Murder in a Blue World Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: November 22, 2022 (standard release, following the May 18th Cauldron & DiabolikDVD.com 2-disc exclusive)
Audio: English and Spanish LPCM 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English and English SDH
Run Time: 97:09
Director: Eloy de la Iglesia
In a violent, dystopian, consumer-fed future, David (Chris Mitchum) blackmails nurse Ana (Sue Lyon) after witnessing her commit a murder. When Ana and Victor (Jean Sorel) discover David is a known gang member with an extensive criminal past, they make a plan to turn the tables and use him for their own clandestine purposes. (From Cauldron’s official synopsis)
Eloy de la Iglesia’s fourth and, for a time, final violent thriller (before he moved on to erotic dramas and transgressive crime epics), Murder in a Blue World (Spanish: Una gota de sangre para morir amando, 1973) owes a significant debt to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (based on the book by Anthony Burgess, 1971) and it’s not just a matter of similar themes, characters, and costume/production design. Just in case we weren’t getting it, de la Iglesia recreates his version of one of A Clockwork Orange’s most notorious scenes as Kubrick’s film is announced as the upcoming program on a nearby television set (I’m guessing they weren’t able to secure any footage). The references don’t stop there, though, because every inch of the film is packed with similar pop culture minutiae, from other retro-futurist sci-fi films, such as Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim (Italian: La decima vittima, 1965), to pulp art and comic books. Still, the overriding influence is Kubrick, including production design that vaguely alludes to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the casting of lead actress Sue Lyon, who was hired for her connections to Lolita (1962), in which she played the title character (she’s seen reading Nabokov’s book, again, in case we didn’t get it).
The result is a movie that initially seems easy to dismiss as a shameless cash-in (especially when international distributors renamed it A Clockwork Terror), but develops into a relatively complicated statement on media and pop culture entertainment, and their connections to real-world violence. It’s not the most original theme – or even the only theme the film is exploring – but it is a unique approach to the idea, especially for the early ‘70s, years before postmodern movies went mainstream. It’s actually difficult to pin down the busy narrative and the storytelling style somehow feels both contemporary and retro all at once. The Clockwork Orange references are stretched between the trials of a juvenile delinquent (Robert Mitchum’s son Christopher, doing his own motorcycle stunts) ejected from his flamboyant street gang and a subplot about a medical doctor (giallo favorite Jean Sorel) who is trying to correct criminal activity via torturous experiments. Beside this is the caustic satire, complete with comedic faux-commercials (and the behind the scenes of said commercials), like the kind Paul Verhoeven used in RoboCop (1987). And then there’s the base story of a predatory femme fatale who is exploiting the pseudo-science-fiction dystopia to ensnare victims and her relationship with the former gang member, who discovers her crimes, thus calling back to Clockwork Orange once again.
Personally, I’m more comfortable engaging with Murder in a Blue World as another entry in de la Iglesia’s short collection of giallo-esque thrillers. If we’re going to be precious about the definition of giallo, he made two – The Glass Ceiling (Spanish: El techo de cristal, 1971) and No One Heard the Scream (Spanish: Nadie oyó gritar, 1973) – but he followed those with Cannibal Man (Spanish: La semana del asesino, 1972), a violent political satire about (among other things) a sympathetic and closeted gay serial killer inadvertantly discovering his homosexuality, and this film, a violent political satire about a sympathetic female serial killer, one who cruises straight and gay men. The queer and gender-bending aspects of her character are somewhat akin to the women of Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man (Dutch: De vierde man, 1983) and Basic Instinct (1992). It seems very likely that Verhoeven was aware of this movie is my point. Anyway, like Cannibal Man, we also know who the killer is from the beginning and, like No One Hear the Scream, part of the story deals with the dynamic between a killer and a witness. Beyond that, Murder in a Blue World is merely giallo-adjacent, because, despite its focus on its killer’s psychology, it isn’t really concerned with the mechanics of murder or suspense. Still, there’s plenty here for giallo fans to enjoy.
Murder in a Blue World isn’t a lost film, but it’s certainly a rare one. It premiered in American theaters under alternate titles Clockwork Terror and To Love and Perhaps to Die in 1975, but I can’t find any evidence of a version on US video. A French-Canadian VHS was released via Les Plaisirs Vidéo, but, outside of bootlegs, you’d have to go to the UK for a PAL disc (I can’t find any specs for that disc). Basically, this Blu-ray from Cauldron Films is the first good chance stateside de la Iglesia fans have had to see the film. According to specs, the 2.40:1, 1080p transfer was culled from a new 2K restoration of the Spanish producer’s cut. They don’t specify if they were working from a negative or IP source, but I’m pretty sure it was a negative, based on the final product. It’s not a perfect transfer, but it is on the good end of typical boutique label Eurocult Blu-rays.
The overall image is clean and nicely balanced in order to faithfully reproduce cinematographer Francisco Fraile’s sterile white and pastel interiors, plush neons, and gritty exteriors. Black levels are rich and deep shadows help create tight edges, which is important, because overall detail is soft – in part on purpose, but also occasionally due to a bit of compression. Like the vast majority of transfers with similar origins, there are some issues with digital noise vs. actual film grain texture. In motion, it looks fine, but you can see the chunkiness in these screencaps, though we shouldn’t count the bleed effect caused by throwing the brightest colors out of focus, because that was clearly intended.
Murder in a Blue World is presented with English and Spanish language dubs, but in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono. As per usual, Spanish films from this era were largely shot without sound, meaning that all tracks are dubbed. Also as per usual, the choice of which track to listen to comes down to taste in dubbing performances and sound quality. The English track would seem to be preferred, as leads Sue Lyon and Christopher Mitchum are both speaking English on-set, though I’m not sure if they’ve dubbed their own performances, but it is significantly more muffled than the Spanish track. On the other hand, the supporting cast (minus Jean Sorel) seems to be speaking Spanish and composer Georges Garvarentz’s score and other music sounds sharper, but the Spanish dub is a bit hissier than the English one.
Commentary with film historian Kat Ellinger – The Diabolique Magazine editor and author of All The Colours Of Sergio Martino (Arrow, 2018) does a typically great job discussing the film’s meaning/themes, the greater works of the cast & crew, de la Iglesia’s influences, how Murder in a Blue World fits into his filmography, and the many ways it differs from A Clockwork Orange. She happily refers to it as a giallo, making me feel better about my approach and the fact that, when I complete my review of the disc, I put it on the shelf alongside other gialli.
Chris Mitchum: International Man of Cinema (20:26, HD) – A newly edited archival interview with Christopher Mitchum conducted in 2008. The actor talks about the impact European movies had on his career, including Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi’s Summertime Killer (Spanish: Un verano para matar, 1972), Murder in a Blue World, Tulio Demicheli’s Ricco (aka: The Cauldon of Death, 1973), himself and other John Wayne-adjacent actors getting ‘black balled’ due to The Duke’s (shitty) politics, and the Asian films he made after his Spanish movies were hits.
Dubbing in a Blue World (12:28, HD) – Actor Ben Tatar looks back at his career as a dubbing director in Spain.
Video essay by Dr. Xavier Aldana Reyes (15:23, HD) – The scholar and author of Spanish Gothic: National Identity, Collaboration and Cultural Adaptation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) contextualizes Murder in a Blue World within de la Iglesia’s greater career, the necessity of metaphor in Franco’s Spain, and the negative effect that the Clockwork Orange comparisons had on its critical release.
Clockwork Terror (96:44, SD) – A complete, standard definition version of the UK VHS cut of the film.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.