Death: Tonkinese Style

Always excited to see a Tonkinese cat in an Italian horror movie.

The Tonk is a cross between a Siamese and Burmese, but at some point it was decided that this could be considered a pedigree rather than a cat-mutt, so they needed a name for it and selected the fictitious location of SOUTH PACIFIC, Tonkin, as mythical country of origin for a mythical breed of feline. (FAKE NEWS! See comments section.)

Our cat, Momo, is solid Tonk, all the way through.

Joe D’Amato’s DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (a title trying a bit too hard, as is the film) actually climaxes with a man having his face eaten off by a Tonk, in one of the least convincing examples of cat-on-human violence ever presented (and there are A LOT of examples to choose from).

Actual frame from Tonkinese face-eating scene
Momo does it better

Even less convincing than the cat is Ewa Aulin (CANDY), whose eccentric performance refuses psychology altogether, in favour of a series of random smiles and glazed stares — yet you cannot argue that her choices are wrong for the film, which never makes a lick of sense from start to finish. I quite liked that about it.

Klaus Kinski has contributed a few days of his time, which I suppose kept him out of trouble, as a doctor called to treat carriage-toppling-accident victim Aulin. He finds a pendant on her neck with a strange symbol which he decodes, allowing him to raise the dead. Then he’s murdered by his mute manservant and the chap he’s raised.

Oh, but before that, he’s stuck a needle in Aulin’s eye, in a quite horribly convincing manner. I can in no way work out how this special effect was achieved. It looks completely real and it is a one-shot extreme closeup. Maybe Aulin has unusually soft, permeable, liquid eyes. They do LOOK like they might be. It seems to do her no harm. Did it really happen? We never find out. Possibly she’s invulnerable due to the fact that she, too, has been raised from the dead, by her incestuous brother the mad scientist. And now she’s out to get revenge, seemingly, on those who somehow killed her? Maybe?

The Tonk gets to re-enact edited highlights from Poe’s The Black Cat, when Aulin gets bricked up by her lesbian lover, then she returns from the grave to destroy the lover, her husband, and her father.

At one point, a maid starts experiencing a different character’s flashbacks, which is certainly interesting. Then she runs away and gets blasted in the face with a shotgun, but we never find out who did it or why. It’s just that kind of film.

My favourite favourite bit, apart from Aulin’s creepy random smiling, was a party scene where the dialogue assumed a terrifying-hilarious disjointedness. Characters would speak over one another, replying to questions that hadn’t yet been asked, then silences would break forth, long, supremely awkward conversational gaps which nobody onscreen seemed to recognise were happening. I eventually sussed that one of the dialogue tracks had been placed out of sync, and the dubbing mixer either hadn’t noticed or couldn’t be bothered fixing it. Or thought, quite correctly, that such a bizarre error would be right at home in this movie.

There’s a twist ending, too, where Aulin, an avenging revenant, also turns out to be the detective’s aged, disabled wife. Which is impossible to reconcile with anything we’ve just seen, and has no dramatic implications whatsoever. It’s an illusion, something that looks like a plot twist, but is only a trompe l’oeil painting of one.

I never had any interest in director Joe D’Amato because his stuff seemed just to be nasty porn, but — though it’s wall-to-walled-up tits and gore — this is pretty engaging. Maybe because the two writers never met, or couldn’t read each others’ handwriting, or speak the same language? Hard to say, but it achieves a demented discombobulation rare in cinema, and even in life.

This won’t hurt…

DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER stars Aguirre Fitzcarraldo Stroszek Nosferatu; Candy Christian; 3rd Sombrero Onlooker at Tuco’s 1st Hanging; Dr. Schwab; Dr. Paul Eswai; and Momo, as himself.

As for Momo, he comes back from the vet today after a very expensive scale and polish, minus one tooth, and with the news that his kidneys aren’t what they used to be. But he seems otherwise healthy as a horse — body of Oliver Reed, lungpower of Ethel Merman.

8 Responses to “Death: Tonkinese Style”

  1. MOMO MON AMOUR! I think you should write a film or radio play to exploit his world-beater of a MIAOOWWWW! Or maybe we can insert him into one of our several on-the-go film projects.

  2. Every time I start to record a video essay VO, he pipes up. Next time I’m going to leave his vocal contributions in, just to embarrass him.

  3. ROGER ALLEN Says:

    An interesting example of cat-on-human violence appeared in “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” – a radio precursor of “Monty Python” – which once included a sketch with John Cleese delivering the immortal line “Kill, Tibbles, Kill!” with convincing sound effects.

  4. ehrenstein47 Says:

    My favorite movie cat is of course Pyewacket

  5. A great cat, or series of cats. I believe Kim Novak took in one of him after filming.

  6. Cleese reintroduced Tibbles — or Tiddles, anyway, in a TV ad in the eighties:

    At 8.20

  7. John Seal Says:

    I hate musicals so have never seen South Pacific, but rest assured that Tonkin is very real!

  8. By Jove, you’re right! And this article debunks the whole South pacific connection:

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