A young, incredibly beautiful and apparently dead woman is found in the wreckage of a crashed carriage in 1909 somewhere in Germany or Austria or Switzerland or Luxembourg. Despite being clinically deceased (no heartbeat; doesn't react when her eyeball is stabbed) she is to all intents and purposes 'alive', but cannot remember her name or from where she has come. A clue comes in the form of a neck pendant reading 'Greta 2006', which also incorporates an old Inca design which apparently was used in reincarnation rituals. Walter von Ravensbruck and his wife Eva, who discovered Greta in the wreckage, take her in and each fall in love with her. After a servant girl and the doctor who examined Greta after the crash are murdered, Eva takes against Greta and walls her into a disused room in the basement of their large house/castle. Mere walls aren't enough to contain an undead Swede however, and Greta returns to wreak havoc on the von Ravensbrucks, including Walter's father Herbert, to whom she was previously married (and to whose wedding Walter-who's about three years younger than his dad-and Eva apparently weren't invited). Will Greta ever find peace, and will the inspector sleepwalking his way through the film finally figure out what's going on?
This is different to most gialli (in that it's not a giallo, but whatevs) because the supernatural idea of a reincarnated woman turns out not to be merely a ruse designed to scare someone to death/into signing over their claim to an estate. This is made fairly explicit early on, in that our first glimpse of Greta is of her corpse laid out and being mourned by her incestuous brother, and it's confirmed when Klaus Kinski's mad doctor (he's not really meant to be mad, but come on-it's Klaus) can't detect a heartbeat and then sticks a pin in her eye to no response. A world in which reincarnation is possible is not really suited to a giallo film, as the threat of death-the bedrock upon which the genre's sense of danger is built-carries less weight if it's not a terminal event, but, as I've said (and will stop saying now), this isn't really a giallo.
We do get a couple of 'faceless killer'-style killings, although the fact that the mystery angle is suddenly dropped after killing number two suggests that the script, which was apparently more of a traditional mystery when first conceived, was adapted somewhat on the fly. From the point where Greta returns from her walled-in tomb we see her cut a swathe through the cast, and we can only assume that she was responsible for the two early murders (although there's a chance that the creepy butler Simeon, who seems to be in on her secret, was the initial killer; not that it really matters). It is notable that the first murder is committed by a shotgun, something rarely utilised in gialli (or slasher films) due to the slightly routine nature of a gunshot killing. D'Amato certainly does his best to sex things up here though, with some inventive, if ludicrously unrealistic, facial make-up effects.
There's a clear Poe influence at play, with cats suddenly becoming prominent right about the time that Eva walls Greta into the room in the basement. Plus, Walter actually resembles Poe fairly closely (and there's a bit of incest thrown in as well, which would no doubt have pleased ol' Edgar). Greta's role as avenging angel clad in red and black can also be seen as a personification of the Red Death, with her second resurrection being revealed to Eva at a Masque-rade ball. The story is very much a hodgepodge of various fragments of Poe stories, with some gialloey iconagraphy* sprinkled on top, and a single reel diversion into the realm of the sex film (where D'Amato would later reside permanently). The traditional giallo slo-mo flashback, replete with ethereal music and smiling, silent characters recurs throughout; in fact, as much as half of the film is comprised of dialogue-free sequences.
As a rule, these flashbacks seemed to largely be confined to gialli set in the past (see A White Dress for Mariale and The Murder Clinic), which suggests that filmmakers knew that they were faintly ridiculous, or at least incongruous with standard 1960s/70s behaviour-people then were protesting wars and smoking ganja, not lolloping through meadows smiling like loons. Of course, what passed for 'normal' behaviour, and depictions thereof, in the films c. 1970 are now often derided and mocked by contemporary audiences, who would doubtless find the slo-mo flashback sequences to be doubly guffaw-inducing (and one wonders if audiences in 2050 will chortle away at the films that we unquestioningly lap up as entertainment-quite possible, if people cop on and realise in the interim that Marvel movies are bullshit).
Trapped in among all the slo-mo frolicking and Poe references there is a meditation on desire and freedom struggling to (ironically) break free. The love triangle which develops could have formed the centrepiece of the film, but instead is limited to the aforementioned sexy sex reel. Greta also gives a heartfelt speech to Walter about how she identifies with his pet birds, as she too feels trapped by her 'owner' (him), to which he responds by laughingly telling her that the bird she has taught to say her name is actually a chap. Men as a whole don't really come off great here, being either leering pervs (Kinski and Luciano Rossi) or sly, shy pervs (Simeon, and Walter to some extent). The women are more forceful, driving the narrative and being responsible for pretty much all the kills (and attempted kills), although man is still in control for the sciencey reincarnation bit. So, this is a world where a male God has control but women have agency.
The film is very stylishly shot, with excellent use of wide-angled lenses, and the soundtrack is fantastic (the opening credits feature possibly my favourite giallo score of all time, with a extremely sparse soundscape punctured by occasional guitar stings). It's definitely D'Amato on top form, and he knew it-it's the only film he ever directed which bore his actual name, Aristide Massaccesi. The stalk-and-slash sequences aren't quite as tautly executed as Argento at his best, and after Greta is unequivocally revealed to be responsible for the killings they become almost choreographed dance sequences, but they're never less than visually arresting. The same goes for the make-up effects which, although frequently ridiculous, very much go for the jugular in every respect. D'Amato also finds an interesting halfway house for his presentation of violence, marrying the quick. incisive cutting of an Argento set piece with the lovingly lingering presentation of gore effects of a Fulci gore effect.
As I think I may have hinted at before, this isn't really a giallo. As with many fringe efforts, if it was made elsewhere in the world it would simply be a supernatural horror film which features two killings in which we're not immediately sure of the killer's identity. Despite the semi-regular presence of a police inspector, there's no real investigation into the murders (indeed, the two 'anonymous' early killings are never mentioned by anyone after they happen), and any mystery that is present in the film surrounds the exact provenance and intentions of Greta. But even this isn't really a mystery-we have a fair sense of what she's about from the start, and nothing that happens is exactly a shocking revelation.** Instead, possibly wisely, D'Amato plays up the incredibly ethereal beauty of Ewa Aulin as she ghosts through the film seducing and destroying. She may not be a giallo killer, but by damn she's certainly a killer gal. And, on that dud note, I'm off to watch Candy.
*AKA eyeconagraphy-witness the violence visited upon Greta's eyeball, as well as the shots of eyes silently observing characters through windows and cracks in doors.
**There is a semi-twist in the very last shot, although it's undercut slightly with the plethora of questions it raises as to the inspector's general competence and quality of eyesight.