20 October 2019


(1971)

Studio: Raro VideoRelease Date: December 9, 2014
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 WidescreenAudio Tracks: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Languages: Italian and EnglishSubtitles: English
Running Time: 94 min.Region: All
Special Features:

Lady Frankenstein’s Memoirs (18 min)
Asylum of Fear (15 min)
Deleted Scenes (2 min)
Illustrated Booklet with Liner Notes by Chris Alexander

Retail Price: $25.99 (Blu-Ray) $20.99 (DVD)
Purchase from Raro Video

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“…A place where nothing is forbidden!”

At a “rest home” for women in the Italian countryside, a masked fiend is stalking the grounds with their eye towards offing some of the patients. Even without the added element of homicide, this isolated mansion is already a hotbed of tension. One of the more troublesome patients is Anne Palmieri (Rosalba Neri), a beautiful nymphomaniac who satiates her unreciprocated love for an old beau with random trysts, including one with the strong and silent gardener (John Ely).

Also at the facility is Ruth (Gioia Desderi), given to violent outbursts that force her husband to drop her off every week for treatment, and Cheryl (Margaret Lee), suffering from a breakdown due to the stress of co-managing a company with her spouse (Piero Nistri). Even Nurse Helen (Monica Strebel) is carrying on her own affair with one of the recovering residents (Jane Garrett).

When the killer begins putting the medieval weaponry adorning the hospital walls to good use, it’s anyone’s guess as to who the criminal is. This is, after all, a place with no shortage of unstable minds. Could it be the goldilocked head physician, Dr. Francis Clay (Klaus Kinski), embroiled in his own romantic affections for Cheryl? Perhaps it’s his uptight elderly colleague Professor Osterman (John Karlsen)? Or has one of our own lovely ladies been prodded into murder by their multiple neuroses?

Taking a cue from Argento and diving straight into the deep end of the giallo pool, director Fernando Di Leo attempts to mask his unfamiliarity with the subgenre with careening camera flourishes, schizophrenic musical selections, and a flimsy screenplay that Di Leo even cops to having more than its share of absurdities.

Slaughter Hotel (an inaccurate title, the original Italian: La bestia uccude a sangue freddo (The Beast Kills in Cold Blood) which mirrors a line from the movie, would be more fitting) doesn’t quite know what to do with itself half the time. Like its stocking-faced villain who roams about the corridors of the hospital, the film looks lost. The majority of the action barely rises above a steady hum, with only an occasional hiccup of intrigue.

Unfortunately, no amount of technical wizardry can distract the audience from the lacking material. Most Italian pictures of this vintage never did put too much stress on storytelling, favoring instead the power of a mad or evocative image, but the fact that Slaughter Hotel is short on both only makes its shortcomings all the more apparent.

The only time Di Leo seems to fully realize the film’s potential is in the closing moments when he lets his cornered killer—and in a way himself—“go crazy” when the murderer happens upon the dorm room of the resident nurses. The killer takes their trusty mace and massacres the whole room in a sweaty rage only to be shot a more than necessary number of times by the police as Silvano Spadacinno’s score reaches operatic heights and clangs mightily in the background.

The film is not bereft of other frissons. The chop-chop editing by Amedeo Giomini starts to develop a neurotic rhythm all its own and Neri turns in the only noteworthy performance as the sex-obsessed Anne. Her last living moments are actually rather touching as we see her beckon to the shadowy figure by her bed with a potent feeling of need in her eyes that is truly tragic, especially given how it all ends.

Admittedly, the initial reveal that the drama is set in a hospital—a potential victim tossing and turning in her bed misses imminent death by sleepily buzzing for an orderly—is a clever touch on Di Leo and co-writer Nino Latino’s part and there’s a sweet bit where the film forgoes genre expectations when the surly gardener tries to slap some sense into Neri only for her to give him a smack right back!

There’s also a nice touch when Di Leo treats the gardener’s scythe with a “Chekov’s gun” focus, but its later use to lop off the bloodless head of a mannequin, er, nurse is a letdown.

It’s in retrospect that many of the seemingly harmless plot points and stylistic choices crumble under a discerning eye. Kinski is utterly wasted and his character is perhaps one of the limpest red herrings we’ve seen, his mere status as a “weird and unpredictable” actor, as Neri reminisces of him, serving to act in the stead of any actual suspicious qualities his bug-eyed doctor is meant to have.

The killer’s motive, when revealed, makes some of their earlier acts bewildering: if they were in fact mainly motivated by greed, the multiple murders serving only to divert attention from the real target, then why would they lurk around the victims’ bedrooms, breathing heavily and taking off their mask to ogle the nude sleepers? It’s possible that this is an expression of the killer’s own psychosis, but it feels more like misdirection on the creative team’s part than a true representation of the character.

Doubly perplexing is the killer’s decision to place a dagger in the hand of violence-prone Ruth only to fend her off when she attacks them and subject her to one of the most flaccid strangulations committed to celluloid.

There are several erotically-tinged sequences that were apparently elongated for the French market, hoping to play up the titillation angle in lieu of the lackluster mystery. For this reason we have several close shots of the women’s private parts as they masturbate (likely done by extras as Alexander notes in his essay) that are not quite as smutty as what you would find in other European titles. It seems appropriate that with so little going on in the movie that even the characters would be left with not much else to do other than touch themselves.

Raro Video has put in a commendable amount of care into the image restoration of the film, though other areas are a bit lacking. The viewer need only compare this release with the earlier disc put out by Media Blasters' Shriek Show to see the vast improvements that have been made.

Whereas that DVD suffered from a faded palette, the colors on Raro’s Blu-Ray are bright and lively, and the interplay of light and shadow in the nighttime scenes are uniformly solid and accurate. Everything considered, the film looks pretty darn good for its age, especially when you see the harsh, murky clips that are used in some of the Blu-Ray’s supplemental features. It’s clear that Di Leo’s movie has come a long way since the days of VHS.

The sound is serviceable, but not overly clear. The English track has a bit of a submerged quality to it; it never seems to match the picture in clarity. The dubbing is well-performed as well, though it looks like some actors like Margaret Lee are already speaking in English.

This track offers a little humor too when we hear Klaus Kinski’s character speak in a decidedly deep and suave register! The Italian soundtrack is a bit more organic and has a brisker sound, but the difference between the two is fairly marginal.

The subtitles are a slightly different matter. While playing the film with the English dubbing and subtitles on simultaneously, we noticed some widely divergent translations in the mix. In one scene where Nurse Helen is attempting to comfort Mara, the spoken dialogue plays as this:

Mara: Oh, nurse, do you mean it?
Helen: Believe me.

But the translated titles read as this:

Mara: I feel like I’m dying.
Helen: Don’t think about it.

This may point to the inaccuracy of the original dubbing, but it also doesn’t help that the English subtitles tend to oversimplify the dialogue throughout the whole film. There’s also some confusion regarding the character played by Jane Garrett. The IMDb and the English track refer to her as Mara, but for some reason or another the subtitles keep sticking her with the name Pearl!

During the scene with Neri and Ely in the hothouse, there appear to be a few frames missing. As Neri strips down and walks over to Ely there is a noticeable skip in the soundtrack and in her position on screen. The same thing seems to occur later when Ely is alerted by the sound of the orderlies searching for Neri. His line “They’re looking for you” sounds cut off, only to be repeated again. There are other sequences where the sound drops out completely. At first we thought this was a directorial decision, but sources say this is because these audio sections were lost and were never redubbed.

The disc has twelve chapter stops illustrated on the main menu when the option is selected, complete with a bloody handprint serving as the cursor. There is no option to return to the main menu from the film. The disc comes with a cardboard slipcase with theatrical artwork adorning the cover.

Lady Frankenstein’s Memoirs
An eighteen minute interview with actress Rosalba Neri produced by Nocturno Cinema, the shot-on-video exploration of the actress’ career proves interesting and charming thanks to Mrs. Neri’s warm recollections of her filmography. From growing up in provincial Italy and dreaming of the cinema to her numerous roles as a seductress (frequently in the buff), the feature does a nice job of reviewing Neri’s work. Especially tickling is when she laughs heartily at the mention of the virgin’s blood that she bathed in during The Devil’s Wedding Night!

Asylum of Fear
Another production from Nocturno Cinema, this feature strings together filmed interviews with Neri, Fernando Di Leo, composer Silvano Spadacinno, and Olivier Père, an executive of the Director’s Fortnight who discusses the history of the film’s French release and its explicit sexual content. Di Leo is mostly candid about the failings of his film, even going so far as to call it “shabby.” Spadacinno reveals that he wrote the entire score for Slaughter Hotel in one night which, given its all-over-the-place nature, may not seem so surprising on second thought.

Deleted Scenes
These are small snippets from a 35mm negative that never made it to the final film. They are comprised of a brief lead-up to Neri’s scene with her old boyfriend; a solid minute of some heavy petting between Ely and Neri; a little tongue tangling with Strebel and Garrett; and a single shot of Garrett’s (or her body double’s) labia.

Notes by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander
Written with enthusiasm and wit, Alexander tends to overpraise the film. The booklet itself is designed with a clutch of handsome stills from the movie.

Though the disc advertises a trailer for the film, no such clip could be found anywhere in the extras or on the main menu lest it is a particularly well-hidden Easter egg.

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