Tonino Valerii’s ‘My Dear Killer’ opens with something that I can honestly say I’ve never seen before in all my misspent years of watching gialli: death by digger bucket. The poor unfortunate who gets his bonce brutalized between the blades is one Vincenzo Paradisi (Franceso di Federico). The investigation is headed up by Inspector Luca Peretti (George Hilton), who begins his enquiries at the firm who hired out the equipment. The trail leads to the first of several corpses: that of Mario Ansuini (Remo De Angelis), the driver who was booked to operate the digger on the day in question. Everything points towards Ansuini committing suicide, but Peretti suspects otherwise.
Peretti isn’t your typical giallo cop. He’s attentive to detail, intuitive, tenacious and definitely not there for comic relief. In fact, with the exception of the snivelling cop-hating rag-and-bone man Mattio Guardapelle (Dante Maggio), there are no characters who provide comic relief. ‘My Dear Killer’ is populated with as sleazy, cynical and black-hearted a group of characters as you could ever hope not to meet. At least two of them – moist-lipped sculptor Beniamino (Alfredo Mayo) and trucking company boss Giorgio Canavese (William Berger) – are paedophiles, while the various members of the Moroni family are dysfunctional plus VAT.
The Moronis are a moneyed but jealousy-ridden bunch, also the victims of a high-profile kidnapping – their young daughter. The payoff went south, the girl was found dead at an abandoned shack and one of their members died in an attempt to follow the kidnappers. I’m keeping the details of the kidnapping and the Moroni family infrastructure deliberately vague; Valerii dedicates the mid-section of the film to carefully establishing the whys and wherefores. It’s during this section that ‘My Dead Killer’ could almost pass for a Sunday evening BBC television whodunit – and, to his credit, Valerii makes Peretti’s painstaking attempts to connect the clues quietly watchable.
Elsewhere, however, it’s business as usual for this genre. ‘My Dear Killer’ emerges as something of a precursor to ‘Deep Red’, with a child’s drawing providing a crucial clue, while Peretti races from clue to clue, witness to witness, only to find, as the bodies pile up, that the killer is always one step ahead of him. (If Argento and his ‘Deep Red’ co-writer Bernardino Zapponi did rip off ‘My Dear Killer’, all I can say is power to them: they took some elements from a middling giallo and amalgamated them into one of the genre’s bona fide masterworks. Also, ‘Deep Red’ has an ending that functions like a blow to the solar plexus, while ‘My Dear Killer’ winds up in Agatha Christie fashion with Peretti arraying the suspects in a sitting room and delivering a five-minute monologue.)
The death scenes are properly gruesome, involving bludgeoning, strangulation, hanging and the improper use of power tools. Rooftop chases and bottles of J&B are, however, sadly lacking. And the presence of a naked pre-pubescent child at Beniamino’s studio is just plain unnecessary. Worse is the blithely unconcerned way in which Valerii presents the scene. It’s a slap in the face to the viewer’s sensibilities. The filmmakers demonstrate an equal lack of concern with this subject matter in a subsequent scene where Peretti braces Canavese, reminding him that “you were caught in a brothel with a twelve year old” and promising to quash the prosecution if Canavese co-operates!!!
Maybe that’s the essential problem with ‘My Dear Killer’: it goes for the gore as nastily as anything by Fulci with its power tool set-piece, and it baits controversy with the aforementioned imagery, but ultimately it’s slow-burn procedural with a yawn-fest denouement that, for all Peretti’s loquacity, leaves several plot points unanswered. I used the word “watchable” a couple of paragraphs ago: it’s a good epitaph for this film. ‘My Dear Killer’ is consistently watchable, and even delivers a couple of scenes that are genuinely gripping; but it’s memorable for the wrong reasons.