A refreshingly reserved and chilling slice of Venetian Giallo
Where I eagerly await a label like Criterion or Kino to canonize some of my favorite films, I eagerly await Arrow announcements because I trust them to guide me to more buried treasures of Genre cinema. While I’m a major Argento fan, Suspiria topping them all, I actually haven’t seen many Gialli — and I’m conscious that my favorite primary color-soaked horror only barely scrapes by being called Giallo to begin with. Focusing more on detective elements and shocking murders, Giallo cinema enjoyed a modest boom throughout the 1970s, cultivated in part by a post-production ADR process that allowed international stars to star in these low-budget pictures without needing to know the language the film might be in. Arrow’s latest resurrection in this genre is Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die?, a Venetian creepfest that surprisingly predates its more well-known parallel, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.
Here, newly-minted James Bond George Lazenby plays divorced sculptor Franco Serpieri, who enjoys the company of his newly-arrived young daughter Roberta while working in Venice. After Roberta’s body appears floating in a canal, Serpieri and his estranged wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg) become dedicated to catching Roberta’s killer. Their journey takes them deep into Venice’s high society and artistic underworld, with all sorts of sordid characters eager to hold tight to their dark secrets.
I was frequently surprised by how Who Saw Her Die? distinguished itself from other Gialli in its aversion to gore and cheap thrills in favor of sharp social criticism. Lazenby’s grief-stricken father is a well-drawn, compelling protagonist, one who avoids the usual seedy temptations of other similar films by staying wholly dedicated towards uncovering the truth. The film’s supporting characters area made up of an impressive cross-section of Italian society, from those in power (Thunderball’s Adolfo Celi), to those eager to profit from covering up their crimes, to the victims who’re equally willing to profit from exposing them (Dominique Boschero).
As made clearer in the film’s special features, the film’s sharp-tongued subject matter did at times run afoul of censors — but here, newly restored in 2K from the original negatives, Lado’s themes of societal and religious corruption feel unnervingly current. Despite beginning with a shockingly blunt murder of a child, Who Saw Her Die? is a film that forgoes more overt violent setpieces in favor of judicious cuts displaying more public, seedier yet socially-accepted acts of human cruelty. Serpieri’s investigation begins as a father atoning for the death of his daughter, and over time morphs into an overall descent into the roots of greater societal ills.
Despite being shot on a low budget, Who Saw Her Die? is well-aided by the natural production design a locale like Venice provides. Inspired by co-writer Francesco Barilli’s years working in Venice, the Floating City takes on a grotesque, labyrinthine air throughout. Canals seem endlessly roving; apartments and gymnasiums are retrofitted out of palatial halls; much like the characters who learn to live under the heels of corrupt power-holders, the denizens of Venice have learned to adapt and thrive in the ruins among them. Ennio Morricone’s score compliments this theme of rot among innocence, using surreal distortions of children’s choruses as little ones are led astray to their doom.
While the film does give way to Giallo tropes of convoluted mysteries with crimes committed by the sleaziest of characters, Who Saw Her Die? is worth a welcome watch for its attempts to inject social relevance and gravitas to the thrills it depicts.
Arrow’s individual care for their releases comes through with Who Saw Her Die?’s 2K restoration of the full-length Italian version of the film. For a low-budget film, the image quality is dazzlingly clear, especially in sunset-lit sequences overlooking the Venetian skyline, blustering droves of pigeons, or in the shadowy, decrepit ruins Serpieri discovers members of the Venetian underworld lurking in. For the English version, the sole differences are the film’s title cards and dubbing, which have been just as restored. It’s noted that the Italian version is the default version presented.
Who Saw Her Die? is presented in both Italian and English for their respective versions. Much like other Gialli of the period, the audio for the film was looped in post-production; both tracks, though, are rich and symphonic, with much care given to the haunting echoes of Ennio Morricone’s chaotic score. Newly-translated English subtitles are available for the Italian version, and SDH subtitles are available for the English version.
- New audio commentary by author and critic Troy Howarth: A scene-specific commentary in which the film critic and author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava discusses the film’s Venice production, the involvement of George Lazenby, and Who Saw Her Die?’s place in the Giallo canon.
- I Saw Her Die: Director Aldo Lado provides an in-depth hour-long interview covering his career, from assisting director Bernardo Bertolucci on The Conformist to working with George Lazenby, who had grown more used to the frills of being a James Bond actor than he’d like to admit.
- Nicoletta, Child of Darkness: Actress Nicoletta Elmi discusses her experiences growing up as a child actress playing roles in English and Italian, as well as fond memories of working with star George Lazenby while playing the role of Who Saw Her Die?’s ill-fated child star.
- Once Upon a Time in Venice: Co-writer Francesco Barilli discusses the process of the script’s creation, from initial pitches as a certain kind of murderer of children, its larger themes involving Italian societal pressures, childhood influences, to his working relationship with director Aldo Lado.
- Giallo in Venice: Author and critic Michael Mackenzie gives a brief video appreciation of the film, including a contextualization of the film within Lado’s career and among other Gialli.
- Essays by Troy Howarth and Kim Nesbit: Focuses on Who Saw Her Die?’s attempts at garnering international appeal and larger themes of loss of innocence, respectively.
- Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
- Image Gallery: Featuring international posters and promotional material.
- Reversible Cover Art: Featuring new art by Haunt Love and the film’s original Italian poster art.
Who Saw Her Die? is available on DVD and Blu-ray September 17, 2019 courtesy of Arrow.