Formula For A Murder (1985) | The lost Italian giallo starring cult legend David Warbeck resurfaces on DVD

Formula For A Murder (1985)

In 1960 Boston, 11-year-old Joanna falls down a flight of stairs while fleeing a faceless sex attacker disguised as a priest. Twenty-five years later and with no memory of her ordeal, the wheelchair-bound Joanna (Christina Nagy) is now a philanthropic heiress and an archery champion who plans to donate a vast share of her wealth to a new sports centre for paraplegics and to her local church.

After a priest is murdered, Joanna starts having visions of a faceless man of the cloth carrying a blood-soaked doll, who accuses her of feigning her disability. Convincing herself she is hallucinating, Joanna soon finds solace in the arms of sports coach Craig (David Warbeck). But can she trust him? Not likely… as he wants to frighten her to death to get her money. When Joanna’s best friend Ruth (Carroll Blumenberg) gets in his way, the crazed Craig’s killer instincts are revealed and Ruth meets a very nasty end. But hell hath no fury like a woman taken for a fool – especially one who just happens to be handy with a bow and arrow…

Formula For A Murder

1985’s Formula For A Murder has been touted as a long-lost giallo gem. It’s certainly typical of the genre, but as for being a gem, well the jury’s out on that one as far as I’m concerned.

Yes, cult legend David Warbeck gives a gutsy exaggerated performance as Nagy’s crazed beau and it does have some stylishly nasty murder set pieces, but the story is a tired old chestnut that’s been done to death a million times before (and Gaslight and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death did it way better). Filmed in Rome (pretending to be Boston) during the decade of big hair and legwarmers – the 1980’s, it could have done with some tongue-in-cheek naff styling in the hair, makeup and art department to give it a campy edge, but the production values are underwhelming. Even the music has been lifted from other movies; in particular Lucio Fulci’s 1982 exploitation hit The New York Ripper. (The disco track during a crucial murder scene is also strangely incongruent).

Formula For A Murder

The film does have some memorable images (albeit unoriginal) – the little girl who speaks with the voice of an adult, but is dressed like an 19th century doll is Addams Family creepy (surely no girl in 1980s dressed like that), there’s some nice Bava-esque primary colours on offer during Ruth’s death; and staircase murder of the priest is straight out of Psycho – but the film is riddled with plot holes, and we never learn why Warbeck chooses to disguises himself as priest whenever he kills [SPOILER].

Director Alberto De Martino is best known for his Exorcist rip-off 1974’s The AntiChrist (which I really like), and 1977s’ Holocaust 2000 (another guilty pleasure). Formula For A Murder came at the end of his career, and it shows. I’m afraid this one’s for Warbeck completists alone.

Formula For A Murder

The Shameless Screen Entertainment Numbered Collector’s Edition is re-mastered from new restored HD materials in the film’s original widescreen format, with English audio, and optional Italian audio with English subtitles. The extras include an audio commentary with Director of Photography G Battaglia (a strange choice since he has trouble remembering much about working on the film) and Shameless Slashers trailers. There’s also a Shameless Yell-o-Mac included, which you can slip into to re-enact Warbeck’s off the wall performance in the comfort of your own kill room. Available from Amazon

David Warbeck was one of the most recognisable faces in cult Italian exploitation during the 1970s and 1980s. With the re-appearance of the long-lost Formula For A Murder now back in circulation, how many Warbeck movies have you seen? Why not tick off the films and share your results (you can enter by clicking on the photo below).

Warbeck movies



About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on June 11, 2014, in Horror, Maybe Miss, Maybe-Miss and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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