The Merits of Sin: Murder Obsession aka Fear aka Murder Syndrome (1981) (Italy/France)

Michael Stanford gets a bit too into a scene on the set of his new movie. The strangulation of his costar (lovely Laura Gemser) unsettles him and gets him thinking about his past. Michael has himself some mama issues and in a quick flash we see that at a young age he appears to have gotten a little stab happy with his father. With the movie wrapping up, Michael decides its time to head back home and see his mama. He brings along his girlfriend and a shit ton of emotional baggage.

That’s for sure

Fifteen years have passed since Michael last set foot in his home and not much has changed. The loyal housekeeper Oliver is still creeping around the place and there’s still a pretty unhealthy vibe when it comes to he and his mom’s relationship. It doesn’t help that he is spitting image of his murdered dad and his mother still obviously has feelings for the deceased.

Love most icky

Oedipal issues and knife filled memories will have to be put on the back burner though, because Michael has invited some friends to stay at the family home and discuss a future film. The sleazy director, the assistant director and Laura Gemser arrive for a relaxing weekend…of course, we know that relaxation is almost impossible when you’re getting murdered.

Gimme dat Gemser!

Before the murders can commence a few threads have to be laid out. Part of the fun of this flick is just how many paths are left open and how many lead to dead ends. A quick conversation brings up reincarnation, voodoo, the occult and ghosts. Everyone eyes each other suspiciously and some weird shit starts happening. Michael acts like a complete dickhole to his caring girlfriend and she has a wonderfully weirdo nightmare with a couple zombies and a big ass spider. It ends with her tied up to a stake with her breasts exposed, covered in rooster blood.

Arachnid issues

So the opening of the film throws out a nice bit of queasiness by building the sickly foundation between mother and son, the middle injects it with a nice amount of possible oddness and then the trigger is pulled in the final act and shit goes wild. Splattery death hits like a hammer and some old family secrets are unburied.

In the role of a hammer…an axe!

The gialloish story is brought to bizarre life by a tinge of the supernatural. It works so damn well that I’m surprised more films of the era didn’t use it. Granted, it’s not really a solid giallo and it’s production date puts it well at the tail end of the sub-genre’s popularity. Still, it does well to explain away a whole bunch of the plot holes that were prevalent (no, I’m not complaining) in those Italian murder mysteries. Familiar bits arise (black gloves, J&B, plentiful nudity) but it’s all coated in a thick layer of offbeat and it’s terrific. 8/10

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