Not unlike a Larry Cohen shocker (think God Told Me To), Armando Crispino’s Autopsy begins with a strange, lurid hook: solar flares are causing ordinary people to commit mass murder and off themselves in bewilderingly violent fashion, and the secret life of city coroner Simona Sana’s father may hide some clues to this peculiar pattern of violence that’s now endangering the pretty gamine.
Crispino, along with hack writer Lucio Battistrada, junk their novel premise + Simona’s weird delusions of seeing splayed cadavers advancing towards her in the autopsy room for a standard giallo, where people are being killed because of an inheritance connected to the flooding of Venice which destroyed valuable city records.
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The strange thing about Autopsy is had Crispino stuck with the mystery tale alone, the film would’ve had a better chance of succeeding, but it’s also saddled with an unintentionally schizophrenic leading heroine who always manages to recover from horrid trauma as though she’d just taken a magical aspirin.
Whatever aspirations Farmer had of eking our a serious acting career in Italy kind of went south when she began to slide into banal genre entries in which women were put onscreen to be pretty, scared, naked, scared, curious, scared, and occasionally content.
Crispino’s film bears one of the most misogynistic attitudes among gialli because every male character’s a sleazy pig, and wants to get between Simona’s legs: her colleague, for example, gropes and attempts to rape Simona in the autopsy room, and when the event is brought to the attention of her boyfriend (played by a mechanical by Ray Lovelock), his response is to exclaim it’s a lack of recognizing her beauty. He then tears off her top, and boffs her hard, after which she’s fine, and forgotten all about being treated like a piece of meat.
Gialli aren’t female-friendly - women tend to die horribly – but there’s so much sexual rage among the male characters, one can’t help wondering if Crispino actually liked women. There’s such a foul attitude in Autopsy, and it’s a major undercurrent which may be why the solar flare premise was junked in favour of a familiar heroine struggling to make sense of a mounting mystery – more opportunities to stage encounters between Simona and crotch-hungry hands,
Crispino also intercuts the same stock documentary footage of solar flares to maintain a sense of thematic cohesion, but there’s none, and he has the attention span of a gnat, smash- and jump-cutting shots and connective scenes in a manner that might infer Godard or the brilliant Franco Arcalli (Death Laid an Egg), but is really just the poorly imitative work of a rank hack.
Ennio Morricone slummed his way through the score, sticking to his formulaic contrast of a lullaby main theme and chaotic weirdness; it works (particularly the bizarre vocal effects), but it’s a smart score that fails to elevate the film’s banality.
The plus side of Crispino’s nonsense lies in the spastic nature of scenes: actors blurt reactions, spout quotably awful dialogue, and the terrible editing ensures a fast pace regardless of whether it turns a tragic moment into bathos. The gore is minor; the cinematography is hasty, making otherwise stylish Italian architecture look plain ugly; and Barry Primus plays the role of ex-race car driver / newbie priest (!) with hysterical gravitas.
The film’s best moments tend to involve Farmer freaking out (either from an awakening cadavers or her sleazy apartment concierge), plus a ridiculous scene where Simona’s father Gianni (an embarrassed Massimo Serato) lies in a hospital bed with a busted back, and hooked up to some flashing light gizmo, attempts to spell the name of a needed clue in lieu of his busted voicebox. It’s a scene that presages the blinky-blinky headband mind-meld in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), and it’s top fragrant film fromage.
Anchor Bay’s DVD (reissued in 2007 by Blue Underground) includes a trailer sporting the alternate title “The Victim,” and reveals every money shot – include the finale – so avoid viewing prior to the film.
Mimsy Farmer’s other giallo entries include Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974), and The Black Cat (1981).
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan