Sunday, 28 October 2007

Killer Contro Killer / Death Commando

Four professional criminals are hired by an unidentified employer to infiltrate a chemical plant, steal a briefcase from the safe, and then blow the place up.

Ferrari (Albert Janni) is the vehicle specialist, an ace driver who can hotwire anything.

Jaffe (Fernando Cerulli) is the safecracker, with a penchant for paying women to do bump and grind shows for him.

Cherry (Dalila Di Lazarro) is a conwoman, expert at finding a way into any location and characterised by both a ruthless streak and her commitment to her boyfriend, Sean.

Cherry justifies her actions

Sterling (Henry Silva) is the hitman, an impassive professional whose emotionless mask conceals a fondness for animals, the proceeds from past jobs clearly having gone towards the creation of what amounts to a zoo in the grounds of his mansion.

Classic exploitation of exploitation; note the absence of the J&B bottle that would have been compulsory ten years earlier.

The job goes according to plan and without a hitch – almost too easily, in fact.

Giallo-esque man-nequin and 80s big hair

At this point the man bankrolling the job, identified only as His Excellency (Edmund Purdom) decides that the four and their contact Hagen (Franco Diogene) are too much of a risk to his plans to be allowed to live and accordingly sends his minions to kill them.

Two of the four survive – the credit to Di Lazarro for her “extraordinary participation” gives a clue that Cherry won't be one of them – and go in search of revenge...

Though formulaic and lacking most of the sense of aspiration that characterised the Milieu Trilogy of the early 1970s, allusions to The Asphalt Jungle in the characters' names and traits taking the place of more profound political and social commentary, Fernando Di Leo's Killer Contro Killers is nonetheless competently put together and always entertaining – even if the caper comedy presentation of the build up to and execution of the job (including a nude trampolining Di Lazzaro who distracts the guards so Silva can shoot them with a tranquilizer gun) and a musical interlude which seeing Di Lazzaro deliver a number may seem ill-placed against the no-nonsense hard hitting action foregrounded elsewhere for some.

Certainly it hardly deserved the release it didn't get in Italy itself, a failure that sadly signalled the end of Di Leo's career.

This inglorious fate also shows how far the pendulum had swung against the Italian B movie by 1985 compared to its heydey. With Silva's presence explicable through his fondness for working with Di Leo, few of his countrymen now saw the point in going to Italy if there was work to be found at home on some direct-to-video product. And without a moderately recognisable and bankable star name, it was more difficult to sell the films internationally, resulting in ever lower budgets and a general vicious cycle from which the Italian industry has never really recovered.

The many / few faces of Henry Silva

Those new to Di Leo would be advised to seek out the Milieu Trilogy first – that the film is double billed with the Silva starring The Boss on Nocturno's DVD, with the company having also brought out Milan Calibre 9 and Manhunt, makes this a whole lot easier – insofar as certain moments, such as the introduction of Sterling wielding a bazooka, refer to his earlier work.

In this regard one also notes how Cherry demonstrates her ruthlessness by cutting off a bodyguard's hand to take the briefcase chained to it as a possible allusion to Yojimbo, Di Leo having worked uncredited on the screenplay for Leone's Fistful of Dollars early in his career, the connection enhanced by the way the piano and percussion driven musical cue at this point and others sounding very like Morricone's work there.

Unfortunately much of the rest of the music has that horrible 80s blandness and artificiality to it, with this criticism extending into the styles and designs and technologies on display, too close for comfort and not far enough in the past to be retro. Their time, like Di Leo's, will surely come, however...

Giallo fans will note that Jaffe is shot in the eye through the peephole of his door, an ironic fate for a peeping tom which also mirrors that of Daria Nicolodi's character in Opera – albeit decidedly less spectacularly – while The New York Ripper's Staten Island ferry victim Cinzia de Ponti turns up alive and well as Purdom's secretary.

The peeping tom is perfunctorily punished

Indeed, looking at this eye trauma scene in the context of Di Leo's career as a whole and in comparison with Argento and Fulci, one wonders if Di Leo's failure thus far to gain the recognition afforded them might not have been down to a certain lack of vision.

He could be relied upon to deliver the goods – there are plenty of shoot outs, chases and things exploding here – but rarely transcended the limitations of formulas to imagine those iconic did-I-just-see-that moments that make you sit up and take notice.

The question then becomes whether he considered himself first and foremost a professional – a theme which runs through this film and his oeuvre as a whole – or an artist.

Definitely a candidate for future research...


Joe D said...

Quentin Tarantino is a hugh fan of Di Leo. I saw Il Boss at his Grindhouse festival in Los Angeles and it was great. I spoke to Barbara Bouchet after a screening and she loved working with Di Leo and Henry Silva, that it was like one big family on a Di Leo film. Is there a book about him and his career?

K H Brown said...

Don't know about a book, but issue 14 of the Italian magazine Amarcord has a dossier on Di Leo's cinema:

There's also a related (?) documentary about him:

Stephen Grimes said...

Di Leo also used to have his own feature/column in Nocturno called 'Morsi al vento'(trans.The Wind Bites)back in 1999/2000,he also wrote a small booklet that was given away in one issue which i sadly never managed to get.

K H Brown said...

Thanks for the info Stephen

Joe D said...

And thanks to both of you for the info!