"In cases like this, unfortunately, what we believe is an accident is more likely a crime."
A shadowy figure in scuba gear has been abducting beautiful teenage girls from the streets of Venice, killing them, and embalming their bodies in a secret catacomb for his morbid collection of corpses. While the Sheriff believes it's a series of accidents, newspaper reporter Andrea Rubi (Luigi Martocci, credited as Gin Mart) sees the pattern as the work of a serial killer. Meanwhile, teacher Maureen (Maureen Brown) is chaperoning a class of high school girls around the city and takes a liking to Andrea, who offers his services as tour guide while investigating the case. Who will be the next victim? Could the mysterious murderer be Maureen's friend Schwartz, the archeologist or the creepy hotel manager? Can Andrea and Maureen find out before the killer strikes again?
The Embalmer is a very early giallo, so it's missing many of the familiar genre tropes that developed later. In fact, it relies heavily on the traditions of Gothic horror, including an underground catacomb, a mad scientist's lab, skeletons, menacing shadows, and a mysterious figure in black monk's robes. Also, the movie uses the same rhythms you'd find in creature feature movies of the 1950's like The Creature From the Black Lagoon or Them!, rather than the new visual lexicon that Mario Bava was developing. Despite all this, it is set in modern times (meaning the mid-1960's) and even includes a cabaret performance from an Italian Elvis clone. The Embalmer clocks in at only 77 minutes and I'd say that's still too long. There's a lot of padding here, including extended travelogue sequences and the aforementioned musical numbers.
- A cast list is easy to find, but there's very little indication of who played what role. The two leads are easy enough to deduce, but the rest are more difficult, so that's why I left some roles uncredited in the synopsis above.
- The movie seems very concerned that it might be too scary, so comic parts were included for two bickering porters and suspenseful scenes are dulled by an incongruously lighthearted score.
- Most of the murders take place in the north of the city by the Scazi bridge but, in the end, Andrea chases the murderer to St. Mark's Square, which is clear on the other side of town. That's a mighty long run. I also find it hard to believe that the square was deserted during their climactic fight scene in front of the Basilica. Like New York's Time Square, it's the main tourist spot in town and it's never empty, no matter what time of day.
- We're not shown the first or third murders, but they're included in the body count anyway.
- An underground crypt counts as a cemetery for the purposes of the checklist above.
When the lights go out at the nightclub, everyone freaks out. Apparently they've never been to a night club before.
A little later, Schwartz and his elderly Aunt Catherine hit the dance floor and gurrl drops it like it's hot.
Maureen and Andrea clean up nicely for a dinner at the club. As the only one in the room wearing white, Maureen really stands out.