Who Saw Her Die? Blu-ray Review/Comparison
Blu-ray Release: September 17, 2019
Audio: Italian and English LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 94 minutes
Director: Aldo Lado
Sculptor Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) welcomes Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi) – his young daughter from a failed marriage – to Venice, unaware that a disturbed child-killer is stalking the city’s canals. When Roberta’s body is found floating face-down in the river, the lives of Franco and his estranged wife Elizabeth (Anita Strindberg) are ripped asunder. Desperate for vengeance, Franco turns detective in a bid to track down his daughter’s killer, and, in the process, unearths shocking evidence of depravity and corruption, which implicates some of the most respected figures in Venetian society. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
By 1972, Italy’s post-Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970) giallo boom was in its second year and already cresting. The genre had a couple of great films on the horizon, but the tide was, for better or worse, quickly turning towards an increase in pure exploitation over unique stories and images. While the increase in sex & violence made for some very entertaining entries, the genre’s longer-term success was, in large part, tied to two types of movies. The first type were psychosexual, psychedelic nightmares, championed by Sergio Martino (All the Colors of the Dark [Italian: Tutti i colori del buio, 1972]) and Pupi Avati (The House with the Laughing Windows [Italian: La casa dalle finestre che ridono, 1976]). The second type were melancholic, haunting character studies, such as Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume of the Lady in Black (Italian: Il profumo della signora in nero, 1973) and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? (Italian: Cosa avete fatto a Solange?, 1972). For the record, Lucio Fulci straddled the line during this era, releasing the dream-logic-heavy Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Italian: Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna; aka: Schizoid, 1971) and the Catholic-guilt-ridden Don’t Torture a Duckling (Italian: Non si Sevizia un Paperino, 1972), while Dario Argento stuck mostly to reevaluated the jet-set gialli mold he’d forged for Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
One of the best and almost certainly the most somber of the melancholy gialli was Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? (Italian: Chi l'ha vista morire?; aka: The Child, 1972), the director’s direct follow-up to the similarly dark Short Night of Glass Dolls (Italian: La Corta notte delle bambole di vetro, 1971). Short Night of Glass Dolls is generally more beloved, due to its unique storytelling framework, in which a man who is thought to be dead is actually trapped inside his own body, trying to piece together a mystery. But Who Saw Her Die? is the more coherent and cogent work, as well as the more compelling take on giallo conventions. Placing a child in the role of murder victim is a bit unseemly, of course, but it also changes the morality of the situation. Don’t Torture a Duckling also revolves around a child murder (and its killer has almost the same motivation/vocation, prompting one to assume that Fulci and co-writer Roberto Gianviti saw Lado’s film), but it isn’t told from the point of view of the parents or (really) the children who are being killed. Lado and (credited) screenwriters Francesco Barilli, Massimo D'Avak, and Rüdiger von Spiehs center most of the story on Franco and his estranged wife, Anita, as they deal with their anguish.
The early stalking scenes utilize the same editing and POV camera techniques seen in the raunchiest gialli, but context is changed without the usual ogling of adult female bodies. The audience can’t hide behind the (admittedly grotesque) comfort of sexual voyeurism when seeing a child, rather than a twenty-something underwear model, through the eyes of a killer. Now we’re complicit in the crime without the shield of exploitation (Lado is also smart enough to not show us the child’s death, only the moments immediately preceding it). There is nudity and sex in the film, but the content isn’t titilating, because it’s framed as another somber event connected to the death of a charming little girl. The first sex scene occurs while the girl is abducted, causing Franco to blame himself and his extramarital affair for his daughter’s subsequent death. The second occurs between Franco and Anita, but in flashback, interspersed with shots of their daughter playing as they lay in bed, naked and weeping. Sometimes, the lack of blood, guts, and tawdry T&A hampers the film, too, especially because the story itself can’t always sustain the absence of sensationalism. Few giallo films are built around airtight plots, so the greatest tend to cover their narrative shortcomings with outlandish twists and stylish filmmaking. Who Saw Her Die? takes itself too seriously to engage in too many eccentricities, so the fact that the central mystery isn’t immediately compelling (not to mention pretty homophobic/transphobic) leads to a bulky, sometimes boring middle act.
Who Saw Her Die? is often compared to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) and Lado beat the bigger, classier film to theaters by a year. The essential similarity is that each film revolves around a bereaved father dealing with the death of his young daughter and growing estrangement from his wife as a serial killer murders people around them in the city of Venice. Both movies also feature extensive Catholic imagery and mournful, yet frank sex scenes between the grieving parents. While it is possible that Roeg found inspiration in Lado’s work, the differences between the films are critical. In Don’t Look Now, the daughter accidentally drowns before the movie even begins and her father’s visions of her wandering the city in a red raincoat are a form of delusions. They represent his grief and his refusal to move beyond that grief ends up dooming him. On the other hand, Who Saw Her Die? is a murder mystery, in which the child is an actual character (she’s present for the entire first act), rather than a representational metaphor. Another film that I suspect was inspired (at least in part) by Who Saw Her Die? is Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), which is the sort of the gender-flipped, extreme arthouse horror extension of Roeg and Lado’s movies.
Reactions to George Lazenby’s central performance have always been mixed, but I’ve always found him an asset. The model-turned-actor’s public and professional life was difficult, following his one and only turn as James Bond in Peter R. Hunt’s On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). He had put 007 and the limelight behind him, embraced a peaceful lifestyle, and wanted to be taken more seriously as an actor. Soon after, he ended up broke enough to cash-in on his Bond status and even found himself tied up in Bruce Lee’s legend, when the Jeet Kune Do founder suddenly died shortly before the two collaborated. Who Saw Her Die? was made during a short window when it was still possible for him to have a future without Bond, alongside Cy Endfield’s anti-war drama Universal Soldier (also 1972), which Lazenby co-wrote (Universal Soldier actually has a lot in common with the Italian left-wing Zapata westerns – he was even reportedly offered James Coburn’s part in Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker! [Italian: Giù la testa; aka: Fistful of Dynamite, 1971]). For the role, he lost a bunch of weight, donned long hair and a beard, and otherwise entirely shed his cocksure Bond persona, exchanging it for vulnerability and quietness. The key issue seems to be that, for whatever reason, he didn’t dub his own performance.
Who Saw Her Die? never made its way to (official) VHS or Beta tape in North America. As far as I can tell, it never made it to English-friendly tape at all, until British-based Redemption put it on PAL VHS in 2000, only two years before the film’s anamorphic widescreen DVD debut from Anchor Bay in 2002. AB marketed it as part of their “Giallo Collection,” alongside Antonio Bido’s The Bloodstained Shadow (Italian: Solamente nero, 1978), Giuliano Carnimeo’s The Case of the Bloody Iris (Italian: Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?, 1972), and Short Night of Glass Dolls (all four were also coupled in a set). As happened with many AB discs, Who Saw Her Die? was re-released by Blue Underground with the same transfer and extras. The same year, Shameless released a UK PAL disc and, in 2013, Koch Media put out a German disc with exclusive extras. I’ve included screencaps from the Anchor Bay DVD on the right side of the sliders on this page.
The original 2-perf Techniscope 35mm camera negative was scanned in 2K and restored L’immagine Ritrovato with additional cleanup done by Arrow, all specifically for this release. The resulting 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer is a significant upgrade over 480p DVDs and not just because of the higher definition picture – though the uptick in detail is definitely a plus. The basic differences match other Arrow (and other studios, for that matter) restorations. First up, the framing is slightly wider, because, like lots of early ‘00 DVDs, the AB/Blue Underground transfer was a little bit zoomed and window-boxed on the right and left sides. The grading is cooler overall, which is especially valuable where neutral hues and skin tones are concerned (previously, everything was too yellow and orange, previously). The image is darker, but in a way that assists the mood of brighter sequences – not in a way that flattens out the night-time scenes. Grain texture appears accurate for type with minimal machine noise and discoloration.
Something I discovered while researching this review is that the Shameless DVD has extra stabbings during one of the murder scenes. Fans assumed that it was the only truly uncut version of the movie; however, it was later discovered that the extra stabs were probably taken from a trailer source and incorporated into the original cut.
Who Saw Her Die? is presented with optional Italian or English dubs, both in uncompressed LPCM audio. As was usually the case in Italy at the time, the movie was shot without synced on set sound and all language tracks were dubbed. In this case, many of the leading cast members, including Aussie George Lazenby, Swede Anita Strindberg, Italian Adolfo Celi, and French-American Dominique Boschero, were clearly speaking English while they acted. That said, as mentioned above, Lazeby did not dub his own performance, so neither track has a major advantage in this regard. There’s also little to no difference in the tone and volume of the sound effects and music, both of which benefit from the lack of compression. Overall, the English track has a slight edge in terms of all of its levels all matching, while the Italian track’s dialogue tends to be a hair too loud. The centerpiece of each track is Ennio Morricone’s fantastic score. Morricone was an originator of the giallo sound, having scored Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and this particular soundtrack blends those avant garde jazz motifs with intense, religious and folk music-inspired choral themes. Who Saw Her Die’s score is a cousin of those more ‘traditional’ giallo soundtracks, but also a bit more adventurous, like the music Morricone composed for Duck, You Sucker! the year before, which drew upon and expanded the previous Morricone/Leone collaborations.
Commentary with film historian Troy Howarth – The author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015) among others warns us right off the bat that he’s not going to be as screen-specific as he is on his other tracks. This is more of a catch-all discussion of post-Crystal Plumage thrillers with occasional emphasis on Who Saw Her Die? Changes aside, it’s still a solid, informative track.
I Saw Her Die (56:55, HD) – In this new interview, director Aldo Lado talks about being rushed to Venice to work on Who Saw Her Die? after working with Bernardo Bertolucci on Last Tango in Paris (1972), Lazenby having already been cast, additional casting, production, locations, and continuing real-world connections between religious leaders and pedophelia.
Nicoletta, Child of Darkness (27:26, HD) – In the second new interview, one-time child actress and little queen of Italian exploitation Nicoletta Elmi recalls learning lines in English (despite not speaking the language), her sweet working relationship with Lazenby, and shares a couple of vague on set memories from this and other films.
Once Upon a Time in Venice (31:20, HD) – In the final exclusive cast/crew interview, co-writer Francesco Barilli discusses his career, developing the Who Saw Her Die? screenplay, working with Lado, and his aspiration to direct the film.
Giallo in Venice (26:17, HD) – Author/critic Michael Mackenzie, who coined the terms M-giallo (male-centered) and F-giallo (female-centered), rounds things out with a look at Lado’s career as a director, the careers of some cast members, children in gialli, and Morricone’s score. He also compares Who Saw Her Die? to Short Night of Glass Dolls and contextualizes the former within the larger giallo canon.
Italian and English language trailers
The images on this page are taken from the BD and DVD, then sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.