Kino Lorber // 1971 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // May 28th, 2013
If the habit is false, treachery is near.
The Italian giallo is one of my favorite brands of thriller, and they approach the pinnacle of European exploitation. The brutal violence, sexual perversion, and absurd mystery stories all makes for spectacular entertainment, though maybe not always the most coherent movies. I'll watch anything that comes down the pipe that even looks like it might fit the bill. Cold Eyes of Fear, between the title and the vague description, really seemed like something I could sink my teeth into. That it was directed by an exploitation in veteran Enzo Castellari (Inglorious Bastards), though not of this genre, made me feel even better about its success. In that list of what I love about gialli, though, it only fits the absurd story criterion, which is the worst of the three.
Peter Flower (Gianni Garko, A Bullet for a Stranger) is a lawyer out for a night on the town with his favorite prostitute (Giovanna Ralli, Sex with a Smile) and decides to take her home to the place he shares with his judge father (Fernando Rey, That Obscure Object of Desire) to make his night complete. Just as things start getting going, they discover an intruder waiting for them to emerge from the bedroom. Soon, he is joined by an associate who is carrying a note from his father that he stole from the policeman he just killed and is now impersonating. Ostensibly, they're after whatever money is in the house but, soon, it becomes clear they're after something that seems closer to revenge.
Cold Eyes of Fear begins with a most promising scene. A gloved hand with a knife slowly approaches a lingerie-clad woman, who cowers frightened in bed. He cuts a strap, and falls in to attack, only to have her relent and embrace him. Just as they begin making love, the attacker finds a blade in his back. It's as good as I could have hoped a beginning to one of these films could be, but the camera then pans back to reveal an audience watching a Grand Guignol performance. What a disappointment to find that this would be the only such scene in the film.
Castellari proves on some level he understood what went into crafting a giallo. The problem is, after the opening scene, it's clear he learned the lesson wrong. Once that scene ends, Cold Eyes of Fear becomes long and talky, a worthless mystery that makes no sense and has little entertainment value. The performances don't make it better, with Giovanna Ralli's tough and sensual performance being the only one worth watching at all.
The good thing is that Castellari, despite not really getting the genre he's working in here, shows some of the flair for style that would impress exploitation fans in The Inglorious Bastards and Keoma. There are a number of clever shots and some interesting angles. It's far stronger visually than it is narratively, which is I guess just as important for a lot of people in movies like these. There are a couple of random and ridiculous scenes, a nightmare sequence and a random fight between bikers and a guy in a kimono, that add to the comedy, though it seems mostly unintentional. No, the only real reason to watch Cold Eyes of Fear is for Ennio Morricone's fantastic free jazz score, which often makes the movie seem better than it really is and is one of the best of his lesser-known compositions. That's hardly a reason to recommend the movie, but at least it's something.
From Kino Lorber's Redemption label, Cold Eyes of Fear is the typical Redemption release with its as-is image transfer and mediocre sound. The 1.85:1/1080p image is covered in scratches and marks, though it looks much better than previous iterations because of the much improved color and level of detail in the high-def upgrade. The sound isn't really improved at all, though, with more background noise than I'm used to hearing from the label. The only savior is Morricone's score, but that has little to do with the mix and more to do with how substantially better it is than anything else in the film. The only extra is a trailer.
Cold Eyes of Fear is boring and incoherent, with the only violence coming in the final few minutes and a near total lack of the perversion that defines the genre. It has its moments of enjoyment, but they are far and few between, leaving little beyond a good opening scene and a great score to recommend it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated