Every now and then I get an itch that can only be relieved by a giallo. For the uninitiated, giallo films were murder mysteries made in Italy predominantly in the early to mid 70’s. They were often very stylish with bombastic soundtracks, lurid murder scenes, beautiful women, and impressive cinematography. They were often more about style that substance and there is no substitute for them. Director Sergio Martino made a string of them in the 70’s with The Suspicious Death of A Minor being the last one. Thanks to Arrow Video, I was able to scratch my itch with it, directed by one of the masters of Italian cult cinema.
The Suspicious Death of a Minor (aka Too Young to Die) begins with a teenage girl at a dance who is terrified. She sits at a table in fear for her life. A rugged and handsome man (played by Claudio Cassinelli, Slave of the Cannibal God, Murder Rock) asks her to dance and she agrees. That is until she spots the reason for her fear: a hitman. She runs away and before the handsome man can catch up, the hitman slays her with a blade and runs off. As it turns out, this bespectacled handsome man is cop who is working for the department on an unofficial basis. He wants to know why she was slain and by whom. Such begins the mystery of the film that will eventually involve the help of a petty thief, a ring of child prostitution, regular prostitutes, car chases, roof chases, and shoot outs.
Now I know what you’re thinking, gee that doesn’t sound much like a giallo. You’re right. This film was made when the Poliziotteschi (Italian cop action/crime films) was starting to take over in the Italian box office so the film is really probably only 10% giallo, 80% Poliziotteschi, and 10% comedy. Still I found The Suspicious Death of a Minor to be a very satisfying watch. The score is heavily influenced by Goblin which I’m 100% ok with because it’s a great score. The plot is well written with some interesting twists and turns, plus it was written with action in mind so the film never becomes dull. Our hero is tough, smart, and funny, which makes for a satisfying leading man too. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more films set in this universe with this unofficial cop that can break all the rules to get his man. The killer is stoic and almost inhuman which makes him a frightening antagonist but really he’s just a weapon for an even more sleazy and evil man. The film manages to hit all the sweet spots of both genres: it features beautiful women being hunted, it has a memorable gialli soundtrack, it has a murder mystery but it also has action, car chases, shoot outs, and a tough guy lead. The comedy in the film at times undercuts the tension, such as placing wacky music and slapstick elements in what would have been a suspenseful car chase, but thankfully the comedy does not ruin the film. At times it even enhances the overall fun of the flick, though the usefulness of the comedic elements may vary by viewer tastes.
While not a full-on giallo, The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a great Italian horror/action/comedy that manages to be very satisfying on all fronts. It was written by Ernesto Gastaldi who also wrote Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight which are two of my favorite gialli. He also wrote All the Colors of the Night, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have The Key, Torso, The Grand Duel, and many many other notable Italian genre films. Add The Suspicious Death of a Minor to his long list of successful screenplays.
It’s an odd duck of a movie but one that I found to be highly enjoyable. Well written, acted, and directed, it feels like a film that should have a better reputation (or a reputation at all) among cult cinema fans. The blu looks fantastic with a total restoration. The film is presented in original Italian and from what i could tell, all the actors speak Italian anyway. The film has a commentary track by Troy Howarth, and an interview with Sergio Martino and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando.
If you love Italian cinema of the 70’s, The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a a must see film. It’s a hybrid of genres that works very well, directed by a master of the genres.