Thursday, April 23, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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