By Rod Lott.
Ah, young love! When John (enfant terrible extraordinaire Klaus Kinski) meets Helen (Margaret Lee, Venus in Furs) on holiday in 1969’s Double Face, their courtship is instant and intense, with bedding and wedding in quick succession. Within two years, predictably, the white-hot flame of love has burned out.
“Do you want a divorce, Helen?”
Before any papers are filed, John learns he’s the sole heir to Helen’s fortune when she mentions owning 90% of the shares in Daddy’s company. On the top that, she’s insured to the proverbial hilt. Suddenly, as we half-expect the pupils of Kinski’s trademark buggy eyes to turn into dollar signs, Tex Avery-style, divorce seems like a dumb idea.
As Helen preps for a getaway, a pair of black-gloved hands jack with her Jaguar, resulting in a fiery car crash and a widowed John. Three weeks later, his recuperation vacation to Saint-Tropez raises suspicion, prompting a visit from Scotland Yard.
John gets another visitor, too, in the form of a stranger in his shower: the free-spirited and buck-naked Christine (Christiane Kruger, De Sade). Although unsuccessful in seducing him, the 18-year-old girl does trick him into attending a psych-out party more kaleidoscopic than Midnight Cowboy’s – and equally past its freshness date. There, a beaming Christine shows him a brand-new stag film in which she romps with a woman whose face is concealed by a veil, yet nonetheless gives John every sign of being his late wife.
New to Blu-ray from Arrow Video, Double Face is hardly Kinski’s only krimi – that is, German for “crime story,” which the commentary from Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas discusses in detail. This krimi, however, represents something of an outlier for director Riccardo Freda, who made his name in sword-and-sandal efforts before forging a legacy in horror. (The highlight of Arrow’s disc is a lengthy essay by critic Amy Simmons that traces Freda’s work through this genre, including The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire and Murder Obsession.)
After the initial setup, Freda and his fellow creators – among them Lucio Fulci, credited for story – do one smart thing in a not especially original film: denying audience members a glimpse into John’s frame of mind, so for more than an hour, we are left to guess whether John is a grieving spouse seeking answers or a greedy murderer covering his tracks. Knowing Kinski’s stock in trade and off-screen reputation, one would think there’d be no question and veer a hard right, yet this role finds him more subdued and sympathetic than usual. Still, it ends with the “twist” the viewer initially suspects.
Thematically, enough territory exists here to be deemed Hitchcockian – its cathedral denouement may as well be set in a bell tower – yet Freda is not interested in merely retracing that route on the map. Scene by scene, it increasingly presages Brian De Palma’s more overtly Xeroxed Obsession. Whereas that 1976 thriller is visually sumptuous and narratively dull, Freda’s Double Face hovers just above average in both departments, resulting in the more rewarding experience.
The one thing this Face clearly lacks is polish, with intrusive excisions of frames to speed up scenes, scar makeup that looks like the kind once sold from full-page novelty ads in comic books, model effects that quite literally may be Matchbox cars on a toy train set, and slapdash rear projection and matte work. Yet such was the case for most Euro B pictures, all part of their enduring charm.
Rod Lott runs the genre film website FlickAttack.com. A former professional journalist, he has written for Psychotronic Video, Something Weird Video and numerous books.