The Dead Are Alive!/L’etrusco uccide ancora/The Etruscan Kills Again (1972)

‘If music affects archaeologists like this, I wonder what archaeology does to some musicians.’

A small archaeological team uncover the tomb of a supposed Demon God while digging near some Etruscan ruins. Shortly afterwards, a young couple is murdered at an adjacent site and laid out in one of the burial chambers as if for ancient sacrifice…

Multi-national Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Armando Crispino built on a more traditional horror premise. American, British and German actors take the leading roles with production financing courtesy of sources in Italy, West Germany and Yugoslavia.

It’s been a rough couple of years for hotshot young Professor Jason Porter (Alex Cord). A worsening addiction to alcohol has prompted changes in his behaviour, including a tendency to violence, accompanied by blackouts and memory loss. Reduced to running a small archaeological dig in the Etruscan ruins in Spoleto, he uncovers the secret tomb of what he believes is an ancient Demon God. A few hours later, in the ruins nearby, a teenage couple is brutally beaten to death, and their bodies are laid out on sacrificial stones. The young woman is dressed in a pair of red ballet shoes.

The unusual footwear leads Inspector Giuranna (Enzo Tarascio) to focus on the local theatre, which is mounting a production under the leadership of eccentric maestro Nikos Samarakis (John Marley). Cord gets into Tarascio’s crosshairs when he discovers the next set of victims, Marley’s son Igor (Carlo De Mejo) and his girlfriend Giselle (Wendy D’Olive). Despite being seriously injured, De Mejo survives but can’t identify the killer who took D’Olive’s life.

The Professor is also being threatened by Otello (Vladan Holec), a local grifter who wants to supplement his income as a tour guide to the ruins with some proceeds from blackmail. He’s obtained an incriminating letter Cord wrote to Marley’s new wife Myra (Samantha Eggar), with whom he was once romantically involved. The ballet’s dance director Stephen (Horst Frank) is also spying on him, and who is the stylish but mysterious Leni (Nadja Tiller) who visited De Mejo in the hospital?

Despite the setup’s obvious potential for a straight-ahead monster horror film, it’s pretty clear from the opening act that this is a Giallo murder mystery. There’s never any serious suggestion that the perpetrator of the mayhem is an Etruscan demon back from the grave. However, it was a conceit embraced by the marketing team and distributors, who most likely came up with the somewhat misleading release titles. Gorehounds will probably be happy enough, though, as a couple of the kills are very bloody indeed, and Crispino’s camera lingers on the action for a good deal longer than many contemporary productions.

Instead, the focus is on running down a more earthly killer, and Crispino’s script, co-written with Lucio Battistrada and Lutz Eisholz, provides the audience with a multitude of suspects. Unfortunately, when supplying so many possibilities, it’s necessary to give each equal weight, and, at times, Crispino struggles to find the right balance. The lack of detail regarding the basic setup doesn’t help either, leaving nagging questions dangling throughout the film. Why is a disgraced Professor with a well-documented history of substance abuse and violent behaviour supervising an important dig happening adjacent to an established archaeological site and tourist attraction? Who exactly are his young team members, and why do most of them seem to be associated with the theatre in town? Why is the paranoid, violently jealous Marley letting Cord stay at his palatial home when he is aware of the man’s prior intimate relationship with his much younger new wife? The answers to these, and other similar questions, aren’t essential in understanding the plot. However, addressing them in at least some fashion would have helped to bring the disparate story elements together in a more coherent and plausible manner. Everything does come together logically enough at the climax; it’s just not particularly satisfying.

There are some significant things to admire, though. Crispino and cinematographer Erico Menczer make the most of the scenes in the ruins and deliver an impressive car chase through a narrow labyrinth of ancient streets. It’s an excellent decision to have the details of Cord and Eggar’s back story emerge as a slow reveal, and the two leads effectively provide the drama with a much-needed emotional core, even if their characters aren’t particularly sympathetic. There’s also notable support from Frank. The blonde German was usually cast as sinister businessmen, assassins or thugs, but here he rocks tight t-shirts and short, curly red hair as the theatre’s effeminate choreographer. He’s playing against type and pulls it off very well, giving the character more depth than the one-dimensional stereotype it could easily have been.

Cord is best remembered to the generation that grew up in the 1980s as the white-suited, eye-patched Archangel, assigning missions to Jan Michael-Vincent and Ernest Borgnine on hit TV show ‘Airwolf’. His career began on the stage before his skills as a horseman landed him guest slots on network shows such as ‘Laramie’ and ‘Frontier Circus’. His big break seemed to arrive when he was cast as the Ringo Kid in the big-budget remake of John Ford’s classic Western ‘Stagecoach’ (1939). The part had made a star of John Wayne, but the film flopped hard, despite a cast that included Ann-Margret and Bing Crosby. Cord headed to Europe, where he starred in Spaghetti Western ‘A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die/Un minuto per pregare, un istante per morire’ (1967), which also featured Hollywood legend, Robert Ryan. A handful of other film roles on the continent followed before he returned to the United States to play Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry’s unsuccessful TV pilot ‘Genesis II’ (1973). A long career guesting on small-screen shows followed, with appearances on ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Murder, She Wrote’, ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ and many, many others. He passed away in 2021.

Born in 1939 in London, Eggar was attending stage school as a teenager when she was cast in the romantic drama ‘The Wild and the Willing’ (1962). She then appeared as Ethel Le Neve opposite Donald Pleasance in the true-crime drama ‘Dr. Crippen’ (1963) before hitting it big as kidnap victim Miranda Grey in William Wyler’s ‘The Collector’ (1965). Her performance brought her multiple awards and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Subsequently, she appeared opposite Cary Grant in his last film ‘Walk Don’t Run’ (1966), and Rex Harrison in the big-budget musical ‘Doctor Doolittle’ (1967). Unfortunately, the latter disappointed at the box office on release and allegedly almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. Eggar returned in ‘The Molly Maguires’ (1970) with Sean Connery and Richard Harris and starred opposite Yul Brynner on the small screen as he reprised his role from hit musical ‘The King and I’ (1956). Although concentrating more on television through the 1970s, she was still in demand for movies, starring in ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ (1976) opposite Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes, the interesting science-fiction drama ‘Welcome To Blood City’ (1977) and most memorably, in David Cronenberg’s early body horror ‘The Brood’ (1979). She’s worked steadily ever since, appearing on countless, high profile TV shows, including ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ where she played Jean-Luc Picard’s sister-in-law.

A solid, professional Giallo that never threatens to rise above the pack.


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