Salvation Films // 1971 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // May 27th, 2009
From the director of Inglorious Bastards!
Of the many film genres, I find giallo to be among the most entertaining.
Giallo, of course, refers to the numerous cheapie sex-and-murder-mystery flix churned out in Italy in the '60s and '70s. These are tawdry affairs featuring black leather-clad killers who usually dispatch barely clad women using knives, hatchets, piano wire, and the occasional wood phallus. As a rule, the acting is agreeably melodramatic, and the direction dizzy and stylized. Gialli tend to sport vivid color palettes, and they invariably feature striking scores, often from Ennio Morricone. The resolutions to the mysteries are generally idiotic -- it's not unusual to learn that the killer is an obscure character with an out-of-left-field motivation ("You mean, that man who sold me the zeppole at the basilica was your cousin's lover when they were school children?" "Yes, and he left her disgraced!"). Exposition is handled in clumsy yet efficient speeches, and little time is spent developing characters or relationships:
Man: Ah, did you just move in?
Woman: Yes, I used to live at the seashore.
Man: Welcome to the building. You're quite beautiful. Would you like to make love?
Woman: Well...I suppose.
I mention all this as a run up to reviewing Cold Eyes of Fear, which is described on the DVD case as "a stylish and extravagant Italian giallo thriller." Despite this being perhaps the most redundant description in the history of DVD, I was intrigued. So, imagine my excitement when this showed up on my doorstep. Imagine my thrill when I popped this into my player.
Imagine my disappointment when Cold Eyes of Fear turned out not to be a giallo at all, but a dull and talky hostage-and-revenge drama, kind of an inept update of 1955's The Desperate Hours, and not even entertainingly bad like the 1990 update, Desperate Hours. As a matter-of-fact, the original English name of this film was "Desperate Moments," which sounds kinda like a greeting card line for manic depressives.
Given the expectations for a sleazy foray into sex, violence, and overacting, the film opens with an unforgivable tease: a woman in black lace slip, bra, and panties is menaced by a faceless, knife-wielding assailant. As she screams, he cuts off her clothes. Dissolve, and we find them (consensually) making love. The camera pulls back to reveal -- it's a stage show! In a bar of some sort. Other than setting up a "meet cute" for our protagonists, it's never mentioned again, and we see nothing like it again.
We then meet Peter (Gianni Garko, The Psychic) and Anna (Giovanna Ralli, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?). She's a loose woman on a boring date, he's got sideburns the size of Cleveland, so they dash off into the night and land at the home of his uncle, a famous judge. Ah, but terror awaits. An armed hoodlum is lurking in the big house, waiting for Uncle Stuffy to come home from the courthouse. But Uncle (Fernando Rey, The French Connection) is working late on a case, which entails lots of phone calls back and forth between himself and Peter, who is trying to figure out what this armed thug wants and how he and the lovely if trashy Anna can escape.
Really, that's it. Another character -- the mastermind behind the plot -- turns up, there are a few flashback and fantasy sequences, things get a bit tense here and there, but overall, this is just a dubbed-in-English talkfest. It's suspenseful as far as these things go, but it's far from being the entertaining mosh that it should have been. The positives -- good cinematography, cool Morricone score, some nice shots of London in the early '70s, and some scenery chewing by Ralli -- don't come near to compensating for the negatives.
So why is this lackluster Italian entry getting a release just now? Because Cold Eyes of Fear was directed by Enzo G. Castelllari, the man who made Inglorious Bastards, the 1978 war actioner that has been remade by Quentin Tarantino. The cover of the DVD case announces this is a red band. I'm all for rediscovering Castellari -- his Bronx Warriors films are ripe for reissuing, as are his spaghetti westerns. Cold Eyes of Fear is just a weak entry on his resumé.
It's also a pretty weak release from Salvation. Dull looking letterboxed transfer and uneven mono track, no subtitles, and stills and a trailer for extras. Given that they are touting Castellari, you'd think they might offer a little background on the guy, but they don't.
Guilty. Don't be fooled by the promises of stylish extravagance, Cold Eyes of Fear is a disappointingly pedestrian drama.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Salvation Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated