Color, 1975, 101m.
Directed by Sergio Martino / Starring Luc Merenda, Dayle Haddon, Corrado Pani, Enrico Maria Salerno, Giovanni Javarone
NoShame (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

In the underground gambling world of Milan, maverick Luca Altieri (Torso's Merenda) earns his living conning his way through the world of card dealing and high stakes. His poker abilities catch the eye of the President (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage's Salerno), a crime boss willing to back him up. Unfortunately Luca winds up falling for Maria (Spermula's Dayle Haddon), the girlfriend of the President's hot-tempered son, Corrado (Pani), and soon the couple is on the run from men carrying lots of ammunition.

ostensibly an attempt to fuse the familiar Italian crime aesthetic to the successful Hollywood formula of The Sting, this engaging actioner works better than it should in the capable hands of genre-hopping maestro Sergio Martino. Featuring plenty of shootouts, chase sequences, and hard-boiled underworld activity, this is slick, brainless entertainment all the way, though an unexpectedly grim third act twist might give viewers a bit more than they bargained for. The cast also performs admirably, with Merenda (whose glamour boy career was always stymied by some of the lousiest haircuts in the industry) making a solid hero and a wheelchair-bound Salerno making the most of his limited time as the mob boss forced to choose between a golden goose and his own blood. Doing her best Gene Tierney impersonation, Haddon makes a decent romantic foil but doesn't have much to do until the dramatic final few minutes.

Originally released to theaters and home video most widely under the title The Cheaters, this much-needed reprieve from years of dull prints and shoddy cropped transfers comes in high style from NoShame under its original title (translated from the Italian original, La cittą gioca d'azzardo). The transfer looks simply smashing, with Martino's elegant color use coming through quite nicely (love those vivid greens!) and the scope framing restoring tension to such expert sequences as a shoot-out among a cluster of mannequins. The film can be played with its serviceable English dub or the Italian original with optional English subtitles; it works fine either way. The biggest extra is the lengthy "Chatting with the Cheaters," a 35-minute featurette comprised of interviews with Martino, Merenda, and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando. It's an excellent, informative, and lighthearted piece, though it's too bad Haddon didn't participate; her wild career ranging from Just Jaeckin erotica to North Dallas Forty to Cyborg would make for an interesting interview. Merenda also contributes an enjoyable English commentary track with critic Riccardo Trombella (whose thick accent produces a few unintentional chuckles). The disc is rounded out by the original Italian trailer, a photo gallery, and good liner notes by Richard Harland Smith and Matthew Weisman.

Color, 1971, 96m.
Directed by Sergio Martino / Starring George Hilton, Anita Stringberg, Janine Reynaud, Luis Barboo, Evelyn Stewart, Alberto de Mendoza, Luigi Pistilli
NoShame (US R1 NTSC), X-Rated (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Though it explicitly apes the popular animal-in-the-title trend of early '70s gialli, Sergio Martino's second thriller is still undeniably the original work of its director and his regular screenwriter, the incredibly prolific Ernesto Gastaldi. Though usual leading lady Edwige Fenech is absent for this one, the rest of the elements are all in place for a twisted good time. For some reason this film was kept from most English-speaking theaters, keeping it the most obscure of Martino's gialli for several decades, but its long overdue availability in English is cause for rejoicing.

After a tragic plane crash, Lisa Baumer (Stewart) inherits a million pounds from her husband's death but finds the windfall far more trouble than it's worth. She has to travel to Greece to collect the money and finds herself hounded by a creepy blackmailer, her husband's money-hungry mistress (Jess Franco regular Reynaud), and protective insurance investigator Peter Lynch (Hilton) who realizes there's something deadly afoot. Soon a beautiful reporter, Cleo (Strindberg), enters the picture as well and begins an affair with Peter while the two try to figure out who's running around the Greek isles slashing up anyone who comes into contact with Lisa's cash.

The fairly talky opening third of The Case of the Scorpion's Tail may put off viewers expecting the usual nudity and slashing out of the gate, but Martino's cleverly conceived thriller has several nasty surprises up its sleeve that justify the wait. Sure, there's quite a bit of characters sitting around in office yapping about bank accounts and insurance policies, but it all pays off with a series of gory twists and turns featuring some of the most graphic murders Martino ever filmed. Usually relegated to playing swarthy and suspicious types, Hilton has one of his best roles here where he gets to sharpen his acting teeth a bit and nicely plays off of his leading ladies, particularly the always interesting Strindberg. The seabound climax (which could have easily inspired Dead Calm) is an expert example of visual craft managed to convey important plot points without losing the viewers or descending into complicated chit-chat. As usual, Bruno Nicolai contributes a top notch score complete with a jittery main theme not easily forgotten.

NoShame's DVD comes on the heels of an earlier, far inferior release from Germany's X-Rated label (which sported a weird letterboxed transfer that wasn't really suited for standard or anamorphic viewing as well as only the Italian and German tracks with English subtitles). The NoShame disc finally presents the elusive English audio track, which is really the best way to watch the film as it conveys numerous plot points and character nuances completely lost in the Italian version. (It's also more in synch, which helps.) The image quality is top notch throughout, with Martino's crafty injections of bright red into key scenes looking appropriately vivid and startling. Excellent all around.

A half-hour featurette, "Creepy Crawl: The Scorpion's Shadow," features Sergio and Luciano Martino discussing the film with occasional interjections from Hilton and Gastaldi. Also included is an absolutely jaw-dropping theatrical trailer (in English or Italian) which pushes this film as the successor to Battleship Potemkin, The Golem, and Fritz Lang's M (watch it to find out why!). You also get a poster and still gallery and the usual deluxe booklet with cast/director bios.

Color, 1978, 91 mins.
Directed by Sergio Martino / Starring Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, Antonio Marsina, Claudio Cassinelli, Franco Fantasia
Blue Underground (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), EC Entertainment (Holland R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1)

The closest thing to a reputable Italian cannibal film, Mountain of the Cannibal God sports a much higher pedigree than expected. Director Sergio Martino had already proven himself a master of the giallo formula, so he brought a certain amount of professionalism and a brisk pace to this pulpy adventure, which straddles the line somewhere between the mundane cynicism of Eaten Alive and the mind-shattering depravity of Cannibal Holocaust.

Wealthy explorer's wife and clotheshorse Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress) decides to do something about her husband's mysterious disappearance in the jungles of New Guinea. Along with her petulant brother, Arthur (Keoma's Antonio Marsina), she decides to follow her spouse's expedition path into the green inferno with the aid of anthropological guide Dr. Edward Foster (Stacy Keach), who knows a lot more than he's telling. Along the way Susan nearly falls prey to a tarantula, whose death inspires their native companions to skin and eat an iguana in penance to the gods. Another native then falls prey to a clever body-piercing tree trap, but still they press on, determined to reach a mysterious, uncharted mountain populated by a tribe known as the Pooka. (Yes, the Pooka, as in James Stewart's companion in Harvey.) Along the way they also tackle treacherous rapids, ambush-happy boa constrictors, and torn Gucci safari clothing before reaching the mountain, where Susan is promptly tied up, stripped, painted, dressed up in a She-like costume, and trotted out as a sacrifical goddess.

From a historical standpoint, Mountain established many of the convetions later copied in leering gorefests like Cannibal Ferox. Natives are castrated, reptiles suffer agonizing deaths, and in the most unwatchable scene, a monkey is slowly eaten by a snake. Fortunately these stomach churning scenes are few and far between, with most of the running time devoted to more traditional jungle fare involving Keach's great white explorer and Andress' glamorous jungle girl poses. Sure, it's basically racist and idiotic, but as far as Italian cannibal movies go, this isn't a bad place to start and won't make you run for a shower after the end credits.

Released in the U.S. minus five minutes of gore footage as Slave of the Cannibal God, this film became a familiar title among Italian exploitation fans, usually more often discussed than seen. An uncut print first surfaced on video thanks to the Venezuelan market, but the full scope photography was impossible to appreciate until EC's European DVD. Blue Underground's disc (originally issued by Anchor Bay) surpasses the EC disc with a richer and more film-like transfer, with surprisingly natural colors which translate well to 16:9 enhancement. Mountain looks much better here than anyone had a right to expect, and apart from some softness inherent in the original print, there isn't any room to complain. The perfect widescreen framing adds immensely to the film's visual sweep as well. The effective, percussive score by the De Angelis brothers sounds just fine in mono (how about a soundtrack, somebody?), and the discs also include the original (and very funny) theatrical trailer; the EC disc has a gallery of international poster and video arts, stills, and trailers for House on the Edge of the Park and A Blade in the Dark, while the Anchor Bay disc has a different still gallery and the trailer. The real ace in the hole for the AB disc is the inclusion of some four-plus minutes of sexual depravity, including a simulated bit of native bestiality and a not-so-simulated depiction of a cannibal girl pleasuring herself. Martino discusses the film in a 12-minute featurette which puts his claims into serious question by juxtaposing his tale of the monkey's death by snake with slow mo analysis of matting trickery to cover up crewhands shoving the poor animal to its death. It would be interesting to get more of Martino's side of the story, as the editing makes him look a bit more foolish than most directors would probably like. In any case, one can only wonder what Keach and Andress might have to say about this project now...