A Cat in the Brain (1990), one of Lucio Fulci’s last films where he takes on the lead role as himself, is complete and utter madness. The film’s quality is dubious at best, but it contains some interesting ideas and a lot of fun moments. Most of the film’s best (goriest) scenes are pouched from other films. Footage is taken from Fulci’s own Touch of Death (1988) – a deranged and hilarious masterpiece – and one of his worst latter day efforts, The Ghosts of Sodom (1988). Fulci also borrows from a series of films sporting opening titles that read “Lucio Fulci presents…” that he supervised. I’m not sure how deep his involvement was, but these films certainly share an aesthetic affinity with Fulci’s final years of work. One of these Fulci supervised films is The Murder Secret, directed by Mario Bianchi, a man as prolific as his supervisor.
THE MURDER SECRET
original title: Non aver paura della zia Marta
aka: The Broken Mirror
aka: Don’t Be Afraid of Aunt Martha
Italy, 1988, Mario Bianchi
Warning! There’s a minor spoiler in this article relating to a rather special death scene that I couldn’t ignore.
Using a jarring combination of film conventions, The Murder Secret‘s opening act flashes backwards and forwards in time while dishing out voice over narration eventually, albeit confusingly, establishing a rather straightforward premise. Jumpy father figure Richard Hamilton (Gabriele Tinti), who looks like (as Mondo Exploito co-conspirator Pierre put it) the bastard love child of Al Pacino and Eric Roberts, and his family make their way to Richard’s aunt’s house. Richard hasn’t seen his Aunt Martha (Sacha Darwin, who Fulci fans will recognise from a hideous role in Touch of Death) for three decades, probably because she was locked away in an insane asylum for most of that time.
Arriving at the house, the Hamilton family is greeted by Thomas (Maurice Poli), a caretaker. Thomas claims that Aunt Martha will be there the next morning, but his shifty sideways glance as he leaves the scene tells us otherwise. Richard spends the night in a sweat-drenched panic after receiving a mysterious silent phone call. His terror hits fever pitch as his adult son (Massimiliano Massimi), arriving late to the party, bursts into the house at 3AM with a hunting rifle in tow.
Unsurprisingly, Aunt Martha doesn’t show up the next day, but luckily the shifty caretaker is there to awkwardly explain she’s running late. Things plod along. There’s some fantastically gratuitous nudity from both Richard’s wife, Nora (Adriana Russo), and daughter, Georgia (Jessica Moore) who spends a lengthy scene trying on a dressing gown and grunting repetitively in a satisfied fashion. And Richard’s irritating younger son, Maurice (Edoardo Massimi) only makes everyone’s nerves worse by becoming hypnotised by a static channel on television and playing creepy pranks. Richard begins his mission to find out exactly what has happened to Aunt Martha.
To say The Murder Secret is slow-paced is an understatement. Fifty minutes in and practically nothing has happened. Thankfully, the stilted dialogue and erratic performances mean that The Murder Secret is never dull. In fact, it’s almost a shame when the Psycho-inspired shower murder kicks in. Almost.
Poor production values and uninspired cinematography aside, it must be said that the gore in The Murder Secret is phenomenal. While it’s not exactly skilfully presented, it has a sleazy quality that can only be found in late 80s Italian grime. There is one death scene in particular that took my breath away. Warning! Entering semi-spoiler territory here, maybe stop reading if you don’t want a particularly amazing death scene ruined. I’ll give you some space…
Okay, so, The Murder Secret has no qualms about murdering children. With a flash of a chainsaw, Maurice, Richard’s son, is suddenly decapitated. There is no build up, no real change in the soundtrack, it just happens. One moment Maurice is moping about like a regular Charlie Brown, then FUCKING BAM! No head. This has to be one of the nastiest and silliest death scenes I’ve seen in some time.
In-between the soap opera banality, The Murder Secret is punctuated with several more repulsive and bloodied scenes. The filth culminates in a corpse kissing, maggot infested finale that had me gagging and laughing simultaneously.
After its actual ending, The Murder Secret slaps on an exceptionally unnecessary second ending (a common trait among many of Fulci’s later efforts – The Ghosts of Sodom and House of Clocks being prime examples), but the faults of this film are all part of its gnarly, stupid charm. Despite not being directed by the man himself, fans of Fulci will get a big kick out of this. It is very much in tune with the madness he spurted out in the late 80s and early 90s. And it’s really, really gory.
Much like a lot of Fulci’s later releases, The Murder Secret was once available from EC in a typically mediocre (though watchable) DVD. It may be out of print, but it’s still pretty easy to come by.