Tuesday, October 26, 2021

THE NEW GODFATHERS - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Having already partnered with Neapolitan crooner Mario Merola on several Naples-based poliziesco / mafia actioners, director Alfonso Brescia was about to embark on I CONTRABBANDIERI DI SANTA LUCIA (trans: “The Smugglers of Santa Lucia”, 1979), which, according to early press announcements, promised a much bigger production with location work in New York, Marseilles and Istanbul. However, given Brescia’s usual paucity of anything resembling a decent budget, he and his producer Ciro Ippolito, along with brothers Piero and Mario Bregni of Produzioni Atlas Consorziati (PAC), instead relied on using ‘previously-enjoyed’ footage from earlier PAC productions to give the film its (seemingly) sprawling scope. While most of the Brescia / Merola collaborations were usually intended for strictly domestic consumption, PAC evidently had higher-than-usual expectations for this ‘globe-trotting’ effort, even going so far as to prepare an English-language version for overseas Anglo markets and temptingly retitling the film THE NEW GODFATHERS. Yet, despite its obvious low budget, this is probably one of Brescia’s most accessible forays into cinema napoletana; which, thanks to the folks at Cineploit, THE NEW GODFATHERS has recently made its English-friendly Blu-ray debut in fine style indeed.

 

While never straying far from its Italocrime roots, THE NEW GODFATHERS also adheres to the cinema napoletana template quite faithfully. Modelled after the post-WWI Neapolitan ethnic theatre, which was popular among the working class, this obscure subgenre (sometimes referred to as cinesceneggiata or sceneggiata napoletana) featured soap opera-styled scenarios, which usually combined such vital components as love, honour and—of course!—vendetta. In January of ’79, Variety reported on the sudden popularity of such movies: “Cigarette smugglers, the backbone of Naples’ sagging economy, are fast becoming the new antiheroes of Neapolitan cinema.” However, by May of ’79, Variety also reported: “The Neapolitan trend is now reaching its crest…”, even as Ippolito and the Bregni brothers had already committed to a neo-sceneggiata three-picture deal with Merola and Brescia, which for the record also included IL MAMMASANTISSIMA (1979) and IL TUA VITA PER MIO FIGLIO (1980).

 

The lucrative flow of narcotics from the Middle East is jeopardized due to political unrest in Iran. Customs officer Capt. Ivan Radovich (Gianni Garko) believes Naples will be used as a stopover for a large shipment of heroin bound for the U.S. market. Although “highly experienced in the tactics of smuggling”, Radovich enlists the help of Don Francesco Autiero (Mario Merola), a prominent cigarette-runner whose banditi di motoscafi blu (“bandits in blue motorboats”) keep the Guardia di Finanza busy on the choppy shores of Naples. In one of the film’s most impressively-realized sequences, Don Francesco schools Radovich on the strenuous life of the everyday working class (“Here in Naples, smuggling is a profession. A full-time job!”), who are driven to low-level trafficking because (quote) “the law condemns the homeless and jobless.” Earlier in the film, further verisimilitude is achieved via Brescia’s docu-style camerawork as it prowls the overcrowded city streets and ports, whilst an emotional canzone—a key ingredient in most cinema napoletana films—from Merola himself is heard on the soundtrack. 

 

Don Michele Vizzini (Antonio Sabàto), a big-time underworld financier, is initially approached by Don Francesco and Radovich to help stop the flow of heroin through Naples (“It’s so rare to work with cops. I can’t help feeling a bit strange!”), but unknown to either of them, Vizzini is working in cahoots with the international drug cartel led by the New York faction of the mob. Using his local confectionary factory as a front for dope production and distribution, Vizzini’s candied nuts (no pun intended) are glazed with pure heroin, so when Merola innocently feeds a little neighbourhood girl (Letizia D’Adderio) one of these ‘sugared’ candies, she winds up in the ER from a smack overdose. Upon quickly realizing that Vizzini is behind the heroin-coated confections, Don Francesco sets off for NYC in pursuit of Vizzini…

 

Before settling in Naples, Brescia’s desperately ambitious film opens with a nearly 12-minute prologue detailing the expansive opium trade as it moves from Tehran to Istanbul. Utilizing grainy stock footage of the Iranian revolution (including shots of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) and some striking location work taken from Ferdinando Baldi’s earlier—much-superior—gangster pic THE SICILIAN CONNECTION (1972), Brescia does, however, succeed in instilling some production values with several authentically-shot Istanbul locales. As with most of Brescia’s / Merola’s ethnically-slanted crime programmers, Merola is forced to contend with a new breed of professional criminals who are no longer interested in contraband Marlboros. As the film’s heavy, genre fave Sabàto once again reprises his role as one vicious carogna who arrogantly usurps Don Francesco’s territory by killing-off most of his trusted smugglers. But despite the rivalries, it’s the little girl’s accidental overdose that proves to be the final straw, and this leads into a drawn-out revenge scenario that culminates with a helicopter / automobile pursuit through the “outskirts” of New York. Set to a truly cheesy disco theme, this wannabe ‘large-scale’ chase sequence once again recycles significant footage from Baldi’s aforementioned film, which was ‘carefully’ reedited to include Merola, Garko and Sabàto. 

 

Outside of Merola and Sabàto, the film contains a roster of familiar faces. Bushy-haired Jeff Blynn (erroneously credited here as “Blyn” and fresh from his role in Brescia’s NAPOLI… LA CAMORRA SFIDA, LA CITTÀ RISPONDE [1979]) plays Salvatore, one of Don Francesco’s most reliable smugglers, who sets-up the initial meeting with Merola and Garko. Later, when Salvatore attempts to elude police, he launches his car onto a series of flatbed cars on an empty train in another elaborate bit of ‘borrowed’ stuntwork, this time lifted from Massimo Dallamano’s COLT .38 SPECIAL SQUAD (1976). As the series’ buffoon, Lucio Montanaro also returns as Don Francesco’s pudgy sidekick, who provides all of the film’s tacky one-liners (“These Turkish bazaars are so bizarre!”) and lowbrow comedy, including a brief scene of him getting overly-excited over a bunch of half-naked starlets (including Lorraine De Selle) hanging around Sabàto’s luxurious swimming pool. In a strained if amusing in-joke, Radovich and Gennarino (Marco Girondino), the film’s token scugnizzo (“street kid”), comment on a movie poster seen hanging outside a coffee shop advertising Brescia’s previous Neapolitan soap opera, LO SCUGNIZZO (1978 – which also co-starred Garko and Girondino!). “Oh, Gianni Garko—must be a good film!” remarks Garko as Radovich but, minutes later, a random passerby (director Brescia himself!), drolly questions the competence of the director! Other bit parts include brief walk-on roles for Edmund Purdom and John Karlsen as a pair of high-ranking narcotics officers; Rick Battaglia and Andrea Aureli appear as NYC mob bosses (their scenes clearly shot in Italy), and Sabriana Siani also appears as the daughter of a New York boss whose ritzy Italian-American wedding sets the stage for Don Francesco’s revenge.

 

Although released a number of times on foreign VHS videocassettes, including two English releases from the U.K. and Japan on Intermovie and Columbia, respectively, THE NEW GODFATHERS was never released in either the U.S. or Canada in an English-friendly version. A fine-looking anamorphic DVD was eventually released in Italy by Cecchi Gori in 2006, but not surprisingly, it too had no English-language audio options. Cineploit’s new all region “Blu-ray premiere” features a brand new 2K scan, which appears to be taken from the original camera negative and looks terrific. Retaining the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, detail is sharp and colours are rich, but obviously, the film’s grainy stock footage still looks ugly and drab. Thankfully, the DTS-HD 2.0 audio options are provided in German, Italian AND English and is quite robust giving precedence to all the explosions, raucous gunfire and Eduardo Alfieri’s piecemeal score, even if the dialogue sync is, for the most part, imperfect. English and German subtitles are also provided, so the best bet is to watch the film in Italian with English subtitles for the most faithful rendition, but for those that care about such things, the English audio does include several familiar English voice actors such as Richard McNamara, Gregory Snegoff and Larry Dolgin, the latter of which dubs signor Garko. 

 

Extras include an on-camera interview with writer / producer Ciro Ippolito (11m21s) conducted by Vincenzo Rossini, where he discusses the genesis of the film at PAC and how he had the idea to (quote) “pick up a lot of scenes from the action part shot in the United States” from THE SICILIAN CONNECTION and then “shoot another story and mount this on that.” Other extras include a nicely-detailed photo gallery (1m30s) of posters, locandinasfotobustas and international video art and the film’s alternate German credit sequence, which is exactly the same save for the title card, DIE GROßE KAMPF DES SYNDIKATS (trans: “The Great Battle of the Syndicate”). Housed in a fine-looking Mediabook (available is four different variations, which also comes with a 28-page booklet with liner notes from Udo Rotenberg in German and English and a nice double-sided poster), Cineploit’s new Blu-ray of this mindlessly-enjoyable Italocrime film is yet another impressive release in their “Italian Genre Cinema” line, which fans should strongly consider adding to their library. Cineploit currently offers Cover B, Cover C or Cover D (Cover A has sold out) or order it from DiabolikDVD.

Friday, July 2, 2021

YEARS OF LEAD: FIVE CLASSIC ITALIAN CRIME THRILLERS (1973-1977)

Even as Italian crime thrillers (or polizieschi, if you prefer the Italian moniker) continue to reach a wider audience outside of Europe, most fans on this side of the Atlantic still associate the genre with the collected works of Umberto Lenzi, Enzo G. Castellari and/or Fernando Di Leo. While there’s no denying the impact of those directors’ works, a number of excellent Eurocrime pictures still remain largely unknown outside the borders of a certain sunny peninsula over on the Continent. Encompassing a wide array of subgenres, including troubled youths, terrorism, high-octane action and even a giallo-styled thriller, Arrow Video have released YEARS OF LEAD: FIVE CLASSIC ITALIAN CRIME THRILLERS (1973-1977), a staggering, beautifully-packaged 3-disc Blu-ray box set, which should definitely whet the appetite of anyone looking to branch-out into unfamiliar—but highly-rewarding—territory. 

A well-made, thought-provoking social drama, Vittorio Salerno’s SAVAGE THREE (1975) is usually regarded as a poliziesco, simply by virtue of its urban “street” setting and the inclusion of Vittorio’s big brother Enrico Maria Salerno, a distinguished actor—originally known as a leading man in sophisticated comedies—who became inseparable from the genre after his defining performance in Stefano “Steno” Vanzina’s ground-breaking THE EXECUTION SQUAD (a.k.a. FROM THE POLICE... WITH THANKS, 1971). In the city of Torino (“Turin”), Ovidio Mainardi (former Warhol stud-muffin Joe Dallesandro) and his co-workers Giacomo (Gianfranco De Grassi) and Peppe (Guido De Carli) suffer from the drudgery of the everyday rat-race. While working as a computer technician at a government-run statistics bureau, after Ovidio, curious to see what would happen, purposely overcrowds their shit-strewn cage, he observes a bunch of lab-mice as they tear each other apart (a scene censored by the BBFC for the UK BD release). Pondering whether humans would respond in the same way under similar overcrowded conditions, the presiding scientist responds confidently, “There’s always one who starts biting the others.”  After Ovidio and his pals incite a riot at a soccer match later that day, their crime-spree continues unabated, and, in one of the film’s defining moments—shot in super slow-motion—Ovidio sticks a truck driver with a screwdriver during a motoring altercation.

 

Meanwhile, inspector and ex-Flying Squad member Santagà (Enrico Maria Salerno) is assigned to the ongoing case, and he firmly believes these ‘incidents’ are not politically motivated, as his superiors would have him believe, but merely a result of ordinary people cracking under the strain and stresses of living in modern society (“We’re always under pressure. It might be the stress, the mistreatment,” he surmises). A succession of murder and sexual assault continues for much of the film’s running time, culminating with the abduction and rape of a pair of ‘upper class’ women (Carmen Scarpitta and Ada Pometti). It turns out that one of these victims was the wife of a highly-influential government official, so, at the behest of the deputy minister, the apprehensive police commissioner (Luigi Casellato), offers Santagà a deal: clean things up as quickly and quietly as possible!

 

Punctuated by a terrific progressive rock score by Franco Campanino (who also scored Dallesandro’s first foray into Italian crimeslime, Pasquale Squitieri’s superb THE CLIMBER [1975]), Vittorio Salerno’s SAVAGE THREE appears to be—on the surface, at least—yet another entry in a short-lived subgenre of mid-’70s Italo ‘youths-run-wild’ films. In spite of their boyish looks, these are not the usual spoiled rich kids with negligent parents unaware what their offspring are up too. Ovidio, Giacomo and Peppe all have regular jobs and ‘normal’ unassuming lives, but are simply bored by the drudgery of it all and looking for some ‘kicks.’ Never fully-explained or expounded upon, the jaded trio’s collective boredom may have been the primary instigator of their initial crime-spree but, in an interesting turn of events, their underlying sadistic streaks are antagonized by the aggressive environment in which they live… just like (symbolism alert!) those desperate lab-mice seen at the start of the film. 

 

Originally released in Italy as FANGO BOLLENTE (trans: “Seething Swamp”), SAVAGE THREE was barely released outside of Italy in the pre-DVD days (an English dubbed VHS tape was released on the Greek NK Video label), but it did finally garner a superb Region B Blu-ray in 2017 thanks to Camera Obscura. Arrow’s new disc features the same superior transfer, with optimally-balanced colours, strong contrasts, excellent black levels and a nice, consistent amount of natural film grain; in fact, it looks just about perfect! The DTS-HD MA mono Italian audio also sounds perfectly-balanced and clear throughout. 

 

In Rat Eat Rat (39m08s), the first featurette, ported-over from CO’s earlier release, director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard discuss how the film came about, as well as discussing the formation of the independent production company Comma 9, which unfortunately only ever produced just this one film. Further topics of discussion includes Goffredo Lombardo’s Titanus distribution company; some of the film’s locations in and around Turin; and the casting of Joe Dallesandro (“I like his somewhat weird face!”). In The Savage One (40m56s), yet another doc ported-over from the CO BD, Severin’s David Gregory interviews Dallesandro in what is essentially a career overview, beginning with his early years working on Andy Warhol pictures, and also covering just about every other facet of Joe’s time working in Europe, including all of his polizieschi(precisely five in total). Unafraid to tell it like it is, Dallesandro even refers to his SEASON FOR ASSASSINS (Marcello Andrei, 1975) co-star Martin Balsam as a “knucklehead!” 

 

On the same disc, Mario Imperoli’s rarely-seen LIKE RABID DOGS (1977) is, like SAVAGE THREE, yet another variation of the ‘troubled youth’ (a.k.a. JD / “juvenile delinquent”) film. Following an armed robbery by a pair of hooded men at a soccer match, commissario Paolo Muzi (Jean-Pierre Sabagh) is soon on the case, but this latest robbery turns out to be connected to an ongoing spate of rampant criminality that is plaguing the city. Paolo suspects Tony (Cesare Barro) and his accomplices Rico (Luis de la Torre) and Silvia (Anna Rita Grapputo), but due to Tony’s influential father, Arrigo (Paolo Carlini), he can’t prove anything.  Despite having his hands tied, Paolo and Germana (Paola Senatore), his girlfriend and fellow poliziotta, team up in hopes of busting these sociopathic miscreants.

 

Despite the generic synopsis given above, this proves to be quite a departure from the usual Eurocrime films of the period. Director Imperoli (who also helmed the unusually nasty provincial vendetta flick CANNE MOZZE [1978], starring Antonio Sabato), chooses to explore many of the genre’s darker aspects, placing a particular emphasis on the politically-motivated upper classes, who, rather than play fair on a level playing field, simply use their financial and political clout to subvert the system to their benefit. When Arrigo, Tony’s equally-unbalanced pops, attempts to give him some much-needed advice (“The ultimate goal in life, as in a game, is victory!”), he essentially allows his son to do as he pleases so long as he gets away with it. Much like Aldo Lado’s brutally-effective thriller NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1975), Imperoli flips the dynamic on its head by instead having the affluent so-called ‘elites’ viciously tormenting their perceived social inferiors (i.e., those from the so-called ‘lower classes’) simply because they can, which culminates in a particularly nasty scene that looks like it stumbled in from another film altogether. LIKE RABID DOGS’ gut-punch conclusion is also particularly effective.

 

Impressively lensed in Technoscope by Romano Albani (Imperoli’s usual DP of choice), he makes great use of the format with some interesting compositions and moody lighting, which look terrific on Arrow’s new Blu-ray. Utilizing the same restoration as Camera Obscura’s 2014 Region B Blu-ray, this is another top-notch transfer, that still holds up very well after all these years. The DTS-HD MA mono Italian audio also sounds excellent, with Mario Molino’s funky Nico Fidenco-styled soundtrack sounding especially robust and full-bodied. 

 

A couple of highly worthwhile extras are included (also taken from CO’s disc), beginning with When a Murderer Dies (51m57s), an in-depth interview with the late Albani and film historian Fabio Melelli, who discuss at some length the (quote) “beloved” Imperoli and his short-but-impressive career. In It’s Not a Time for Tears (32m55s), assistant director Claudio Bernabei (a frequent collaborator of Joe D’Amato) discusses both details about the film in question and also his career in general. LIKE RABID DOGS’ no-holds-barred trailer and a much-appreciated two-track music sample from the film’s rare Italian 45rpm vinyl single are also included. 

 

The second disc starts things off with the HD debut of Massimo Dallamano’s final film, COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD (1976)—he died later that year as the result of a car crash at age 59—an impressive action programmer that provided the template for subsequent imitative ‘Special Squad’ actioners, such as Domenico Paolella’s STUNT SQUAD (1977), which also shared cast members Marcel Bozzuffi and Riccardo Salvino. After so memorably playing Pierre Nicoli, the relentless, cold-hearted hitman in William Friedkin’s THE FRENCH CONENCTION (1971), Bozzuffi made a string of Eurocrime appearances wherein he switched to the ‘right’—make that extreme Right!—side of the law (he eventually slipped back into criminality to play another vicious killer in Lucio Fulci’s ultraviolent CONTRABAND [1980]).

 

The city of Turin is once again the setting for COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD. After Inspector Vanni (Bozzuffi) kills his brother during a shootout, a criminal leader known as “The Black Angel” (Ivan Rassimov) swears revenge. In retaliation, Vanni’s wife is subsequently shot dead in full view of their juvenile son. With the District Attorney’s (Armando Brancia) permission, Vanni forms the Special Squad: four crack policemen, under his leadership, given autonomous power by their superiors. Their trademarks are driving motorcycles and—hence the title—powerful .38 Police Special handguns. Meanwhile, The Black Angel and his right-hand man Guido (Antonio Marsina) steal a shipment of dynamite and proceed to plant bombs throughout the city. Demanding a $10-million ransom in uncut diamonds, The Black Angel organizes an exchange enabling Vanni and his ‘SS’ to finally make a move.

 

Several well-choreographed, fast-paced action sequences are some of the film’s many highlights (including a car driving atop a moving train!), which proves the Special Squad are a force to be reckoned with. However, they soon begin abusing their new-found power (and the tenets of the Geneva Convention) when they employ deadly ‘dum-dum’ bullets that cause maximum internal damage to their unlucky human targets; it’s shoot first, ask questions later. As the Black Angel, Rassimov’s ice-cold character is also not without a sense of humour, albeit as dark as the wings of his celestial namesake. Using a TNT charge detonated via remote control, he disposes of a stool pigeon (Bernardino Emanueli) while the man takes a piss behind a tree. Elsewhere, one of the Angel’s underlings (Franco Garofalo) gets his fingers chopped-off by the slamming door of an accelerating getaway car. 

 

One of the many notable DVD titles from No Shame’s relatively short tenure on the market, Arrow Video’s new 2K restoration is a markedly-improved upgrade in every way; altogether sharper and more finely-detailed, with colours that truly pop, especially during the various nightclub scenes. The LPCM mono audio (included in both Italian andEnglish) really emphasizes all the screeching tires and gunshots, with Stelvio Cipriani’s propulsive score sounding especially spectacular. New wave / disco diva Grace Jones contributes two songs to the film, but no matter which language option you choose, both are—not unexpectedly!—poorly lip-synched.

 

Several worthwhile extra features are once again re-included from No Shame’s 2006 DVD, including A Special Groove for a Very Special Friend (here retitled as Always the Same Ol’ 7 Notes in the menu [25m48s]), a delightful career-spanning interview wherein late, great maestro Cipriani discusses his time working on Eurocrime films, collaborating with Grace Jones, and how he went about scoring the present title under discussion. In A Tough Guy (9m31s), editor Antonio Siciliano talks about getting his start in the industry and collaborating with much-revered director Dallamano. A video intro with Cipriani which precedes the film, its Italian theatrical trailer and a meagre image gallery round out the extras.

 

Having by then honed his directorial skills on a number of high-profile Italocrimers, director Stelvio Massi embarked on what was to be the second ‘phase’ of his prolific association with polizieschi when he helmed HIGHWAY RACER (1977), the second film on disc two. The first of no less than six actioners he made in conjunction with mighty genre icon Maurizio Merli, Massi substitutes much of the usual nastiness associated with such films, as he and scribe Aldo Capone instead channel most of the film’s energy into a wide range of increasingly risky, over-the-top autobatics, which rarely—if ever!—let up! And yes, signor Merli also appears without his trademark ’stache, which may catch some first time viewers a little off-guard.

 

Merli stars as Marco Palma, a wannabe ace wheelman with the Squadra Volonte / “Flying Squad”, a highly-trained unit of the Italian State Police whose main specialty—in this film, at least—is driving real fast. His superior officer, the legendary ex-squad car driver maresciallo Tagliaferri (Giancarlo Sbragia), is understandably growing weary of Palma’s excuses after he totals car after car. Sure enough, in yet another high-speed auto pursuit—this time involving a gang of crash-helmeted armed robbers in customized Citroëns led by the highly-respected French getaway driver Jean-Paul Dossenà (alias “il Nizzardo” / Angelo Infanti)—Palma wrecks his ‘new-and-improved’ car too, same as all the others. Taking the hot-headed Palma under his wing, he personally trains and equips him with his old hopped-up 1960 Ferrari 250 GTO and a fake ID in a ploy to infiltrate Dossenà’s seemingly uncatchable gang…

 

Human performances all-round are solid enough, but not surprisingly of superficial depth and placed strictly secondary behind their non-human (i.e., mechanical) protagonists: the cars! This really is a showcase for the talents of veteran stunt arranger extraordinaire Rémy Julienne (who passed away early into 2021 at the age of 90). At the height of his career as a stunt arranger, Julienne had provided plenty of breakneck metallic mechanized mayhem for such top Eurocrime flicks as Henri Verneuil’s THE BURGLARS (1971), Alberto de Martino’s Canadian-shot-and-set STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (a.k.a. BLAZING MAGNUMS [1976]) and Maurizio Lucidi’s STREET PEOPLE (1976). In HIGHWAY RACER, frenetic and at times sloppily-executed stunts endow action with a realistic tone, including a logistically-impressive sequence that has Julienne driving (or rather tumbling end over end!) down the Spanish steps outside of Rome’s Trinità dei Monti church.

 

While far from his grittiest or best poliziesco (that honour would be reserved for EMERGENCY SQUAD [1974]), the present film’s lighter tone and almost playful approach to the material clearly demonstrated that lowest-common-denominator smash’n’crash action was undeniably its prime selling point, but it also proved Massi’s versatility as a director. HIGHWAY RACER is technically most accomplished, with enough inventive camerawork (it took two cinematographers to capture Julienne’s chaotic stunts) to keep things fresh and exciting for each and every elaborate chase sequence. Given the enormous impact of Merli’s previous successes in such prime Eurocrimers as Umberto Lenzi’s THE TOUGH ONES (1976), his appearance herein is also a bit of an anomaly, as the atypically clean-shaven, youthful-looking upstart whose only interest is to become the most skilled driver in the entire police force and then nab—or perhaps just outdrive—that gentleman bandit, il Nizzardo

 

Outside Italy, Massi’s film probably got its biggest exposure in Japan, where it was released onto Japanese Betamax/VHS videocassette by Pony Canyon as “FERRARI FALCON” (the Anglo translation of its Japanese title). Released in 2020 as part of their long-running Italian Genre Cinema Collection, Camera Obscura’s all-region Blu-ray was yet another absolutely gorgeous release, which is thankfully preserved on Arrow’s new disc. Boasting a beautifully-detailed and colourful image, with no digital enhancement of any sort, Arrow have, unlike the earlier CO disc, seen fit to include both Italian and English LPCM Italian mono audio options. A nice added touch, indeed!

 

The featurette Faster Than a Bullet (19m43s), a superb interview with Roberto Curti, author of the indispensable Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 (McFarland, 2013) has also been carried over from CO’s disc. He talks about the filmmakers’ attempts to make a film as a (quote) “detachment from the news stories”; the film’s original aborted ending when one of Julienne’s stunts didn’t quite work out; Brigadiere Armando Spatafora, the real poliziotto sprint on which Merli’s character was based; Massi’s (quote) “exciting use of the camera”; as well as a number of the film’s many cast members, including Sbarigia’s (quote) “fatherly role” and Lilli Carati’s rather nondescript part as Merli’s girlfriend, Francesca. Another brief image gallery is also included.

 

Treading much the same territory as Elio Petri’sOscar-winning INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970)—including such themes as the abuse of power and the divisive socio-economical strata of society—disc three begins with Vittorio Salerno’s remarkably tense and entertaining thriller NO, THE CASE IS HAPPILY RESOLVED (1973), which focuses primarily on the powerless: a ‘lower-class’ citizen, who, through no fault of his own, gets caught up in a murder investigation. 

 

While out fishing at Lake Bracciano just north of Rome, Fabio Santamaria (Enzo Cerusico) happens to witness the brutal murder of a woman and, in an incredibly nerve-wracking moment, merely stands there, frozen into immobility like a deer caught in the headlights, as he and the murderer make eye-contact for what seems like an eternity. Following an equally-intense drive back to Rome, the murderer in question turns out to be Eduardo Ranieri (Riccardo Cucciolla), a well-respected schoolteacher. Understandably anxious and disturbed by what he has seen, unwitting eyewitness Santamaria chooses not to go directly to the police. Instead however, unfortunately for him, Ranieri the actual culprit beats him to it, implicating Santamaria as the murderer. This fabricated accusation reduces the innocent man to a state of utter panic as he tries to cover up his tracks and stay out of reach of the long arm of the law…   

 

Right from the get-go, this is an absolutely riveting thriller, which not only takes elements from many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films (i.e., THE WRONG MAN [1956] or NORTH BY NORTHWEST [1959]), but also incorporates fundamental aspects of both the giallo and polizieschi.  Even though it does feature a hair-raising car chase from Rome’s Termini Station as Santamaria tries in vain to catch a bus through the windy streets of Rome, director Salerno is more concerned with exploring the flawed and equally-corrupt so-called ‘justice’ system with its societal profiling and the authorities’ unwavering commitment to simply have the case, as per the title, “happily resolved” by checking all the proper boxes and balancing the stats. During this time, a seasoned and highly-influential reporter, informally referred to as “don Peppino” (Enrico Maria Salerno), is also conducting his own investigation after a few questionable meetings with Ranieri, and he is convinced that everything isn’t as it might appear to be.

 

Despite the star-status of Riccardo Cucciolla, who won numerous accolades and awards for his role as anarcho-commie accused murderer Nicola Sacco in Giuliano Montaldo’s SACCO & VANZETTI (1971), it is popular actor Enzo Cerusico who carries the entire present film squarely on his shoulders, delivering an affecting performance of a depth and believability that just about outshines his fellow highly-regarded cast members. Usually relegated to playing ‘good guy’ roles, Cucciolla is also topnotch in his portrayal as the morally-conflicted and guilt-ridden murderer, who not only knows full-well that he has the upper hand, but is also continuously tempted by his affliction to murder again; it’s a wonderfully-nuanced performance filled with regret, sorrow and even all-out malevolence. Aside from the two central performances, which dominate the bulk of the film, Vittorio’s older bro Enrico Maria also adds immeasurably to the film as the “seen-it-all” ornery newshound, who, after all his years of experience at ferreting-out the truth, knows when something’s amiss. In what would typically be a stereotypical throwaway part, even French-born female lead Martine Brochard as Santamaria’s distraught wife contributes a great deal of pathos, further accentuating her husband’s ever-escalating torment, confusion and frustration.

 

Expertly-lensed by veteran DP Marcello Masciocchi, NO, THE CASE IS HAPPILY RESOLVED looks absolutely stunning on Arrow’s new disc, which is once again taken from CO’s immaculate 2016 restoration. Not only is this the long-unseen director’s cut of the film with its original—far more effective—ending (which continues to resonate long after the end-credits roll), but this transfer features excellent detail and bold, naturalistic colours, whereas the DTS-HD MA Italian mono audio likewise offers nothing to complain about. The biggest extra is a 40-minute featurette entitled Mother Justice (40m36s), which contains interviews with director Salerno and actress Martine Brochard, who talk candidly about all sorts of terrific facts related to the film’s origins and production. The Italian theatrical trailer and a brief image gallery are also included. 

 

Arrow Video’s exhaustive set finishes off in fine style beginning with Will Webb’s Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice in the Years of Lead (20m17s), a superb video essay about the differing Eurocrime subgenres, with a particular emphasis on the films included herein, plus a thick 60-page book featuring detailed essays from the likes of Kat Ellinger, Troy Howarth, Michael Mackenzie, Rachael Nisbet and James Oliver. This is a stunning, must-own collection, which comes highly recommended!

Monday, April 19, 2021

DEATH PROMISE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

The nutty theme song by Opus gets thing rolling right off the bat for Robert Warmflash’s DEATH PROMISE (1978), a lowly if highly-compelling urban action film, which not only capitalizes on the popularity of the then-still-ongoing global martial arts craze of the time, but also another staple exploitation subgenre of the seventies: the vigilante flick.

In-between his intense MA training sessions down at the local dojo, Charley Roman (Charles Bonet) simultaneously wages war against a number of wealthy slumlords in his dodgy New York City neighbourhood. It seems the predatory Iguana Realty Corporation is bent on evicting all the current residents from their seedy ghetto tenement properties in order to erect much-pricier buildings in their place. Unfortunately for said corrupt company, the laws are set-up to protect (quote) “those welfare people,” so the criminal capitalists resort to hiring cheap muscle in cheap dress-shirts and flared slacks to continually harass their tenants, which includes everything from shutting-off their utilities to unleashing rats inside the buildings. Assisting in the fight is our high-kicking hero’s sparring partner Speedy (Speedy Leacock), along with Charley’s hot-tempered father, Louie (Bob O’Connell) who, interspersed between doing his best Jimmy Cagney impersonations, also gets to engage in some sloppy street-fightin’.

 

When Louie is found dead after having threatened Alden (Vincent Van Lynn), one of the co-financiers of this little (quote) “landlord syndicate,” Charley vows revenge, and with the help of Shibata (Thompson Kao Kang), his teacher at the dojo, he travels to the orient to continue his MA studies under the world-renowned Master Ying (Anthony Lau). Following this (quote) “advanced training,” Charley returns to NYC to honour his murdered father’s memory. However, in a highly-implausible turn of events, everything isn’t as it seems…

 

Throughout the ’70s, cinema screens were flooded with all types of so-called ‘chop-socky’ movies as every small-time distributor imported anything and everything with even a passing resemblance to Robert Clouse’s smash hit ENTER THE DRAGON (1973). Bruce Lee’s final film, THE GAME OF DEATH (1978) is referenced immediately herein as Charley and Speedy are seen running through the streets of NYC in bright yellow tracksuits, similar to the one worn by Lee in that film. As Alden’s men desperately try in vain to forcibly vacate the (quote) “rat-infested tenements,” Louie educates both Charley and Speedy in the shady complexities of ‘dummy corporations’ and even shares some anecdotes from his boxing days, when one of his opponents had been no less than the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson! When Louie refuses to accept a pay-off (“You can take your polite bribe and shove it up your polite ass!”), his stubborn resolve to resist ‘The Man’ gets him killed. Even after visiting Master Ying, where Charlie learns a (quote) “old Japanese assassin trick,” most of his other special—as per the title—‘death promises’ simply seem like much the same punches and kicks seen earlier in the film, although the climactic battle is long, drawn-out and entertaining as hell!

 

Previously released in 2014 by Code Red, their DVD featured an excellent anamorphic transfer of the film, which was crisp, colourful and very robust given the scrappy nature of the film. Extras were limited to the film’s trailer along with several others for titles in CR’s catalogue. Featuring a new 2K scan taken from the film’s original camera negative, the film looks even better on Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray, with an excellent, textured film-like image. The DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 also sounds very crisp, clean and clear, which helps one better appreciate all the customary hyper-exaggerated sound effects heard during the numerous fight scenes. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. Unlike CR’s relatively bare-bones disc, VS have included 9000ft in 90 minutes (16m06s), a highly-informative on-camera interview with the film’s editor, Jim Marcovic. He discusses his early start in the business cutting commercials in the early ’70s, how he got involved with several independent producers, plus how DEATH PROMISE came about. He also talks at-length about the difficulty of cutting the film because of the poorly-blocked fight scenes (some of which had to be reshot as a result), the colourful cast members, as well as dealing with the tough, by-the-book NYC unions. The film’s very entertaining trailer and a nice still gallery (1m55s) of ad-mats and production photos finish-off the extras. Any self-respecting exploitation movie junkie will love this. That’s a promise! Order the Limited Edition Blu-ray here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

HOUSE OF CRUEL DOLLS - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Barely released in this digital age, Pierre Chevalier’s HOUSE OF CRUEL DOLLS (1974) was produced by the budget-conscious specialists at Eurociné, a still-active French distribution and production company based out of Paris, who are probably best-known for producing Jean Rollin’s & Julián Esteban’s aquatic zombie snoozer ZOMBIE LAKE(1980) and a number of Jess Franco films, including The AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1962) and FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973, a.k.a. EROTIKILL).

 

Better known as The HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS to the few Eurotrash cineastes that have actually seen it, this is one of Eurociné’s notorious patchwork efforts starring Silvia Solar and Sandra Jullien (from Jean Rollin’s The SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES [1971] fame), which utilizes redubbed footage from Gianpaolo Callegari’s AGENT SIGMA 3: MISSION GOLDWATHER (1967), an Italian spy flick also starring Solar (which undoubtedly accounts for all the reused footage) and Franco regular Jack Taylor as the titular agent.  Of course, this slapdash bit of cinematic manipulation is nothing new for Eurociné, whose alternate version of Jess Franco’s A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1971) contains numerous added reshoots (courtesy of Jean Rollin) of zombie mayhem not seen in Franco’s original edit.  Probably one of their most notorious fusions of sleaze is Alain Deruelle’s JAILHOUSE WARDRESS (1979), which utilizes newly-shot footage cobbled together around redubbed scenes from Jess Franco’s BARBED WIRE DOLLS (1975) and Alain Payet’s HELLTRAIN (1977)!

 

Like most of these quickly thrown-together efforts, the minimal storyline is usually lost among a variety of differing footage and redubbed dialogue, which strives desperately to make some semblance of coherence; HOUSE OF CRUEL DOLLS is no exception.  Opening against the supposed “House of Cruel Dolls” (the same house from Jean Rollin’s zombie reshoots, and the very same house from the opening of Jess Franco’s GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS [1986], no less!), nudity fills the screen from the opening shot as Yvette (Magda Mundari) accepts “a date” with Mr. Gaston (Raymond Schettino), but he actually wants to bust her out of this prison/brothel, even though she has abandoned (quote) “all hope”. This way-out-in-the-woods, clandestine destination of sin can only be accessed via a very bumpy dirt road – which doesn’t allow our escapees to drive very quickly! – and then, in a mind-boggling bit of idiocy, our couple decide to celebrate their successful escape with a little hanky-panky in the woods.  They eventually make it to a lowly police station where, via flashbacks, Yvette proceeds to recount her story to a highly doubtful police inspector. 

 

It seems Mr. Raski (Olivier Mathot), along with his accomplice Sylvia (Solar), is running a white slavery syndicate where he conveniently gets to sample the goods.  The women are then put in large wicker baskets and shipped to the titular location run by Madame Zozo (Gillian Gill), but once again, are repeatedly taken advantage of by Raski’s henchmen, led by Eurociné stock player ‘Yul Sanders’ / Claude Boisson.  Much of the film unfolds through a seemingly endless parade of women being groped in grungy garages and the ship’s cargo hold, which does nothing to enhance the film’s already flimsy plotline.  With the help of Yvette’s testimony, some mysterious government agency gets involved and recruits Special Agent Jack (Jack Taylor from SIGMA 3) to help infiltrate this seedy organization, which takes him from Tangiers to Barcelona.  Of course, all of jack’s scenes are taken from the aforementioned Callegari film, which is mostly relegated to car chases and cut-rate punch-outs, while the unscrupulous Sylvia kills a snooping woman with poisonous fingernails.  Then, much like Bela Lugosi was hilariously “doubled” by Tom Mason in Edward D. Wood, Jr.’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), Jack Taylor is also doubled by some anonymous guy in a few of the sleazy, nudity-filled ’70s scenes.

 

After getting some solid intel from Barcelona about that mysterious cargo ship, the case is reassigned to Magda (Sandra Jullien), who ends up in Raski’s office with promises of a luxurious getaway, but is instead drugged and seduced on Raski’s office floor.  Like the other girls, she too ends up being raped in the ship’s cargo hold in yet another protracted, nudity-filled scene. Eventually, Magda manages to escape after karate-chopping Sylvia, and then Jack shows up for a shoot-out on the docks as the film clumsily moves between SIGMA 3: MISSION GOLDWATHER and Chevalier’s newly-shot footage with Jullien.

 

Director Pierre Chevalier (sometimes credited as ‘Peter Knight’) is probably best-known on these shores for his hokey, invisible woolly-monster movie The INVISIBLE DEAD (1970) and his cheap Sybil Danning action film, PANTHER SQUAD (1984). Like most of Eurociné’s output in the ’70s, it’s incredibly cheap-looking, with harsh lighting and flat photography, this time courtesy of Franco regular Gerard Brissaud, unlike Eurociné’s usual stock DP, Raymond Heil.  Incidentally, Heil went on to shoot ‘John O’Hara’ / José Jara’s similar-sounding OASIS OF LOST GIRLS (1982, a.k.a. POLICE DESTINATION OASIS), which also used many of this film’s sleazy sequences!  

 

Originally released on Dutch PAL videocassette (courtesy of EVC) in English with Dutch subtitles under its original export title THE HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS, the film made its digital debut in 2006 thanks to Austria’s XT Video. Although marketed under its German release title DAS SCHIFF DER GEFANGENEN FRAUEN (“The Ship of Imprisoned Women”), the print itself sported the film’s alternate, and rather nonsensical, English language export title POLICE MAGNUM 84.  Unfortunately, XT’s disc only contained German and French language audio options and a smattering of extras, including the film’s original theatrical trailer, alternate video credits and a small still gallery. 

 

As part of their on-going Eurociné Collection, Charles Band’s Full Moon have given this little-seen sleaze opus an unexpected HD debut, which is a vast improvement over XT’s earlier DVD. This time featuring Italian credits (hence the film’s curious re-title yet again!), the transfer, which is (quote) “remastered from the original negative” looks quite good given the inconsistencies of the varying footage, and while it certainly isn’t on par with some of the other Eurociné Blu-rays on the market (Kino Lorber’s ZOMBIE LAKE comes to mind), everything herein looks well-defined with some surprisingly rich colours. Unlike XT’s non-English friendly disc, English is the sole audio option (in either a DD 2.0 or DD 5.1) this time around, which also sounds quite good given the wonky nature of most Eurociné Anglo dubbing tracks. Extras are limited to a handful of re-edited Eurocult promo trailers including one for the present title. 

 

While it may not be the (quote) “lost sexploitation classic”, Full Moon so proudly proclaims it to be, it’s nice to see them digging deep into the Eurociné archives just the same, even if most of the films are not to everyone’s tastes. Order the Blu-ray from Full Moon Direct. The DVD is also available here.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

THE AGFA HORROR TRAILER SHOW - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Right from the opening frames of Europix-International’s now-famous “Orgy of the Living Dead” triple-feature trailer, which kicks things off in fine style, the folks at the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) really revel in all the lurid ballyhoo these long-gone trailers always delivered. You will see plenty of familiar trailers in this Blu-ray collection, which was curated by AGFA’s and Bleeding Skull’s Joe A. Ziemba, but it also delivers a number of unique, eye-opening surprises along the way as well. For anyone well-versed with their oeuvre, AGFA’s HORROR TRAILER SHOW is very much in the same vein as their amazing Mystery Mixtapes, bringing together several intermission ads for the likes of Pepe’s Pizza, cigarettes, flea markets and other regional attractions, loads of (quote) “disgustingly-photographed food snipes”, as well as several other, oddball commercials too, such as one for a novelty product called “Flamer – The Electric Football.” As Ziemba points-outs in his enthusiastic audio commentary, this is like a (quote) “curated night at the drive-in from Dimension X”!

“You’re about to enter the 21st Century of terror!” opines the narrator on Troma’s trailer for NIGHTMARE WEEKEND (1986), an unclassifiable bit of gory ’80s mayhem, which serves as a wholly-appropriate WTF beginning to this fast-paced compilation. This is immediately followed by the U.S. trailer for WITCHCRAFT ’70 (1970), an Italian-made mondo movie from director Luigi Scattini, which was reedited by American director and exploitation vet, Lee Frost. Here appearing under its much-shorter alternate title THE TEENAGE PSYCHO MEETS BLOODY MARY, Ray Dennis Steckler’s trash classic THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECOME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES (1964) was allegedly filmed in (quote) “shocking Bloody-Vision!” In keeping with the carny spirit, a spot for Leonard Kirtman’s CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (1970) also shows up (“This picture begins where Hitchcock stops and climaxes in nerve-shattering terror!”).

 

Even though the trailers aren’t necessarily compiled into specific separate sections, ’80s slasher flicks are given plenty of coverage, beginning with SPLATTER UNIVERSITY (1984) and J.S. Cardone’s wonderfully-atmospheric THE SLAYER (1982). Other titles include Stu Segall’s DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976)—which, hilariously, comes complete with a misspelled title card!—plus Dominick Brascia’s low-budget oddity EVIL LAUGH (1986) and Jimmy Huston’s much-maligned FINAL EXAM (1981), whose trailer bears the memorable tagline, “Some may pass the test, God help the rest!” Mexican horror films are also well-represented with several oddly-tinted trailers for Fernando Méndez’s THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN (1958), Chano Urueta’s insaniac THE BRAINIAC (1962), Rafael Portillo’s THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1958) and also the same director’s wonderfully-titled TERROR SEXO Y BRUJERIA (originally released as Cautivo del mas allá [1968]), a film with a remarkable release history, and one that definitely warrants a BD release of its own! A choppy—if most welcome—trailer for Walter Boos’ MAGDALENA, POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL (1974) and a quite lengthy if strangely mesmerizing one (featuring a Christopher Lee intro) for Evan Lee’s MEATCLEVER MASSACRE (1977) are just a couple of the other rare coming attractions nuggets contained on AGFA’s disc. 

 

Featuring a new 2K scan from a (quote) “newly-struck 35mm theatrical print of the show,” each trailer looks terrific, even though the quality does fluctuate from trailer to trailer, with all the scratches, dirt, debris and other surface damage of the celluloid emulsion you might expect so many years after the fact. That said, there really isn’t anything to complain about, though. The DTS-HD master audio 2.0 also sounds fine, despite the inherent imperfections of the various audio tracks used. Of course, plenty of extra features accompany the ‘main feature’ (i.e., the trailers themselves), beginning with a breezy audio commentary by the AGFA team headed by Ziemba, which barely touches on the actual individual films themselves, they discuss how everything came about and their challenge of compiling something a little different alongside the numerous other trailer compilations on the market, including Garagehouse Pictures’ essential TRAILER TRAUMA discs, which Ziemba admits can’t be beat. They also enthusiastically discuss their earliest memories of seeing their first trailers; their nostalgia over VHS video boxes; and Something Weird Video’s contribution to film preservation and their amazing HEY FOLKS! IT’S INTERMISSION TIME compilations.


In what is easily the biggest surprise, AGFA’s disc also includes Videorage (70m42s)—highlighting the (quote) “most ghastly, repulsive and unbelievable shot-on-video and direct-to-video horror trailers the underworld has ever seen!”—which is surely going to please even the most jaded horror junkie, despite the fact that most of the, uh, ‘films’ represented herein aren’t worth sitting through in their entirety; although several SOV staples, such as Christopher Lewis’ Oklahoma-shot BLOOD CULT (1985), and both Jon McBride’s CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988) and WOODCHIPPER MASSACRE (1988), are included, AGFA’s (quote) “video dungeon” also showcases Todd Jason Cook’s zero-budget anthology HORRORSCOPE (1994) and DEATH METAL ZOMBIES (1995); Todd Sheets’ CATACOMBS (2000); the U.S. trailer for Olaf Ittenbach’s German gorefest THE BURNING MOON (1992), which emphatically declares, “No matter what you’ve seen, you’ve ain’t seen nuthin’ like this! Banned in 14 countries!”; Nick Millard’s mind-numbing DEATH NURSE (1987), whose home video preview is also hilariously pathetic; Andrew Jordan’s Canadian-lensed and shockingly-awful THINGS (1989); plus Ron Switzer’s nigh-on-unwatchable SCIENCE CRAZED (1991), another Canadian (non-)production. An exceedingly loooooong trailer (which seems like more of a demo-reel!) for Doris Wishman’s A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER (1983) also appears, as do several homegrown—and highly energetic—Nigerian (“Nollywood”) movies, such as Kalu Anya’s SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE (2007) and Emeka Nwabueze’s ENJOYMENT IN HELL (20??). Not enough, you say? How about video previews for Mack Hail’s MR. ICE CREAM MAN (1996), Doug Robertson’s HAUNTEDWEEN (1991), Don Dohler’s BLOOD MASSACRE (1991), and Mark and John Polonia’s HOLLA IF I KILL YOU (2003), which are just a few more of the titles included in this very welcome bonus feature. 

 

As if all that lot ain’t enough, AGFA also include Say Goodbye To Your Brain (6m50s), a short (quote) “found footage experiment” comprised of lightning-fast clips and titles from a wide range of horror films. This totals an all-round great comp, that is worthy of repeated viewings. Order it from Vinegar Syndrome.