Friday, May 1, 2015

A WHITE DRESS FOR MARIALÉ aka UN BIANCO VESTITO PER MARIALÉ

Romano Scavolini, 1972
Starring: Ida Galli, Ivan Rassimov, Luigi Pistilli

As a young girl, Marialè witnesses her father kill her mother and mother’s lover and then turn the gun on himself. Years later, the adult Marialè is married to the abusive Paolo, who drugs her and keeps her prisoner in her family castle. Unbeknownst to him, she has invited a group of friends to the castle for a weekend-long party, including the handsome Massimo. Even though the butler tries to turn them away, Paolo eventually relents. They throw a costume party, where Marialè wears the white, bloodstained dress her mother died in, setting in motion a hallucinogenic nightmare and a weekend of bloodshed.

Also known as Spirits of Death, director Romano Scavolini’s relatively unknown film is surprisingly creepy and it’s gone too long without an audience. Sort of a combination between Fellini, Ken Russell, and Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), the film stumbles occasionally but remains compelling from start to finish. The opening scene where Marialè’s mother meets her death at the hands of her husband is a hard act to follow, but A White Dress for Marialè keeps things chugging along thanks to some solid direction, a fittingly zany script, interesting cinematography, and assured performances.

One of my favorite giallo actors, Ivan Rassimov, plays against type as the film’s hero, a sensitive artist whose romance with Marialè seems inevitable. He’s also basically the only male character who isn’t a complete bastard. This Serbo-Italian dreamboat was in everything from Bava’s Planet of the Vampires to spaghetti westerns and several of Sergio Martino’s giallo films, usually as a twisted, psychotic murderer or, at best, menacing love interest. This is the only film I’ve seen him in where he’s more lamb than lion. He makes a nice counterpoint to the subdued, almost ghost-like Ida Galli, always a lovely sight, but not very often a strong physical presence. She is perhaps the most accomplished of a cast, with a resume ranging from classics like La Dolce Vita and The Leopard to Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World and The Whip and the Body to spaghetti westerns, war films, and a mess of giallo efforts.

Luigi Pistilli, who is always excellent, is compelling despite the fact that he plays an abusive husband. Cast in spaghetti western classics like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and The Great Silence, Pistilli was one of the giallo genre’s most talented actors. He appeared in everything from The Cast of the Scorpion’s Tale and The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, Bay of Blood, and Italian crime films like Caliber 9, his role here is surprisingly close to the scoundrel Oliviero of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. He abuses his wife and, like Marialé’s character, is tormented by the memory of his dead mother. Martino’s film also includes a bacchanalia scene that ends with insanity and murder. I’d love to discover an interview that explains (or denies) the connection between these two films, seemingly made back-to-back.

Though these three lead performances from Galli, Rassimov, and Pistilli provide the film with a secure base, what really makes it stand out is the wacky second half. The dinner party erupts into a costumed affair where the characters take various outfits off of mannequins in the castle’s creepy underground chambers – and yes, this is yet another giallo that makes effective use of plastic mannequins, though it doesn’t dwell on them. Their fete temporarily has a ‘60s feel – possibly a brief nod to the throwback style of the giallo films of Umberto Lenzi – with rock music, face painting, and other activities that wouldn’t feel out of place at a hippy love fest. But soon the quirky guests are knocked off by a killer. It is around this midway point that the film slows down and drags a bit. It adapts a more conventional “old dark house” style murder mystery plot, though this is fortunately abandoned by the conclusion.

The film suggests in a vague sort of way that the dinner guests have been possessed by the spirits of the dead (the American title), but really Scavolini just does away with logic all together, letting the narrative roam where it pleases. There are some fittingly nightmarish scenes that take place during a booming storm and in certain moments, it reminded me of Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s even more Dionysian The Mansion of Madness, made a year earlier. These experimental scenes will likely divide the audiences, though they boast some of the film’s most striking imagery.

A White Dress for Marialè comes recommended, particularly for anyone who likes a dash (or two) of the surreal with their thrillers or giallo films. Though it’s still not particularly available for US audiences, you can pick it up on Blu-ray from German company Camera Obscura, thankfully in stock at Diabolik DVD. It includes plenty of juicy special features and hopefully soon this interesting, strange little film will get a similar treatment on region 1 Blu-ray.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

WHO SAW HER DIE?


Aldo Lado, 1972
Starring: George Lazenby, Anita Strindberg, Nicoletta Elmi

Somewhere in France a young, red-haired girl is murdered in the woods by an old woman dressed all in black. Later, in Venice, a different little red-hared girl goes to visit her father, who is a sculptor. Soon, she is also murdered by the same mysterious lady. Her estranged parents come together to solve her murder at any cost as the body count begins to rise.

Despite director Aldo Lado's previous success with the chilling, excellent Short Night of the Glass Dolls (1971), his follow up doesn't live up to its predecessor. It suffers from two major flaws -- firstly, that it falls so short of Short Night of the Glass Dolls' atmosphere of death mingled with sex, mystery, oppression, and paranoia. Secondly, it also pairs in comparison with another, similar film that actually came out a year later, the magnificent Don't Look Now (1973). Obviously this criticism only applies in hindsight, since Lado would have no way of knowing what he was working against, but for anyone who has seen the latter film, this is laughable in comparison. Not to throw another bone of contention against Lado, but it also fails in comparison with his follow up, the brutal Night Train Murders (1975).

Unfortunately I have to admit that Who Saw Her Die? is probably only entertaining only for die-hard giallo fans, or for die-hard James Bond fans who want to see George Lazenby in a more traditional role -- he stars as the forlorn father searching for his daughter's killer and I can't say this film does much to cement his reputation as a talented actor. I could be wrong, but I believe this is his only role in a giallo film. (Also keep your eyes peeled for Adolfo Celi, of Thunderball.) There are also some solid performances from a few genre regulars, including the sexy Anita Strindberg (Lizard in a Woman's Skin) as the little girl's grief-stricken mother and Nicoletta Elmi, the creepy little girl from Deep Red who grew up to be a creepy twenty-something in Demons.

The film's main problem is that, like Short Night of the Glass Dolls, the solution to its central mystery is a conspiracy, rather than a single murderer. While this worked in the former film, thanks to a solid plot and plenty of nightmarish atmosphere, Who Saw Her Die? just can't compare. It squanders the lovely Venice set and attempts to make the proceedings as drab and gray as the Soviet background of Short Night of the Glass Dolls, and relies far too heavily on run-of-the-mill giallo trademarks. I never get tired of seeing those black gloves, but they are not used particularly inventively here.

That's not to say it totally misses the mark. The first half of the film is compelling, but almost as soon as little Roberta dies, Lado unleashes a barrage of red herrings, characters who do some really stupid things, and a host of forgettable side characters who factor into the conclusion in some way that I already don't remember. This is simply a clunky script that can't be rescued by any of the actors, the effects, or the fun score by Ennio Morricone. There are some solid death scenes and child  murder is a risky subject even for a giallo film. Though a few of these popped up over the years, most notably Don't Torture a Duckling, the standard giallo victims are alluring women, or at least adults who have attracted the murderer's attention in some way.

Perhaps the film's most compelling scenes are those leading up to Roberto's death. Lado reveals fairly early on that she is most certainly going to die and agonizingly drags out a suspenseful series of near missing until her inevitable demise -- which of course occurs while she is out of playing and her father is having a tryst with another woman. The weightiness of her death is somewhat ruined by Lazenby's bland acting -- though neither of the parents exhibit a whole lot of grief -- and some ridiculous scenes, like one where he has to play a game of ping pong to get a witness to talk.

Though it is peppered with moments of humor and suspense, Who Saw Her Die? brings little to the genre. It's so frustrating because it shows off occasional glimmers of its potential, and in light of Short Night of the Glass Dolls and Night Train Murders, this could have been an exceptional film. If you still want to see it, there's a serviceable Anchor Bay DVD available.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT aka LA MORTE ACCAREZZA A MEZZANOTTE

Luciano Ercoli, 1972
Starring: Nieves Navarro, Simon Andreu, Carlo Gentili, Claudine Lange

Valentina, a model, agrees to be a research subject for her boyfriend Gio, a journalist interested in studying the effects of hallucinogens. She takes the drug (called HDS, perhaps an obvious stand-in for LSD, unless I missed something in translation) and he records and photographs her experience – but is unaware that she has witnessed a man wearing a spiked glove beat a woman to death. Gio doesn’t believe her and publishes the article, not keeping her identity anonymous like her promised, and nearly ruins her career in the process. Meanwhile, Valentina believes that the killer has begun to stalk her, but no one, not even the police, will believe her claims.

A loose follow up to Death Walks on High Heels, Death Walks at Midnight is the third of Luciano Ercoli’s films to involve screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and actors Nieves Navarro (Ercoli’s wife), Simon Andreu, Claudine Lange, and Carlo Gentili. I have to admit that out of the three (including Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion), I enjoyed this last film the most. It avoids the hysterical, panicking heroine of Forbidden Photos and has a more up-to-date sense of style than the ‘60s-included Death Walks on High Heels, which is as much a heist film as it is a giallo. This last entry has plenty of goofy moments, but the script is just wacky enough to be effective.

Unlike the earlier two, this has a lot more of what I would describe as key giallo elements. The protagonist witnesses a murder and is threatened by the killer, has a love interest who assistants (albeit reluctantly) in solving the mystery, and there are artists and models involved. And like Death Walks on High Heels, after a certain point I honestly couldn’t tell you what the hell is going on with the plot, thanks to numerous red herrings, plot twists, and other nonsequitors. The film’s central murder weapon, a grim-looking glove with metal claws, references Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, as well as German krimi films like Creature with the Blue Hand. The early tripping sequence – one of the film’s best scenes – adds a certain amount of sleaze and through Navarro is a model (rather than a stripper, like in Death Walks on High Heels), Ercoli finds plenty of opportunities to showcase her physical assets.

Refreshingly, her Valentina is a good example of a tormented female protagonist who doesn’t become hysterical 10 minutes into the film and holds her own for quite some time – she even throws a rock through the window of her no-good boyfriend as revenge for him possibly ruining her career. Her solid sense of confidence and self-worth leads her to believe that she really has witnessed a murder and that the killer is after her – even though her boyfriend and the police are skeptical. And though she occasionally succumbs to frustration, such as one scene where she is abandoned in on a hostile country estate by a woman she believed was an ally, she doesn’t sink into madness as quickly as some of the other films in this loose genre (such as Ercoli’s own Forbidden Photos). Nearly everyone in the film is selfish and opportunistic, especially Valentina, but she’s somehow likable despite this and even contributes to the film’s welcome sense of humor that keeps the overall tone fairly light.

Death Walks at Midnight also has the most robust conclusion out of all three films, including a knockdown, drag out fight in Valentina’s apartment that extends to the roof of her building. Simon Andreu, who was in his fair share of Italian and Spanish giallo/horror films, would not have been out of place in an Italian crime film. This is perhaps his best role in an Ercoli film and while the film’s first act belongs to Navarro, he manages to steal the concluding scenes. Unfortunately the middle lags a bit, though every conceivable giallo subplot is thrown into the mix, including drug smuggling, a sojourn to a mental hospital, and an unstable boyfriend who is also a talented sculptor. Keep an eye out for some hilariously costumed drug dealers, looking as stereotypical as possible. And speaking of costumes, though Navarro isn’t given anything as zany as what she wears in the first film, she does get to spend a night on the town while wearing what seems to be a metal wig.

Though this certainly isn’t a giallo masterpiece, Death Walks at Midnight is a hell of a lot of fun and manages to break out of some genre stereotypes on one hand, while playing them up on the other. Unfortunately, as of now, it’s hard to get ahold of. A couple of years ago No Shame released a lovely, three-disc box set of both of Ercoli’s “Death Walks” films and a disc of prolific composer Stelvio Cipriani’s music for both films. Right now it’s highly out of print and is quite expensive, but hopefully someone will release a nice Blu-ray box set with these two and Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS aka LA MORTE CAMMIMA CON I TACCHI ALTI

Luciano Ercoli, 1971
Starring: Frank Wolff, Nieves Navarro, Simón Andreu

After a jewel thief is murdered on a train, police believe that his beautiful daughter Nicole, a nightclub dancer, may know the location of some valuable missing gems. She denies this, but a masked man with blue eyes and a strangely altered voice begins harassing her, first over the phone, and then by breaking into her apartment. She meets up with a wealthy man who enjoys her dancing, Dr. Matthews, who takes her out to his country home in England for a few weeks of safety and solitude. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t take long for the man with the blue eyes, and the case of the missing diamonds, to follow her again.

Death Walks on High Heels is the first film in a loose double feature from director Luciano Ercoli along with Death Walks at Midnight (1972). Both of these Italian-Spanish co-productions star Ercoli’s wife, actress Nieves Navarro (listed as Susan Scott), and Simón Andreu, and were penned by famed giallo screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, all of whom had earlier teamed up on Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1971). Like that film, Death Walks on High Heels rotates around a central plot twist and, unlike a conventional giallo, has an air of the heist film about it, as the whole thing is really about a cache of missing diamonds.

This certainly has a more European, jet setting feel so common in giallo films, with shots in Paris and London, and includes some giallo must-haves like a moment of surprising gore and plenty of nudity. Nieves Navarro is scantily clad for most of the film, which opens with her performing two — count ‘em, two — striptease scenes. Navarro was trying to give giallo superstars like Edwige Fenech some competition, but her character type is a welcome addition to the genre. In all three of Ercoli’s films, her characters are sexy, confident, and not easily frightened by the antics of the killer. This is certainly a welcome change from the hysterical, paranoid damsel in distress. Even though Nicole is attacked and harassed — and believes her boyfriend could be the masked man — she still holds her own.

The strangest thing about Death Walks on High Heels is that unlike the other giallo films coming out in the 1971 and 1972 boom, the sense of style is very similar to the swingin’ 60s look for earlier efforts like Deadly Sweet, Death Laid an Egg, Naked You Die, or The Frightened Woman. It’s odd to think that a giallo film would feel dated among its peers, but I think this is part of the film’s charm. It certainly works with Nieves Navarro’s appeals and the camera loves her — she manages to keep its attention despite a series of occasionally hilarious outfits and some lengthy scenes where she tries on different sexy outfits. This also brings a refreshing amount of sleaze to the film that is one of my favorite things about the genre, but is occasionally missing from the more serious entries.

The sleazy elements unfortunately fade away in the third act, when Ercoli ramps up the violence and the plot thickens — in fact it gets so thick that it’s a little dizzying. Carlo Gentili, as the Inspector (a role he would reprise in Death Walks on High Heels), is allowed to really strut his stuff in the second half of the film and brings some much needed comic relief. His style of detective is best described as laid back, though he somehow has remarkable insight and often stumbles across the right answers. And keep your eyes peeled for lots of other genre actors, such as co-star Simón Andreu (The Blood Spattered Bride) and Luciano Rossi (Fulci’s City of the Living Dead).

Death Walks on High Heels is not the greatest giallo, but it’s well worth watching for fans of the genre. Unfortunately, as of now, it’s hard to get ahold of. A couple of years ago No Shame released a lovely, three-disc box set with this film, Death Walks at Midnight, and a disc of composer Stelvio Cipriani’s music for the two films (he also worked on films like The Frightened Woman, Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, Bay of Blood, Baron Blood, and so much more). Right now it’s highly out of print and is quite expensive, but hopefully someone will release a nice Blu-ray box set with these two and Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion.

Monday, April 27, 2015

THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY aka UNA FARFALLA CON LE ALI INSANGUINATE

Duccio Tessari, 1971
Starring: Helmut Berger, Giancarlo Sbragia, Ida Galli

After a young French student is found dead in a park, stabbed to death, police arrest TV personality Allesandro Marchi. He just happened to be seen near the park and has no other alibi, among other evidence against him. He is tried for the crime, but the case unravels when it is revealed that Marchi was visiting with his mistress that day – much to the chagrin of his beautiful wife, who begins having an affair with his attorney. When two other girls are killed with the same M.O. while Marchi is in prison, it seems that the police definitely have the wrong suspect… or do they?

Director Duccio Tessari – known for spaghetti westerns like A Pistol for Ringo (1965) – helmed this surprising giallo, one that is certainly lesser known but is worthy of attention. Deceptively, the first half of the film is presented as a fairly dull courtroom drama and/or police procedural. However, it soon twists itself into a compelling giallo with some surprisingly well-developed characters and moments of genuine sleaze. On the surface level, this is yet another film about beautiful young women being murdered, but The Bloodstained Butterfly shows an unexpected level of sympathy for its victims.

SPOILERS: Though Tessari makes it seem like this is a film about yet another psychopathic killer, murdering while he hides behind a charming mask of gentility, this is merely a well-executed red herring. Though there is no clear protagonist, the film essentially revolves around Helmut Berger’s Giorgio, a spoiled, tormented playboy. The film brilliantly plays with Berger’s reputation from films like Dorian Gray (1970) and The Damned (1970), where he plays characters that are ultimately doomed by their destructive, perverse sexual obsessions. While this seems to be the case here – for instance, he has somewhat violent sex with Sarah (Wendy D’Olive), Marchi’s teenage daughter. Though it is consensual, Sarah admits that she is frightened and Giorgio becomes somewhat unhinged by the encounter. Brilliantly, the film leads us to believe that the increasingly manic, paranoid Giorgio – racing through the labyrinthine streets to flee from onlookers and police – is the killer, but in its final moments reveals that he knows the identity of the real killer and is trying to get revenge for the murder of his girlfriend, the young French girl found rolling down a hill on a rainy day in the park.

The opening sequence – where the mud, grass, and blood-flecked girl is found by two children and their babysitter – is effective and chilling, but also suggests that this is going to be a fairly conventional giallo. The killer is practically revealed to us, as we see everything but his face, and Tessari ensures that a few witnesses spot him, though they are of course later revealed to be unreliable. Tessari somehow manages to be unexpected and unconventional as often as possible, while still sticking to the rough outlines of a giallo film. The Bloodstained Butterfly lacks overt violence or gore, though there are three deaths, and the film seems to work backwards. While many giallo films start off strong and peter out thanks to an ill-structured script, this strong screenplay from Tessari and the talented, if underrated Gianfredo Clerici (of New York Ripper, Cannibal Holocaust, and Don’t Torture a Duckling) takes time to get going, but is well worth the wait.

While not as grim as something like Short Night of the Glass Dolls, this film takes itself more seriously than the average giallo and there are none of the silly psychedelic scenes from earlier films in the genre. Instead, Tessari moves between crime scene, court house, and domestic spaces, showing a fair amount of familial strife for Giorgio and Sarah. After so many entries with journalists, reporters, and both amateur and professional detectives, it’s something of a relief to follow normal people who may be involved in, but are certainly affected by the central murder. The film also lacks the nudity and overt sexuality of many earlier giallo films, though this theme plays an important role as a perverse undercurrent affecting nearly all the relationships between the main players.

The Bloodstained Butterfly is an unexpected delight, but it will only reward patient viewers. It’s worth watching just for the tense, moody concluding sequence where the whopper of a twist is revealed, and of course for Helmut Berger’s lovely, paranoid performance. I am, of course, biased, as I’m a big fan of most of his filmography – one day I’m even going to track down What Did Stalin Do to Women? (1969). The Bloodstained Butterfly, which all giallo fans should check out, is available on DVD, though only as an import, I believe.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS aka LA CORTA NOTTE DELLE BAMBOLE DI VETRO

Aldo Lado, 1971
Starring: Jean Sorel, Barbara Bach, Mario Adorf, Ingrid Thulin

Gregory, a journalist working in Prague, is found unconscious and is presumed dead… but he’s really just paralyzed, trapped within his body, and determined to figure out how he got that way. He desperately recollects the events of the past few weeks, which include the disappearance of his lovely girlfriend, who he was planning to sneak out of Eastern Europe and to safety in the West. His boss and coworkers include a number of potential suspects and he can only hope that the doctors won’t autopsy him before he remembers the truth.

Director Aldo Lado is certainly underrated alongside better known giallo auteurs like Mario Bava and Dario Argento, but he helmed some excellent films. His first, Short Night of the Glass Dolls, is among his best. It may be the only giallo — certainly the only one that I can think of at this moment — set in Soviet Europe with overtly political themes about repression and state control. Oddly, it would make a better double feature with Polanski’s The Tenant than it would with most giallo films — except perhaps Lado’s own Who Saw Her Die? With its moody, striking blue and gray cinematography and tense, gloomy tone, Short Night of the Glass Dolls is one of the best giallo films and deserves a wider audience.

A co-production between Italy, West Germany, and Yugoslavia, the film was shot in Slovenia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. The film begins with a compelling noir trope — the dead man investigating his own crime — that can be found in classics like Sunset Boulevard and D.O.A.  The Eastern European setting adds to the air of paranoia and surveillance. Though this is a common feature of giallo films, here it is somehow more believable. In addition to the Soviet backdrop, it seems that Gregory can’t trust any of his associates. His boss/colleague Jacques (played by the wonderful Italian-German actor Mario Adorf in everything from Fassbinder films to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) is just smarmy enough that he seems to be obviously guilty.

As does Gregory’s past lover, Jessica (Bergman regular Ingrid Thulin), who bears a grudge against him while still desiring him. She worms her way back into his affections by claiming to help him look for Mira (Bond girl Barbara Bach, looking particularly dazzling here), his beautiful, somewhat mysterious girlfriend who has disappeared. But after a time, she tries to persuade him away from his search in the hope that he will just forget about Mira and fall back in love with her. The love triangle is far from a new theme in the noir or thriller genre, but it becomes especially sinister when Jessica turns on Gregory, because up to that point, it seemed like she was the only one he could trust.

Giallo regular Jean Sorel — from Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, A Quiet Place to Kill, One on Top of the Other — is normally a bit on the bland side, but this actually works perfectly here. Like some Hitchcock’s leading men, Gregory is something of a blank slate and he falls somewhere between the (sort of) wholesome private detectives of the pre-noir years and Hitchcock’s wrong man. Because of his love for an enigmatic woman in trouble, he’s thrust into an increasingly menacing world. SPOILERS: I was certainly not expecting the film’s ending, which leads Gregory into a group of the city’s most powerful people engaging in orgies and sacrificing young women. Lado does a surprisingly great job making this incredibly uncomfortable rather than cheesy and, despite the odds, plausible — Gregory has gone down such a tormented rabbit hole that the ending almost wouldn’t have mattered. The orgy scenes are as de-eroticizes as they could possibly be and this makes Eyes Wide Shut seem even sillier than it did to begin with.

Despite the occasionally flimsy or absurd plot elements, there is a disturbing emotional resonance. Unlike most other giallo films, there is a slow burn with little obvious gore. The film is steeped with verbal and visual references to death and these are among the most effective moments — including a scene when Gregory hallucinates a dead Mira shoved in his refrigerator, and another when his body is wheeled into an autopsy room and is shot through a series of eerie specimen jars.

Also known as Malastrana, Short Night of the Glass Dolls comes with the highest recommendation. It’s available on DVD and includes one of Ennio Morricone’s best giallo scores. Though I find the title a little silly and nonsensical, it relates back to the butterfly theme that winds its way through the film. The producers wanted the title to reflect this, but The Bloodstained Butterfly came out around the same time, so for some reason they settled on Short Night of the Glass Dolls instead. Even though this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, you’ll forget about it alongside the film’s unforgettably bleak ending.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

COLD EYES OF FEAR aka GLI OCCHI FREDDI DELLA PAURA

Enzo G. Castellari, 1971
Starring: Giovanna Ralli, Frank Wolff, Fernando Rey

After an incredible opening where a young woman is surprised and attacked by a knife wielding maniac and turns the tables on him (no spoilers here), we are introduced to Peter, a young lawyer. He steals a beautiful woman at a strip club away from her date and sneaks her to the house of his uncle, a prominent judge, who is away working late on an important case. Unfortunately before their fun can begin, they discover that the butler is dead and they have an unexpected guest who holds them at gun point. He and his accomplice have a devious plan to kill the judge, but first they have to search the house for an important, hidden file that holds the key to corruption and conspiracy.

Cold Eyes of Fear is an Italian-Spanish co-production from prolific director Enzo G. Castellari, best known for his war films Inglorious Bastards (1978) and Eagles Over London (1969), spaghetti westerns such as Keoma (1976) and Seven Winchesters for a Massacre (1967), crime films like High Crime (1973), and cult movies like 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) and Great White (1981), a Jaws ripoff actually sued by Universal for plagiarism. Cold Eyes of Fear is a strange blend of crime film and suspense drama, though has unfortunately been ignored over the years because it is typically marketed as a giallo.

Castellari co-wrote the film along with Leo Anchóriz (an actor from A Bullet for Sandoval) and Tito Carpi, a prolific screenwriter known for a number of Italian westerns and post-apocalyptic films like Escape from the Bronx and New Barbarians. Though the plot doesn’t offer a lot of surprises — home invasion was becoming a pretty standard plot device at this point — there are some nice twists and a lot of topical references to political corruption, which was somewhat of a snarky nod to Italian politics.

There are some giallo-like elements here, but do not be tricked into expecting something along the lines of Dario Argento or Sergio Martino. Though the film is often assumed to be a giallo and Castellari himself participates in this deception with an opening scene that could have been lifted from Lizard in a Woman’s Skin or even New York Ripper, this is really more of a low-key crime/suspense/home invasion blend that takes more than a few nods from the German krimi films that came out during the ‘60s, including its inexplicable London setting. Though interiors were shot in Rome, the London shots were filmed on location, (allegedly without permits), and are well-used in the first half an hour of the film.

Fans of subtle Eurocrime films will find plenty to enjoy here, but giallo purists are likely to be disappointed and bored. Though there are a few murders and a few fight scenes, there is a minimum of either bloodshed or nudity, and certainly no black-gloved killers. The focus is more on suspense, political corruption, and a number of subtle plot twists that are easy to miss if you aren’t playing attention. Anyone who enjoys Hitchcock’s Rope will have an idea of what to expect here, though because this is a Eurocrime film directed by Castellari, there are some way over the top elements, including a bomb assassination plot, death by J&B bottle, a failed seduction shower scene, a random biker brawl, and some outrageously fake British accents. Though the first half is compelling, the second half descends into a strange parody of Italian crime cinema.

There are some lovely visuals and excellent camera work with plenty of unsettling close ups, dizzying zoom shots, and great use of the primary set (the Judge’s home) where much of the film takes place. The restless camera and regularly changing lighting does the film a lot of favors and keeps things moving where dialogue and characterization often screech to a halt. Though this is not one of Castellari’s best films, it is worth a look for fans of the director and anyone with a penchant for Eurocrime.

None of the actors are particularly memorable here and Fernando Rey (Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) is unfortunately wasted behind a desk for most of the movie. Giovanna Ralli (What Have They Done to Your Daughters?) is absolutely lovely and is given a sassy role as a foreign prostitute in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gianni Garko (The Psychic) is a weak lead, though his character suddenly and inexplicably becomes more interesting during the conclusion. Frank Wolff (Once Upon a Time in the West) has some very effective moments as the main antagonist, though Julian Mateos (The Possessed) is simply ridiculous as his confused accomplice with an outlandish wardrobe and terrible accent.

The cinematography from Antonio L. Ballesteros (Sergio Leone’s Colossus of Rhodes) and editing from Vincenzo Tomassi (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Cannibal Holocaust, and most of Fulci’s output from the early ‘80s) absolutely shine here, with some incredibly claustrophobic close-ups and great shots of London in the early ‘70s. Also recommended is Ennio Morricone’s wonderfully bizarre, jazzy score, which sounds fantastic here and is mixed loud enough that any sound flaws are easily ignored. Keep your ears peeled for the odd effects he uses in the beginning of the film that sounds like cats being murdered.

If you enjoy suspense films and home invasion movies, Cold Eyes of Fear has plenty to offer, both in terms of well-crafted surprises and tense moments, as well as some unintentionally funny scenes. The key to being entertained is to resist expecting that the film is a giallo, even though Castellari plays with genre conventions throughout the film. Though there is unlikely to be another Blu-ray edition of such an obscure entry in the Italian crime genre, Kino and Redemption’s release of Cold Eyes of Fear is an average, not exemplary addition to their cult horror catalogue thanks to lackluster special features. With that said, the cleaned up print looks better than it likely ever will.