he claims that he hadn't previously seen the work of Argento. Apparently he thought of himself as an "art house" director at the time! Unlikely as it sounds, it is possible Bido really wasn't aware of Argento: the Goblin-clone score may not have had anything to do with him, and the script, though full of Argento-derived ideas, is the result of a collaboration between Bido and at least five other writers! Bido's own directorial style meanwhile is nothing like Argento's. It could be seen as being far more workmanlike, although it comes to life in the sequences already referred to. The film does tend to drag though, with far too much emphasis on prosaic sleuthing; unlike Argento who is quite happy to rely on all sorts of unlikely devices -- such as psychic visions and the like -- in order to progress the story in interesting and unpredictable ways. Along with this absorbing interview, in which Bido reveals that he is planning to make a new genre picture, Shameless present another of their text commentaries. Here the Wilson Brothers offer up their own mix of production facts, opinion and amusing comments on the on-screen action. A selection of trailers and alternative title sequences round off a very pleasing collection of extras.
The film itself doesn't look too great. Bido explains that the Gevaert film stock used to give the film an interesting washed-out look at the time, hasn't fared well over the years. Although it looks quite blurry and muddy, Shameless's new release does still look a great deal better than past versions: the VCI disc I previously owned was so dark that it was completely impossible to see what was going in some portions of the film. This then is a vast improvement and it appears it is never likely to look any better.