Signal Horizon

See Beyond

{Blu-Ray Review} Depraved People: Who Saw Her Die? (1972)

“Don’t be afraid, you will see everything.”

A year before Nicolas Roeg’s classic adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now hit screens, Italian director Aldo Lado (Short Night of Glass Dolls) helmed a surprisingly poignant Venetian giallo dealing with many of the same themes, albeit without Don’t Look Now’s supernatural trappings.

If you go online to read about Who Saw Her Die?, that’s the first—and most common—thing you’ll find. Next, you’ll read about how it stars former-James Bond George Lazenby—unrecognizably thin and sporting a substantial mustache, naturally.

Only after you’ve dug through those facets of the film will anyone start to write anything of substance about the picture itself, a haunting giallo that is at once formulaic and “a unique take on the genre,” depending on who you ask.

Photo Courtesy of Dieter Geissler Filmproduktion

The fact is—it’s kind of both. The first half hour of Who Saw Her Die? is probably among the best half-hours in the form. In a prologue, we see a child murder shocking less for its graphic qualities than for its desperation. The image of the figure trying frenziedly to hide the body in red-stained snow sticks in the mind more than many vicious set-piece killings in other films.

Taking place several years before the events of the movie, this opening does more than the usual cold opening of a horror flick—because of the nature of its victim, from the moment we meet the angelic red-haired daughter of George Lazenby’s sculptor character Franco, we know that she’s in danger.

All director Lado needs to do is drop in a few notes of Ennio Morricone’s extremely weird score (more on that in a minute) or a shot of a woman in black, and the tension ratchets up all on its own.

This frees Lado up to focus on building the relationship between Franco and his daughter Roberta, and it is that relationship that serves as an anchor for the entire rest of the film.

Photo Courtesy of Dieter Geissler Filmproduktion

Roberta is played by Nicoletta Elmi, who also appears in a handful of other prominent Italian horror flicks of the era, including Bay of Blood, Deep Red, Baron Blood, and Demons. While Lazenby and his co-stars are called upon to carry much of the rest of the film, this first half-hour belongs heavily to Elmi.

With a strong performance anchoring the role of the ill-fated Roberta, Lado also uses this first half-hour to establish the world around her as perverse and predatory—partly as a way of planting red herrings for the murder mystery to come, and partly as an element of the film’s broader themes of conspiracy and moral rot within society.

Unfortunately, once Roberta’s body is found floating in the canal, things begin to lose their initial power. The subsequent stalk-and-kill scenes feel more formulaic than the slowly cranking tension of the film’s first act, and the themes of loss and grief begin to lose their way in the convolutions of the conspiratorial plot.

Photo Courtesy of Dieter Geissler Filmproduktion

Even Morricone’s weird and divisive score—which incorporates children’s choirs on almost every track—hits harder in the film’s opening than by the time the climax rolls around.

If, when all is said and done, you’re left a little unsure of who all was doing what and why, the most that can probably be said is that this is far from an unusual experience with Italian horror movies, and Who Saw Her Die? is by no means the worst offender.

At least it all looks and sounds great on the new 2K restoration on the Arrow Video Blu-ray of the film.

The Venetian setting helps to set the film apart from much of the pack—while also setting it up for those inevitable, and not inaccurate, comparisons to Don’t Look Now—and so do Lado’s stylistic decisions. Lado’s Venice is equal parts shabby and majestic, as run-down as it is decadent.

Photo Courtesy of Dieter Geissler Filmproduktion

In an early conversation, Franco and his friend are discussing the state of the city, which his friend laments, saying that he could turn it into a place like Las Vegas and that if it goes on as it is, soon it’ll be a “dead city.” Franco, on the other hand, likes Venice, but he’ll like it better when it’s all underwater.

Many of the usual touches employed by Lado’s contemporaries—the weird gel lights of Bava and Argento, the elaborate kill set-pieces of pretty much everybody—are mostly absent from Who Saw Her Die? In their place, Lado opts for a more naturalistic palette, even while reaching for symbolic shots such as the din of pigeons flocking like television static around a square or the doors of a butcher shop closing to indicate a murder.