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...

Friday 26 October 2007

La Terza madre trailer

Dopo Suspiria, dopo Inferno...

Mother of Tears

Il Vedovo / The Widower

Alberto Nardi’s business isn’t going too well. Creditors are hounding him, the next installment on his mistress’s fur coat is due and the lifts designed by his company may be about to precipitate a lawsuit. The eternal optimist, he’s nonetheless supremely confident that something will turn up. All he needs is for his wife Elvira to secure his latest loan and tide him over till then...

Unfortunately for Alberto, Elvira is far smarter than he is and easily sees through his schemes – and, for that matter, those of the other businessmen who consider him an easy mark – and refuses to bail him out, much to his embarrassment and annoyance...

At this point fate intervenes as the train carriage in which Elvira was travelling is involved in an accident, plunging into a lake with the presumed deaths of all on board. Alberto can hardly hide his glee, though does his best to act with appropriate solemnity at the hastily arranged funeral.

It is at this point, of course, that Elvira, who had ironically missed the train on account of an ill-timed telephone call from Alberto, unexpectedly resurfaces, alive and kicking.

Humiliated and embarrassed still further, Alberto thus decides that if the mountain will not come to him, he will go to it and plots for Elvira to suffer an ‘accident’...

Besides showcasing the considerable talents of director Dino Risi and Alberto Sordi and being a damn funny black comedy with a lot to say about Italian mores circa 1959 and thus well worth seeing in its own right for anyone interested in Italian cinema generally, Il Vedovo proves also to have a number of points of interest for the giallo fan in the form of the modernist high-rise in which Alberto and Elvira live, the importance of the telephone to the plot and Alberto’s choice of murder weapon: the elevator.

Do yourself a favour if you get the chance...

Der Fluch der grünen Augen / Cave of the Living Dead

Six young women have died in the same small village, known primarily for the caves nearby, in the space of six months. Suspecting unnatural causes, each death occurring at the same time as a power cut, the police dispatches Interpol man Frank Dorin (Adrian Hoven) to conduct an undercover investigation.

Dorin arrives not a moment to soon – or just a moment too late – as that selfsame night yet another young woman, the serving girl at the local hostelry, is found dead. The symptoms are exactly the same as the previous victims, the kind that might be ascribed to one of the vampires said to haunt the caves, were this not the 20th century...

Warning Shadows...

Gradually, however, Dorin is forced to accept what we and the village wisewoman already know, namely that there is something to that old legend about the caves being haunted by a vampire...

At this point the question for the viewer and Dorin alike becomes who this might be.

The innkeeper, who perhaps contrived to leave the last victim sans protective crucifix on the night she was attacked even as he proclaims his fear of the vampires?

The doctor who has consistently concealed the truth from the rest of the villagers and acts suspiciously before Dorin? (“You're just wasting your time, there were no murders, you hear, no murders at all”; this said in the manner of someone sounding like they're attempting something akin to a Jedi mind trick.)

Some of the locals / suspects, any of whom could be the Vampyr...

Thomas, the deaf outsider, or John (John Kitzmiller), Professor von Adelsberg's servant, the two men having no fondness for one another?

Or Adelsberg (Wolfgang “Dr Mabuse” Preiss) himself, given that his his and John's arrival in the village six months coincided neatly with the first death?

The Mark of the Devil?

In truth, however, anyone familiar with the terrain will have little difficulty in identifying the guilty party, especially when they recoil from mirrors (“In this house we don't tolerate vanity – I thought I made that clear when you first got here”) and spout dialogue straight from Dracula's phrasebook (“Please treat the castle as your own. Two or three of the doors are locked – please respect that.” )

One doesn't see a thing,” as Dance of the Vampires puts it

An unintentionally near surrealist composition featuring Preiss

This West German / Yugoslav co-production was originally released under the title Der Fluch der grünen Augen, literally The Curse of the the Green Eyes, and picked up by US independent Robert Gordon for English-speaking territories.

This is not the moonan unconvincing effects shot

Though the absence of the orginal version and dub for comparison purposes makes it difficult to know for sure, the overall impression one gets is of a somewhat inconsistent, by the numbers piece – you just know the professor's attractive young assistant is both love interest and imminent damsel in distress – that has its moments, very much second-hand borrowings to be sure, but fails to amount to much beyond them.

One notes, for instance, the way in which Dorin's investigation never really concerns itself with the mysterious power cuts and that his ventures into the caverns turn out not to require that night vision apparatus, traditional torches and lanterns sufficing, except for that moment when its use allows for some somewhat gratuitous – if Nosferatu referencing – use of the negative image.

It is also the awkward contrast between the approaches of Wolfgang Preiss, who plays the professor straight and Adrian Hoven, with his self-satisfied smugness suggestive of a more tongue-in-cheek approach also evident in the innkeeper's direct-to-camera address after the serving girl has resisted his blandishments once more (“And what am I left with? Just the wine!”)

Ultimately such moments seem to emblematize the gap between the traditional “it's only a horror movie” approach of the likes of Universal and Hammer and the more modern(ist) “what's only about it” approach of the likes of Hoven's future collaborator Jess Franco. It's not a case of one approach being better than the other, with the likes of the Preiss-featuring Mill of the Stone Women and Franco's The Awful Dr Orlof equally valid responses to the Hammer gothic, more that veteran director Ákos Ráthonyi – or his American interlocutors – might have been better clearly setting out their stall in one or the other camp.

[Cave of the Living Dead is available on DVD as part of Image's Euroshock collection]

Sunday 14 October 2007

A Special Cop in Action - torrent

If anyone wants the Italia a mano armata / A Special Cop in Action torrent, dubbed in English, it's available here:

Italia a mano armata / A Special Cop in Action

This, the third and last in the Commissioner Betti series, following on from Marino Girolami's Roma violenta and Umberto Lenzi's Napoli violenta, sees Maurizio Merli's dedicated, no-nonsense lawman presented with gangs of armed robbers and kidnappers.

Let's go to work

Appearances can be deceptive....

While the former are quickly dealt with thanks to a tip-off from an informer, with Betti recognising a purported hostage as another member of the gang and calling their bluff – “Shoot him then! Go ahead and do it! Pull the trigger! Shoot him I said, and we'll get rid of another criminal!” – the latter proves a tougher nut to crack.

But Betti is not fooled forlong

Though Betti soon tracks the kidnappers down and rescues the children – excepting the obligatory sick one, whose death provides yet another reason for him to hate criminals, over and above his own father's death at the hands of a 16-year-old gunman many years before; this being about as all the characterisation we get or require – he doubts that they were operating on their own, suspecting that his slippery old enemy, Albertelli (John Saxon) is the brains behind the syndicate...

One of the kidnappers also tries for a spot of rape, allowing for some gratuitous, if unpleasant nudity that the married to the job nature of the Betti character would otherwise deny the film.

Though on one level the bank robber plot is superfluous, an extra action sequence or two in a film that doesn't really need it, the way in which Betti encourages one gangster to shoot the other / the hostage is a crucial demonstration of his absolute lack of doubt, as also evinced by encounters with Albertelli; his high-speed pursuit of a couple of the kidnappers in a commandeered car, or his confidence that the truth will out when, two-thirds of the way through, he is set up and sent to jail...

The pieta in Italian cinema, ancora

One can well imagine another film, actor, character and scenario in which this hold up incident proves pivotal, as a wrong decision leads to the death of an innocent man dies and a more introspective, questioning narrative in which there is the possibility that Albertelli is in fact innocent or where the politics of law and order in the politiziotto in general are actually presented as a matter for debate rather than largely taken for granted. (One here notes that the figure of the police informer, a necessary evil as far as advancing the narrative goes, never really seems to work in these films, precisely because it represents something of a challenge to their essentially manichean moral dualism, of good cops and bad criminals.)

Would you trust this man?

In this regard, it's worth noting that, if Merli transcended his initial positioning as poor man's Franco Nero, having gained his big break on account of being something of a look-alike, he always remained a more limited performer in terms of his range. Try for instance to place Merli in Castellari's Street Law, as the ordinary citizen who feels compelled to turn vigilante and ultimately realises the problems with this attractive-seeming course of action: it's difficult, perhaps even impossible.

As ever, however, such issues matter little when all involved deliver the goods, Merli's belief in his character is self-evident, the implications either a touch frightening or heartening, depending on whether you agree with the character and the film's implicit right-wing politics; Saxon suitably sleazy even as he likely just went through the motions to collect the paycheque; and director Franco Martinelli serving up plenty of car and other chases, shoot outs, stunts, fights and beatings, all accompanied by a propulsive Franco Micalizzi score, to give the film's target audience almost exactly what they wanted.

[spoiler follows]

... and Action!!

I say almost because of that ending, in which Betti is unceremoniously gunned down as he approaches his potential new love interest, Luisa (Mirella D'Angelo), the sister of the dead kidnapped child from earlier.

On the one hand, it's the logical apotheosis of a mythic character; one who fundamentally could not be permitted to change into a real-world figure. On the other, it put paid to the prospect of further entries in the franchise and, through this, perhaps tolled the first peals of the death knell for Merli's own career and the filone with which his fame and fortune were so closely intertwined.

Saturday 13 October 2007

La Banda del trudico / Destruction Force

Recently promoted following the murder of his predecessor, Taddei, Commissario Ghini (Luc Merenda) faces an unenviable situation. Crime, petty and serious, is spiralling out of control and three notorious underworld figures, Lanza (Franco Citti), Belli and Tocci, have congregated on Rome, clearly with nefarious deeds in mind...

Note Milian's extra credit

Meanwhile 'married' and with a son, Monnezza Jr, Monnezza (Tomas Milian) is running a restaurant – its speciality is abusing customers alongside their meal – and trying to stay out of trouble. This doesn't mean giving up a life of crime per se, more working according to an honourable, old-time credo of “no guns, only balls” and teaching a gang of apprentices the tricks of the trade...

Monnezza's trattoria

While Ghini pursues Lanza, whom he suspects of being behind Taddei's murder – a hit which has clearly been sanctioned by someone high up in the underworld, and for which Lanza has likely gained permission to return to the city following an exile in Sardinia – Monnezza is visited by an old associate, Gianni, who offers him the job of getaway driver on an upcoming score. Though Monnezza declines, wary that Gianni's methods are not always in accord with his own ethos, he suggests that his friend Frog might be a suitable replacement, little realising that the decidedly trigger happy Belli and Tocci are the ones behind the job...

Guns and flipper; there's also the obligatory pool tables there as well...

Predictably their raid on a jewellery wholesalers goes somewhat Reservoir Dogs, leading Belli to cover his tracks and putting him on collision course with Monnezza and Ghini, who has by this time dealt with Lanza...

As this synopsis perhaps suggests, La Banda del trudico / Destruction Force is the kind of film which works more in terms of individual (action) set pieces and (comedy) routines than as a coherent whole, with the Merenda and Milian halves not quite coming together nor being deployed to any particular evident end besides that of crossing off extra checkboxes in the hope of appealing to a wider audience.

Another Jimmy il fenomeno sighting?

It's the way in which – to use a succession of sequences from the midway point – an extended chase and shoot-out between Ghini and Lanza is followed by Monnezza explaining his philosophy of life to his infant son as he prepares a meal, with this in turn succeeded by Lanza's invasion of Ghini's home in search of revenge, followed by yet more ineptitude from Monnezza's apprentices.

There's no real relationship between the four sequences nor any indication of the passage of time between them – Lanza was shot in the shoot out, and has had the wound patched up by the time he enters Ghini's home, the latter sequence also beginning in media res as Ghini receives a phone call from his girlfriend / wife – with a strong impression thus that the Monezza material, credited to Milian, was been inserted more or less at random into the main script, credited to Massi and the Elisa Briganti / Dardano Sacchetti combo. (As an aside, are there any interviews with Briganti out there? Given her work on Zombie and others, one would think she's an ideal subject for further research, particularly around the nature of her collabrations / co-credits with Sacchetti.)

Roma a mano armata

Again, however, none of this necessarily mattered as far as the filone audience was concerned, forty-five minutes of Milian being better than zero, but it does also impart that sense of trying to please everyone and thus failing to completely satisfy anyone when compared with the more consistent and focussed approach one finds in a Milian / Monnezza vehicle or, indeed, Massi's Marc trilogy.

This is about as close to a De Niro / Pacino moment between Milian and Merenda as we get

Likewise, one does wonder what the moral of the tale is when Monnezza's apprentices repeatedly meet with failure in their attempts to be 'honest', old-style criminals and the more direct route of the modern armed robber appears the one more likely to get results, even if the issue is then that of holding on to this loot for long enough to convert it to ready cash...

Milian / Monnezza in full effect

Massi's direction is a touch zoom happy but he counters this with some energetic circling handheld camera, effective handling of the all-important action scenes and inventive set-ups. Again, something seems to be lacking at times, however, as when Monnezza's demonstrations of sleight of hand are broken down in a way that you don't see what Milian is doing when he lifts a wristwatch with his finger or that it's actually his hands doing three card monte. (One here thinks of the way the action and comedy are successfully integrated in the likes of the Police Story films, and the necessity of showing the reality of certain stunts and tricks.)

A show off composition, but what is being shown off to best effect ;-)

Bruno Canfora's score, while pushing the right funky buttons, sounds suspiciously more like pre-existing pieces than tailor-made cues, with some of the action pieces perhaps not as well integrated as they might be; certainly there's no Ghini signature theme along the lines of Marc's “my name is Marc” disco theme. More positively, a spaghetti western cue gives the right mock-serious drama to a sequence in which two of Monnezza's bungling apprentices attempt to snatch fur coats from a hairdressers only to find their getaway car has in turn been stolen; later on there's also a moment where Monnezza strikes a match on his skinhead apprentice's head, reminiscent of the Lee Van Cleef / Klaus Kinski exchange in For a Few Dollars More.

Though Luc Merenda is billed first, there appears little question that it is Tomas Milian who was really running the show, as indicated by the aforementioned dialogue credit and that of his dubbing voice, Ferrucio Amendola. (At this time Milian didn't feel sufficiently comfortable in delivering Monnezza's highly idiomatic dialogue convincingly with his own voice.) This isn't in itself a bad thing, insofar as Milian is clearly having a ball with the character and infects the viewer with his unbridled enthusiasm, but equally there is again that impression of two different half-films passing one another.

Perhaps the emblematic moment here stems from one of the blink-and-you'll miss them scenes of Ghini's domestic life, as he asks his girlfriend / wife whether she would prefer to go see a movie and then have dinner, or to have dinner and then see a movie. Recently recovered from a near rape, she says that if they go to cinema it would have to be for “a funny movie, not a horrible Italian [cop] thriller”

I wonder what she would have made of Destruction Force itself in this regard...