Friday, March 28, 2014

MEET HIM AND DIE - BLU-RAY REVIEW


A new action film full of hair-raising, breathtaking chases with automobiles, heavy-duty trucks and motorcycles, never before seen on the movie screen.” proclaimed the post-production press hype (8/76).

This admirable effort stars Ray Lovelock as Massimo Torlani, a cop about to go undercover as Massimo Salvatore, a new upstart that “fumbled” a jewelry heist, which lands him in jail.  This enables him to infiltrate a local drug trafficking syndicate run by Giulianelli (Martin Balsam) who - due to the ruthless machinations of his competitors - was recently jailed as well.  Eventually gaining the trust of Giulianelli and his right-hand man Piero (Heinz Domez), Massimo’s true purpose for going undercover becomes evident and, without giving away too much, it’s certainly much more revenge-driven as he seeks out various “associates” within Giulianelli’s organization.

Through a conveniently planned prison escape, Massimo blends into the organization with relative ease as he shoots anyone that Giulianelli wants eliminated (hence the film’s Italian title, which translates as “Ready to Kill”) much to Inspector Sacchi’s (Riccardo Cucciolla) chagrin, his superior and only trusted contact.  Sacchi vents his frustrations not very persuasively through some clumsy but amusingly dubbed dialogue courtesy of American tongue-for-hire Richard McNamara who equates his recent behavior to man-eating tigers and, for those that are interested, that’s the prolific Ted Rusoff taking on the task of dubbing Lovelock.  Not too concerned with Sacchi’s two-bit mutterings, Massimo continues to underhandedly work his way up to the masterminds of this international drug ring, which includes the hardnosed Perroni (Ettore Manni) and his astute secretary (Elke Sommer) who also has eyes for him.

Along with Lovelock, MEET HIM AND DIE is highlighted by a well-respected roster of seasoned Italocrime professionals like Balsam, Manni and Cucciolla and director Franco Prosperi does a commendable job delivering a relatively succinct action flick and, no, this is not the same Prosperi who, alongside the more infamous Gualtiero Jacopetti, directed on all those mondo films.  THIS Franco Prosperi actually helmed numerous Italocrime films including The PROFESSIONAL KILLER (1967) with Robert Webber and Franco Nero, RIPPED OFF (1971) with Tomas Milian and, after MEET HIM AND DIE he directed his final, but disappointing crime film, The DEADLY CHASE (1978) with Luc Merenda.   

Courtesy of Mike Ferguson.
Despite some perplexing plot developments during the last third, which tend to derail the original revenge plot, Prosperi’s rather clichéd story – unbelievably it took four writers to put this together – swipes a number of elements from Don Siegel’s DIRTY HARRY (1971) as Massimo pursues “justice” no matter what the cost.  Focusing on the extreme right, Massimo uses his rather modest and youthful exterior to his advantage; he actually proves to be a vicious foe whose tenacity and resourcefulness keeps everyone – including his superiors – on their toes. Throughout the relatively taut narrative, Massimo narrowly misses exposure on a number of occasions, as he gains more clout within Giulianelli’s organization.  But it’s not until later in the film, when Sacchi has him tailed that results in a nerve-racking shootout between himself and Piero that really amps up the tension.  This is easily one of the highlights but, instead of following through, Prosperi and his writers get caught up with some implausible detours, which rather harm an otherwise solid film.  It would have been nice to see the after-effects of Massimo’s risky undertakings, which is something directors Damiani, Castellari or maybe even Di Leo would have focused on; instead we get a shaky twist ending that is rather ineffectual and doesn’t really resolve anything. 


Ray Lovelock is a likable enough “hero” whose performance is very physically challenging, and thanks to the efforts of the Organizzione Acrobatica Cinematografica (OAC), he seems comfortable riding a motorcycle at high speeds.  Aside from some of the more outrageous scenes of carnage, he performs most of his own stunts and, according to Mike Malloy’s informative liner notes, this was made even more impressive since he was afraid of riding motorcycles at the start of his career after witnessing a nasty accident.

Never released in North America, MEET HIM AND DIE first turned up on Italian DVD in 2006 courtesy of Raro Video under its original title PRONTO AD UCCIDERE in a bare-bones full frame release, which didn’t even offer an English language option.  Then a few months later, New Entertainment out of Germany came along with a slightly improved edition with two versions, which at least had the option of English audio.  The German version was letterboxed at 1.78:1 and, because it was shorn of 5m50s, all of the missing scenes were inserted from the full frame version, which was also included on the disc as a separate extra; it was certainly a compromised release.  Other extras included the German Super-8 version (34m30s) entitled Ein MANN GREIFT ZUR WAFFE, a promo trailer, a useless still gallery, a brief essay on the film (in German only) and an alternate credit sequence, which was exactly the same other than a different title card.  The DVD also had a couple of isolated music tracks performed by Ray Lovelock including this film’s title song “I’m Startin’ Tomorrow”.

Raro Video USA decided to re-visit this film and their new Blu-Ray is a vast improvement from the aforementioned DVDs.  While it may not look as good as some of their Fernando Di Leo Blu-Ray collections, it has never looked as good as it does here.  Detail is relatively sharp, but some scenes do look a little digitally “manipulated” but, despite some of this trickery, it's still worth picking up.  The film has both English and Italian audio options with the added bonus of optional English subtitles and the only extra is a brief but informative interview with Mike Malloy, director of EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ‘70s (2012), where he reveals all sorts of interesting facts related to the film.  A nicely illustrated booklet is also included with an essay by Malloy that covers much of the same material as his interview and a bio on the OTHER Franco Prosperi, a rather unexpected blunder. 


Sunday, March 23, 2014

SPLATTER ARCHITECTS OF FEAR - DVD REVIEW


I first heard about this oddity in 1987 courtesy of Chas. Balun’s now legendary book The Gore Score and, although it measured an impressive “9 on the gore score”, his review wasn’t all that endearing, but the fact that it was Canadian and gory as hell, I had to see it.  I distinctly remember renting this on VHS and, to be quite honest, I was a little thrown off by the cover at first, which made it seem like some third-rate action flick.  Actually, it turned out to be a third-rate gore flick instead, but I have to admit, I was kinda impressed by the chutzpah of the entire production, even though it was ridiculously silly but, like Chas said, it was still “good for a few yuks”.  Well, thanks to Mr. Jesus Terán and his Slasher//Video, this unique SOV effort has arrived on DVD jam-packed with a number of interesting and entertaining extras.

For those that have never seen this, this plays out like a genuine documentary that follows the day-to-day activities on a low-budget film set with a particular emphasis on, you guessed it, the splatter F/X.  The film in question, if you wanna call it that, is a post-apocalyptic action flick about infected mutants battling a bunch of scantily clad and very ‘80s-styled amazons as they rip each other apart in a multitude of ways.  A scene from the film usually plays out first and then jumps back to “reality” to document how that particular effect was accomplished, while a very serious sounding narrator chronicles everything for us.  A cartoonish mascot named “Fang” (Paul Saunders) is also on hand to provide some comic relief as he drinks blood, eats fingers and drools over the half-naked amazons.

Admittedly not very good even by 1986 standards, the nostalgia factor is one of the biggest drawing cards here but, like most of these ‘80s SOV efforts, the story behind their creation is always more interesting and SPLATTER: ARCHITECTS OF FEAR is certainly no exception.  Produced on a shoestring in Toronto, Canada by Bill Smith, an enterprising video distributor who essentially wanted to showcase a number of gory special effects “that had never been seen before”.  Mr. Smith and his team (including prolific Canadian TV director Peter Rowe) certainly go out of their way to deliver as much gore as possible (their production company is even called “Gory Philms”), but it’s all so gleefully naïve that, especially now, it’s far from offensive; it really is amazing that stuff like this actually caused a stir back in the ‘80s.  Released at the height of film censorship in Ontario, Canada thanks to the wonderful folks at the once powerful OFRB (Ontario Film Review Board) who, in the mid-‘80s, censored just about every horror title they got their hands on including DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), DEMONS (1986), BURIAL GROUND (1980), PIECES (1981), COMBAT SHOCK (1986) and many others.  So in order to avoid any possible issues, this was cheekily marketed as an “educational video”, which enabled them to get a PG rating even though it features some risqué nudity (courtesy of some local strippers) and tons of gore.  Of course, once the complaints came rolling in, the OFRB tried to retract the rating, but to avail.  Amazing stuff.

In keeping with the spirit of the film, the disc features a fun, easy-going, but fact-filled commentary track with Bill Smith, “Cannibal Cam” and Jesus Terán as well as an on-camera interview with Mr. Smith that covers much of the same stuff.  Paul Zamarelli of vhscollector.com also contributes an on-camera review of the film and the standard, but still welcome, photo and trailer galleries are also included.  You can order it here.


Slasher//Video’s next release will be L. Scott Castillo Jr.’s SATAN’S BLADE (1984), a pretty much forgotten, low-budget slasher with supernatural overtones. This will be their first Blu-Ray, which will be limited to 1000 copies and it should see release sometime this summer. 






Saturday, March 15, 2014

ANDY MILLIGAN FREEBIES FROM VINEGAR SYNDROME



Over the last year, Vinegar Syndrome has released many obscure, amazing and even thought to be lost exploitation gems onto both DVD and Blu-Ray.  They’re easily one of my favourite new companies.  They’re current release schedule seems to be never ending, but if you pop on over to their website, they are now offering some “gratis” downloads of two Andy Milligan titles with no strings attached. 

GURU THE MAD MONK (1970) and, probably one of Milligan’s best and most personal films The FLESHPOT ON 42nd STREET (1973) are both available as solid 720p downloads for absolutely free. Although FLESHPOT is pretty beat up, it's fairly sharp and GURU actually looks considerably better than Retromedia’s decade old DVD.  Even though these are technically free, donate a little something to help support new DVD companies like this.  Visit them here if you’re in the mood for some Milligan madness.

Since we’re on the subject of Vinegar Syndrome, they’ve also announced a whole slew of exciting new titles for release on April 8th including an Eric Jeffrey Haims double feature of The JEKYLL AND HYDE PORTFOLIO (1971) and A CLOCKWORK BLUE (1972) as part of their Drive-In Collection (unfortunately their online only pre-order of the Limited Edition Blu-ray has already sold out, but those of you lucky enough to attend the upcoming Cinema Wasteland convention this April may still get your chance), Carlos Tobalina’s MARILYN AND THE SENATOR (1973) with an audio commentary from Bill Margold, and a newly remastered edition of Eric Louzil’s Troma produced LUST FOR FREEDOM (1987), which will also contain an audio commentary from Mr. Louzil and a video interview with Troma president Lloyd Kaufman.

They’ve also recently announced that, beginning in May, they will release “San Francisco X filmmaker” Alex De Renzy’s entire output including some “amazing video interview footage”, which seems like a daunting task, but I’m sure the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome are up for the challenge.