A murder, mystery, sex and plenty of vivid colors usually means a movie is a giallo. At first, that is what 1969’s Double Face seems to be. Despite having the elements of the Italian horror genre, the movie is more of a crime thriller. The mixing of the two genres along with subdued acting make the paint by numbers story a generic watch.
At times, it is as if Double Face is unsure of what type of movie it wants to be. Giallos have a touch of mystery to them, but they are also tawdry and pulpy. There is also a large element of horror that is not seen in most crime stories. Director Riccardo Freda’s movie has its moments of eroticism, but it never reaches the levels of depravity seen in most giallo. It is also more real crime than outrageous slasher.
Yet, it also has the look of the traditional giallo. There is an abundance of dark reds and deep greens. Lighting is done in a way to accentuate shadows and make colors stand out. Sex and murder are weaved together and many scenes are shot beautifully. The aesthetic of the film seems at times to be more important that the plot. It may not be one, but Double Face sure looks like a giallo.
The movie has some surprisingly bad special effects. The open shots of John and Helen skiing are absolutely horrible. They are clearly standing in front of a picture of a snowy mountain. Keep in mind, this is 1969, so it looks like two people with a poster behind them. There is also a pathetic looking car crash that clearly uses a model and ends with a fire superimposed over the wreckage. These are the types of special effects seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The plot is very basic. More normal than bad, Double Face’s writing never tries anything different. The story is a text book example of a sexy crime thriller. Each scene plays out exactly as they should and nothing is left to the audience’s imagination. Even the dialogue is noncommittal. It is as if the production crew did not want to fail to live up to expectations and decided the best course of action was to just do exactly what was expected.
When Double Face is not being predictable, it is inconsistent. When John finds a beautiful young woman squatting at his vacant mansion, he naturally asks why she is there. Her response is ridiculous. Drugs take effect instantly, people ignore bottles being broken mere feet from them, and people who are supposed to be hiding in dark alleys are barely hidden and light matches. All this makes the movie very difficult to take seriously. This is most clear during the nonsensical finale.
While the movie does have its problems, it is helped by the atmosphere the story creates. The mixing of genres sometimes give it a disjointed feel, but for the most part, there is an air of tension and mystery. The mystery is more of a whoisit than a whodunit and the tension is not as heavy as other thrillers, but Double Face definitely has a mood. Creating this feeling makes the movie more engaging than it otherwise would be.
Double Face is an interesting movie. It has the elegance of a sophisticated crime story and the sexual energy of a giallo. The acting and writing are standard fare, though the plot does suffer from some dangling threads. Aside from its silly ending, Double Face is a basic murder mystery that never does anything to set itself apart.
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