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The Human Bloodstain Part II: Duccio Tessari's Death Occurred Last Night (1970) - Horror lives at home

Italian gialli films often take us on strange, exotic journeys. Often we're tourists, lost at sea and overwhelmed in beautiful foreign, European cities, disoriented by the heady mix of modern art and ancient architecture. We are as assaulted by the shock of the new as we are by the savagery of the black gloved maniacs inhabiting these cities, with the weight of ancient history crushing us it does our out of their depth explorers.

In a previous post about the humane giallo, I've mentioned Duccio Tessari's The Bloodstained Butterfly, and how his gialli's main distinguishing feature is the avoidance of explicit violence and sex that characterize these movies, preferring to elide these altogether, keeping them offscreen. A recent viewing of his earlier giallo - politzitesci hybrid Death Occurred Last Night (based on Italian harboiled legend's novel The Milanese Kill on Saturday, a title which gains tragic resonance at the end of this story) confirms several other of Tessari's strengths. Like Michael Mann's Heat or John Sayles' Lone Star, this is a movie that doesn't believe in small characters - every one has their chance to shine and spout their viewpoint. Unlike other Italian horror films, where the characters are just blanks to focus on other important thing, like virtuoso filmmaking or nightmarish delirium, Tessari's characters feel like real human beings with values and lives beyond the frame, and when they interact, they interact in what feels like a community. Tessari's horror does not come from ancient curses or grand conspiracies, but rather, it hits us because it happens right at our doorstep.

Death Occurred Last Night deals with a father's (heartbreakingly played by Raf Vallone) efforts to find his missing, mentally impaired adult daughter. Frustrated by his local stations lack, he turns to a world weary Milanese police captain (Frank Wolff) and his callow partner (Gabriele Tinti) to find her. Their search leads them to the underbelly of Milan's human trafficking scene, as both father and cop become obsessed with recovering their own "lost women" (in the same way Butterfly seemed to accidentally prefigure Blue Velvet and Manhunter, Death plays like an ancestor of the Orphic noir we know from Taxi Driver, Hardcore and Man on Fire).

In contrast to the luxury and colour of Bergamo in The Bloodstained Butterfly, Death Occurred Last Night takes place in gray and anonymous car dealerships and apartments (some of this movie's style reminds me of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, especially in a sting set up outside of the San Siro stadium). Like the other film however, class or status is no guarantee of sexual morality, and you can't trust your neighbours. The small steps which lead to the final film's horrific reveal of what actually happened are based on opportunism and everyday desires built into perversion - horror does not intrude on everyday life, but is now an integral part of it. There's no cartoon supervillains, just people with off desires who then act on them when they can. The films seething disgust at the industry of sexual exploitation is palpable, although somewhat compromised by how harsh the film is on the prostitutes themselves too (though the johns, pimps and parents are bitterly criticized too), and almost wrecked by a grossly inappropriate funk jazz score which actively acts against the meaning Tessari works so hard to create with his dialogue and what he chooses NOT to show.

Like Butterfly, legal institutions are shown to be good in conception and staffed with good people, but ineffectual at dealing with the complexity of the world. Vigilante action in both is shown to have a deletrious effect on the soul of the vigilante. Although Death lacks Butterfly's roving, dexterous CinemaScope camera, it retains another of its powerful tools: the montage. Whereas montage was a tool to demonstrate the slippery nature of truth and memory in Butterfly, here it adds to Tessari's interiority and obsession with character (when in the form of a memory) and the scope of the problem (in the montages of interrogation and investigation).

The above evidence all goes into demonstrating just how heartfelt Tessari's gialli can be, and why they are special in the genre. Rarely does death hit its characters, and therefore us, as hard. Like many others, Tessari was a real craftsman and artist in a field where none was expected, and we're the richer for it. Death may have occurred last night - but it feels like it only happened a minute ago
 

catalog

Active member
That Robert graves essay that Cramer quotes in his blog post sounds interesting. I've often thought the same thing holds for Hinduism ie it's all psychedelic tripping based. I've never read any graves but might have to give him a go. I loved 'i claudius'.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I loved I Claudius and the sequel (Claudius the God). Always meant to read The White Goddess and I've had some of his classical translations on the shelf waiting to be read for ages.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
this film is fabulous, sadly i don't know anything about the director?

I'd never heard of him either so I checked him out on IMDB last night. He seems to have been more a producer than a director and made a smattering of films I've never come across but look diverting if hardly essential viewing.

I mean, it almost doesn't matter if they're shit or not, these kind films usually contain some sort of accidental magic, or at least some transcendent "what-the-fuck?" moments. That's one of the reasons I love them - the good flicks are extremely stylish products, different level altogether, but then even the shit stuff is fueled by a kind of freedom that existed in the genre film industry at this time in Italy, Portugal and Spain. The ruthless pursuit of quick profits in provincial cinemas led to the production of fast, cheap movies that almost by default opened up space for weird exhilaration, bizarre juxtapositions, fleeting beauty, spectral effects.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
That Robert graves essay that Cramer quotes in his blog post sounds interesting. I've often thought the same thing holds for Hinduism ie it's all psychedelic tripping based. I've never read any graves but might have to give him a go. I loved 'i claudius'.
Hey Catalog, thank you very much for reading my essay!

If the subject of Graves, drugs and mythology interests you then you might enjoy this essay which gives more background, particularity the controversy with R. Gordon Wasson.
 

catalog

Active member
Yeah cheers, it's an interesting read. I'm gonna try track down that Hercules film, although not really a fan of that kind of vibe. There's some stars aligning stuff around 'hercules' going on for me at the moment. Just decided to watch poirot on catch up and the episode is called 'the pillars of hercules' and about a stolen painting. And I picked up a book from the library about the 'via herakles' the other day from the library. One of my favourite books as a child was a comic book version of the 12 tasks, I wish I could re-find it.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
Yeah cheers, it's an interesting read. I'm gonna try track down that Hercules film, although not really a fan of that kind of vibe.
I get that. I went though a phase of watching Italian Eurospy films (as fully documented on page 17 of this thread) and while they were fun to watch and write about, they weren't very interesting films outside of the period details and location shoots. The pepla really surprised me, though, once I properly started to watch them: the visual effects and atmosphere and the overall thematic subversion and impurity strongly linked the best of them to the film cycles that followed, including the horror movies of Argento and Fulci.

They are an acquired taste, and whether or not you get it depends ultimately on whether or not you "get" Mario Bava. I love him and his footprint and influence is all over the best of these films so this obviously tuned me in at the beginning, but then I discovered all the other stuff I talk about in the essay as well. It is a niche topic, I admit.

The other thing that prevents these films from being properly understood or appreciated is how badly they are treated as commercial products: the DVDs that are available are almost universally appalling quality. Films like Hercules in the Haunted World or Goliath and the Vampires, if they are ever given a serious HD restoration with the original Italian cuts and soundtracks, I think they would blow your mind. You only have to watch the Arrow blu-ray of Bava's Erik the Conqueror to get a taste of that.

So I wrote the essay to get over a sense of this, as nobody really does it for them.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I just found this on Reddit:
That's an interesting review, and comparison. I haven't seen Death Occured Last Night and I didn't really rate The Bloodstained Shadow, but I really like some of Duccio Tessari's stuff. Return of Ringo is one of my favorite spaghetti westerns, Big Guns is a punchy, elegant Italo-crime flick that desperately needs a decent release and The Bloodstained Butterfly is a very respectable second tier giallo with a lush Gianni Ferrio score.
 

catalog

Active member
Watched Hercules and the haunted world last night, quite liked it. It is very weird, with the colour and smoke effects. Also quite choppy in terms of what/where things happen, but I didn't mind that. And the story has a quite serious element with the friendship/women angle, wasn't expecting that. Quite unusual. Not amazing or anything, but definitely enough to pique my interest in this genre, so I might try another from your list now. Erik, or Goliath, or maybe the witches curse.
 

nochexxx

harco pronting
I'd never heard of him either so I checked him out on IMDB last night. He seems to have been more a producer than a director and made a smattering of films I've never come across but look diverting if hardly essential viewing.

I mean, it almost doesn't matter if they're shit or not, these kind films usually contain some sort of accidental magic, or at least some transcendent "what-the-fuck?" moments. That's one of the reasons I love them - the good flicks are extremely stylish products, different level altogether, but then even the shit stuff is fueled by a kind of freedom that existed in the genre film industry at this time in Italy, Portugal and Spain. The ruthless pursuit of quick profits in provincial cinemas led to the production of fast, cheap movies that almost by default opened up space for weird exhilaration, bizarre juxtapositions, fleeting beauty, spectral effects.
yeah, exactly. i want to add further territories to the list though, perhaps it's films from the 70s per se.

this film warrants a bluray release, it's a visual feast with tremendous cakes and popart. the plot is fun too.
 

woops

is not like other people
my brother is in new york at the moment and has done a pilgrimage to the ampitheatre featured in classic euro cult film WILD STYLE.
 
I loved I Claudius and the sequel (Claudius the God). Always meant to read The White Goddess and I've had some of his classical translations on the shelf waiting to be read for ages.
The White Goddess is flawed, but ripe for corona lockdown. Wrong thread to get into dissecting the pro’s & cons, subsequent influences on Celtic studies & pagan revivalism, just get stuck in.

There’s stacks of pages to get through on this thread’s subject, quite an archive you’ve put together here Dissensus. Stephen Thrower’s “Murderous Passions” is a blast, apologies if it’s already been cited.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
Mainly Craner put it together I think, I haven't looked at it for a while to be honest, probably could read it all again.
But The White Goddess - yeah didn't he consider dreaming and making stuff as legitimate research or something? I can see that might lead to a couple of minor errors creeping in.
 
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