Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Lover of the Monster aka Le Amanti Del Mostro (1974)
Available from Luminous | Directed by Sergio Garrone | Review by Crites

Klaus Kinski's filmography is as varied and erratic as the man himself; from a twitchy hunchbacked gunfighter in Leone's FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE to the arch vampire himself in Herzog's NOSFERATU, Klaus has played 'em all. I'd never heard of this one however, 1974's LE AMANTI DEL MOSTRO (AKA LOVER OF THE MONSTER), in which Kinski "becomes obsessed with his experiments in the reanimation of the dead." [Editor's Note: We had inadvertently identified this film under the US title THE HAND THAT FEEDS THE DEAD. However, that film is actually LE MANO CHE NUTRE LA MORTE, also filmed by Garrone with Kinski on the same sets and much of the same cast in 1974. Both films can be found at Luminous Film and Video Works. There is also a recent double CD soundtrack featuring the scores from both Garrone/Kinski films as well as Joe D'Amato's perverse ghost tale DEATH SMILES AT MURDER.]

It's the late 19th century, and Professor Alex Nijinsky (Kinski) and his beautiful wife Agniezka (Katia Christine) are traveling by horse and carriage to the villa left her by her late father, Professor Ivan Rassimov. Their marriage is faltering, due largely in part to Alex's fits of jealousy, and the couple hopes that the remote and scenic country location will provide them with a much-needed second chance at marital bliss. They still have quite a way to go; the pair will be sleeping at opposite ends of the mansion. One other kink in Nijinsky's hopes for getting back in the good graces of the little lady is their neighbor Dr. Igor Walensky, who right away comes sniffing around the villa displaying a clear interest in curvaceous blonde Agniezka.

Largely left to his own devices in his wife's home and hometown, Alex spends a good deal of time finding solace in spirits and Professor Rassimov's library. It seems the late Professor had some rather unorthodox scientific views, particularly regarding "the mystery that exists between life and death." A former doctor himself, it doesn't take Alex long to find his way into the Professor's cellar laboratory and begin recreating the old man's experiments with electricity.

After restoring the Professor's "machine," an elaborate system of coils, beakers, and archaic batteries, Alex has the opportunity to test the device when the family dog Sasha is found dead. But instead of some miraculous scientific breakthrough, the gory process (involving evisceration and electrocution) is an utter failure. In the course of the experiment Alex does however receive a severe shock from the machine, a shock which is to alter his personality substantially. Or at least simply unleash a dormant portion of his already frustrated personality...

On the outskirts of the village an unseen presence attacks a farmer and his family, brutalizing man and wife and murdering their child. Shortly thereafter Alex finds himself wandering the forest, working his way home in a frenzied and unkempt condition.

The following day the town's police force, along with a sizeable hunting party of angry citizens, are combing the countryside for the "vagabond" suspected of killing the child. Alex is also roaming the woods once again, in the same dangerously delirious condition he was the day before, when he comes across a pair of lovers in a clearing. Striking the man down Alex pursues the woman through the shrubbery, and when the search party finds her she's been stripped, violated, and murdered. Alex flees the scene in a manic state, a feral combination of panic and exhaustion, just as a random hobo happens to be passing by and is seen by the posse. Chased through the woods the vagabond is caught and laid into, and by the time the police take charge he has already been beaten to death by the mob.

Back at the villa Alex senses that he is losing himself, and one night approaches his wife in her bedroom hoping for a final heart-to-heart reconciliation. There is still too great an emotional distance between them however, as she continues to hold against him a particular unspoken offense related to his "absurd jealousy." Rebuffed, Alex leaves the bedchamber and returns to the laboratory, haunted by imaginary laughter.

Soon Alex is stalking the village, and peeping through a window as a sexy young harlot undresses for a fat old letch. As they roll about on the bed Alex enters, breaking the man's neck and leaving the girl bloody and ravaged. Afterward he returns to the woods, lovelorn and persecuted by memories both real and imagined. When he reaches the villa Alex is confronted by Agniezka's head servant Boris, who recognizes Alex for the killer he is and draws a knife, determined to prevent any harm from befalling his mistress. Alex fells him with a single blow, then descends into the cellar much like a vampire returning to his crypt at dawn.

With the discovery of the most recent victims another posse is formed to search for the "mad man" on the loose. But instead they find another hobo who, still covered in the blood of a stolen chicken, makes a more convenient target ("He's got the face of a criminal!"). Taken before the magistrate the man pleads innocence, but for lack of a better suspect is jailed anyway.

Alex meanwhile lies in an exhausted state resembling a coma. And who should be attending to him during his days of unconsciousness but the good Doctor Walensky, who obviously takes a greater interest in his patient's wife than the patient himself. When Alex begins to recover and, despite his wife's ministrations, realizes that nothing will change between them, he lets her go, telling her that she can now consider herself free. The camera soars up and away from their table setting on the lawn, and into the court where they are watching the hobo's trial. As there have been no murders committed during the five days Alex lay in bed, a time period coincidentally matching that spent by the hobo in jail, the tramp is found guilty by the court and sentenced to hang. Returning to the villa Alex attempts to drink away his own guilt under the suspicious eyes of Agniezka and Dr. Walensky, and equally shaken by their obvious closeness and their veiled accusations Alex stumbles down to the basement to fall into a trembling fit of auditory hallucination.

Pledging his eternal love to Agniezka Walensky takes his leave, only to hear her begin screaming almost immediately. Alex is stalking his wife through the mansion, and breaking into her bedroom he approaches the terrified woman and begins tearing off her clothing. As Alex throws her to the bed and begins ravishing her Walensky beats his fists bloody trying to break into the villa and save her, but once locked down the mansion is like a fortress (or, as Agniezka had said earlier, like a prison). As Igor sobs outside, Alex rapes Agniezka so violently that she dies in his arms. As the fit passes and his sanity returns, Alex realizes what he has done and, cradling her lifeless body, begins looking for a way to remedy the situation...

At this point I was hoping that Alex would haul her down to the cellar and hook her up to the machine for an ending somewhere along the lines of RE-ANIMATOR and PET SEMATARY. Instead Garrone moves in another direction, one equally dramatic and grief-stricken but aimed much more along the lines of desperate redemption than sci-fi/horror. Effective and unexpected, this more classical finale may not please the gorehounds in the audience (who will also no doubt be disappointed to see that, aside from the experiment with the dog, there's very little blood or explicit violence in the picture) but will certainly meet with the approval of most.

With the mad scientist theme, rich coloration, and period settings, LE AMANTI DEL MOSTRO resembles a Hammer picture, but with a much more tragic and violently lusty end. The dark and brooding interiors well match Alex's mindset as his newly unleashed homicidal frustration grows, and the lupine howls that occasionally spring to life on the soundtrack also serve to accentuate the deepening feral state into which Alex finds himself descending. Kinski's Jekyll & Hyde performance is remarkable, as with a minimum of makeup he transforms from the urbane and sharply-dressed Professor Nijinsky into a glassy-eyed, slack-jawed fiend whose rapacious bloodlust has an entire village terrified. A timeless tale of frustrated romance, given an extra edge as it is by Kinski's always watchable performance and the violent mad scientist twist, LE AMANTI DEL MOSTRO is a most gratifying watch for fans of Klaus, Italian cinema, and classic horror alike.

The film is given a region-free widescreen presentation, in Italian with English subtitles that can be turned on and off. These subtitles are clear and easily visible, but are sometimes a bit confused in their grammar and spelling (and in one point there's a rather important mistake replacing Rassimov's name with Walensky's). The DVD transfer, apparently by CVR for Melbourne's Shoarma Digital, is a bit shaky as well, flickering and rolling at times as would a videocassette. Nothing to ruin the viewing experience certainly, but it is noticeable.

Bonus features include an extensive Klaus Kinski photo gallery, containing posters, stills, and archival images from all eras of Kinski's career, accompanied by a sombre piano score. There's also an interview taped from television recording his appearance on the German talk show Na Sowas! After some outtakes displaying Kinski's volatile on-set behavior (during filming of KOMMANDO LEOPARD) he comes onstage to go off on his own tangents and toy with the rather ridiculous host for asking roundabout questions. But instead of an outburst or brawl it all ends on a note more along the lines of his statement, "I'm thinking right now that I'll be going back to the hotel and drink a Pilsner beer." Go Klaus!

$19.95 from Luminous Film & Video Wurks, P.O. Box 289, Hampton Bays, NY, 11946


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