Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Autopsy (1974) aka Macchie Solari
Dir. Armando Crispino
Written by Lucio Battistrada, Armando Crispino
Starring Mimsy Farmer, Barry Primus, Ray Lovelock,

AUTOPSY is the story of a young, bra-averse police pathologist (Giallo queen Mimsy Farmer) who finds herself busier than usual because a wave of sunspots has caused a spike of suicides. Granted, all that makes perfect sense, but then a mentally unstable Roy-Scheider-lookin' ex-racecar driver priest thinks that under the cover of the rash of sunspot-influenced suicides, someone has murdered his sister. Our heroine is the perfect person to come to, because she’s an expert on determining the difference between real and faked suicides (in fact, she’s writing a paper on the subject) but the priest is actually coming to her because she was the last person to see sis alive. The whole “expert in fake suicides” angle actually never comes up, which seems weird.

A lot of stuff seems weird in this movie. I mean, heck, that first paragraph is just fuckin' littered with weird details. Mentally unstable ex-racecar driver priest? Sunspots cause wave of suicide? Bra-averse pathologist? Wha? Shouldn’t there be a dwarf in there somewhere? And that doesn’t even address the fact that every time she tries to fuck her mansome photographer boyfriend, she hears a high-pitched piercing tone, suffers visions of ambulatory (and sometimes copulating) cadavers, gets a headache and has to stop everything. Which is definitely inconvenient, there really oughtta be a pill or something for that. Big pharma, that’s your cue. All I ask is that you name it after me and put Wilford Brimley in your TV ads.

The things you can tell about a man just by poking at his liver...

Anyway the whole sunspots thing doesn’t really end up being important, at its heart this is just a particularly convoluted murder mystery, and in fact a murder mystery centering on a murder which happens off-screen at the beginning of the movie. I think only one other person gets killed during the entire runtime --and not very graphically at that-- so this one isn’t really much of a giallo. But it is enjoyably ridiculous, especially considering that most of the strangest details end up being completely irrelevant to the solution.

I’m not sure it would even be called a horror film were it not for the early scenes of the corpses walking around (only in Mimsy Farmer’s imagination, though) and a weird later sequence in some kind of freaky museum of suicide. But those two elements are among the movie’s most memorable, so it lends the whole thing a (mostly unearned) sense of horror, or at least a mystery which is a bit freakier than most. In a way, it actually sort of feels like Hitchcock -- not in terms of artistry, obviously, but in its cheerful disinterest in telling a halfway believable story and its fetishistic fixation on sordid, perverse details. FRENZY was only two years earlier, and that was probably the closest Hitch (not the Will Smith version) got to really being able to vent his aberrant violent and sexual urges in the context of a thriller. This one seems to be on the same page, happily accepting a convoluted mess of story in exchange for setting up a few loving-crafted, bizarre setpiece scenes.

Talk about your Tourist Trap.

The autopsy scenes with naked corpses milling around seems to be what the movie is famous for, I guess that might have been a little shocking for ‘74. But far more interesting is this strange museum our heroine randomly wanders through, which has huge blowup photographs of real corpses and gruesome murders, as well as a full compliment of creepy wax figures depicting various methods of suicide (one of whom ultimately tries its hand at a little murder, too!). It’s a great set, and if it’s pretty sleazy to use a bunch of real images of genuine death for your goofy thriller about sunspots, well, at least it’s memorably so. Oh, and there’s a slideshow of vintage erotica at one point, always a classy touch. Man, just makes you realize how stupid it was to cut that vintage ertotica slideshow scene out of NOW, VOYAGER. This guy Armando Crispino, though, he knows to deliver the goods.* In fact, the movie’s biggest problem has gotta be that it’s only intermittently creatively sleazy enough to layer on the ick factor. You gotta suffer through way too much plotty nonsense which is nonsensical but not really entertaining before you get another good crazy scene.

Actually, the acting, direction, photography, and even writing are moderately better than you might expect for something like this, but who cares, it’s not stylized enough to be interesting and certainly not good enough to qualify as genuinely involving. The only person who really leaves much of an impression is Ennio Morricone, who --despite scored fucking fifteen (15!) other movies the same year!-- leaves this one with a distinctly unusual theme which unnaturally welds a bunch of pensive moaning women with a morosely liturgical keyboard drone. Kinda reminds me of the weird tribal chanting/gothic choir he did for EXORCIST PART II a few years later in 1977, in a good way. Gotta enjoy that brief period in the 70’s where composers we allowed to really try some experimental shit. Even a cheap little movie like this one would never attempt a score that bold today.

Dedicated follower of fashion.

The score, combined with a few standout scenes that suggest serious mental illness on the part of the filmmakers and the generalized pleasing ridiculousness of the plot, add up to a perfectly worthwhile film if you’re in the mood for this sort of thing. It has enough transgressive imagination to stand out, and a basic low level of competence to make sure you don’t want to gouge your eyeballs out anytime it’s not being actively insane. Unless there are sunspots, then you may well gouge your eyeballs out due to the “malignant influence of the sun,” but that’s normal, don’t worry about it. It’s the people that want to gouge your eyes out in the guise of a perfectly natural sunspot-related suicide that we all need to be wary of. And on this matter, AUTOPSY is pretty much the authoritative artistic work.

(This review dedicated to longtime friend of the site Andy Prestwich, who you can usually just sort of assume is behind it when I watch any incredibly obscure/incredibly trashy Italian film.)

*Yes, you get your obligatory sexual assault scene, too. Jesus fucking Christ, Europe, what the hell.


  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: No
  • SPAGHETTI NOCTURNE: Yes, though not quite a typical giallo.
  • BOOBIES: From the very first frame onwards, and then every 15 minutes or so, but sometimes on corpses. Don't worry, though, Mimsy Farmer can't seem to keep her shirt on.
  • SLASHERS: There is a killer, but not really a slasher type.
  • CURSES: No
  • (UNCANNY) VALLEY OF THE DOLLS? Yeah, suicide mannequins.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Quite High. Recently released through Blue Underground after being out of print for a long time

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