Despite being a celebrated selection of the Cannes Film Festival, Paul Vecchiali’s 1970 arthouse giallo The Strangler was never released stateside. Thanks to a new 2k restoration by Altered Innocence, the psychosexual thriller finally gets a proper release a half-century later. Not only does The Strangler offer a stylized character portrait centered around a killer, but the restoration finally carves out its earned space in Giallo‘s history.
Emile (Jacques Perrin, The Young Girls of Rochefort) seems like a nice guy. He’s handsome, loves his dog, and spends time at home crocheting scarves. Appearances are deceiving, of course; Emile uses said scarf to stalk and strangle lonely women whom he deems too depressed to go on living. As the death toll of mercy killings mounts, detective Simon Dangret (Julien Guiomar) finds himself resorting to unconventional, extreme measures to track the killer. That happens to include the assistance of the beautiful Anna (Eva Simonet), a woman who cozies up to Simon under the belief that she fits Emile’s victim type.
Vecchiali, who wrote and directed, spends a lot of time tracking Emile’s modus operandi in a way that suggests his killer isn’t off about his assessments of his victims. There’s an empathetic quality to Emile and the warm conversations and embraces that he has with each before an almost gentle strangling. These women seem to welcome death. These interactions present a stark contrast to the version that winds up in newspapers, spurring an increasingly pressured and panicked Simon to resort to flushing Emile out into the open in dangerous ways. Emile’s deluded elegance lays at the opposite end of Detective Simon’s machismo-laden blunt force. That’s before a second homicidal mugger (Paul Barge) enters the equation to further compound the psychological component of this strangely beguiling character study.
The Strangler packs a lot of meaty concepts and ideas into its 90-minute thriller themed around isolation and hysteria. A late scene that sees a mob of women descend on a suspect, holding him hostage as they comfort a woman that barely evaded Emile’s clutches, adds surprising levity in an otherwise somber, moody character piece. Anna’s motives remain one of the more elusive mysteries until the finale, highlighting the unique way Vecchiali approached his tale of multiple murderers. Emile may be the throughline, but all of the varying character and plot threads work in service to the central theme of collective loneliness that feels well-suited to the Giallo format. Or perhaps more accurately, the precursor to the Giallo format that would hail from Italy just a few years later.
Mood and setting take precedence over the story. While the general public may not know the Strangler’s identity, it’s no mystery to the viewer or half of the main characters. That atmospheric quality and the elegance in how Vecchiali frames the murders and the foreplay leading up to them eventually gives way to psychosexual underpinnings and subtext. Why Emile does what he does is apparent from the opening frame and in later dialogue, giving the film thematic purpose in an otherwise broad genre thriller that incorporates a variety of influences, from early Giallo to noir.
The Strangler is an arthouse horror of the highest order; the proto-giallo favors ambiance over bloodletting. Vecchiali’s sense of style, humor, and sympathy for his killer sets it apart. It’s eccentric and frequently dabbles in humor, but it’s a sense of profound loneliness that defines it. The 2k restoration is stunning, befitting Vecchiali’s singular work. It makes for a fascinating entry in the genre, especially in a historical context, released years ahead of similar tragic serial killer tales. Just expect it to favor emotions and mood over all else.
The Strangler expands in theaters today.
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