THE WIFE KILLER (1976) BY DACOSTA CARAYAN

Reviews

Alternative Titles: The Rape Killer; Death Kiss; Vai Killer!; Mata Killer…mata; Crime in Cavouri; Eglima sto Kavouri
Director: Dacosta Carayan aka Kostas Karagiannis
Writer: Thanos Leivaditis
Year: 1976
Starring: Lakis Komninos aka Larry Daniels, Dorothy Moore, Vagelis Seilinos, Leslie Bowman

Synopsis:
Penniless playboy Captain Jim is in hock to his rich older wife, Helen. She has even bought him the fancy yacht that now bears his name. But Jim does not want to be Helen’s toy boy anymore. He wants to marry his lover, Laura. Jim pays a psychopathic killer of women to murder his wife so that he will inherit her millions. But the psycho killer has his own plans. Suspecting Jim will double cross him, he engineers a complex scheme that will give him the upper hand.

[Taken from the 2015 Mondo Macabro release]

Review:
By the time of this films release the giallo genre had built up momentum which arguably culminated in 1975 with its defining moment – Dario Argento’s DEEP RED – the effect being that subsequent films would begin to enter more exploitative territory in order to maintain the audiences interest and offer something different.

Marking director Dacosta Carayan’s second foray into thriller territory, with TANGO OF PERVERSION coming a few years earlier, he clearly learnt a few tricks to help ease the production (and post-production) process and you might very well notice a number of dialog scenes being shot from beside or behind the actors, thereby reducing the need for accurate lip synching. Not that that would have been a consideration had this been an Italian production.

But what of the film itself?

Well on their DVD release Mondo Macabro state that this is “A brutal thriller in the style of the Italian “giallo”…” and that is not far from the truth as this Greek production is clearly influenced by and should be evaluated as being in the filone of the genre. But THE WIFE KILLER displays a some particular influences both on and off screen. It takes inspiration from true events, from Alfred Hitchcock – most notably DIAL M FOR MURDER and also from Dario Argento’s long-time friend and collaborator Luigi Cozzi’s 1975 thriller THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN. A film with which it shares several similarities but considering the close proximity of the release dates between Luigi Cozzi’s film and THE WIFE KILLER we cannot say for sure if this was an actual influence or just a coincidence. Although we can clearly argue that several scenes are reminiscent of Sergio Martino’s 1973 giallo TORSO which was clearly an influence, particularly for the initial sequence set in the wooded area where lovers are spied on and attacked.

On the subject of TORSO and the KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN, both of these films are brought to mind with the opening of THE WIFE KILLER while the quick reveal of a sex maniac is bold move that works predominately thanks to the characters utilised in the film; including the adulterous Captain Jim and the slightly off Doctor. Hell, soon we even begin to suspect the beleaguered wife may or may not be involved. Nothing is beyond the realm of possibility in a film where double crossing and deceit is as natural as breathing.

Meanwhile fifty minutes in, the film begins to toy with the idea of introducing the more familiar amateur sleuth plot arc as one of the characters makes a startling discovery and although this is not fully explored on screen it does help to drive the overall story forwards while displaying a surprisingly restrained and mature writing approach that allows the film to remain focused and tight. This is still an exploitative film however and makes sure that we have plenty of female flesh to savour, several rape scenes to abhor (which would lead to an alternative US title of THE RAPE KILLER) and a few bouts of violence which is predominantly on women lending the film a slightly nasty undertone. But crucially and thankfully this aspect never overpowers the mystery or the film itself.

Of special mention is the score by Yannis Spanos which flits between jazz, rock and traditional Greek music – sometimes combining them all to great effect and for me is one of the stand out soundtracks of the genre as it perfectly complements rather than detracts from the scenes- hopefully someone puts this soundtrack out there.

It is a compliment to say that THE WIFE KILLER feels and plays out like the Italian films it was meant to emulate and this is true across all aspects. From the double crossing plot, the aforementioned soundtrack and the sex maniac angle all the way to the more brutal and sadistic action which was becoming more prevalent in the genre as a whole at the time.  The competent inclusion of these elements help us to place the film within the filone of the giallo as previously stated but it is the quality of the film itself that helps it to stand out as a strong and entertaining film even today. Greece may not have produced much genuinely good genre fare of note during this period but they can be proud of this film and I recommend fans of giallo to check out this sordid little gem.

Version Reviewed:

I reviewed the 2015 Mondo Macabro release which features a brand new transfer from the negative and looks fantastic both the format (DVD) and the age of the film. Mondo Macabro list this as the first official DVD release of the film and present it complete (including scenes with subtitling where no English dubbed version exists) and uncensored and the film does not hold back in this respect.

THE WIFE KILLER is highly recommended for all fans of cult cinema and aside from the excellent film Mondo Macabro have put together a brilliant package which includes information on the original influence of the film, detailed text about the film itself and the cast and crew, alternative English credits as well as a couple of US trailers under the title THE RAPE KILLER and its VHS release title DEATH KISS providing an interesting insight as to how the film was marketed to that audience.

However it is the documentary SUNSHINE AND SHADOWS in which critic/musician Akis Kapranos takes a look at the film and cult genre scenes in Greece. This documentary is extremely insightful particularly for those of us who do not know much about the Greek cinematic movement or phases and Mondo must be commended for its inclusion on this and the TANGO OF PERVERSION DVD.

Overall this is an excellent package and a mandatory purchase for those interested in European mystery / thriller cult cinema.

The Wife Killer DVD cover

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