Even if I fully understand the attraction in serial killers I've always had a problem understanding the romanticizing of them. I’m guilty myself, I just have to lean my head to my right and I can see all my true crime books in the hallway bookshelf and don’t even mention my movie collection, filled with serial killers from all corners of the earth. So I’m one myself. But I don’t admire them, I don’t see them as doing something good. But boy, it can be so suspenseful reading about these human monsters of the night. I've heard about Il Mostro before, but it was always hard to find information in English about this serial killer (or serial killers) who from 1968 to 1985 killed 16 people, all of them making out in the forest areas outside Florence.
The murders were heavily ritualistic, often beginning with shooting the man and then the woman, and continuing mutilating her body - removing her breast and finally the vagina, ending with placing a thin branch of Olive Tree inside it. At one point the killer (or killers, which might be the most logical thing considering the advanced set-ups) accidentally killed a German gay couple, one of the men had long blonde hair, which visibly upset the killer who ripped a gay porn magazine into pieces before leaving the site.
The case was never officially solved, even if there was arrests and even imprisonments - but at the end everything always went back to zero. I guess we will never know the truth. But like any big crime case there’s always been a lot of attention to it and we've see a comedy from Roberto Benigni inspired by the case, a mini-series telling the whole story, several books - especially the one by Douglas Preston (The Monster of Florence: a true story), which filled in the last pieces of information for me. But even before that, way earlier, I saw two movies based on the case: Cesare Ferrario’s Il mostro di Firenze (1986) and Camillo Teti’s L'assassino è ancora tra noi (1986) aka The Monster of Florence and The Killer is Still Among Us. Both came the same year, on year after what later was known as the last murder from Il Mostro.
Did Il Mostro stop because of these films? Who knows. The last years had been intensive, with murders after murders, touching a very sensitive part of the Florence population: sex. Florence is a town high on itself, which can be understood, and like in many other parts of Italy men and women live at home until they’re married, which makes a car or tent in the forest a great place to have sex without your parents knowing about it. This oddly enough created a small industry of guides, showing people who would like to watch the best places to watch young couples. The the forests of Florence was packed with lovers, guides and watchers. No wonder two very similar movies was released the same year.
Cesare Ferrario’s The Monster of Florence is a very typical giallo, up until the ending, where it goes a more realistic - but still mysterious route. It was co-written by Mario Spezi, who later worked with Douglas Preston on his book, and therefore it’s easy to find some of his opinions and theories in it, including - I guess - putting something of himself in the soul of the main character: a writer played by Leonard Mann. It’s the usual story, he’s doing the investigation himself together with his journalist girlfriend, tracing everything to that first murder in 1968 - but what does that really mean? Is it the same killer still at large? It seems like Spezi believes it’s a bigger conspiracy around the corner, and not just a crazy, frustrated village man. As a giallo it works, and it have some suspense, but it feels like Ferrario drags the story a bit too much and the kills gets repetitive after a while, the killer shoots someone through a car window in slow motion and then there’s a lot of screaming.
Camillo Teti’s The Killer is Still Among Us is shorter and more modern, youthful if you would like to say so. At least compared to other giallo-style movies. It’s harder, more realistic - but basically follow the same path as the other movie, this time the criminology student Christina (played by a great Mariangela D'Abbraccio) who - exactly like in Alejandro Amenábar’s Thesis - decides to choose a controversial subject for her thesis, the ongoing murders of Il Mostro! Teti still packs the movie with red herrings, but leaves the best for the end when he gives us a particularly nasty and graphic murder and ending which both is very frustrating and rewarding.
I like both movies, but I find Teti’s the most refreshing one. It wasn't as gory and graphic I remembered it to be and it could easily be edited together with Ferrario’s project, because they’re so similar in story, but also a lot harder, realistic and brutal. I would love to discuss the endings of both films, but I don’t want to spoil them. But what I can say is that they have similar ideas, and you can see both movies as warnings to young people - stay the fuck out of the woods and fuck somewhere else.
Both The Monster of Florence and The Killer is Still Among Us is a must watch for fans of both true crime and giallo films, especially because they stay so close to what really happen - and read Douglas Preston’s book before or after to get a bigger look at what happen during those years in the darkness of Florence.
The question is of course: is The Monster of Florence still among us? I don’t think so. He’s dead or locked up somewhere, but there might be more of them out there. Who knows, maybe they’re preparing a comeback...