Directed by: Georges Franju
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Pascale Audret, Marianne Koch
Falling more in life with mystery thrillers, Spotlight on a Murderer does a good job of generating an atmosphere better-suited for the horror fan in all of us. The fact that the story feels like a mashup of House on Haunted Hill and The Legend of Hell House with a spin all its own, certainly doesn’t hurt the picture’s chances of winning genre fans over.
As for the story itself, you may already have an idea working in your brain after those two film comparisons. Trust this: I will venture no closer to spoiler territory. A family is called to their estate, where they learn that the patriarch of the family has died. Typically, the estate and all additional properties would be split among the living relatives. The problem is, the estate can’t be touched for at least five years, because the patriarch – no doubt deceased – is missing. If the family can find the man’s body, they can get on with proceedings, otherwise it may be a long wait to claim what fortune they have.
The familial tensions that arise in the picture are great. Greed lives within just about every personality the film introduces, and that too adds a compelling wrinkle to the viewing experience.
The questions the picture proposes are two-fold: will they find the man’s body before the five-year mark and how dark will their souls become brooding over greed?
Interesting relationships take to life, but those interesting relationships all feel like atypical angles of manipulation. Just the same it’s interesting watching this group spend time together, all no doubt questioning the whereabouts of the family patriarch. Of course, speculations arise. But is anyone savvy enough to figure out where the old corpse is? Hell, will more corpses pile up?
We get a wide array of personalities, each given breath by strong performers. Chemistry between some works better than others (don’t at all be shocked by a few of the film’s rivalries), but in general, there aren’t any major unexpected clashes or disruptions in the interactions of these folks.
The set pieces look great, and the editing feels almost atypically refined. We don’t see many of those two-to-three second stretches of blackness – that we spot in so many vintage flicks – as the next scene is keyed up. Someone was clearly a little ahead of their time.
There’s a fantastic eeriness to this production that Hammer fans will get a big kick out of. And those who love a mystery that almost moves in reverse (for lack of a better term), be prepared to have your cinematic fires stoked. Arrow Films delivers again, and we’re going to suggest you go out of your way to get your hands on this unsettling affair.