Color, 1971, 91m.
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Starring Giovanna Ralli, Fernando Rey, Frank Wolff, Gianni Garko, Julian Mateos
Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image (US R1 NTSC), Redemption (US R0 NTSC, UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

Cold Eyes of Fear

When is a giallo not a giallo? When it's Cold Eyes of Fear, the closest thing to a traditional Italian thrillerCold Eyes of Fear from director Enzo G. Castellari, the action specialist who had just broken through before this film with fare like Eagles Over London. Of course, Castellari went on to direct the now famous The Inglorious Bastards, not to mention cult classics like Keoma, Street Law, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, and the banned Great White.

However, unlike his peers in Italian cinema in the early '70s, Castellari never quite jumped enthusiastically into the world of black-gloved killers and sexy imperiled women. He certainly plays around with those tropes at the beginning of this film, with future sex starlet Karin Schubert being pawed and threatened by a knife-wielding assailant, but that all turns out to be a twisted stage show for the amusement of some London dinner theater patrons. Then we shift gears to a moody riff on home invasion thriller like The Desperate Hours as attorney Peter Flower (western star Garko, also in Lucio Fulci's The Psychic) and his female companion for the evening, Anna (Ralli, from the bizarre Michael Caine vehicle Deadfall), cavort around town to the strains ofEnnio Morricone pop music (recycled from the film L'alibi). They decide to head back to a swanky house owned by his judge uncle (Rey), who's off at work for the evening; unfortunately, they find out that his servant has been killed and a swarthy thug named Quill (Mateos) doesn't intend to let them leave. Finally a cop, Arthur (The Lickerish Quartet's Wolff), makes an appearance, but he also has ties to what turns out to be an intricate and deadly plan for revenge.

As was typical of Italian thrillers from the period (most blatantly The Weekend Murders), the attempts to pass off the cast as Cold Eyes of FearBritish by giving them exaggerated accents tends to undercut the tension of more than a couple of scenes, but Castellari's strong visual sense still carries the film through as long as one doesn't expect much in the way of graphic violence or sex. (There's a bit of both, but nothing that would raise any eyebrows.)

It's always fun watching Wolff cut loose and chew the scenery, and this is easily one of the late actor's most flamboyant turns; the more overtly slimy Mateos often fades into the background next to him, Cold Eyes of Fearwhile Ralli and Garko have the good sense to just look worried and terrorized for most of the running time. The Morricone score is also one of his jarring experimental suspense concoctions, similar to what he was cooking up at the time with avant garde jazz work for films like A Quiet Place in the Country, and the photography is very effective with most scenes bathed in inky shadows.

Way back in the DVD format's infancy in 1998, Cold Eyes of Fear was one of the very first Eurocult films to be released (alongside better known films like The Devil's Nightmare) courtesy of Redemption's distribution deal with Image Entertainment. The snapper cased release featured a non-anamorphic transfer that looked fine for the time, though a few years on it obviously wasn't up to snuff as transfer technology continued to improve. That same transfer was rehashed a few more times around the world, including an American reissue directly from Redemption in 2009 and a UK release as well (containing a gallery of posters, video art, and fotobusta.

It took fifteen years, but a drastically improved transfer finally surfaced courtesy of the 2013 Blu-Ray release from Kino Lorber under the Redemption banner (with a DVD reissue as well, but as usual, the HD option is definitely preferable). Interestingly, both the theatrical trailer and the older transfer featured the title Desperate Moments (hmm, wonder where they got that one from), but this one replaces it with a new title card. Don't be alarmed by the rough appearance of the opening credits, which are in fairly rough shape and appear to be slightly misframed; once the film proper kicks in, we're back to the original negative and the quality is excellent. As usual there hasn't been much digital cleanup so you'll see some white specks here and there, but it's very minor and adds to the vintage celluloid feel of the film. The PCM English mono track sounds very good, with those goofy accents more crisp than ever. The aforementioned theatrical trailer is included along with other Redemption trailers for Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Black Magic Rites, The Asphyx, and Night of the Hunted.

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Updated review on May 16, 2013.