StranglerVsStranglerThere’s no other movie quite like this terminally loony comedy-chiller from Serbia, which never takes an expected turn and has a cheesy yet curiously elegant style that’s very much its own.

1984’s STRANGLER VS. STRANGLER (DAVITELJ PROTIV DAVITELJA) is little-known in the U.S. (even though it was distributed on cable TV in English dubbed form by the late Cannon Group), but is a major cult item in its native Serbia. A product of Belgrade’s new wave art scene of the mid-1980s, the film was directed by Slobodan Sijan, of 1980’s WHO’S SINGIN’ OVER THERE? (KO TO TAMO PEVA) and 1982’s MARATHON FAMILY (MARATONCI TRCE POCASNI KRUG), both widely hailed classics of Serbian filmmaking.

In the city of Belgrade a crime wave is underway, with numerous murders, robberies, sexual assaults and a flasher at a funeral(!). The only thing missing, a curt woman narrator informs us, is a serial killer, but that void is quickly filled. A middle aged slob named Pera Mitic, who lives with his mother and ekes out a meager living by selling carnations that unfortunately for him are currently out of season, snaps one night and strangles a beautiful woman outside her apartment.

Upon viewing a news report about the murder, the teenaged Spiridon finds himself overcome with a weird torpor—and awakens with an urge to strangle his mother. Following an afternoon jam in a shitty garage band Spiridon embarks on his own strangling spree. His band releases a song about strangling that quickly becomes a nationwide hit.

Investigating the killings is the emotionally fragile Inspector Strahinjic, who lives alone with his cat. Strahinjic sends an undercover agent dressed like a woman to catch the murderer(s), but that agent becomes another of Mitic’s victims. So does the mentally deteriorating Mitic’s own mother; she still speaks to him, however, and Mitic begins dressing like her.

As for Inspector Strahinjic, he isn’t doing particularly well. After attempting suicide he’s briefly interred in a padded cell before resuming his investigation. His efforts are a little more successful this time: he actually winds up in an area where both stranglers are afoot, each looking to strangle an attractive woman radio host. Mitic attempts to commit the murder but the woman bites his ear off, and Spiridon winds up proclaimed a hero. But neither of the two has finished his nasty business by any means…

Opening with a noisy and bombastic orchestral symphony, this film is anything but harmonious, and grows increasingly outrageous as it advances. It is, however, extremely well visualized, with elegant camerawork and artful lighting (it’s not the filmmakers’ fault that most existing prints are severely faded and scratched). Counter-pointing this are the overtly nutty storyline, extremely goofy snatches of humor and wildly incongruous—yet, given the collision of seemingly incompatible elements that make up this film, curiously appropriate—symphonic music score. The effect is not unlike a Troma movie directed by Brian De Palma.

Other eccentric elements utilized by director Slobodan Sijan include innumerable satiric references to PSYCHO, wildly histrionic performances (with Peter Lorre look-alike Tasko Nacic’s work in the lead role being the most memorable), outrageously serious and insistent narration by an unseen woman, and occasional documentary snippets of (then) modern-day Serbia. Whether all of this adds up to some mutant strain of comedic genius or just a ludicrous exercise in retro B-movie nuttiness is up to the viewer to decide for him/herself.

Vital Statistics

Centar Film

Director: Slobodan Sijan
Producer: Milan Zmukic
Screenplay: Slobodan Sijan, Nebojsa Pajkic
Cinematography: Milorad Glusica
Editing: Ljiljana-Lana Vukobratovic
Cast: Tasko Nacic, Srdan Saper, Sonja Savic, Nikola Simimc, Rahela Ferari, Radmila Savicevic, Maria Baxa, Pavle Mincic, Zika Milenkovic, Branislav Zeremski, Dragana Ciric, Dijana Sporcic