The Embalmer (1965) poster

The Embalmer (1965)


(Il Mostro di Venezia)

Italy. 1965.


Director – Dino Tavella, Screenplay – Paolo Lombardo, Gian Battista Mussetto, Dino Tavella & Antonio Walter, Story – Dino Tavella, Based on an Idea by Antonio Walter, Producer – Guido Nart, Photography (b&w) – Mario Parapetti, Music – Marcello Gigante, Art Direction – Giuseppe Ranieri. Production Company – Gondola Film.


Gin Mart [Luigi Martocci] (Andrea), Maureen Lidgard Brown (Maureen), Alcide Gazzotto, Alba Brotto, Elmo Caruso, Viki del Castillo, Carlo Russo, Paola Vaccari, Maria Rosa Vizina, Gaetano Dell’Era, Pietro Walter, Roberto Contero, Francesco Bagarrini, Luciano Gasper, Anita Todesco


A hooded killer lurks in the catacombs beneath the streets of Venice. He emerges into the canals in a diving suit to snatch women and then returns to his lair where he embalms their bodies to keep as part of his collection. The journalist Andrea believes that a killer is behind the disappearances but neither his editor nor the carabineri seems interested in investigating. Andrea is asked to play chaperone to a group of women visiting the city and becomes involved with one of the women Maureen. The killer then snatches one of the group.

The Embalmer was one of the early entries in the Italian Giallo film. The essence of the giallo genre had been formulated the year before this with Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964) , which created the style that would be associated with the genre – of extravagantly colourful lighting schemes; murders with a psycho-sexual focus; and ornate directorial set-ups for each death.

Certainly, The Embalmer falls into being a giallo film by dint of it featuring a masked killer killing beautiful girls and being made in Italy in the 1960s. More so, it falls more into being one of the works of Continental Gothic of this era, a genre that was also created by Mario Bava with films such as I Vampiri (1957) and the Bava directed Black Sunday (1960) – works of brooding Gothic (usually shot in black-and-white) usually taking place in 19th Century settings or earlier with all the accoutrements of Gothic literature.

Here there is less focus on colourful lighting schemes and exotic surrounds of the giallo film – the film is shot in black-and-white,, for one – and more on Gothic elements such as the killer wandering around in the catacombs all gloomily lit in shadows, dressed in a black monk’s hood while stopping to kick skulls out of the way, while later being revealed to be wearing a skull mask. Not to mention a scheme where he abducts women and preserves them as statues – something that draws association with the killer in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) (although this is an effect slightly undone by seeing the supposedly petrified models moving slightly when they are supposed to be standing still). The plot is also dependent on plotting clichés such as two-way mirrors and fireplaces with hidden doors that feel like they belong more in 1920s/30s thrillers.

The hooded killer stalks the catacombs beneath Venice in The Embalmer (1965)
The hooded killer stalks the catacombs beneath Venice

We don’t quite get the visual extravagance of a Mario Bava but the Venetian locations are certainly shot for pictorial beauty – even if the film does seem to be crying out for colour. (What it also seems to be begging for is a proper restoration print as the only copy that seems to be in circulation is the English-language dubbed version).

Unlike most of the other giallo films, director Dino Tavella never pushes the horror element past the Gothic mood. There is certainly no focus on the deaths of the women beyond their initial abduction, whereas a regular giallo would have drawn these out in bizarre and unique ways. These scenes end up being fairly repetitive variations on the killer dressing in his frogman outfit, snatching his victim and dragging her into the water and back to his lair.

As much time is spent on the killer as it is on the journalist hero Luigi Martocci, who is billed as Gin Mart in the English-language print. However, most of this is spent with him chaperoning a group of tourists around the city and romancing Maureen Lidgard Brown. He challenges the police and his editor, who do not seem to be interested in doing anything, and determines to go out on his own, although at no point during this does he actually do any investigating. Consequently there is no mystery plot at all, just assorted scenes with Martocci/Gin Mart around the city interspersed with the killer abducting people, before right near the end where Martocci puts on scuba gear to enter the canals himself.

This was one of only two films directed by Dino Tavella who round the same time as this also made the non-genre A Dirty War (1965).

Trailer here

Full film available here

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