FORMULA FOR A MURDER (1985) BY ALBERTO DI MARTINO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: 7, Hyden Park: la casa maledetta; Formula per un assassinio; Das Haus der Verfluchten; Formule pour un meurtre
Director: Alberto De Martino (as Martin Herbert)
Writers: Alberto De Martino, Vincenzo Mannino
Year: 1985
Starring: David Warbeck, Christina Nagy, Carroll Blumenberg, Rossano Brazzi, Loris Loddi

Synopsis:
Joanna, who is wheelchair-bound after a horrific childhood attack, is a philanthropist who has funded a sports centre for paraplegics. She now plans to donate a large part of her wealth to the local church, but visions of a priest-looking figure carrying a blood-soaked doll start to haunt her…and whilst the apparitions seem to stem from Joanna’s traumatized psyche, they soon become horribly real! [Taken from the Shameless 2014 DVD release]

Review:
Opening with an almost dreamlike quality we witness a priest suspiciously approaching a young girl before throwing her doll away, perhaps symbolising the loss of childhood that is about to occur. Jump twenty-five years into the future and now grown up the young girl Joanna (Christina Nagy) is a paraplegic and keen archer, who is also romantically involved with her sports coach Craig (David Warbeck).

While this opening act provides us with some exposition and helps to frame the context in which the film will build on, such as Joanna’s precarious health; her relationship with best friend Ruth and the whirlwind romance with Craig, it is functional at best. The opening thirty minutes plod along barely managing to hold your attention and when the first act of real violence finally wakes us director De Martino does not take long to reveal the killer leaving the only mystery remaining being the motive. However even that doesn’t last long as we witness a tale of betrayal and greed that would be at home in any classic anthology horror movie.

Despite these pacing issues and a simplistic plot the script actually contains a few nicely written pieces of dialogue and a couple of moments of genuine quality as Warbeck plays psychological mind games in a bid to induce his sinister motives. Not to mention the possibility fans have to discuss the empowerment Craig feels when dressed up, seemingly changing both his manner and confidence. Although whether this was a premeditated decision by the film makers, Warbeck’s own contribution or simply pure luck we will sadly never know.

Now as stated the plot is a bit simplistic, especially for a mystery-thriller, and in a bid to throw a bit more complexity into the mix we have the additional character of Ruth. It transpires that Ruth is from the same city as Craig and is as equally cold-hearted and calculating as her City-mate. Although Joanna herself has a few surprises as well just to keep things interesting as the story eventually picks up in the final third with one scene in particular reminiscent of TORSO and many slashers of the period. If there was one criticism of the finale however it is almost regrettable to say but the sight of Joanna escaping from her would be killer slowly in a motorised wheelchair is almost comical and borderline implausible but thankfully De Martino has an answer for that and saves the day.

Credit has to go to the cast for making a hum drum affair just that bit better, with Warbeck in particular showing just why for a while he was so highly regarded before dropping into B-Movie obscurity. It is also surprising that the attractive and competent actress Carroll Blumenberg never went on to have a career in acting.

Sadly though FORMULA FOR A MURDER is just a bit bland for the most part and the slow build of the first act seeks sadly is not justified by the admittedly strong final act. Essentially FORMULA FOR A MURDER plays more like a TV movie, which perhaps says something about the state of the industry at the time. Those looking for a convoluted giallo won’t get it and there perhaps isn’t enough brutal violence to sate the fans of the more hardcore late eighties Italian output. That said if you can find it cheap enough, and often you can get some Shameless DVDs for just £3 it may be worth picking up as a curiosity.

Those with a keen ear might also pick up on a few seemingly familiar tunes within the soundtrack. The music was composed by Francesco De Masi, who might be a familiar name to fans of NAPOLI SPARA!, THE NEW YORK RIPPER and ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX. 

In fact those who are fans of Lucio Fulci’s misanthropic New York tale are certain to recognise the similarities between that films theme and one utilised in this movie while in the city. It is fair to say that it not so much informs it but rather is the basis of it. Unfortunately for De Masi his attempts to tweak what he had previously done fail to impress leading me to suspect that this was just a payday for the man but thankfully the score picks up and is quite strong on the whole.

Overall this film is perhaps more suited to being a short film in a collection and if you want to check out a superior tale of greed and betrayal (and is another one where you know who the killer is to boot) then I suggest checking out Luigi Cozzi’s THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN.

Version Reviewed:
I reviewed the 2014 Shameless DVD release which does look and sound fantastic. It comes with an anecdotal audio commentary from the Director of Photography Gianlorenzo Battaglia which is essentially a Q&A interview combined with his recollections of the filming as it plays. That is if Gianlorenzo actually remembers anything about this film as he goes on to say he has worked on a lot of films (including some fantastic ones like DEMONS) so couldn’t possibly remember much about each film, for example he doesn’t remember David Warbeck and keeps providing confusing and conflicting information on where scenes were shot. I guess he was the only person available at the time.

As well as the standard Shameless extras of a theatrical trailer and showcase real. Where Shameless have improved on their initial offering (and of course it greatly depends on the materials available) is in the inclusion of both English and Italian audio with English subtitles where required. Finally if you are or were lucky enough to pick this up new you would also receive a Shameless yellow mac, not the same as that worn by Warbeck but just as snazzy so when you need a light rain poncho you can be as sleazy as you want.

Finally be warned however the cover for the Shameless release does indicate somewhat about the actions of one of the characters but considering the film is over twenty years old we can forgive them for that.

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